A week after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, it is time to draw cold-headed conclusions why such an attack was possible in the first place.
Squirrel Hill was a tragedy, but not a surprise. Squirrel Hill was a massacre, but it was not unexpected to anyone who looks at today’s America through the eyes of a religious or ethnical minority. And while the action itself is imputable to the murderer only, we shall not fail to recognize that oftentimes individual behaviour is reinforced by public inaction. President Trump has never pointed his fingers against the Jews, he has never demonstrated hostility against neither the State of Israel, displaying instead warm feelings to members of the Jewish communities. Trump is not to blame for anti-Semitism, he was never the cause nor a supporter of it. What he is, is a facilitator. To understand this concept it is necessary to look at the distinctive traits of anti-Semitic behaviour in society. Rarely, individuals who display anti-Semitism do not support other forms of racial hatred. Anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ+ and other denominations are more so than not found together in individuals showing one of them. More than anything, it is the branding of ‘anti-diversity’ that encompasses all sectors of the intolerant modern society. The disgust for multiculturalism, multilingualism, ethnic diversity and sexual proclivities: all are but one. And they reinforce each other.
The Trump administration’s attacks against Latino communities, branding of immigrants as inherent criminals, disparage of the disabled, and use of swear words to describe other continents (i.e Africa) are nothing but incentives for self-righteous groups and individuals in society to use this complacency to their advantage. If the President of the United States of America, arguably the most powerful person in the world, is allowed to use denigratory language against those who are different than us, the common citizen will always believe that they have a right to vigilante justice, and to pursue their self-serving interests as they see them fit, against diversity, religious or social it might be. On the other side stand those who claim that the politicisation of tragedies is as immoral as the tragedy itself. They are not mistaken. Yet, we shall draw a distinction between politicising a tragedy and internalising its meaning. Politicising refers to the act of using a certain occurrence for, indeed, political purposes. Such would be the case of free-riding on people’s deaths, pointing fingers left and right, trying to “score election points”. It is dangerously close to internalising the tragedy, but they are not the same.
On the contrary, in wake of the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue, yes, we shall come together. But coming together in unity does not equal forgetting the reasons why an attack on one of us, which is indeed an attack on all of us, happened. Coming together in unity signifies using our collective power and our collective voice to prevent similar attacks from happening again, being against us or any other minority group in society. Understanding the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue implies taking our time to reflect on what causes made so possible – an indulgent social discourse, as well as negative examples set by public figures of any background. Rabbi Rachel Gartner, chief Rabbi of Georgetown University, stated in the week following the attack that because of the Jews’ troubled past of being isolated in society for being different, American Jews more than anyone else have taken upon themselves the burden of fostering an inclusive society for all. The Jewish history of a persecuted, excluded, condemned people should serve to us as a lesson for our outlook to tomorrow’s world. It should foster our search for a tolerant public discourse, the creation of a modern society in which the mere contemplation of committing a racially-motivated attack is not allowed. If one lesson is to be drawn from last Shabbat’s murder, it is the following: as long as one of us is targeted, we can rest assured that all of us are in danger. Thus, yes, let us unite. Let us call for unity – Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, immigrants and natives of the world. But let us not waste the power that our collective voice has: let us use our unity to shout for freedom, for responsibility, for equality, and for tolerance. Because if we remain silent, hate reinforces hate, reinforces hate.