President Barack Obama during a phone call from Air Force One on 1 August 2012.(White House Photo)
As soon as news came of a bomb attack that killed Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on 18 July, US President Barack Obama condemned it in the most strident terms – even though, then, as now, the perpetrator and his motive remain unknown.
Obama’s statement left no room for ambiguity:
I strongly condemn today’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured, and with the people of Israel, Bulgaria, and any other nation whose citizens were harmed in this awful event. These attacks against innocent civilians, including children, are completely outrageous. The United States will stand with our allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack. As Israel has tragically once more been a target of terrorism, the United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.
Such sentiments at the killing of innocent people are understandable. But why has Obama so far refused to condemn in equally strong terms Wade Michael Page’s murderous rampage that killed six people at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin yesterday?
Obama won’t call it “terrorism”
It has since been confirmed that the FBI is treating the attack as “domestic terrorism” and it has now become clear that the killer has a long history of white supremacist views and activism.
Yet in further comments today, Obama treated the attack as just another (all too awful) mass shooting as happened in Aurora, Colorado on 20 July.
As ABC reports:
President Obama said today that he is “heartbroken” by the deadly shooting at the Sikh religious center in Wisconsin and renewed his call to reduce violence across the country.
“I think all of us recognize that these kinds of terrible tragic events are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul searching and to examine additional ways that we can reduce violence,” the president told reporters in the Oval Office when asked about the gunman who killed six people in Oak Creek Sunday.
The president made similar remarks after the deadly shooting in Aurora, Colo., last month, but is not proposing any additional gun controls. “What I want to do is bring together law enforcement, community leaders, faith leaders, elected officials at every level to see how we can make continued progress,” he said today.
Obama reluctant to point to racism
Obama continued, according to ABC:
“We don’t yet know fully what motivated this individual to carry out this terrible act. If it turns out, as some early reports indicated, that it may have been motivated in some way by the ethnicity of those who were attending the temple, I think the American people immediately recoil against those kinds of attitudes,” the president said. “It will be very important for us to reaffirm once again that in this country, regardless of what we look like, where we come from, who we worship, we are all one people and we look after one other and we respect one another.”
The president’s comments came as he signed the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act” at the White House.
Page was a veteran of the United States Army.
Silence in the face of racist incitement
Obama’s shameful timidity in forthrightly condemning what happened in Wisconsin is hardly surprising. After all, this is a president with a “kill list” for Muslims including Americans.
But even for show, could he really not muster the kind of outrage he did for Israelis, for his own fellow citizens?
Is it appropriate that Obama condemned what happened to Israelis in Bulgaria as “barbaric terrorism” while he is merely “heartbroken” at the slaughter in Wisconsin, as if he is a mere bystander and not the president of the United States?
When Obama declares that “we are all one people” who must look after one another regardless of what we look like, it is he who needs to practice what he preaches.
Obama has been consistent in his refusal to confront the racism unleashed by his candidacy and subsequent election that came atop post-9/11 Muslim-bashing and dehumanization of people of color inherent in warmongering abroad.
His reponse to accusations that he’s Muslim is never ‘so what if I were?’ but always along the lines of ‘no, no I’m a Christian like you.’
Two summers ago, right-wing activists invented the fake “Ground Zero mosque” controversy to generate fear and hatred in the run-up to the 2010 mid-term elections. What I always found more frightening than the noise from Islamophobic clowns was the silence of elected officials, especially Democrats who purport to uphold liberal and inclusive values.
With their silence, they gave consent, and the crescendo of racist fearmongering – that targets more than just Muslims – has continued to rise.
Neither Sikhs nor Muslims are collectively guilty
Sikhs were among the first victims of the racist backlash after 9/11. It is common to say they are mistaken for Muslims who are the real targets of such attacks. This is wrong. Muslims are no more collectively guilty than Sikhs or any other group. But more importantly violent racists are not interested in distinctions.
In 2010, when he traveled to India, Obama refused to visit the main shrine of Sikhism, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, because he did not want to be photographed wearing a Sikh headcovering and be confused for a Muslim by illiterate Americans back home.
Obama was pandering to racists then, as he is despicably doing now. The difference now is that blood has been spilled in Wisconsin, and the time for this kind of cowardice ought to have passed.