To counter hate, we must learn to appreciate and not fear diversity

I feel pity for the man who massacred 51 Muslims in two mosques. I am taking the lead of the New Zealand Prime Minister and will not name the killer to deny him the notoriety he seeks. In some ways, he is also a victim.

This is evident from the manifesto he sent to the New Zealand prime minister's office before he started his cold-blooded carnage. He was radicalized not by stuff on some dark corner of the web but by the racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia that is out in the open.

His intent, he writes, is to defend "our lands" from "invaders" by reducing "immigration rates." He was most upset at Muslims. His hope was to start a civil war in the United States.

We have heard the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric from our politicians here and abroad. Many have been elected on these platforms. Our president, whom the killer holds up as one of his heroes, has said "Mexico is sending us rapists" and "Islam hates us" - blatantly false statements that found traction in the minds of some of his supporters. As Trump's statements are populist in intent, they may be considered white nationalist rhetoric and not white supremacy.

When people travel abroad it broadens their world view. Not only did this killer travel to Europe but also to Turkey and Pakistan. He praises warmly the hospitality of people he met in Pakistan but that did not prevent him from killing Pakistanis and others in those two mosques.

An example of his ignorance is that he believes Muslims are reproducing at much higher rates than others. This canard calculates that with immigration and high fertility rates, soon Europe would be a Muslim majority continent. A right-wing Hindu belonging to the ruling party in India, the BJP, a man named Sakshi Maharaj, similarly advises fellow Hindus to have at least four children each to counter the Muslim threat.

This confused murderer is just an extreme example of mainstream racism fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racism NGO, has meticulous records of these hate groups and their funding. SPLC also believes that the FBI is under-recognizing hate crimes.

The screeds of these hate groups would not find traction if there weren't an inherent fear of "the other" in our society. Islamophobia has long roots based on hundreds of years of misunderstanding of Islam and the baggage of wars fought by Crusaders and Muslim armies. How these wars fought mostly for territory and power, with a patina of religion, would be relevant today is a mystery. In the eyes of this man and others like him, Muslim immigrants are a continuation of these, as he calls them, "invaders."

Add to that the fact over the last few decades, immigration patterns have changed. People immigrating to white majority countries are from Asian, African and South American countries and are largely people of color. This contrasts with immigration from Europe to USA and from England to Australia and New Zealand in the mid and late 20th century. The reasons for the migration are conflicts, poverty and lack of opportunity in the countries of the immigrants and not a desire to take over the European world

This desire to save the European race from extinction has a sense of urgency in his mind. As no one is doing anything significant against this "threat," he writes, he must act.

The greatest threat he sees is in the peaceful moderate everyday Muslim. He professes he does not know how to deal with this group. Unfortunately for him, this is nearly all the Muslims in this world.

Social scientists tell us hate is taught. As the South Pacific song goes: "You've got to be taught to hate and fear, it's got to be drummed in your dear little ear." We as a nation can counter these twisted ideologies, wherever they might exist, by educating ourselves on inclusiveness. We must learn to recognize and celebrate diversity and not fear it. Those who have the loudest megaphones, the media and politicians, have the greatest responsibility. They can start by scrubbing their language of stereotypical words and phrases and linkages. Terror has no religion.

The outpouring of love at many of the vigils held across our country might be a sign that we are waking up to this Nazi-like threat. Our inspiration must be the young prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arlen, who set an example with wise words, empathetic actions and clear resolve we have seen rarely in any world leader recently. She is on my personal Mount Rushmore. As one of my Christian friends wrote in an email to me, "May the darkness of mankind yield to the light of the Divine."

Javeed Akhter is a physician and freelance writer from Oak Brook.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.