Sunday’s attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was horrific. The attacker killed six worshippers and turned his gun on officers before being shot to death by police.
Most of the male adherents of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that originated in India in the 15th century, wear long beards and turbans. The gunman, Wade Michael Page, a 40-year old white Army veteran, most probably had no idea what or who Sikhs are. News outlets, in their covering of the massacre, have been quick to point out that Sikhs are not Muslims, as much as they might appear so.
CNN: “Because of their customary beards and turbans, Sikh men are often confused with Muslims, and they have been the targets of hate crimes since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.”
FOX News: “Sikhs are not Muslims, but their long beards and turbans often cause them to be mistaken for Muslims.”
The news is telling us that Sikhs look like Muslims. In other words, Page most probably thought he was killing Muslims.
It will undoubtedly be debated within some American circles whether or not Page’s act was that of a terrorist or that a “troubled mind.” It seems that the attacker here did choose his target based on their religious affiliation, or perceived religious affiliation. It was a hate crime. And hate crimes, by nature, are committed to show members of a certain group that their lives are simply not worth everyone else’s.
Hate crimes have been happening against Muslims (and those who “look” like Muslims) in staggering numbers since September 11, 2001. Hating Muslims and questioning their belonging to American society is, frankly, fashionable. Whether it is protesting the building of a neighborhood mosque, legislation outlawing the implementation of Sharia law, or a congressman calling out government officials simply for being Muslim, a culture of championing anti-Islam hate has been growing in American society, cultivated many times by individuals in power.
News reports are now surfacing that Page was a white supremacist. He was an extremist white male who committed a horrible act of terror targeting a specific group of people in order to instill fear. I wonder if things will now change for white people as they changed for us.
I wonder if Bill O’Reilly will demand that the “good white people” out there (including himself) stand up and denounce his actions on behalf of their race. I wonder if Peter King will open a congressional hearing. I wonder if Michelle Bachmann will send a letter to the State Department implying that each white staffer may be affiliated with domestic terrorism.
Will bald white guys start to get extra “random security checks” at the airport? Will young men with “white-sounding” last names be asked to visit the FBI for “voluntary” questioning? Will young white males now have to deal with the security question I have been answering for over ten years: “Do you know any terrorists?”
In America, racism against Muslims and Arabs is simply all too normal, so much so that it is rarely even called racism. Our mere existence is seen as suspect. Our names are a red flag. Veils are a sign of terror. Beards are un-American. And it was those precisely those beards that led to yesterday’s slaughter. It seems that the only way to have prevented this murderous crime was if the killer had known that he was going after the “wrong” bearded men.
Wade Michael Page wanted to kill Muslims. I wish that he knew the people at that temple in Wisconsin weren’t the ones he was looking for. But I’m also scared to death that the next guy might not make the same “mistake.”