Privilege is when, in a two-week span, white men kill 11 Jews in Pennsylvania, two black people in Kentucky grocery store, two women in a Florida yoga studio and 12 people in a California bar, yet no one calls to ban, deport, or profile white men — or asks, “Where were they radicalized?”
Imagine, for a moment, if the suspects were from a minority demographic like Muslims or immigrants. We would probably send in the military, and many people would demand the minority demographic hold their own members accountable. Does this happen when the suspects are white men?
But in fact, we don't have to wonder — we can simply look at the actions of the Trump administration. It took far less for the government to send in the military to counter brown immigrants. Despite the fact that the allegedly dangerous migrant caravan has killed no Americans, the White House literally sent thousands of troops to block them, even initially suggesting American soldiers should have the right to shoot migrants who throw rocks. Meanwhile, gun violence has killed over 12,500 people in 2018 alone. The only real response from the White House have been strongly worded “thoughts and prayers.”
Imagine, for a moment, if the suspects were from a minority demographic like Muslims or immigrants. We would probably send in the military.
Worse, the White House still refuses to take meaningful action on gun control and has cut funding to counter right-wing terrorism, despite the epidemic and generational impact of white supremacists. For example, at least five of the 11 victims of what is believed to be the single worst attack on American Jews in history were born before 1945 — which means they were alive during the Holocaust. The domestic terrorist who targeted them was furious about, among other things, a Jewish organization that has worked to help Muslim refugees.
But the Pittsburgh attack was far from an isolated occurrence of anti-Semitic violence: In 2017, America saw nearly a 60 percent increase in anti-Semitic violence over the previous year — the single largest increase in one year since 1979 when such data tracking began. “Many just see this an attack on the Jewish community,” said Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers. “It's not. It was an attack on America.”
The rabbi’s wisdom is deep.
In 2011, a white nationalist — not unlike the man who attacked the Tree of Life synagogue — attacked a Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six Sikh Americans, thinking they were Muslim. In 2015, another white nationalist attacked the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine black Christians in what he described as an attempt to start a race war. In 2017, yet another white nationalist attacked a Quebec, Canada mosque, killing six Muslims during prayer. Meanwhile, in 2016, the FBI caught three white nationalists in Kansas as they plotted to bomb an apartment complex and mosque largely comprised of Somali Muslim refugees.
Since the beginning of 2017, the Anti-Defamation league has tracked more than an astounding 900 incidents of white supremacist violence and propaganda incidents. Hundreds of incidents occurred on college campuses. If we think the problem is bad now, what happens in the coming years and decades when these young and impressionable minds become adults, influenced by hateful rhetoric and armed with semi-automatic weapons? Apathy, disunity, and America’s lax gun laws embolden these terrorists. Indeed, even Islamic State terrorists push their radicals to exploit America’s weak gun laws.
Gun violence in America is getting so bad that survivors of other attacks are now getting killed later, in subsequent shootings. Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, California wasn’t just any bar. Some of the survivors of the Las Vegas shooting met for solace there after the Oct. 1, 2017 attack — by a white man — that left 58 dead. Telemachus Orfanos survived that Vegas attack, and was killed in the November 8 Borderline shooting.
The solution, therefore, is purposeful action, a return to morality and a focus on unity.
Purposeful action mandates commonsense legislation that ensures human rights are more important than gun rights. In a shocking interview regarding the Borderline shooting, Tennessee Senator-elect Marsha Blackburn remarked, “What we do is say how do we make certain that we protect the Second Amendment." Her focus was on gun rights over human life. Notably, the NRA contributed $1.25 million to her campaign.
What Blackburn fails to understand is that commonsense reform does not mean we strip guns from law abiding citizens, it means we make it more difficult for people incapable of safe gun use from acquiring them.
A return to morality mandates we recognize the root causes of mass violence, such as domestic violence. We know that many of the men who commit mass shootings have a history of domestic violence. The shooter in Tallahassee left a well-documented trail of misogyny behind; it is now being reported that the Borderline shooter has his own alleged history of violence against women. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it seems people intervened on his behalf to try and keep him out of trouble. Talk about white privilege. Moving forward, we must allocate more resources to educate young boys and men — and hold them accountable when they do hurt women and girls.
And a focus on unity means that when one of us falls, we all help the fallen stand. In the days after the attack, the Muslim communities of Pittsburgh helped raise over $200,000 for the Tree of Life synagogue. In my "ReSightIslam" podcast we discuss how this is precisely in the spirit of the Qur’an 22:40-41, which commands Muslims to stand in defense of all houses of worship — including synagogues.
This also means we resist outrage fatigue, a tall order as America’s 2018 mass shooting count has surpassed 300, according to organizations that track it. We must keep talking about these crucial events by remembering the victims, organizing for change and supporting leaders who push back against such violence and racism.
No easy solution exists to stopping hate and extremism. There is no quick fix. However, by focusing on purposeful action, morality in countering violence against women and unity in the face of extremism, we can try to work towards a world where these attacks do not happen.