Minority Report

Faith Groups Denounce Rise in Islamophobia a Decade After 9/11

The Root Cause of Prejudice Against Sikhs
By Anju Kaur | September 11, 2011
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“That was not the only attack on America,” said Tarunjit Singh Butalia, general secretary of the World Sikh Council – America Region. “Muslims and anyone who looked like Muslims were attacked soon thereafter to cleanse America of these terrorist look-alikes.”

Tarunjit Singh was among more than a dozen speakers at a news conference this week for ‘Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing With American Muslims; Upholding American Values,’ a national coalition of 26 faith groups, denominations, and interfaith organizations, at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington. Although the World Sikh Council is not a member of the coalition, it was invited to represent the sentiments of the Sikh community in the United States.

“Many Sikhs will declare authoritatively, and rightfully so, that Sikhs are not Muslims,” Tarunjit Singh said at the news conference. “It is true that prejudice against Sikhs is misdirected, however, dealing with misdirected prejudice does not mean that we should be spared at the expense of our fellow Muslim American brothers and sisters.”

The idea for this coalition began in September 2010 when nearly 40 senior religious leaders convened at the National Press Club in Washington for an interfaith summit to challenge the anti-Muslim sentiment that arose from the controversy that summer over a proposed Muslim community center near Ground Zero in New York City. The summit led the Islamic Society of North America to form the coalition earlier this year, to continue working on efforts to end anti-Muslim bigotry.

On Thursday, Sept. 8, the interfaith organization reflected on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 by honoring families of three of the 9/11 Muslim victims, including a newly married couple and a good Samaritan.

“But in addition to remembering and mourning we also come together today to ask what kind of nation have we become in the aftermath of 9/11?” said Reverend Michael Kinnamon, from he National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. “To the extent that we have become a fearful nation, a revengeful nation, an intolerant and divided nation, we have given terrorists a victory by creating a society in their image.

“Standing together with Muslims is an expression of my own Christian faith, which teaches me, with God’s help, to love others, not just those who are like me, but to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.”

The coalition also recognized four of the hundreds of organizations and congregations across the country for their local efforts to end anti-Muslim bigotry.

Richard Nodel of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit talked about one of those efforts.

“The relations between the Jewish community and the Muslim community in Detroit are very complicated,” he said. Detroit has the largest Arab and Muslim population in North America, and the Jewish community is a smaller but significant force.

When Nodel became president of the council two years ago, there was very little communication between the two communities, he said. Over the years there had been attempts to come together and have conversations, but due to the political situation in the Middle East, all of those attempts ended very poorly.

Nodel initiated a new attempt at a conversation. Just as Jewish workers volunteer to work on Christmas so Christian workers can have time off, Muslim workers offered to work on a Jewish holiday. They supplied more than one hundred volunteers. Jews reciprocated. The next effort was a free interfaith health fair. More cooperative events are underway.

“We agreed that we are not going to agree on political issues, we’re not going to agree on the Middle East, but we do need to agree on issues that affect us all as human beings” Nodel said. “As a result of both events, we once again are able to sit down at the table, talk about what’s going on, and have respect for one another.”

The greatest factor in the rise of Islamophobia in recent years has been the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, especially on the news talk shows, many of the speakers said.

The coalition’s news conference last year, for example, was a much larger gathering with many more media outlets covering the event. But it was barely mentioned in the news the next day, said James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute. “The real story for them was the guy in Florida burning the Qur’an. That’s what drew the attention.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans wanted to know more about Islam and the Arabs, he added. “They had questions they wanted answered but it was who the media turned to provide that information that so was disturbing. And the result is that misinformation became people’s knowledge, and people’s ideas about Islam were fed in the years that followed 9/11, creating the situation that we have today.”

There were other factors. Americans were reacting from a void of information, information that the educational system does not provide, Zogby said. And, like the gay marriage issue in previous elections, the recent enactment by some states of laws forbidding Sharia law is political maneuvering to create a new wedge issue in the next election cycle. The first amendment already provides for the separation of church and state.

“It is a political problem, it is, yes, a media problem, it is a problem of our educational institutions, but it’s become a problem for not just Muslims, it has become a problem for America as a whole,” he said. “It threatens the very fabric of who we are as a people.”

The root cause of prejudice against Sikhs since 9/11 is not mistaken identity, Tarunjit Singh added after the news conference. It is suspicion and prejudice against Muslims themselves.

“Much of the efforts of the Sikh community since 9/11 have focused on correcting the "mistaken identity" issue through education and outreach,” he said. “We can educate all we want that Sikhs are not Muslims but this will not be as effective since we have not addressed the root cause.

“We should take inspiration from our ninth Guru sahib and stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters at this hour of need. We can't remain silent anymore about anti-Muslim attitudes in our nation.”

Member Organizations

  1. American Baptist Churches USA
  2. Arab American Institute
  3. Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  4. Church of the Brethren
  5. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
  6. Episcopal Church
  7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  8. Faith in Public Life
  9. Foundation for Ethnic Understanding
  10. General Board of Church and Society
  11. Interfaith Alliance
  12. Islamic Society of North America
  13. Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  14. Jewish Theological Seminary of America
  15. National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
  16. National Religious Campaign Against Torture
  17. New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
  18. Rabbis for Human Rights - North America
  19. Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/ Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
  20. Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
  21. Presbyterian Church (USA)
  22. Sojourners
  23. Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
  24. United Church of Christ
  25. United States Conference of Catholic Bishop
  26. Universal Muslim Association of America

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Video courtesy Reverend Steven D. Martin, executive director of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.