Quick thought on hate speech

Please read this article to know what I’m talking about (tldr; the number of hate crimes against the Muslim American community is on the rise.

This violence is a direct result of hate speech. It is not a coincidence. It is not just some people taking it too far. Continual statements from public figures that demonize all of Islam, that spread fear about people who think and look differently, that propose that an American citizen who practices Islam is anything other than an American citizen. Those statements create a hateful cloud of misinformation from which acts of violence are the lightning strikes.

Those that commit hate crimes don’t do so because they are ‘lone wolves’ and they don’t do so because they are misunderstanding what a politician is saying when he’s “telling it like it is.” Picking out a group as ‘unamerican,’ repeatedly making statements about the danger of this group, makes that group into an ‘other.’ (An ‘other’ is a nameless, faceless, straw-man diametrically opposed against everything that you are.) A group, once othered, is subhuman. They are not worthy of empathy, their lives mean less.

For example, look at the discourse surrounding the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust. The victims of those crimes were likened to vermin. They were said to be the enemies of the ‘true’ people. Nurturing the othering of any human is the first step in every terrible act that the human race is capable of.

That is why I say that hate speech is the direct cause of hate crimes, not the unfortunate misunderstanding of a misguided few. It is true that not everyone who spreads hate speech commits hate crimes, but everyone that commits hate crimes believes in the hate speech. Those that perpetrate violence do so because they are acting on the necessary extension of the logic laid down by hate speech, “these people are not my people”, “these people don’t belong here”, “these people are my enemy.” They feel that their actions are legitimate because those in authority repeatedly tell them that they are under attack.The repeated message “All practicers of Islam are the same. America is at war with Islam. To be Muslim is to be against ‘true’ America*.” sinks in, people believe it is true and act as if it were true. Without hate speech constructing that dichotomy of the other and the “true American” violence would have no narrative through which to legitimize itself.

Words have power. It is with words that people create their understanding of the word  and their understanding of themselves. There is no such thing as an innocuous statement, particularly from a person with power and privilege. Perhaps if we were living in a culture that valued substance over sound bites we might be better equipped to critically pull apart all that is entailed in a public statement. But until then we should recognize hate speech for what it is, a threat to peace.

* “True American” can be interpreted as “White Christian”



Letter from a Texan to her Governor

Let me be among the many who I’m sure at this time are drawing comparisons between their emotions on hearing about Paris, and their emotions on September Eleventh. I was 12 or 13 then, and though it’s far from a harrowing story, the memory that stands out most sharply to me is that of standing in a grocery store line, maybe the day after, and watching all the adults talk to one another. Strangers talking to each other, not with polite nothing conversation but with real vulnerability. We were all terrified and we saw no value in hiding that from one another. I think that was the first time I realized grown-ups still get scared.

But the reason I bring this up is not to attempt to inject myself into the tragedy. It’s because I viscerally remember at that point feeling like something was irrevocably broken in the world. I felt, for the first time a true lack of security, and in that grocery store it seemed perfectly evident to me that this was the way the world would be forever.

A month later the adults were back to saying nothing to each other.

I don’t want to be the alarmist here, because I know we all crave that sense of normalcy and it’s a very natural thing to crave. It’s unhealthy to live in a state of constant stress or paranoia. What I want is not for people to dwell but maybe just remember what it feels like to be right now to be insecure, to feel that danger could be everywhere.

My governor, Governor Greg Abbott, has joined a handful of fellow state leaders in proclaiming that Texas will not accept any more Syrian refugees. No doubt this decision was built by that paranoia I’ve outlined above, but I cannot say fervently enough that the governors and I do not agree on this. We are both coming from the same place, the raw human place of horror at tragedy, but disagree wholly on what to do with that horror.

Remembering how I felt at the Brookshire’s on September, 12th of 2001, helps me because It gives me a point of empathy for those whose entire lives have been plagued by what I received only the shadow of a taste of on that day. These refugees fled their homes, risked their lives on an unimaginably arduous and harrowing bid for freedom, and they did so for the same security the Governor Abbott undoubtedly believes he defending for Texans.

These refugees are running from ISIS. The failing of these Governors is in a misinterpretation of who and what the enemy is. It is ISIS who wants this to be a culture war.  It is in the best interest of ISIS to promote wide spread mistrust between the mainstream Islamic faith and the rest of the world. Their entire strategy of fear and radicalization depends on perpetuating the lie that conflicts between religions and ethnic groups are inherently and inevitable. Western leaders are only spreading this message when they do things like proclaim that they will not accept refugees.

I want Governor Abbott and the others to understand that the group that has experienced the most violence at the hand of Islamic Extremists are other Muslims, among whom are the very refugees that he is saying he would refuse. It couldn’t hurt at this point to invoke the old phrase, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I understand the point of security and the desire to know for sure who we are allowing into our country. I understand the risk that an extremist might attempt to slip in with the refugees. But the solution is not to shut our borders and hope the violence stays away.

That is the danger of forgetting the insecurity we feel right now. Because ISIS is not contained, it has come to the West and it will attack the West again, whether or not we turn back the refugees. Now, while we are in this moment of clarity granted to us by horror, we have a very important decision to make. Do we shut down with fear and allow this to become the clash of culture ISIS needs it be? Or do we open ourselves to an alliance with people who want peace so badly that they have risked everything to attain it? To paraphrase the president, this is not a war of one nation against another, or one religion against another, ISIS is waging a war against civilization as a whole.  Now let’s be civilized and realize that peace in the Middle East is impossible if we do not do everything in our power to protect peaceful Middle Easterners.