As I watched CNN’s coverage on Sunday of yet another mass killing, it was easy to notice the immediate on-air confusion, as expressed by HuffPo:
The complications of covering a relatively small religious group (there are between 25 and 30 million Sikhs in the world) were clear on Sunday. Outlets like BuzzFeed and writers like Sunny Hundal compiled several examples of reporters struggling with the facts of the religion: a Fox News analyst asking if there had been any “anti-Semitic acts” in the past against Sikhs; CNN’s Don Lemon wondering if Sikhs have “traditional enemies,” or if the shooter had “beef with the Sikhs”; a local Wisconsin station saying that the religion is “based in northern Italy.”
I have noticed the coverage today is turning toward developing an understanding of the Sikh religion, which is often confused with that religion Americans are supposed to alternately fear and hate, Islam. Here in Joplin we likely have at least one person who acted on his fear and/or hate of Islam early this morning:
A mosque in southwest Missouri burned to the ground early Monday in the second fire to hit the Islamic center in little more than a month, officials said.
Let’s face it. The reason the now-dead thug in Wisconsin targeted a Sikh temple, and the reason someone may have burned a Joplin mosque to the ground, has little to do with religious distinctions, fine or otherwise. It has to do with cultural angst over foreignness and pigmentation, the same kind of angst exploited for political gain by Obama-haters on the right.
We don’t know who set fire to the Joplin mosque—though the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR, the group that figures prominently in Glenn Beck’s conspiratorial fantasies) is offering a $10,000 reward for help in finding and convicting the guilty party—but we do know who killed the Sikhs in Wisconsin. The Southern Poverty Law Center specializes in following American hate groups and it reported today that the killer was,
a frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.
Now, before I get hammered by right-wingers playing the-left-always-blames-this-stuff-on-conservatives game, obviously the bastard that killed those folks in Wisconsin is not on a par with, say, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who last month said about the upcoming election:
The fact that it’s not a question of whether can Mitt Romney win. The question is — the statement is, Mitt Romney has to win for the sake of the very idea of America. Mitt Romney has to win for liberty and freedom and we have to put an end to this Barack Obama presidency before it puts an end to our way of life in America.
No, issuing that kind of rhetoric, coupled with four years of right-wing suggestions and statements that Mr. Obama is not one of “us,” is not the same as gunning down innocent Sikhs or burning down Islamic centers. No one is suggesting that.
But Priebus’ appeal, as well as similar appeals by conservatives, is to the same paranoid part of the right-wing brain that, when operating at full tilt, does engineer the kind of acts we saw over this weekend, as unhinged people do terrible things to those they have learned to hate.