Silence is Betrayal

Around the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday people are eager to share a meme, a story, or a MLK quote to show their support for the work, values, and vision of Dr. King. One that comes to mind in the wake of the Christchurch, New Zealand massacre is this one:

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

Around 2am on March 16, 2019 I scrolled through my Facebook news feed. I was dismayed by what I didn’t see. I didn’t see many of my friends or the local elected officials in my community (with only one exception) even acknowledging that there was a horrific terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Many of these same folks make it a point to showcase their human rights “bona fides” on MLK Day.

I get it that neither I nor most Americans take note of most of the horrible things going down across the globe. There are terrorist attacks almost daily around the world which do not kill citizens of western nations so we ignore them. For example, groups like ISIS, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram kill many innocent people everyday. If the victims aren’t Americans or citizens of other “western” nations then the media doesn’t pay much attention, and we carry on unbothered.

There are gross human rights abuses being carried out in Myanmar and China against Muslims, there are cases of Christian and Ahmadi oppression in Pakistan, and of Muslims and other religious minorities’ in India. There is a decades long oppression in Palestine. The media doesn’t pay much attention to these either, and again, we carry on unbothered.

The terror attack in Christchurch is different from the examples above, right? New Zealand is a “western” nation, so why did I not see social media responses similar to the “Je Suis Charlie” posts and profile pics that were so common in 2015 after the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in France?

I believe this is because the terrorist attack targeted Muslims and was carried out by a white supremacist. Some people were willing to blame the victims openly, and others obliquely nodded to victim blaming by trying to “understand” why Muslims would be targeted.

In the United States a majority of Americans struggle to recognize the level of risk white-supremacist and other violent far-right groups pose to peace and diversity regardless of whether the victims are Muslims, Jews, Blacks, members of the LGBTQ or transgender communities, or immigrants.

The facts about the dangers and risks posed by white supremacist and far-right violence are available for anyone who cares to know.

White supremacy begets violence. It is not new. Slavery was a product of white supremacy. Lynchings were a product of white supremacy. Church burnings are a product of white supremacy. White supremacy inspired men to kill African Americans in churches, Sikhs in gurudwaras, Jews in synagogues, and Muslims in mosques.

We can’t ignore the threat of far-right and white supremacist movements. But we are and that has to change. Vigils are nice, but elected officials, law enforcement executives, educators, and faith and lay leaders all need to come together to think, plan, and act in a coordinated effort to tackle this threat from multiple angles simultaneously. There are no silver bullet solutions to this problem.

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