Violence and hate feed each other, as the violence in the Middle East shows; the West must be careful not to play into the cycle of violence and hate feeding each other, and whether or not we do is up to us and the choices we make as voters, as individuals, as societies.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse June 12, 2016
TEL AVIV — My heart is weary.
All around me in Jordan, where I have lived for two-and-a-half years, I see the effects of horrific violence that targets people because of who they are. Jordan itself is incredibly safe, but it increasingly filled with refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, people often targeted for death by governments or terrorists in the region because they are Christian, or Shiite, or Sunni, or because of some other aspect of their personal identity, joining large numbers Palestinian refugees that have been in Jordan for decades, many of whom were targeted by Jewish and later Israeli forces for displacement because of their identity. I am writing this piece while I am traveling in Israel, and am currently in Tel Aviv; four Israelis were killed in a terrorist shooting a few days ago because of their identity, and I ate at the restaurant where these people had been killed just yesterday and snapped this picture of a shrine to the victims:
Photo taken by author
A few years ago, such violence seemed to be mostly contained in a few specific parts of the world, like the Middle East, my current home. Today, all over my own country of America, all over Europe, even all over the world, this type of violence and hate seem to be on the rise, a violence and hate that targets people based on their identity and that often come from “lone wolf” individuals acting on their own. This violence joins the stage with the more organized sort of violence and hate committed by states, terrorist organizations, insurgents, and organized crime. Roughly a century ago, anarchists almost quaintly didn’t care who they targeted, so random were their attacks. Society could sort of just shrug off such attacks, because people didn’t need to feel that they were targeted because of their race, ethnicity, religion, beliefs; it was easy for such attacks to unite people, rather than divide them.
The current incidents around the world have the opposite effect.
Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee of one of America’s two major political parties, the Republican Party, says that an American judge of Mexican ancestry should recuse himself because of this ancestry from a legal case involving Trump because Trump is campaigning as being tough on illegal Mexican immigrants; Trump thinks this judge, who grew up in Indiana, cannot be objective because of his ethnic background. Trump has also said (and later partly walked-back) that banning all Muslims from coming into the U.S. would be a good temporary measure. Last night in Orlando, we had an attack directed against the LGBT community at a popular gay nightclub, committed by a U.S. citizen who was an ISIS sympathizer; before this, we had ISIS sympathizers carry out an attack in San Bernardino, a white supremacist commit terrorism in Charleston when he killed many African-American worshipers in a historic church, and a spate of police brutality against minorities.
Meanwhile, all over Europe, political parties on the far-right are rising on platforms of hate and division against immigrants and Muslims; Islamist terrorist attacks against Europeans because they are Europeans are on the rise, as is violence on the part of native Europeans directed at helpless immigrants and refugees.
Things may not seem that bad in the West compared to elsewhere in the world, yet, as I have written before, even pop-culture like The Walking Dead and The Leftovers shows us that a society’s decline can occur quite rapidly under certain conditions. And what frightens me are what I see as clearly increasing trends in America and Europe: an increasing number of individuals who take it upon themselves to carry out violence against others based on their identity, the rise of intolerant identity politics and support of candidates who espouse such beliefs, the vitriol in political discourse. None of these things will help us combat violence, either at home or abroad. And while for a long time it was clear the conservatives in America were leading the charge here, the rise and behavior or Bernie Sanders and especially his supporters exhibiting extremist behavior and language combined with the militant rise of extreme political correctness that seeks to drown out dissenting views and focuses on anger mean that Americans now have to be checking themselves from both ends of the political spectrum as the left is seeing the formation of its own version of Tea-Party like activists.
All I can say is that I see the effects here in the Middle East, indirectly in Jordan, and directly in Israel and Palestine, of these trends; hatred and intolerance, and the politics of division, and the willingness of individuals to engage in violence are a recipe for disaster.
Today, I mourn the at least fifty dead in America in its largest mass shooting and the third-largest terrorist attack in at least its modern history, as I have mourned dead Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, French, Belgians, and others before. And I fear for the longer-term effects such violence will have on American and European society, relative centers of tolerance and peace in recent years, and now devolving into something moving away from such values. I fear the reinforcing feedback loops, where violence and intolerant politics feed off of each other, something that is the sad reality here in Israel and Palestine. I don’t want to see that in America, which has, by far, the most heavily armed civilian population on earth.
But what I want is not going to carry the day just because I want it to: it is up to each of us as individuals to fight the trends outlined above. Yet, as I see with too few Israelis, too few Palestinians, and too few others, those who fight these trends are often a minority out of power, and, I fear, may be a minority in America. I hope with all my heart that I am wrong. As to whether we will resist or succumb to cyclical violence and hate, this election will give us a clear answer.
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