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June 10, 2021
On June 7th, a man in Ontario, purposefully drove his car into a Muslim family out for a walk, killing four of the five family members in what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “a terrorist attack motivated by hatred in the heart of one in our community” and “a brutal, cowardly, and brazen act of violence.” Our hearts go out to their friends and family members and the entire community.
Islamophobia is not new, nor is the hate which drives it. Recently, with the violence in Israel, Arab groups in New York and New Jersey have reported a surge of hate against Palestinians, including racist slurs and physical assaults. Moreover, government responses to demonstrators have been condemned as biased against Palestinians; for example, in New York City, protestors alleged that police ordered pro-Palestinian protestors to disperse while allowing a pro-Israel demonstration to continue.
At the same time, several Jewish organizations across the country have reported a spike in anti-Semitism, including physical attacks on Jews; vandalism of synagogues and other Jewish institutions, including the inscription of swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans; and derogatory memes (including “Hitler was right”) directed at Jewish youth.
This comes on the heels of over a year of anti-Asian hate crimes related to the COVID-19 pandemic and a heightened focus on anti-Black racism following the murder of George Floyd last year.
All of these bigotries have in common the demonization and targeting of people based on race or religion.
What can Americans of all backgrounds do to contain this hate and work towards peaceful relations among all Americans?
First and foremost, stand up against bigotry in all its forms.
The following realities call us to be upstanders. When you witness an act of bigotry of any type against a person or people based on their racial, ethnic, or religious identity, speak up and support the targeted individual or group in any appropriate way you can.
- Recognize that Islamophobia, which impacts Muslims and other groups such as Christian Arabs and Sikhs is real and has a long history. Conflicts between Muslim and Christian powers, starting not long after the emergence of Islam, especially over the land of Palestine that was sacred to both faiths, led to characterizations of Arabs and Muslims as barbaric, violent, and intolerant of other religions. Later, especially as Europeans colonized Muslim regions in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, Muslims were viewed as backwards and incapable of civilization. Building upon these traditional stereotypes, the past few decades have seen Muslims demonized as terrorists bent on destroying Western civilization. Islamophobia, fed by these stereotypes, is very much alive; a 2019 poll found that only 17% of Americans believed that “Islam is generally compatible with the values of society in the USA,” while 36% believed that “there is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of society in the USA.”
- Recognize that anti-Semitism is likewise real and has a long history. As far back as Greece and Rome before the coming of Christianity, Jews were viewed as clannish and hostile to outsiders, and their observance of Sabbath rest and dietary rules was seen as bizarre. The Middle Ages added to these calumnies charges that Jews were greedy and that they murdered children and poisoned wells. Such attitudes fed directly into Nazi anti-Semitism, which then led to one of the worst genocides in history. As recent events have shown, including the current surge in anti-Jewish incidents and hate crimes, anti-Semitism, sometimes of the most brutal sort, is far from over.
- Recognize that despite being stereotyped as a “model minority,” Asian Americans have longed suffered from bigotry and hate—especially on the West Coast where Chinese were excluded from immigration by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II—and have been subjected to long-standing stereotyping in popular culture. Recent anti-Asian hate crimes have demonstrated that the long history of demonization is far from over.
- Recognize that African Americans have a long history of being subjected to oppression and injustice in America, from the brutality of slavery with its unspeakable horrors through Jim Crow with its segregation, lynchings, and other methods of suppressing African American rights and freedom. Even after the long struggle for civil rights, and despite many advances, anti-Black bias continues today as both individual and institutional racism in every major sector of society, including housing, education, healthcare, and the criminal justice system to name a few.
- Recognize that White nationalist groups use anti-Semitism and Islamophobia for their own purposes. As Eric Ward points out in his seminal paper titled “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism”, “fighting antisemitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities under siege from the Trump regime and the social movement that helped raise it up.” The far-right protestors at the 2017 Charlottesville rally went about chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” and anti-Jewish placards were very much in evidence at the January 6 Capitol insurrection; Crusader crosses and other anti-Muslim symbols were also seen there. White nationalists play on widespread stereotyping of and prejudice against Jews and Muslims to swell their ranks.
- Recognize that these and other marginalized groups continue to experience discrimination and other forms of bigotry in the US. Black churches have long been targeted for arson and vandalism as have synagogues and mosques; in 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available, an average of nine mosques a month were targeted by threats, vandalism, or arson. A civil rights organization reported receiving 9% more complaints of violations of Muslims’ civil rights in 2020 over 2019. Moreover, according to a 2019 poll, 70% of Americans believe that Muslims face “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of discrimination, while 60% believe the same of Jews.
Secondly, stand together as Americans of diverse backgrounds to strengthen our relationships across differences, and work together towards a more secure and harmonious society by countering bigotry in all its forms, guaranteeing the security of institutions such as houses of worship, supporting religious freedom to practice one’s faith in public spaces, and including ethnic and religious studies in public institutions.
- We cannot promote justice for one group by denigrating another. We cannot fight one form of bigotry by promoting another. “We’re all in this together” applies to more than just the COVID-19 pandemic.
- We are all Americans living in a democracy. Civil discourse is what allows this nation to grow and thrive despite our differences in politics, religion, and other issues. We need to remain civil and open to hearing the perspectives of others even—indeed especially—on questions that we feel most passionate about.
At ING, we have spent nearly three decades building positive relationships with public and private institutions and several religious and ethnic communities. We are proud to have brought diverse groups together to promote cultural and religious literacy through presentations, panels, seminars and cultural competency trainings.
More recently, with ING’s Intercultural Speakers Bureau, we have taken our peace-making work a step further to address Islamophobia in the context of other forms of bigotry. Through panels of trained speakers of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, we not only educate and engage with audiences about the common roots and interconnections of all forms of racism and bigotry but also provide tools to overcome racism both personally and institutionally.
The current surge in acts of anti-Black, anti-Hispanic, and anti-Asian racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry is disturbing, and even frightening, but we are heartened by the actions that our ING speakers and other organizations are undertaking, which are inspiring and hopeful. We invite you to join us in combating bigotry in all its forms and in working toward a nation where all people can live in peace, understanding, and harmony.