It has been an eventful couple of weeks to say the least. The national and international headlines were full of soul crushing events both at home and abroad. Just to mention a few: An American soldier named Robert Bales walked into the midst of an Afghan community and in cold blood shot 16 people dead, including nine children and three women, one of whom was pregnant. A 17-year-old black high school student, Trayvon Martin, was tragically shot and killed by a racist in Florida. A terrorist in France killed seven people in a nine-day shooting rampage against paratroopers, two of whom were fellow Muslims, and innocent Jewish schoolchildren. Last, but not least, Shaima AlAwadi, a California resident of Iraqi Muslim background and mother of five children, was beaten to death with an iron bar in her own home. According to the police reports, there was a note left on her body, which read: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
Hate, violence and human-inflicted pain manifested themselves in many different colors, shapes and forms ... pumping fear and hopelessness into the hearts and minds of many. Needless to say, these events are utterly despicable, reprehensible and disgusting. They all challenge our trust in the innate good of humanity. And again, I state the obvious: They all need to be condemned with the strongest possible words, loved ones need to be remembered in thoughts and prayers and most importantly, the lessons that these tragic events teach us need to be learned so that similar disasters can be prevented in the future.
Often, however, these lessons, regrettably, are not properly discussed—let alone used as powerful wake up calls or forces of change for a better future. Often, we put the blame in the wrong place and/or marginalize these events in our individual and collective minds. We dismiss them as the works of a few rotten souls and distance ourselves from them as if we have nothing to do with it. They quickly disappear from our news headlines and our discussions until hate and violence show their ugly faces again.
This column is an invitation to engage with these events in two major ways before they are forgotten:
First, one of the biggest lessons we need to learn from these events is that we (humanity in general, American society in particular) are not as enlightened, open minded, pluralist, compassionate or progressive and welcoming as we think we are. Our recovery from racism, hate and exclusion is a long and ongoing process. We are nowhere near declaring victory or total immunization from these grave diseases. On the contrary, we may very likely regress and relapse as the hateful and exclusionary voices rise here at home and around the world. These events clearly tell us that our relative achievements in combatting hate and violence are still fragile and that more substantial work needs to be done in order to eliminate hate, prejudice and violence from our societies.
These kinds of disturbing events also teach us who we are and help us improve our self-awareness for those who pay attention. Our individual and collective responses and reactions to these heart –wrenching tragedies reveal very important clues about the fabric of our souls both personally and socially. They tell us what we are made of and who have we have become. I invite myself and all to check our hearts and see if our reactions to these events are morally and ethically consistent. Can I/we point out the very many hypocrisies and double standards in the way these events are covered and discussed in our media? Do I/we feel and give the same innate gut reactions to each of these events or do we treat them differently? If my reactions and responses are different, then why is that? What do these differences in reactions tell me about who I am as a person and who we are as a society? Does the murder of innocent people pain me/us equally regardless of who the heartless perpetrator is and regardless of the victims’ race, nationality or religion? Do I/we discuss these tragic losses in similar language and with similar standards or do I/we apply different criteria based on who did it and who the victims are? If differences and inconsistencies are obvious and undeniable, as I believe is the case, can I/we look in a mirror and be proud of what I/we see? I don’t think so.
Second, I hope and pray none of us, as members of the global human family, and especially none of our political, religious and civic leaders will dismiss these events as individual, episodic instances. Rather, we will take these events as the symptoms of much larger, much deeper social, ethical and moral pathological diseases that cripple our individual and collective souls. I hope and pray these disturbing symptoms alarm us and that we become motivated to take a constructive set of actions. Each and every one of us has an ethical and moral responsibility to combat hate—no matter who we are or what we do with our lives. Every single one of us has numerous things that we could do to silence hate, stop it before it darkens hearts. Ultimately, I believe it is not a few rotten souls who are solely responsible for these atrocities. It is our personal and collective inaction, our selfishness and greed, our ethical and moral failures that keep producing these kinds of monsters.
Abdullah Antepli is the Muslim Chaplain and an adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies. His column runs every other Tuesday.