Most Americans reacted with disgust and revulsion when a white supremacist opened fire in a Sikh gurdwara and killed six innocent people in suburban Milwaukee this month.
It is heartwarming that all segments of society condemned this wanton act of terrorism, and the bizarre philosophy that underpins such acts. But we seldom reflect on why such things happen. What compels a man such as Wade Michael Page to go on a rampage?
Perhaps the same reasons compelled U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a psychologist, and Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, each of whom faces charges in mass shootings, to kill innocent people in the cause of something they hold dear.
The incident in Milwaukee could have been a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps the gunman thought he was avenging the 9/11 attacks on America. Most likely, he did not know the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim.
The media and its talking heads have a tendency to dismiss such an incident as the work of a lone, crazy man. But how could we not think that the xenophobic hatemongering that emanates from some Protestant pulpits and the ranting of right-wing radio shock jocks and born-again patriots might have something to do with it?
Since 9/11, foreigners in general and Muslims in particular have been under scrutiny in our country. A certain brand of Christianity has played a devilish role in creating an atmosphere that provides oxygen to the ruthless and the mindless.
During his short-lived campaign for the Republican nomination for president, Herman Cain declared that if he were elected, he would not include Muslims in his administration.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who also was a contender for the GOP nomination, recently warned that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the highest levels of U.S. government. She pointed an accusing finger at Huma Abedin, chief of staff of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It was such a preposterous charge that Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain felt compelled to repudiate the accusation from the floor of the Senate. To their credit, other Republican leaders echoed Senator McCain's statement. In contrast, Mitt Romney and his campaign remained silent.
You could dismiss Ms. Bachmann's assertions as the bizarre ranting of an ambitious politician who is pandering to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. But the damage it causes to individuals and the sustenance it provides to those on the extreme fringes of our society cannot be dismissed.
It seems that many people who harbor the ambition of leading our country have forgotten the bizarre spectacle of Senate hearings in the early 1950s. Joe McCarthy, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, tried to convince the nation that communists had infiltrated the government and the Armed Forces.
In the process, he destroyed many lives and reputations. He remains a disgraced figure in American history.
There is a general feeling among many Americans that they and their country are under siege. But it is the other way around: The Muslim population of this country and its lookalikes are under siege.
A wave of Islamophobia is sweeping the country. It demonizes all Muslims, including those who are American citizens. They are called unpatriotic, potential terrorists, and fifth columnists.
Muslims are subjected to unprecedented scrutiny when they travel. Their bank accounts can be probed at will, and their conversations recorded and their telephones tapped for the flimsiest of reasons.
A Muslim name, a foreign accent, or native dress rings alarm bells in the minds of our fellow citizens. And those who are supposed to guard and protect us are now complicit in spying on us.
Last year, the Associated Press published a series of investigative reports about the New York Police Department and the FBI infiltrating Muslim communities and mosques. According to the reports -- which won a Pulitzer Prize -- the NYPD sent undercover officers into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program.
The police also sent informants called "mosque crawlers" to monitor activities and sermons. This was done not as a result of specific information, but as part of a wide dragnet. Many of these mosque operations and infiltrations of Muslim student groups were put together with the help of the CIA.
The New York Times reported this month that the much-touted psychological profiling of passengers at Logan International Airport in Boston turned out to be the guise for indiscriminate racial profiling of Middle Easterners, African-Americans, and Hispanics.
The tragedy in Milwaukee, whether the result of mistaken identity or willful targeting of the Sikh community, underscores the possible links between some political leaders and preachers who fan the fires of hatred and the likes of Page who act on that hatred.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org