A synagogue in Poway, a mosque in Christchurch, churches in Sri Lanka were only the latest in a growing global trend of deadly attacks on houses of worship. Some hate-filled attackers cite others as their inspiration; there is also a growing trend of attacks being perpetrated by admirers of the shooter who targeted a black church in Charleston, SC in 2015. Not only should this desire to kill worshipers concern us, but also acts of arson and vandalism against synagogues, churches, mosques and even cemeteries. It is all hate.
As we long have known in the United States, hateful acts aren’t limited to houses of worship. Haters can hate classmates. They can hate coworkers. They can hate people with different sexual orientations. And scariest of all, they can hate everyone and anyone. So not only do we need to realize that no house of worship, school, workplace, or dance club is safe, but neither are movie theaters, supermarkets, marathons and Olympic games.
Hate crimes are defined by the FBI as “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” The United States Department of Justice starts with the basics (“In the simplest terms, a hate crime must include both ‘hate’ and a ‘crime’.”) before addressing what can be done about them. They can take place against individuals or groups. And while there is no single definition of terrorism, it is usually thought of as targeting maximum number of people in random places. But its purpose is to advance a cause. Causes are attached to political agendas and goals of groups.
Hate alone is not a cause. Having said that, to be on the receiving end of hate so big is undeniably terrifying. Victims and survivors of acts designed to hurt many at once must be in “a state of intense fear” (Merriam-Webster definition of terror) when it is happening and many experience PTSD long afterwards.
I don’t see the amount of hate changing anytime soon. Fifty-one years ago the first federal hate crime law was signed into effect. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 encompassed many aspects of protections against discrimination. Six months ago to the day a shooter walked into the Poway synagogue with the goal of killing Jews, a shooter walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue to do the same. As I wrote then reflecting on the rise in extremism and intolerance, earlier that week a shooter had tried to enter a black church and when he couldn’t, killed a black man and woman elsewhere. Those that attack in hate think they have a right to hurt others, that others exist for them to do as they wish. But they don’t.
Has nothing changed in 50 years? I think because we all go through life never expecting anything like this to happen to us (just as we don’t expect acts of nature, diseases, car accidents or especially one-off acts like cranes or bridges falling), our natural inclination is to distance ourselves from what happened. Our sorrow is for what happened there, because we can’t fathom it could happen here, wherever here is. And so we are not as moved to do something about it as we should.
In January I wrote how “Coexistence isn’t just a bumper sticker about religion. It’s recognizing that each one of us has a story. Each narrative is just as important as ours. And there is room for each story to coexist….What do we do with this knowledge? Be more patient.” Be accepting. Life is not a zero sum game; when others lose, we do not win. And so it is important to not just extend a hand to all, but to stand up for all groups that are targeted. No one group’s pain is greater or worth more than any other’s.
Even if none of us are about to burn a building or throw a bomb, we can each make a difference in the world around us. How we treat others ripples out and affects them too. Last week I asked “Why can’t people live and let live?” and challenged readers to do just that. “Us vs them” I wrote last August is a harmful way to think. The act of labeling flattens people to two dimensions. We are each of us more than any one attribute or opinion. There is room for each of us at the table.
Find a group to combat hate and use their resources. Do not hate is one meant for high schoolers. Replace the hate is run by design professionals. The ADL offers toolkits for educators and families. Take your pick, but please start somewhere.