5 years after Sikh attack, extremism still isn't taken seriously enough

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Story highlights

  • Simran Jeet Singh: Far-right attacks on minorities account for large share of terrorism
  • Not enough is being done to prevent such attacks, Singh says

Simran Jeet Singh is a professor of religion at Trinity University and senior feligion fellow for the Sikh Coalition. He also is the Henry R. Luce fellow for religion in international affairs at New York University's Center for Religion and Media. The views expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)On August 5, 2012, a known white supremacist entered a Sikh place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and opened fire on the congregation. Wade Michael Page's murderous rampage, which ultimately took six innocent lives, was the deadliest attack on Sikh Americans in our nation's history.

For minorities, the event served as a reminder that not even our houses of worship are safe from hate -- a notion that has been reinforced throughout history. In 1963, three members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four young girls and injuring 22 others. In 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black Americans during a prayer service in Charleston, South Carolina, in one of America's oldest black churches.
Simran Jeet Singh
Today the violent manifestations of white nationalism loom over our country even more ominously. Recent rhetoric from our political leaders has emboldened white supremacists to act on their feelings of prejudice. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, following the election of President Donald Trump, America experienced a sharp spike in hate incidents around the country and a continued growth in the number of far-right hate groups.
    Right-wing extremism accounts for a significant share of deadly terrorism, yet it does not receive enough attention from law enforcement. This disconnect between reality and the way our government is addressing threats to our security is even more alarming when you look at the resources being dedicated to combating both foreign and domestic threats.
    According to Gordon Adams, a national security budget expert, we spend at least $100 billion annually on counterterrorism efforts, while a report from the Government Accountability Office estimates that the Department of Homeland Security only spent about $50 million last year to counter the growth of violent extremism of all kinds in the United States.
    These fund allocations are misguided. Yes, we should take seriously the threats from international terror groups, but by failing to devote sufficient resources to combat the equally serious threat of white supremacy, we neglect the danger facing minorities in our own communities. If we treated hate groups with the seriousness and urgency that they deserve, we could potentially prevent the next Dylann Roof or the next Wade Michael Page from extinguishing innocent lives.
    A contributing factor to this problem is our conceptual language -- we tend to reserve the term "terrorist" for people who have an affiliation with Islam. When a significant attack takes place, we all know what authorities mean when they say they are investigating whether or not it was an act of terrorism. In today's parlance, "terrorist" has become racially coded.
    As a turbaned Sikh American, I can attest that there is a deep sense of discomfort that comes with being constantly perceived as a suspect -- whether it is being racially profiled by airport security or seeing mothers hold their children closer when I walk by.
    It is difficult for people to look past my turban, beard and brown skin because we have all been conditioned to fear people who look like me. I fit squarely into the stereotype of a terrorist, so it comes as no surprise that people often treat me as the enemy. But if they could look beyond my appearance, they would realize they have no reason to fear me.
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    The racial profiling of anyone Muslim or perceived to be Muslim has taken an immense toll on us all. Until we change our conception of what constitutes terror, hate groups will continue to grow and white supremacist extremists will continue to murder innocent Americans. The first step in combating this hate: closing the gap between what facts show as the actual threat and where we focus our attention and resources. Only then can we create a society that is safe for us all.