Violence Against Religious Minorities In America
By Kaleem Kawaja, The Milli Gazette
Published Online: Oct 08, 2012
Print Issue: 1-15 September 2012
The violent attack and killings in the Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the burning down of a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, within one week during August 2012, by extremist anti-minority, anti-colored people and white racist individuals, demonstrates the proliferation and increased volume of the white hate groups in the US.
It should be noted that these two violent attacks are perhaps the very first attacks on places of worship of minorities in US since 1965, when the racial reform laws were enacted and the American society began liberalizing. More than anything, it may also demonstrate a reaction from a segment of the white American population to the rapid racial, social, cultural, liberalized changes that have occurred in the American society in the short span of the last 45 years.
Rapid Expansion of cultural and racial diversity
The conclusion of World War II heralded a complete power shift among the nations of the world. Britain, France and Germany that had been global superpowers and had dominated the political, social and economic affairs on planet earth, stopped being so, and in their place we saw the rise of a new giant - United States of America. By late 1940s, a large number of individuals with diverse nationalities from European countries had now made US their home. US government and society embraced the social, intellectual and cultural diversity that these folks brought. Together, they helped the evolution of a diverse and dynamic American culture. The Soviet Union that rose as an equal challenge to the US imploded under its own weight in late 1980s, leaving the US as the only global superpower.
In 1965, another significant social revolution occurred in America. The US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and its Affirmative Action program to ensure that the long oppressed Black Americans, the Negroes, were encouraged with equal opportunities in employment, education and social avenues that they had been hitherto restricted from. Also in 1965, the US Congress liberalized the Immigration Act, allowing immigrants from Asian and African countries to migrate to the US and get the same social opportunities that were hitherto available to the European émigrés.
The institutionalizing of the above-mentioned reforms in the US laws opened a floodgate of opportunities to people from the third world to have a tryst with destiny in America. In a true sense, US, a vast continent-size country with big landmass, many resources and not a high population, became the land of opportunity. US population grew from 194 million in 1965 to 311 million in 2011. The US citizens who had been living there for centuries, even though a bit skeptical about the flood of immigrants of diverse colors, ethnic backgrounds and values, did give space to the new immigrants to make their contributions and reap rewards in various avenues of the society. At the same time, America continued to be a melting pot where émigrés melted their cultures and mores in the American mainstream, thereby keeping America different and more diverse than other White European countries.
Part of the immigrants from the Asian and African countries were people who were Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists - religious faiths hitherto unknown in America. In due course of time, these immigrants prospered, became visible in all walks of life, for example universities, corporations, government, social situations etc. Muslim mosques, Hindu temples, Sikh gurudwaras, Buddhist viharas sprang up all over America.
Is unbridled diversity a threat?
In recent years the unbridled wave of social and cultural diversity in the public arena that has swept through America’s cities over the last 45 years has started creating some unease and a sense of threat to some of the White Americans of earlier vintage. In some locations in the US this diversity has become overtly visible and somewhat “in-your- face” for some White Americans.
Some of them feel that it has started affecting their long held ways of life and culture. For instance, if you go to greater New York City, or cities in the state of New Jersey, or greater Chicago, or Los Angeles or San Francisco, you see large concentrations of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Somalis, Ethiopians, Nigerians, Hispanics et al and their shops, restaurants, social outfits etc in certain areas in those cities. Being in those areas one wonders if he is still in America. Also these cities look very different from how they looked back in the 1950s.
The 9/11 watershed
As the American melting pot was experiencing all this turbulence, suddenly the awful 9/11 terrorist attack took place. For all those Americans who were starting to feel uncomfortable with the unbridled diversity, they felt as if someone shoved them in their face. Thus a reaction from a purist segment of the American society grew. In response to the 9/11 terrorist attack many White Americans reacted strongly to Muslims. Additionally, they also reacted strongly to other immigrants from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries. In the process, many non-Muslim Asians suffered from the reaction of the White Americans. In the few years following 9/11 many Hindu and Sikh immigrants were attacked and some even killed. Yet on an individual basis in workplaces and residential neighbourhoods, White Americans continued to be friendly to Muslims.
Hate-mongering and violence by the extremists
In the later part of the 20th century, the Ku Klux Klan racist White American hate group, that had been active in earlier decades against Black Americans, had subsided, assisted by US government laws that banned the group. In the decade since 9/11, a few of the White Trash hate people who are not well educated, do not have professional jobs, have formed small groups of likeminded White people who basically despise the coloured people, the immigrants from Asia and Africa, and the unbridled diversity that is spreading in America.
In their own convoluted mindset they want to protect the America that existed before World War II. They do not want to see proliferation of mosques, temples and viharas and the diverse customs, dresses and lifestyles that emanate from them. In addition to being White culture excluvists, these folks love possessing and glorifying guns. The media calls these groups, that are from the blue collar working class, “White Trash” because of their lower socio-economic, educational and intellectual prowess and narrow mindset.
Over the last five years some of the white culture extremists have formed their own political party called Tea Party. This party made its debut in the 2008 American elections and their influence on the political and electoral scene, the US Congress and White House in the 2012 US election is very pronounced. Additionally, under their pressure the Republican Party, one of two major political parties in US, the party of Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, has been transformed into an ultra-conservative party.
What can be done?
What can Muslims do?
The Asians and Africans who live outside US should realize that condemning US wholesale for these social issues will be counterproductive. Introspect and you will find that despite the ills in US, it is by far the most tolerant, liberal and diverse country that is willing to give upward mobility opportunities to all regardless of the colour of their skin or their religious faith or ethnic origin or other factors. For Muslims, it is Islam’s farthest and western- most frontier on planet earth. America offers Islam an opportunity to adapt to this land and utilize the many positive American elements to cleanse the undesirable negative elements. Just as five hundred years ago Islam spread to far corners of Asia and Africa by integrating itself with the local culture and customs, today it can form strong roots in US and become an integral part of mainstream America by presenting the soft and tolerant image of Islam and adapting to the many positive elements of America.
This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2012 on page no. 17blog comments powered by Disqus