Repeal Evil with Good

Nov 04

Abbreviated version was published in the Florida Times Union, November 4, 2018

The terrorist attacks in Pittsburgh, which witnessed an anti-Semite mercilessly gunning down 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue has brought renewed anxiety not only to Jews but all minority faith communities. The Muslim community, which like the Jewish community, has been experiencing an exponential rise in hate crimes over the past two years, responded to this horror by expressing solidarity with the Jewish community and raising funds through a crowdfunding platform called LaunchGood. At last count the effort has raised nearly $185,000. The impetus behind this initiative is the common refrain in all religions, repeal evil with good. In Islam’s holy book, the Quran, this principle is articulated in a simple verse, “Good and evil cannot be equal. Repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend,” (41:34).

The attack in Pittsburgh culminated an already violent week that in Kentucky saw two African American shoppers gunned down by a person who minutes before the shooting tried to enter a Black church. The shooter expressed racist sentiments saying, “Whites do not kill whites.” A few days later, the entire nation stood on edge as pipe bombs kept showing up, addressed to two former Presidents and other well-known critics of President Trump. The suspect behind this spree was a known MAGA supporter. The killer in Pittsburgh was motivated by anger towards migrants, an anger that has been stoked by Fox News, other right-wing media, the President and his many allies.

Divisiveness is not new to our society. But the demonization of political opponents and the media by the person occupying the most powerful political office in the world, is new. This situation cannot be dismissed by engaging is lazy both-sideism. Although polarization is not uniquely a right-wing phenomenon but the fact that the party in control of the White House, both houses in Congress, the Supreme Court, and most Governor’s mansions, is often the leading edge in fanning the flames of hatred towards racial and religious minorities, is new. Its potency cannot be underestimated. The violence of last week was not an aberration but a natural outgrowth of that hatred.

Are there figures of the left who indulge in similar hatred? Yes. Louis Farrakhan is the name often cited as an example of anti-Semitism from the left. While Farrakhan is loud and abhorrent, he has no impact on national policy and thankfully does not occupy any political office. Contrast that with long list of politicians on the right who not only peddle conspiracy theories but also push for national policies based on those baseless conspiracy theories. Build the wall or send troops to stop a migrant caravan of destitute are examples of such fearmongering gone amuck.
So many are reluctant to even acknowledge that white nationalist violence is real and has been a major source of safety concerns for a very long time. Last year the Trump administration pulled back funding from organizations who focus on countering right-wing and white nationalist violence. According to a 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office, since 9-11, right-wing extremism has killed almost as many people as Muslim terrorists.

When Muslims committed acts of terror in the name of their faith, it naturally invokes the question why? Since 9-11, I have spent countless hours answering that legitimate question. I have also faced numerous personal attacks because terrorists kill in the name of my faith. And yet political leaders and media institutions who regularly demonize Blacks, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, LGBT, migrants, refugees, and whose rhetoric undoubtedly inspires the rise of hate crimes against these groups, face no consequences.

It is time for every American to look in the mirror and ask, am I part of the problem or will I finally try to be part of the solution? Will I seek to divide or will I strive to heal? Will I set an example for my children and grandchildren to be proud of or will they feel ashamed that at this critical moment in our country’s history so many voices are still silent and so many people still indifferent.