Blaming the Victims

Why is the U.S. media demanding that Sikhs defend their faith?

See more on who the Sikhs really are here.

This Sunday, Aug. 5, 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and massacred six worshippers. Page, a white Christian with links to an extremist group, committed an act of violence against a religious community in the United States. This, by the FBI's definition, was an act of terrorism. But that designation seemed to baffle some media outlets. That day NBC News qualified its story with "it was not immediately clear why local police were classifying the shooting with domestic terrorism." (By Tuesday, a Fox News analyst claimed that the Wisconsin shooting was not terrorism -- because Page was a 'nut job' who mistook Sikhs for Muslims -- in contrast with the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, which is terrorism because the shooter was protesting the policies of the United States government.)

When coverage started in earnest on Sunday, a Fox News anchor asked a witness whether there had been previous acts of "anti-Semitism." A Fox local news report claimed that Sikhs were "based in northern Italy." And the host of CNN's Newsroom Don Lemon struggled with the "murky detail" of whether Sikhs were Hindus, Muslims, or a different sect altogether; he later postulated that the killer "could be someone who has beef with the Sikhs."


Why the insensitive media coverage? Part of the problem comes from American ignorance about Sikhs, who make up just 0.16 percent of the American population (there are approximately 27 million Sikhs worldwide). But the bigger problem is that too many American journalists (and Americans) equate terrorism with Muslims. So when an act of terrorism occurs that appears to have nothing to do with Islam, some media outlets struggle with how to frame the killings.

After realizing that Sikhism is its own religion (based in northern India, not northern Italy), both Fox and CNN explained that Sikhs were "unfairly" mistaken for Muslims. In other words, Sikhs were an unfortunate casualty in the war on terrorism -- "unfairly" mistaken for a group expected to be involved in the violence. As Sunday unfolded, CNN decided it needed to clear Sikhs of any links to violent religious ideology, and to clarify that Sikhism, although it is not Christianity or Judaism, is peaceful. In a conversation between Surinder Singh, representative of the Guru Nanak Mission Society of Atlanta, a Sikh religious organization, and CNN's Rob Marciano and Don Lemon, the news anchors seem more concerned about the tenets of Sikhism than the implications of an crime against, as the interviewee rightly puts it, mankind:

INTERVIEWEE: But whoever did this one is -- I would say-a crime against humanity. It is not about Sikhs. It is not about Muslims. It's not about Hindus. It's about the human mankind.

LEMON: Very well said.

MARCIANO: An excellent point, Mr. Singh. And back to the religion specifics, now that we have you, and our viewers may be wondering or are uneducated in the theology on this, describe for us in brief what are the pillars of your faith?

To its credit, when CNN broke the news story, it cautiously used, a website maintained by Sikhs, to describe Sikhism as a religion that "developed about 500 years ago, and their main belief is to seek the truth."

But by 3 p.m., the narrative of "mistaken identity" really took hold. Several media outlets, including MSNBC, CNN, and the Associated Press argued repeatedly that many Americans confused Sikhs with Muslims because of their beards and turbans. Instead of simply stating that an act of racism and hatred was committed against a religious group in the country, the media put Sikhs on the defensive. It required Sikhs to explain not only the pillars of their faith but asked them to speculate on why this would happen to their community.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Sikh Coalition, there were at least 300 reported incidents of attacks against Sikhs in the first month after 9/11. Some Sikhs, like Satwant Singh Kaleka, the temple's president who was one of the six slain in the attack, hung big American flags outside their window to show their patriotism. But in interviews on television and print, Sikhs had to continue to state they were not Muslim or members of the Taliban. The media pushed Sikhs into a binary of "terrorist/good citizen," and used their sound bites over the past two days to reinforce this narrative.

The media's coverage ultimately raised more questions than it answered: When we have a tragedy when American lives are being lost, why do we spend the majority of our time trying to understand what Sikhs are? And if the shooter did want to kill Sikhs, and hadn't mistaken them for Muslims, would Sikhs be responsible for explaining his motivations? Are we trying to decide whether or not they are "worthy" victims?

Many in the media missed an incredible opportunity on Sunday: to help re-frame how we see domestic terrorism -- an act against Americans -- even if the victims are brown and the perpetrator is a white Christian.



Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor French Millionaires

So France’s new Socialist president wants to soak the rich? My message to French job-creators fleeing the nouveau régime: Mississippi welcomes you.

The first European settlement in Mississippi, Fort Maurepas, was established by French explorateur Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville in 1699. With the recent announcement by France's Socialist president, François Hollande, of a tax plan to soak the rich, should Americans and others get ready for another French emigration, not of explorers but of entrepreneurs and other employers?

Because that's what may be about to happen -- and it could happen to the United States if Barack Obama and the Democrats follow in Hollande's footsteps.

You might think that the purpose of the new and higher French taxes was to significantly affect the deficit. But it wasn't. Rather, writes Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post, who notes that the higher income tax "raises too little money to make a dent in France's funding needs," the Socialist tax plan "is more of a political symbol than an economic measure. It will help give Hollande political cover."

Sacre bleu!

Perhaps Monsieur Hollande's leftist political base may be placated by skyrocketing tax rates on job creators, but businesses and investors say the actual, as opposed to the symbolic, economic effect will be to reduce growth -- a tall order when one considers that economic growth this year in France is predicted to be a paltry 0.2 percent as it is!

Many Americans, especially Republicans and other critics of Obama's economic policies, believe the Democrats' proposal to increase the individual income tax by 10 percent on top earners; to increase the capital gains tax; to collect payroll taxes on investment income; to tax employers who don't provide their employees with health insurance by $3,000 per employee; to create a variety of other new taxes related to Obamacare and to increase taxes on the U.S. oil and gas industry by $4.2 billion a year, will hurt the U.S. economy. Even former President Bill Clinton has warned that raising taxes in a bad economy is a mistake.

The French tax increases are, of course, far larger than those proposed in the United States; not only would those making more than $1.23 million a year be taxed on all gains over this amount at a 75 percent rate, but taxpayers who make less than $100,000 per year would be taxed at 48 percent. And that's after already paying a 19.6 percent sales tax or VAT!

If you think the French are taxing everything that moves, you're not far off. 

Indeed, Hollande's new tax policy levies a 3 percent "one-time" wealth tax on assets held by individuals (foreign or French) in France, when the value of the assets equals more than 1.3 million euros, or about $1.75 million. Corporate taxes will be increased in a variety of ways, such as a 3 percent tax corporations must pay on the dividends they pay out to their shareholders. And new taxes will be levied on financial transactions, on lending institutions, and on oil and gas companies.

France's neighbors have adopted different strategies to try to regain economic growth and return the costs of government services to sustainable levels. They have avoided large tax increases. 

Unlike the Socialist government in France, most European countries not only think higher taxes aren't productive in resolving fiscal issues but would reduce growth or deepen their economic blues. A few actually foresee another negative for their French neighbors as a result of these tax increases: a flight of wealthy French citizens, including some non-citizens residing in France (as they generally will be subjected to the new taxes) and French corporations or their suppliers.

And indeed, this seems to be happening. The Financial Times reports that more French people are considering moving out of the country. British Prime Minister David Cameron even declared that Her Majesty's Government will "roll out the red carpet" for French businesspeople fleeing the big tax increases.

And Hollande can't be happy about the reported comments of French business leaders. The head of Medef, the French employers' federation, said earlier this summer that the new higher tax regime will "dry out the economy" at a time when "company profits and orders [are] tumbling and investments [are] frozen."

The French are asking: "Will the Socialists' ‘soak the rich' regime work as the left hopes, or will it hurt growth and make job creation much harder, as many expect?"

Their neighbors are asking a parallel question: "Will their gigantic taxes drive French citizens and non-citizen residents to leave the country to avoid being soaked?"

Switzerland is already preparing. "It's open hunting season on the wealthy in France," Francois Micheloud, a partner in a company that helps foreigners relocate to Switzerland, told Bloomberg news. "The number of Frenchmen asking for assistance has tripled."

My name, Barbour, is an old French Huguenot name, and my great-great-great-great grandfather Louis LeFleur, a Frenchman, founded a trading post around 1800 that developed into Mississippi's capitol, Jackson, a quarter century later.

I wonder if we Barbour boys ought to set up a business to attract wealthy Frenchmen and successful businesses from France to Mississippi. As a low tax, pro-business state with a regime of rational regulation, we could roll out the red carpet and run up the tri-color over Fort Maurepas. Bienvenue, mes amis!