The concept of cause and effect plays out every day in every human being’s life, and some actions are meant to produce a desired effect over a long period of time. For the past eleven years, conservatives have demonized the Muslim religion (cause) for the sole purpose of striking fear and loathing in the population (effect) regardless there is any real threat or danger from Americans who adhere to Islam. Using fear-mongering to achieve an effect is a favorite tactic of Republicans, and as is usually the case, fear turns into anger and hate that garners support for Republican policies and agendas. The opposition to an Islamic community center near Ground Zero was a result of conservative propaganda that had no basis in fact, but it did serve the Republican’s purpose of stirring up hate and suspicion towards Muslims. The news yesterday that 7 people were killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was another reminder that perpetual fear and hate-mongering inspires devastating results when the wrong person reaches their breaking point, and it was just a matter of time before there was an act of violence in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is home to an ongoing movement to block construction of a mosque in Brookfield, because of community fears of Sharia Law being implemented and spreading throughout the region. In fact, across America there is case after case of Republicans warning that Sharia, or Islamic law, poses a threat to the United States as grave as or graver than terrorism. In the case of the Brookfield mosque, on the same day Islamic leaders invited the public to attend an open house and ask questions about Islam, an anti-Islam rally sponsored by a Christian radio station, VCY America, was held at the Waukesha Expo Center “to find out if the message about what Islam really is getting out properly.” A local preacher said, “I hold freedom of religion very dear, but Islam is not just a religion; it is also a state government system, completely contrary to our system of government, our Constitution should not be subverted to sharia law.” The preacher’s remarks are not unique, and inform the level of ignorance about the Constitution that is rampant in that segment of the population that thrives on hate.
The threat of Sharia Law is non-existent in America, but coupled with conservative and fanatical evangelical’s persistent claims that this country was founded as, and remains, a Christian nation serves to fuel suspicion and opposition to Islam that is, whether Christians admit it or not, a legitimate religion. The notion of Sharia Law replacing the Constitution is about as valid as extremist Christian attempts to replace the Constitution with the Christian bible’s Ten Commandments as the law of the land, but persistent accusations that Muslims are terrorists plotting the overthrow of the government keeps the issue alive and growing.
It is too early to know if the shooter in Wisconsin mistook Sikhs for Muslims, or if he acted out of a twisted belief he was protecting America from an Islamic threat, but with the propaganda campaign and fear-mongering about the threat of Islam, it will not be surprising if he thought he was killing Muslims to stop Sharia Law. Although the anti-Islam movement began after 9/11, it gained traction when an African-American man ran for President, and since Barack Obama has been in office, there has been increasing vitriol targeting Muslim-Americans.
Yesterday this column cited a sharp increase in the number of conservative Republicans who are certain President Obama is a Muslim, and it is due in no small part to the escalation of lies from right-wing talking heads. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and the Fox News crowd have made a concerted effort to impugn the President as not American, a foreigner, and a Muslim. The right-wing assault on Muslims is not unlike Adolf Hitler’s propaganda against the Jews in Nazi Germany that eventually convinced Germans to turn in their neighbors for imprisonment and slaughter. Fox News and their ilk have utilized the same tactics to impugn President Obama and Muslims, and add to that the ambiguous statements of evangelical Christian leaders questioning the “kind of Christianity” the President adheres to, and it is no wonder frightened racists develop an abnormal fear of Muslims. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Willard Romney has made questioning the President’s understanding of what it means to be American a crucial aspect of his campaign, and the fallacious accusations that President Obama travelled to the Middle East to apologize and appease the Muslim world creates more suspicion, fear, and hatred of Muslims by associating them with the foreign President.
Americans should have been appalled at the opposition to an Islamic Center near Ground Zero from Republicans who used the terror attacks to invoke hatred toward Muslims, but with Fox News and Republican lawmakers lining up to show their outrage, it soon became a pariah to speak up for religious freedom. Republicans have, in fact, played the religious freedom card to great effect in their fight to restrict women’s access to contraception, but as has been noted several times, their version of religious liberty means the right to impose radical Christianity on the entire population. However, as the preacher above said, he holds religious freedom in the highest regard, as long as it is his religious freedom to exclude Islam that he claimed was not a religion at all, but a state government system that is contrary to the Constitution.
This country is in jeopardy of erupting into sectarian violence based on race and religion, and in fact, among ultra-right wing fringe groups there is persistent talk of a coming race war. In the coming days Americans will learn what, if any, motivation caused a thirty-something white male to drive to a Sikh temple and begin shooting innocent Americans congregating to worship in the manner they see fit. One thing is clear, the man did not drive to the local Baptist or Assembly of God church and open fire on white congregants, and there were no anti-Catholic rallies in Wisconsin to incite protests against Vatican law leaving only one plausible conclusion; something drove a white man to gun down dark-skinned people with long beards and head coverings, and one can imagine that he confused peaceful Sikhs with equally peaceful Muslims he thought were plotting to replace the Constitution with Sharia Law and conquer America. If he had been paying attention, he would know America has already been conquered by right-wing hate and their propaganda machine at Fox News and the Republican National Committee.