Respond to Hate with Love

By Maha Elgenaidi, ING Executive Director, Dana Magat, Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, and Suzanne St. John-Crane, CEO of American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley.

This opinion appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

As faith and non-profit leaders, we are deeply troubled by the increase in hate crimes in recent weeks. We want to point to a way beyond hate and name calling, a way that all our faith traditions, however varied, call us to.

There have been hundreds of reported hate incidents since the election targeting diverse groups and committed by various individuals. But a recent act of hate that was more structured sent a particularly chilling message reminiscent of one of the worst episodes in human history.

This message of hate struck us here in the San Francisco Bay Area in the form of a letter sent to mosques in five states. Its first target was the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose; it then turned up at mosques in five other cities in California and in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Labeling Muslims “a vile and filthy people,” the letter warned Muslims that what happened to the Jews in Germany would happen to them in America.

The invocation of Hitler is particularly alarming. The world has seen all too clearly the consequences of such extreme expressions of intolerance and racism.

Any manifestation of hate is a threat to democracy and to the unity of our nation, and utterly contrary to the values we hold as Americans.

Such manifestations have become all too frequent. On Nov. 10, a San Jose State student was grabbed by her hijab, struggled to breathe and fell to her knees. Nov. 13, a man approached a student at the University of Michigan and threatened to set her hijab on fire. On Nov. 17, a driver in Queens, NY shouted at an Arab-American, “they’ll deport you soon.” On Nov. 22, at a high school in Georgia, students found “build a wall” spray-painted on buildings and sidewalks; on the same day employees found swastikas spray-painted on a school in New Haven, Connecticut.

On Nov. 18, an African-American man in Bangor, Maine, was punched and pushed to the ground by an assailant who told him he could be deported. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported 867 hate incidents since the election.

We find particularly disturbing an increase of bullying involving young people, as reported in an informal survey of educators conducted by Teaching Tolerance:

  • 90 percent saw a deterioration in mood and behavior among students since the election.
  • 80 percent saw increased anxiety among marginalized students.
  • 50 percent said that students were targeting one another based on the candidate they had supported.
  • 40 percent heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and people based on gender or sexual orientation.

We call on all Americans to step away from hate and division and to reach out in love and understanding across the divides of race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, or political conviction, to listen with open minds and open hearts to those who differ from us. That is the dream that the Founding Fathers dared us to envision when they formed this great nation, “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We have faith in the resiliency of our democracy and the fundamental goodness and decency of our people. Beyond that, we are called to treat all creation in all its diversity with the love and respect that we would wish for ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. For all faiths teach in varied ways the Golden Rule of loving and treating others as ourselves.

Our ultimate answer to those who would sow hatred and division among us is the power of love.