All He Saw Was the Beard

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.”

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. Amer – It’s been a while, but I do read your blog regularly. I hope you’re well.

    I want to say that under no circumstance is it appropriate for a Sikh to defer hate to any other community, no matter what the circumstances. We don’t wish the pain, horror on violence on anyone. For the last 24 hours myself and hundreds of other young Sikhs have been working our hardest to avoid anyone saying anything of the sort in public, on TV, etc. I posted the below blurb on my blog which has been heavily trafficked over the past 24 hours.

    If you suggest any changes to the messaging, let me know and I’m happy to adjust it.

    Message for Sikhs:

    Any act of hate is unfair, no matter what community it targets. When discussing this tragedy with others, do not suggest a target on any other community would be “fair”. Sikhs stands for equality, justice and peace, and deferring hate is not an option.

  2. The problem is there are people out there who need to hate somebody. They need reasons to hate latinos; need reasons to hate afro-americans; need reasons to hate asians. Generation by generation some section in this society breads hate through various means. For some reasons these individuals are not called terrorists and are taken lightly. This is happening again and again. Whosever life that, a life is a life and needed to be protected.

    Question needed to be asked:

    Isn’t this a civilized society? Isn’t it the responsibility of law enforcement to protect the people. if law enforcement as an institution exists to protect the people, why are in the hell ordinary citizens like you and me need right to own lethal weapon? Should it common-sense to ban civilians owning lethal guns when living in a civilized neighborhood? Would anybody be comfortable to know one among many in the crowd carrying a gun?

    I come from a so called third world country. We never needed a gun. I never even touched a gun in my life and I feel much much safe and I have sound sleep. But why? Why some fear to get a sound sleep without having a gun by their side? Is this the ht tsymbol of civilization or anarchy?

    Somebody needs to put commonsense into work!!!! Unfortunately politicians don’t have guts and willingness to face the reality as we all know the politicians work for the special interests and none have common good in their mind.

    Bygone those days where we weere though about governenace – of the people, by the people, and for the people.. .Rather it is right to say, of the people, by the people and for the special interests.

    Only that I can say for now is my heart goes to the innocent victims who lost their lives in the sikh temple to a senseless racist terrorist.

  3. The American society had changed drastically in the last 30 plus years since I arrived as a student to this country. The United States was an isolated country, and Americans for a long time were not exposed to the rest of the world and always thought of themselves as superiors in everything. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the invention of the internet, the Bush-Cheney September 11 attacks domestically and abroad had exposed the American people to the rest of the world, it showed them that yes there are other better people than them, and they do not like it. The “White race” is scared of losing its crown to the Chinese, Arabs, or Latinos and therefore you see all these nonsense attacks of killing innocent people to prove that they are still there. America’s demographics are changing rapidly and with the election of President Obama the lost their minds having a black person in the white house, what a “disgrace”.
    When have you ever heard anyone call the President “liar” on national TV, or carry a weapon in rallies against him? What does the term “ we need to take our country back means” and why we never heard it during all presidencies before Obama?
    Minorities have to be very careful; I will not be surprised to see the United States in a long costly Civil War like there civil wars of Americas’ makings in Iraq, Syria, Nicaragua, El-Salvador , Honduras and many other places.
    I never heard before coming to the US of Sunnis, Shia, this and that religious group, but in the last ten or so years. When I visit the Middle East I see it as a strange place where women have to cover from top to bottom, men are bearded with extremist views about everything, economically despaired, our societies were pushed to the corner and were forced to either to conform the new American world or you are doomed ”terrorist” and dare come out and say otherwise.
    I believe the worst yet to come in America itself, mark my word.

    • I am appalled as to how often President Obama is attacked and this was not something people did before. Not only has been called a “terrorist” himself but he has also been referred to as “President Jihad” and “catering to Islamic overlords.” What has this country come to when this is how we reference our President? It is so very wrong.

  4. Mark your word, Mo. It is highly unlikely that there would be another “civil war” between various ethnic groups in the United States like in Iraq, Honduras, Nicaragua, etc. Why? Because none of these groups can say that they want to take over the government of the United States and would be fighting for power to control Washington (unlike what is happening in most of the countries you’ve named).

    America, as you probably know is the so-called “Melting Pot.” A strange brew of various different ethnicity. Unlike France where the majority of the population are purely French or in Germany where the majority of the Population are purely German, the majority of Americans are not “American” per se because there is no such thing as an ethnicity known as “American.” This country was discovered by a Spaniard, colonized by British, fought for by the French, the Spanish, the British, hell….even the Mexicans! Not to mention the various non-european blooded “Native Americans” (algonquin iroquois, etc) that inhabited this land and were ethnically cleansed (even their horses and buffalo weren’t allowed to live!). Have you ever played “Cowboys and Indians?” Isn’t that racist? America was also introduced to slavery by the bourgeois Jews, Germans, and various other Europeans. Hell even the Amish and the Quakers had a stake in this land. So technically there is no real “American” ethnicity to speak of…and that of course makes the situation of this racist idiot who killed the Sikhs more stupid because although he probably refers to himself as a white supremacist, he’s probably not “pure white” whatever that means anyway.

    Now back to the Civil War thing…most believe it was fought for the rights of the African slaves but really it was about money and trade and the lack thereof between the North and the South who were on opposite sides of the political divide. When you steal a guy’s wallet, he’s more likely to punch you in the face. That’s basically what it came down to. What kind of Civil War are you claiming will happen in the future? Are the Jews, Arabs, Mexicans, going to start waging war against each other? Uncle Sam won’t have any of that. It’s called “gang” wars and we have FBI, CIA, ATF and others to squash that idea before it gets crazy. Would the Romanian and Italian Mafia killing each other qualify as a civil war too? How likely is it that a new Civil War would happen when all of these various ethnic groups are still closely connected to this country and each other through the idea of being “American?” You mentioned Iraq. We had American Soldiers fighting there and in Afghanistan. Most of them were not “white.” We have Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Italian, German, French, even Arab Americans registered in the U.S. Armed Forces. Atleast its good to see that most of the people living here are not of the same belief that this idiot follows. Hey, after all, We’re all “Americans” right?

    So I wouldn’t hold your breathe on that next civil war. And what’s so civil about war anyway? What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it… well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men.

  5. He’s right, there is no such thing as a true “American” unless you’re talking about citizenship and not ethnicity. If you want to talk about both then you need to hyphenate it such as German-American, Palestinian-American, etc. And the United States of America was named after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer.

  6. Racism in America against Muslims and Arabs has been the norm. We have the Pamela Gellers, Pat Buchanans, Glen Becks, etc. to thank for this. People really need to get to know their Muslim and Arab neighbors before they allow people like that to spew hate.

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