I have become a huge fan of the writings of Arthur Chu, whom most people know as the guy who pissed people off with his winning strategies on Jeopardy! His articles are very well written and always thought provoking. In this contribution to Salon, Chu discusses how racism and religious intolerance are being conflated into extremely disturbing and sometimes violent acts of harassment towards those who are assumed to be associated with Islam – in particular, Sikhs. Chu correctly notes that many apologists for religious intolerance claim that it is not racist, since religions are not races (which, while technically true, does not provide a reasonable excuse for targeting people based on their religion). But the very harassment that targets Sikhs (or other people who appear exotic or foreign to many Americans) shows that people do associate religion with race – that is, a person who looks a certain way must be a Muslim, and therefore, a terrorist. Chu’s overall point is that, while it is possible to rationally disagree with the tenets of Islam, it is not accurate to say that there is no racial/ethnic basis for people’s assumptions about who is Muslim; therefore, it is a dangerous perpetuation of racism to claim that disagreement with Islam has no racial basis or consequences. (For more on race and why it has no basis in biology, but is clearly very relevant culturally, read this post).
I wrote about something similar in this post, and I still hold to what I said there: I think it is disingenuous to claim that people committing terrorism in the name of their religious beliefs are not true practitioners of that religion. A Muslim terrorist is a Muslim, even if the majority of Muslims disagree with the terrorist’s radical interpretation and the acts committed in support of it. But I also agree with Chu that we are wrong – so very wrong – to attack every individual who we perceive to be of that faith. Read the article. It’s important.