Senate hearing holds key to understanding homegrown hate

GETTY IMAGES OAK CREEK, WI – AUGUST 10: Family and friends and community members gather at Oak Creek High School … Continued

GETTY IMAGES

OAK CREEK, WI – AUGUST 10: Family and friends and community members gather at Oak Creek High School to mourn the loss of 6 members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Aug. 10, 2012 in Oak Creek, Wis.

In the chaos of bullets, riots, and the murder of an ambassador and three other U.S. citizens, a congressional hearing held in a quiet corner of the U.S. Senate holds the key to understanding the many costs of homegrown hate.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the threat of hate groups and domestic extremism in America. The hearing is historic. While Congress has held dozens of hearings on the threat of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, this will be the first hearing in recent history on homegrown hate. However, the media has barely taken note.

While the hearing was called in response to the massacre of six worshippers in Oak Creek, Wis., in August , it is necessary to understand the global riots in the news today. The hearing can confront the consequences of allowing homegrown hate to go unchecked – but only if we connect the dots.

Let’s start with the anti-Islam film that sparked the riots. The U.S. produced film “Innocence of Muslims” is a product of homegrown hate designed to denigrate Muslims — a product successfully exported to the rest of the world. While anti-U.S. sentiment was seething beneath the surface long before the amateurish production, the single film became a catalyst for anti-U.S. riots around the globe. The film did not appear in a vacuum. It is one of many products from a network that profits from promoting anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S.

The Center for American Progress reports that between 2001 and 2009, seven foundations poured $42.6 million into well-organized think tanks to promote anti-Islam ideologies through blogs, books and films. Such propaganda became popular in the 2010 election season when some candidates used it to denigrate Islam or cast Muslim Americans as suspect during their campaigns. It is no surprise that the 2012 election season has seen a resurgence of anti-Islam propaganda.

At the same time as the explosive growth of the anti-Islam industry, we saw the alarming rise of white supremacist groups in America. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has grown by almost 60 percent since 2000. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security released a report on the sudden increase of white supremacist hate groups, most notably anti-government groups, since President Obama’s 2008 election. Today hate groups in America number more than a thousand.

The proliferation of hate groups combined with the rise of hate-fueled propaganda produces conditions ripe for extremist violence. In 2009, a gunman killed a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. In 2011, someone attempted to plant an explosive devise at a Martin Luther King Day parade in Washington. Last month, white supremacist Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh house of worship and opened fire, killing six and injuring three more. Anti-Muslim hate crimes are now at an all-time high since 2001. We don’t know the exact number of anti-Sikh hate crimes, because the FBI does not specifically track them.

Underreported but true: There have been twice as many attacks on U.S. soil by white supremacist groups than by al-Qaeda inspired groups since Sept. 11, 2001. Sadly, investigating extremism in the Muslim American community writ large has captured far more national concern than in violent right-wing hate groups. A white Christian terrorist just does not fit cleanly into a decade-long narrative that casts Muslims as terrorists.

Such missed opportunities for genuine storytelling and truth-telling abound: stories of Muslims in Libya defending the consulate and rushing Ambassador Stevens to medical help; thousands from across the faith spectrum galvanizing a historic Senate hearing to prevent another Oak Creek tragedy. Stories of people uniting in the face of extremism can help us retire old us vs. them narratives.

It’s time to decry extremism in all forms: just as we rightfully condemn the extremists who incite anti-U.S. violence abroad, we must also reject extremism in all forms on our own U.S. soil. The Senate hearing provides a critical first step.

To be sure, we must not treat extremist hate speech and hate crimes as equivalent. Most hate speech is protected under the First Amendment; hate crimes violate law. As a filmmaker and civil rights advocate, I view most hate speech as free speech – whether the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” or the songs of Wade Michael Page’s white-power rock band “End Apathy.” But I also believe acts of extremist violence are nurtured in the social imagination long before they find expression. We can pursue domestic extremism in ways consistent with our commitment to civil liberties.

This means confronting hard truths. The Oak Creek gunman showed up in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s database a decade ago, but the government did not track him. In fact, when former analyst Daryl Johnson released a report on the alarming rise of white supremacist hate groups in America, the Department of Homeland Security caved into the political backlash and shut down Johnson’s team. It left just one analyst to focus on domestic terrorism by non-Muslims. It’s time to change the way we fight terror.

The Sikh American organizations who requested the congressional hearing understand that the costs of homegrown hate concern us all. In some cases, it results in violence against targeted communities at home, as in the Oak Creek massacre. In other cases, it incites violence at the hands of extremists in targeted communities abroad, as in the attacks in Libya and other countries. The outcome is the same: innocent people are caught in the gunfire.

The hearing has already earned the support of community leaders across the spectrum: African American, Latino American, Jewish and Muslim American, LGBTQ American, to name a few. Our media and elected officials cannot afford to ignore them. The world needs America to lead in exporting love and dignity – not hate and division.

Valarie Kaur , an award-winning filmmaker, legal advocate, and interfaith organizer, is founding director of Groundswell , an initiative at Auburn Seminary that combines storytelling and advocacy to mobilize faith communities in social action. Kaur studied religion and law at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School, where she now directs the Yale Visual Law Project . Her documentary “Divided We Fall” is the first feature film on hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11. You can follow her on Twitter at @valariekaur.

About

  • jburnetti

    I suggest the Senators open the hearings by playing PAC-funded political commercials by their supporters – to help them gain a greater understanding of hate and lack of discourse in America.

  • lowranger1

    The S.L.P.C. is the most vile of organizations labeling as “hate groups” those who don’t subscribe to their perverted value system.

    The Hartford Courant
    August 21, 2012

    “An Enfield man admitted in court Tuesday that he sent hundreds of threatening letters to the director of the socially conservative Family Institute of Connecticut, which is at the forefront of political opposition in Hartford to gay marriage.

    The guilty plea in U.S. District Court by Daniel Sarno comes a week after an apparently similarly motivated event in which an armed man espousing opposition to social conservatism shot a security guard while trying to enter the offices of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 15.”

  • Kingofkings1

    This is one of the sanest voices on this important topic of extremism and hate to come from recent discussions. Many more people need to be exposed to this thoughtful analysis for society’s benefit

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

concert
Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

shutterstock_37148347
What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.