Sunday, December 20, 2015

Finally, Something American Muslims and Jews can agree on: Stop the Hatred and Bigotry … Stop Trump!

Growing up in the US as a Muslim-American (not a term I had even heard or ever identified with until recently, since I’m not particularly religious – more on this in a later post), I had many Jewish-American friends and colleagues.  We usually got along great, and this translated into my professional career in Silicon Valley as well - at one point, for example, when I was running an outsourcing company with an office in Pakistan, we did work for a company started by a Jewish American, with an office in Israel.  If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it wasn’t - as everyone was professional and things generally went well. 
But like many American Muslims and Jews, I’ve found that there is one area where we almost always tended to disagree - and that was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely, the policies of the Israeli government, the responses of the various Palestinian factions, settlements, etc.
Over time, the arguments about this intractable conflict, with its long history and everyone on both sides insisting they are “right”, went online and into social media.  Just as in the real world, I found that we rarely agreed on this issue either.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself on the same side of an argument with many of my Jewish friends recently, when I wrote about my fears of the cheering white Christian crowds supporting Trump’s ideas of racism and bigotry, and how it echoed Hitler’s rise to power and his party’s de-humanizing of the German Jews.  It is my contention that this de-humanizing was a necessary step before an atrocity like the Holocaust, or atrocities like slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing can occur.
 Like some of my Jewish friends pointed out, the analogy isn’t exact (i.e. Jews weren’t doing terrorist bombings in Germany, and no-one, not even those of us invoking the Hitler analogy, literally expect anything as terrible as another Holocaust to occur here in the US).  Still, I was surprised to find that many of my Muslim friends and many of my Jewish friends agreed and shared the same concerns about the rise of Trump and more importantly, about the unleashing of racism and bigotry that seemed to be simmering just below the surface, and exploited by Trump, could be extremely dangerous.
I wasn’t the only one who made this analogy - it’s become more and more common over the last month.  
For me, this echo started well before the current rise of Trump campaign.  Not only does it go back to his insistence that Obama isn’t a ‘real’ American and wasn’t qualified to be President because he wasn’t born in the US (even though no one doubts that he had a white American mother and a foreign father, just like Ted Cruz, who also had a white American mother and a foreign father, and who  was also not born in the US).  Though Trump led the birther movement against Obama, you don’t see him or his supporters saying a word about Ted Cruz’s birth certificate. What’s the difference between Obama and Cruz? Take a look.  Pretty clear that racism was playing a big role here.
 The echo got stronger with his sweeping anti-immigrant comments earlier this year (using the crimes of some immigrants as an excuse to generalize the hatred), and it really started to sting when he went against all Muslims after the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks.  Each of these were making de-humanizing of an ethnic minority “respectable” amongst a group of people in this country who always had some racism under the surface.
 As I said, I’m not the only one making this analogy.
Recently, The New York Daily news put  a cartoon of Trump chopping off the head of the statue of liberty (see image here ) while they and invoking a new version of a famous quote from German pastor Martin Niemöller who spent seven years in a concentration camp because of his anti-Nazi veiws:  
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.

In the Trump version, it was about Mexicans first and then Muslims.  Who’s next?
 Once a country goes down this path, things that seemed unthinkable even a few years ago are given serious consideration, such as labeling members of an entire ethnic group or an entire religion as “undesirables” who need to prove themselves as patriots or “real Americans”.
 Dana Milbank, from the Washington Post, wrote a column recently about the kind of racist and bigoted emails that Trump supporters have been sending him ever since he pointed out that Trump was bigoted and a racist.  “Trump brings bigots out of hiding”.   
 Dana Milbank isn’t Muslim.  He’s Jewish.  But when you tell people it’s OK to be hateful towards one religious or ethnic group, you pretty much tell them it’s OK to be hateful towards any other religious group of “foreigners”, even if they're American (because they're not "real" Americans according to the Trump supporter logic).
And once it becomes acceptable de-humanize an entire group (ethnic, religious or otherwise), any law or behavior that an angry majority wants to impose on the minority is acceptable and "lawful".
 It took this country more than a hundred years AFTER the civil war to get out of the hatred towards African Americans, and many of the Jim Crow laws in the south weren’t just directed at blacks – “No Blacks and Jews” was a very common sign.  Why? Because that’s what a vocal majority wanted.  The United States even turned away several ships of Jewish refugees form Germany in the late 1930s and 1940s because of xenophobia against jews and fears of "German Inflitraters", similar to the Syrian refugee fears that Trump and others are fanning.
 A number of mainstream Jewish groups have condemned Trump’s proposals.  According to forward.com: “The American Jewish Committee’s director of policy, Jason Isaacson, noted the timing of Trump’s statement, which called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” coincident with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
“As Jews who are now observing Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates a small religious minority’s right to live unmolested, we are deeply disturbed by the nativist racism inherent in the candidate’s latest remarks,” Isaacson said. “You don’t need to go back to the Hanukkah story to see the horrific results of religious persecution; religious stereotyping of this sort has been tried often, inevitably with disastrous results.”  Read more here . 
 Many in the world said, “Never Again”, after the extent of the German atrocities towards Jews and other “undesirable” groups was revealed.   
I’m not saying that Trump is as bad as Hitler was, but I’m saying that he’s opening the doors to racial hatred in a large group of angry people and making it OK to “de-humanize” minority groups, which his supporters are doing in droves.  
 Social media is serving to fuel the fire amongst this angry but vocal group, and his supporters are putting out ever more demeaning and de-humanizing posts first towards Hispanic immigrants and now towards Muslims and their faith.  I’ve even had to turn off my social media posts from many of my far-right friends because of so many hateful and racist posts they were sharing. When I try to call them out on it – they get angry and say “I’m not a racist – I’m sick of this crap.”  I’ve got an idea – if you want to stop being called a racist, stop putting racist and bigoted posts de-humanizing people that don’t look or worship like you do!
 Since we’re using a Nazi analogy, what do the Neo-Nazi and white supremacist and openly anti-semitic groups think of Trump?
 These groups were already super-excited when Trump was going after Hispanic immigrants, ranting about how  Trump’s critics were, according to Stormfront radio co-host Don Advo,  “are people living on the pieces of silver that they get from their Jewish paymasters so that they can preside over our extermination, our disposition, and our ultimate disappearance from the face of the earth.”.    Andrew Anglin, who edits the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, said that Trump’s opponents were simply  “Jewish groups are entirely obsessed with flooding America with brown people.”  Read more on buzzfeed
Once Trump announced his anti Muslim plan, the neo Nazis went from simply excited to doing orgiastic somersaults. Anglin for example, wrote, “Glorious Leader Calls for Complete Ban on All Moslems.”  Read more here on the Huffington Post  
Really?  Trump is now considered, at least in spirit, the Glorious Leader of the Neo Nazi White Supremicists?  Need I go on?
If ever there was a time for American Muslims and American Jews to put aside their differences it is now:  Let’s band together to stop the hate, and make sure this country, which we all love, doesn’t go down the slippery slope that others have gone before.

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