”You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear,” a young American sings in South Pacific. “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
While many are taught some are more willing to listen to the voices of hate and fear than others. Some welcome the voices of hate and fear – others reject them.
We witnessed another terrorist attack this week, witnessed hate and fear on a field not of dreams but of blood and horror. James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois – another dark face of terrorism – turned toward America, aimed, and fired.
Once again we were attacked.
That dark face of terror didn’t just target Republicans, no more than Nidal Hasan just targeted Christians or Dylan Roof just targeted African-Americans.
Their target was the covenant we hold together as Americans that all women and men – all creeds, colors, ethnicities – are created equal.
Their target – through whatever sickness or compulsion drove them – was all of us, all of humanity who together understand that all are called to love their neighbor – all are called to reject tyrants and oppressors.
Nowhere does it say that some neighbors are more privileged than others.
This week, again, we witness horrors so manifest, so present, it seems we’re surrounded by evildoers determined to wrench us from safe moorings and toss us adrift again on cruel seas.
And in response, in the face of such horror, too many Americans have chosen to remain confined within an “Us vs. Them” paradigm – a black and white perspective that assigns blame without considering either personal culpability or context.
They race to assign blame as though the horrors that beset us are unconnected to our human and national experience. That these bursts of terror and violence are somehow unconnected to a systemic American experience of isolation and exclusion – connected even to an intolerable tolerance of violence, violence as a means to resolve conflict.
We don’t want to believe that violence might be part of our national identity. We’re in denial, so we deceive and denounce. We denounce the evildoer, wash our hands of any complicity, and raise our voices to blame the other.
That’s the easy path – too easy – and I reject it.
“While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer,” Fyodor Dostoevsky argued, “nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”
Nothing’s more difficult than to understand the evildoer.
To do the hard work of understanding is frightening, frightening as it may reveal complicity in an unbalanced system where the spiritually, emotionally and politically unbalanced are marginalized, neither seen nor heard until it’s too late.
Unbalanced, where victims of discrimination and oppression are disenfranchised and their voices silenced, where fair housing, health care and voting rights are sacrificed on altars worshipped by the privileged.
In response, we permit the mentally unbalanced, domestic abusers and religious and racial supremacists to acquire lethal weapons. In response, we demonize entire communities because of individual acts of terror.
Today, I reject the false equivalency that both sides of the political spectrum – from right to left – are equally responsible for Hodgkinson’s terrorism.
I reject it because it’s not true.
I reject it because It’s untrue, as Rep. Steve King of Iowa said, that “ … the center of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left.”
I reject it because I know that even after Sandy Hook and other outrages there’re those who fought to further weaken firearm controls.
I reject it because I remember eight years of incitement, violent rhetoric and racism directed at President Obama unprecedented in American history – I know that the rhetoric of violence and exclusion was used to divide and marginalize Americans throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.
I reject any false equivalency.
I reject any equivalency because the sanctioned targeting of minorities, immigrants and people of color is un-American. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia has risen to unprecedented levels and I know, from my experience as a Muslim man – a man on whose back a campaign of exclusion and hatred was constructed – that the Right embraced a confrontational campaign of racist dog-whistling and xenophobia in order to rise to power.
Further, as Jane Eisner wrote in the Forward, once in office “Trump … has continued to denigrate his opponents and incite his supporters in language that never should be broadcast from the White House, on any platform. When examining the decline of civility in America, he is the number one culprit.”
No moral authority would accept any equivalency on those terms.
We know better. We know the sources of our discontent aren’t equally balanced.
Today, I’ve learned, in this environment of blame and counter blame, to mediate my responses:
When a Muslim commits terrorism I don’t automatically condemn the attack, not because I condone it or I support it, but because Muslims reject the argument that the entire Muslim community owns such acts and must condemn them each time they happen.
Muslims have learned learned that when they, by rote, condemn terrorist acts committed by some Muslims then they’re accepting the racist argument that all those acts, all those terrorists, are somehow related to them – and they aren’t!
They aren’t, no more than Dylan Roof’s act of terror was related to Christianity or that Hodgkinson’s act was related to the Democratic Party.
Who today remembers Jim David Adkisson, a hater of Democrats, liberals, African Americans and gays, who killed two and wounded seven at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville in 2008.
Who mourns for the five victims of John Robert Neumann Jr.’s deadly workplace violence in Orlando last week; how many noticed that on the day Hodgkinson attacked Republicans in Alexandria VA three UPS workers were killed in San Francisco.
I noticed, because if the perpetrators of any of those terrorist acts had been Muslim not only would our news cycle have been non-stop for days denouncing Islamic terrorism but every Muslim would’ve been called upon to denounce terrorism done in their name.
I noticed. You should, too, because it’s hateful and wrong.
I pray, too, that you should notice.
i pray that such madness ends.