The Winconsin attack reflects an inherent problem of racism in US society, not a problem of religion
The recent news of the shooting in the Gurdwara in Wisconsin made me sick to my stomach. Avidly watching the story unfold for more details, my initial suspicions were confirmed as it became clear this was a hate crime. A day after came the news that a mosque in the US had also been burnt down to the ground in an arson attack. What can we learn from these acts of violence? There are a number of points that I think need to be addressed.
Both events are the tragic reminder that 11 years on since 9/11, Muslims and Sikhs remain victims of violent hate crimes. In relation to the Gurdwara attack there was speculation that this had been the manifestation of mistaken identity in which the gunman confused Sikhs for Muslims. Reports of this kind were focused on defending Sikhism as a peaceful religion, which disappointed me on a number of levels. Firstly, whether Sikhs, Muslims or Hindus, it does not matter, as none of these religious groups are more deserving of such violence than any other, thus the need to assert that Sikhism is peaceful is neither here nor there. Every religion is premised on ideals of peace and love, so by stating Sikhism is peaceful implies that others, in this case, Islam, are not. I find this line of reasoning problematic as it plays directly into the hands of those perpetuating divisions between ethnically marked communities. Surely the focus should not be that these attacks were based on a case of mistaken identity, but rather the attention should be centred upon issues of racism and its white supremacist devotees. The need to describe one’s religion as peaceful, prior to soliciting condemnation on attacks on a place of worship, is the very hallmark of racism.
Reports also made links to this being another issue surrounding America’s gun policy following the attacks in Colorado earlier this month. Undoubtedly America’s cavalier and violent gun policy needs urgent intervention, but in the absence of political will, this is unlikely to change in the near future. The focus on gun crime thus diverts the attention being placed on America’s problem of racism and white supremacy. The gun debate is a crucial one to be had, but the comparison between Colorado and the Gurdwara is not so simple, as the killings in Colorado were not motivated by a sense of white supremacy unlike the case in Wisconsin. By conflating both tragic cases, the issue of racism is downgraded because the emphasis shifts to questions of gun control, demonstrating once again the difficulty in talking about racism even in the context of such murderous provocations. This illustrates perfectly the hegemony of the post-racial which Sayyid argues is ‘characterized by a sense that we have seen the ‘end of racism’ and its expulsion from the public domain’ (See, Sayyid, S. (2010) ‘Do Post-Racials Dream of White Sheep?’ TOLERACE Working Paper, University of Leeds: Leeds). This case is not one simply concerned with the actions of a psychotic individual neo Nazi; it is the reflection of the problems of racism entrenched throughout American society as a whole, where black presidents and white supremacists are perfectly possible. As Sayyid argues:
“By focusing on racism as something to be found in the mind of racists, it makes it difficult to understand a world in which there could be racism without self-ascribed racists. By connecting the existence of racism to racists (whether through delusion, occultation, or ignorance), the solution to racism is individual reform rather than social transformation. This liberal perspective on racism tends to reject the idea that that racism has any structural effects” (Sayyid 2010: 5).
Americans need to wake up to their domestic issues rather than preaching democracy and human rights to the rest of the world. Both the attacks on the Gurdwara and the mosque are issues of America’s embedded racism, Islamophobia and white supremacy. There may be a black man in the White House but white supremacists are still to be found behind white picket fences, in the malls, trailer parks and suburban sprawls littering the American landscape. In terms of the ethnically marked communities who have been victims to such terrible attacks, instead of defending their values and beliefs to the national majority, we need to politicise and mobilise by any means necessary. The ugly battle and struggles to fight racism are still ongoing and we need to open our eyes to the fact that racism is a reality not only in America, but also throughout the west – it is endemic. This is not a religious fight, it is a political fight and the impact of racism can no longer be denied.
My condolences go out to all the victims.
Image from: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/06/us/sikhs-bias-crimes/index.html
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