"Biggest question we have is this a hate crime, I mean what did we do wrong?"
That was a question asked by a member of the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in the immediate aftermath of the domestic suicide terrorist attack in Wisconsin on August 5.
The answer is simple: nothing.
That community of Sikhs, as well all the other Sikhs who have been viciously attacked for decades in this country, has done nothing wrong. They did not deserve to be massacred in their own house of worship.
Yet - and it is heartening that so many voices are beginning to say the same thing - American Muslims have done nothing wrong, either. It would have been just as horrific if the shooting had taken place at a mosque, rather than a Sikh gurudwara. Professor Moustafa Bayoumi, writing in The Nationmagazine, said:
It’s true that we don’t yet know Page’s precise motivations, but in all likelihood it wasn’t Sikhophobia, a term barely known in the United States. It was Islamophobia. That’s why to say that Page made a “mistake” in targeting Sikhs, as many have reported, or that Sikhs are “unfairly” targeted as Muslims, as CNN stated, is to imply that it would be “correct” to attack Muslims. Well, it’s not, and even if this is an error embedded in the routine carelessness of cable news, we need to be attentive to the implications.
The same has been said by Muslim scholar Reza Aslan:
Islamophobia has become so mainstream in this country that Americans have been trained to expect violence against Muslims — not excuse it, but expect it. And that’s happened because you have an Islamophobia industry in this country devoted to making Americans think there’s an enemy within.
Yes, some individuals within the community have either plotted or actually committed acts of terrorism, and they must be - and have been repeatedly - condemned. But as a whole, the community has done nothing wrong. The facts back this up. As Steve Coll writes in The New Yorker:
Of the three hundred domestic-terrorism cases studied, about a quarter arose from anti-government extremists, white supremacists, or terrorists animated by bias against another religion. And all of the most frightening cases—involving chemical, biological, and radiological materials—arose from right-wing extremists or anarchists. None arose from Islamist militancy.
The data can be found here. Nevertheless, American Muslims have done nothing wrong to deserve to get attacked and have their houses of worship attacked as well. Glenn Greenwald summarized just some of the attacks against mosques in the U.S.:
This is [the Joplin, Missouri mosque arson], of course, far from the only incident of its kind; to the contrary, in a trend largely ignored by the American media, hate crimes against American Muslims are at epidemic levels. After a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee triggered intense community opposition when it attempted to expand in 2010, a fire that was ruled to be arson damaged the mosque; after facing years of vandalism, bomb threats, and efforts by local and state officials (including state judges) to block its expansion, the mosque was finally able to open only this week only after the DOJ and a federal judge (to their credit) intervened on the ground that the mosque’s religious liberty was being infringed.
In October of last year, a Texas man pled guilty “to a hate crime charge stemming from an arson of a children’s playground at the Dar El-Eman Islamic Center in Arlington,” and admitted that the fire was “part of a series of ethnically-motivated acts directed at individuals of Arab or Middle Eastern descent associated with the mosque.” In August of last year, an Oregon man was indicted “on federal hate crime and arson charges for intentionally setting fire to the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center.” In May of last year, a fire at a mosque in Stockton, California was ruled to be arson. Last year in southwest Houston, surveillance cameras “captured images of a group of at least three men in masks” attempting to set fire to a local mosque; “prayer rugs at the back of the mosque were doused with gasoline.”
Last year in Dearborn, Michigan, a serious attack on one of the nation’s largest mosques was thwarted when a man was arrested carrying large amounts of explosives. In Massachusetts last year, the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester was set on fire by a man apprehended before the fire could spread. A fire that seriously damaged a mosque in Wichita, Kansas on Halloween night last year was ruled to be arson. In July of this year, a South Carolina mosque was vandalized; such vandalism against American mosques is incredibly common. On the 4th of July this year, the home of a Pakistani Muslim family in Texas, who have lived in the U.S. for 15 years, had the word “Terrorist” spray-painted onto it and then had ignited fireworks left on their doorstep. Attacks this common and dangerous on churches or synagogues would be a national scandal.
An attack against any innocent human being - regardless of their race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion - is completely scandalous. An attack against any house of worship is equally scandalous. Those soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas did not deserve to die. The same goes for those Sikh worshipers in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. But, just as my Sikh brother asked "What did we do wrong?" after that horrific attack, it must be said that we American Muslims have done nothing wrong, either.