by Angela Lemus Mogrovejo
AFO Content Writer
CW: Anti-Blackness, Anti-Semitism, anti-muslim violence, murder, mass shootings
I’ve been struggling recently with how to express my outrage over the violence that has been unleashed upon members of various religious communities over the past few months. Whether it is Muslim lives lost in New Zealand, Jewish lives targeted in a synagogue during the last day of Passover, or black churches burned down in Louisiana, I find myself in a rage over the needless harm that has transpired. I long to find a way to improve this situation, if only to demonstrate to my religious friends and community members my belief that they should not have to accustom themselves to such daily violence in our world.
However, while fury lies at the heart of my feelings regarding this violence, there is another feeling which also defines my emotions on the matter, one I am more ashamed to admit: hesitation.
Ever since I lost faith over ten years ago, I have struggled with how to best show solidarity for and with more religious community members. Even worse, I have felt an element of judgment whenever I am around people with strong religious convictions, and at times that judgment has grown to anxiety. So many questions bombard my mind whenever I cross paths with religious folks:
-Would my presence in their space be seen as unwelcome?
-Would my desire to support them come across as insincere or insulting coming from someone who (in her own mind) is a heathen?
-And, perhaps most revealing of all, are the issues that my more religious kin face ones that I should even bother myself with?
I have hesitated, time and time again, to advocate in favor of my friends and fellow community members of faith wholeheartedly, because, in my eyes, the issues they face are, at best, secondary to larger systems of violence and, at worst, not worth my time. I have sought justice for everyone without attending to the particular details of hatred and harm that community members of faith struggle with. And, for that, I must apologize for forgetting one of the most crucial elements of advocating for justice: solidarity.
If I desire a better world for all of us, I cannot remain idle and allow the presently flourishing violence towards people of faith to continue uncontested. More importantly, I cannot simply wait for it to become something I personally care about or until I feel entirely at ease with religion. Justice demands more of all of us than that. It demands that I and many others move “beyond our personal experience and into the humanity of others.” And the humanity of religious folks is currently being attacked on multiple fronts.
For Jewish people, the recent shooting in Poway does not represent an isolated incident but instead forms part of a larger string of violence that includes the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in which 11 were lost to a virulently anti-Semitic assailant. These acts of anti-Semitism are not the work of mentally ill people or individuals expressing their uniquely targeted form of Jewish hatred. They are the products of both contemporary and historical contexts of rabid hatred towards Jewish people that has seen a resurgence in recent years. Whether it be through white supremacist, alt right extremists in Canada currently using online methods to seed homophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism into mainstream politics, 8chan’s /pol/ board radicalizing users to commit extremist acts of violence, or even the US’ history of Nazi sympathizing and indifference to Jewish suffering, anti-Semitism is real. It is real and it is growing, spurred on by white nationalism and white supremacy in the US, spreading outward into international contexts, and those of Jewish faith will be put against the wall unless steps are taken to fight this hatred.
For Muslim people, similar examples epitomize the growing hatred and violence towards anyone assumed to be connected with Islam. Even beyond the more blatant violence in cases such as the New Zealand mosque shooting, Ilhan Omar’s treatment in the US Congress represents the sexist, anti-Black vilification of Islam in contemporary politics. From being targeted with death threats for her support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement to being attacked with Islamophobic posters at West Virginia GOP events, Omar’s work and being has been met with significant hostility by both senior Republicans and leading Democrats, like Nancy Pelosi. Worse yet, her position in Congress is being weaponized to build upon real concerns of anti-Semitism mentioned above and continue a historical trend of pitting Jewish people against Muslims. Not only are older stereotypes of Muslims as inherently anti-Semitic being trotted out, but the contemporary concerns about Israel’s persecution of Palestinians, which Muslims like Ilhan Omar and many Jewish people in the US are raising concern about, are being lost in the process. In essence, the severe backlash against Omar represents only the latest in a series of incidents where Muslims, including Black, Muslim women, are being treated with suspicion without ever considering their complex humanity.
As with the growing threat of anti-Semitism, the aforementioned public anti-Muslim violence is not unique to the US but rather part of a growing network of international violence being directed towards Muslims and those perceived as or assumed to be such. While Omar's treatment in Congress, as well as the miscategorization of Sikhs and their resulting collateral oppression from anti-Muslim bigots, represent some of the foulest domestic U.S. hatred, they only scratch the surface of contemporary mistreatment of Muslims. From the New Zealand mosque shooting to tto the continued violence against Muslims in India , Muslims face a growing wave of hatred all across the world. And, as with anti-Semitism, these threats cannot and should not be invisibilized. For the future of both groups, the sowing of discord must be stopped and the violence that threatens Muslims and Jewish people both domestically and internationally must be halted.
So, where do I go from here? Where do we all go from here to hold back the tide of hatred?
For me personally, and given my positionality as a previously atheistic person who now leans more towards agnosticism, it would be to acknowledge the threads that connect us in our struggles. Regardless of my desire to address anti-Semitism and anti-Black Islamophobia as someone simply trying to help her community members, when it comes to such issues I am not working from the perspective of an outsider watching this violence unfold. I face this growing violence as someone who navigates her own systems of hatred, someone whose own experiences with long-standing structures of violence are not dissimilar to the oppression which those targeted by anti-muslim and anti-Jewish violence experience. Because of this, I cannot sit by and wait for this violence to arrive at my doorstep. Its foundations have already involved me, whether or not I choose to recognize it. Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim violence builds upon foundations of ethnic purity, of conflating left leaning politics with ethnic “Others,” and of increasingly radicalized white nationalism, which fuel the virulent strains of hateful ideology we have to navigate now and will continue to in the future. That hatred, that unbridled desire to see certain populations exterminated for the sake of a so-called pure world will not leave anyone untouched. We will all suffer in general if we don’t address the particulars of violence directed towards different members of our community.
So, regardless of any personal reservations I have had in the past regarding faith or any hesitation to see it as part of my own life’s issues, I must be in solidarity with my Jewish and Muslim kin. I must speak out against the particulars of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim violence or risk letting the harm that they cause and the systems they fuel go undeterred. I must advocate as need be for and with my community members of faiths I do not ascribe to because to not do so is to truly deny the moral course of actions needed in these dire times. It would risk telling those who are in need of solidarity, who are in need of care and justice in a world that seeks to deny them both, that I will turn my back on them.
And, as someone whose values prioritize life above all else, I simply cannot do that. I pledge myself to you, my Jewish and Muslim kin. I pledge to fight in solidarity for your safety, as only true justice can demand of me.