International

Violence Against Religious Minorities In America

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.

In the large and very diverse 300 million US population, where gun control laws are very lax, some psychologically deranged individual going berserk and shooting people in public did occur occasionally over the years. But in the last three years the occurrence of such public violence is becoming increasingly frequent. The violent attack on Congresswoman Gifford’s election rally in Arizona in 2011, the July 2012 shooting inside a movie house in Colorado are some examples of the recent upsurge of violence on innocent civilians. Are these incidents driven by the spread of hate emanating from the anger of the extremist White Americans against the growth of unbridled social diversity in US?       
 
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.

Muslim women wearing hijab, Hindu women wearing saris and colorful dots on their foreheads, Sikh men wearing turbans and beards, and Buddhists in their distinct gowns soon became commonplace in public places in many cities across the US.  Also many of them moved from big cities and states to smaller cities and states in the interior of America making those societies also diverse. It is worth noting that the number of mosques in US grew from about half a dozen in 1965 to about 2500 in 2012.
 
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.  

Additionally, the émigrés from Asian and African countries are now not melting their individual cultures into the American melting pot. Instead, they are trying to keep their own cultures and ways of life separate and distinct. Rightly or wrongly, that is making some White Americans uncomfortable about the future of their society.  
 
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.

In workplaces and in public places one could see the increased growth in numbers of “red necks” - the racially conservative White Americans, all over the US. In the bigger cities it may be less so but in the far-suburbs of big cities and in small towns and states at a distance from East Coast, California and Chicago, the reaction of the conservative elements of the White Americans to Asian and African immigrants is unmistakable.
 
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.

Many of these White extremist groups have formed musical bands and other social groups. They congregate typically in either the far suburbs of big cities or in small towns. Their music is racist aimed at the coloured people, the immigrants and the non-Christians. They have their own publishing and distribution organizations that distribute their music CDs and literature. They hold conventions and jamborees among themselves. Thus their message of hate against social diversity, the coloured people, the immigrants, the non-Christians has slowly spread across US, even as most White Americans continue to be free of bias against the minorities.

Political Impact

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.

The US Presidential and Congress elections of 2012 have become tense and acrimonious as never before. Daily exchange of verbal brickbats among the political rivals, the Republicans and Democrats, that never happened before, is common fare now. In the Republican Party Primary elections throughout the last two years to nominate candidates for the November 2012 general elections for a variety of positions, the consistently heard charge against middle of the road candidates has been that they are not conservative enough. That is forcing many Republican candidates to move more to the right.

What can be done?    

Obviously the power structure and the people in the global superpower land of opportunity, that America continues to be, has to come to grips with this phenomenon. Government has to put its money where its mouth is; conduct a wide surveillance of the White racist groups at grassroots level, apprehend the domestic terrorists in the making and disband their groups that give them a colour of legitimacy by calling themselves musical or social groups. The immigrant and minority population in US too needs to take some steps. Firstly, they should become more mindful of the fact that living in America they should be more respectful of the mainstream American culture and values and adopt them where they can, and not isolate themselves from it, that makes them appear aliens in the land where they live as citizens and invites reaction. American culture is not bad per se; there are good elements in it and bad elements in it. Adopt the good elements. Secondly, when choosing where to live and where to have our business outlets, we should not concentrate our homes and stores in close proximity of each other, thereby making a ghetto of it that leads to reaction and alienation. Thirdly, instead of forcing the culture and customs from our mother countries on the youth in our daily lives, we should let them import the harmless customs of America that they imbibe in schools and colleges and let them make more friends with the mainstream American youth.    
 
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. 17

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