Today’s shooting at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee is a tragic sign that the violent rhetoric of a growing anti-Muslim movement has deadly consequences.
Reports indicate that six individuals were murdered inside the temple and the shooter was killed by a police officer in an exchange of gunfire. Several others were critically injured, including an officer who was among the first to respond.
While it remains unclear what the motivations of the gunman were, Oak Creek’s police chief, John Edwards, said the shooting is being treated as a domestic terror attack. While followers of Sikhism are not Muslim, they often are on the receiving end of anti-Muslim hate. The U.S. Sikh community has been the target of numerous racially-motivated attacks in recent years, as have other communities in the aftermath of 9/11.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the government has investigated “over 800 incidents since 9/11 involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South-Asian Americans and other individuals perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin. The incidents have consisted of…assaults with dangerous weapons and assaults resulting in serious injury and death; and vandalism, shootings, arson and bombings directed at homes, businesses, and places of worship.”
From the backlash to the planned Muslim cultural center, Park51, to anti-Muslim advertisements, legislative attacks on Islam, Qur’an burnings and a sharp rise in attacks on Mosques, it is clear that deep-seated Islamophobia is increasing. These incidents of religious intolerance are steeped in racial hatred and permeated with strains of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Today’s attack was eerily reminiscent of the Oslo, Norway massacre that occurred just one year ago. That attack was perpetrated by a man heavily influenced by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations active in the U.S.
Anti-Muslim arguments have gained mainstream recognition through a number of organizations and their leaders, but the most intense activity has come from the network leading the anti-Sharia movement. Coordinating the “grassroots” component of this effort is ACT! for America and its founder Brigitte Gabriel. ACT! For America established chapters all over the U.S. This has provided Gabriel a solid base of support to organize speaking events and conferences for supporters who are responding to the so-called “tyranny of radical Islam.”
While it specializes in these grassroots activities, ACT! for America also includes a lobbying component. In 2010 it spent $45,000 coaxing voters to pass Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia referendum SQ 755, and another $30,000 while encouraging federal legislators to oppose “Shariah Compliant Finance transactions.”
The other critical element to organized Islamophobia is its legal wing, spearheaded by one of its most prolific advocates, David Yerushalmi.
Loosely affiliated with ACT! for America, Yerushalmi is a lawyer hailed as “an expert on Islamic Law.” He wrote the model legislation that eventually became Tennessee’s HB 3768/SB 3470 and Louisiana’s HB 785—the heavily imitated anti-Sharia bills that have been signed into law. Yerushalmi also represented Stop the Islamization of America’s controversial bus advertisement campaign opposing a proposed mosque “near” the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, resulting in a lawsuit against the City of New York.
Today’s alleged act of domestic terror is a catastrophic blow to the security of the U.S. Sikh community and the American people as a whole. Until xenophobia is stamped out, deadly violence will continue. The American people must unequivocally acknowledge racist activity in their communities and take steps to counter it.