Posted on August 10, 2012

‘Sikhs Are Not Muslims’ Sends a Sinister Message

Scott C. Alexander, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2012

Almost from the beginning of their coverage of the horrific and deadly shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, CNN and other news media went out of their way to send a message to the American public: “Sikhs are not Muslims.”

But what were we to make of that message? If the temple’s members had been Muslims, would the attack have then been justified?

We say we don’t endorse prejudice against one group or another, but for some reason we also want to make sure people know who the “we” and the “they” really are. CNN would probably say it was simply trying to clear up a common misunderstanding that, in this case, may have been shared by the gunman himself. Fair enough. The assertion that Sikhs are not Muslims is certainly true. Jains are not Hindus, and Mormons are not Methodists either.

But in the post-9/11context of a deadly act committed by an apparent white supremacist against a congregation that is largely ethnically South Asian — a congregation that includes bearded men in turbans — broadcasting the mantra that “Sikhs are not Muslims” takes on a far more insidious subtext: Don’t blame these people, it implies, for the unspeakable crimes of 9/11. It’s Muslims you want.


At the height of the accusations that Obama was a closet Muslim, the only public figure I saw get it right was former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the first black man ever to hold that office. In his famous “Meet the Press” appearance on Oct. 19, 2008, Powell, like others, condemned the “false intimations” that Obama was a Muslim. But he then went on to say: “But really the right answer is, what if he is [a Muslim]? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s ‘No; that’s not America.’“

It’s time for all of us — Democrats and Republicans, “tea partyers” and Occupiers, conservative evangelicals and progressive Episcopalians, Latinos, blacks, Asians and whites alike — to take the kind of wise and principled stand that Powell took. {snip}