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How the conversation on hate crimes reinforces hate and alienation in America

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America launched it’s first deradicalization center almost 20 years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The timing was auspicious; the center opened the same week as the country grabbled with what to do about its ISIS bride. Whether or not to run the returning women of ISIS through deradicalization programs was a moot point because as a nation we never arrived at the opportunity to have that conversation. That opportunity was lost to instant political tribalism and heightened emotions marked by inflamed opinion. As a leading superpower, we’re behind the global curve in having one of the most important conversations of the 21st century: ideological radicalization. And at this hour, we’re making the same mistake with another ideology: white nationalism.

On Tuesday, April 9, 2019, a congressional hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Rise of White Nationalism” pierced through a political agenda as a rising number of emboldened supremacists attacks continue to scorch the American landscape. The images of the Charlottesville white nationalist rally are still seared into our minds. Twenty-first century images eerily reminiscent of a world we thought we have left behind. We haven’t, as James Baldwin’s I Am Not Your Negro hauntingly reminds us: there is little more than a lace of webbing that separates that era of American history with our current nightmare. Yet, in proper 21st century fashion, our nightmare is of course ‘inclusive.’ It applies to black Americans, Muslim Americans, and Hispanic Americans. The congressional hearing was an attempt to bring to surface a conversation that never really died, and a conversation that should have been on our collective radar much sooner.

{mosads}Unfortunately, the hearing did less to advance the conversation and more to highlight and reinforce deep divides and glaring prejudices.

First, some of the committee members failed to recognize white nationalism was a problem. Whether we want to call it racial supremacy or nationalism tinged with a heavy dose of xenophobia, whether we want to say both dance on the razor’s edge of how conservative patriotism is defined at this hour, or how it all blends into a hellish cocktail, the fact is hate in this form exists and its thriving. The hearing was not intended to be a debate on distorted interpretations of nationalism, and yet it was.

As Eileen Hershenov, senior vice president of the Anti-Defamation League, shared as a witness during the hearing, in the last ten years over 50 percent of domestic terrorism is sourced from white supremacists. As the statistics have escalated, so has the problem and the convoluted attempts at deflection by supporters and sympathizers.

After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, through co-dependent factors, the mask of tolerance and fair play slipped (or was removed) among the American political right. We began seeing people for what they really are. People stretched into what they were comfortable in believing or leaning into. If there was any doubt, we saw it in the congressional hearing on hate by some of the committee members in the dehumanizing interrogation of Mohammad Abu-Salha’s faith.

In 2015, Abu-Salha’s newlywed daughter (just 23-years-old), his son-in-law, and a second daughter (just 19 years old) were murdered execution style at their home in Chapel Hill, N.C. They were shot in the head. It was a hate crime, and four years later the family still awaiting a trial.

{mossecondads}At the congressional hearing, Abu-Salha was instead asked to defend his Islamic faith and justify the presence of his local mosque. That a grieving father is quizzed on his faith and given a litmus test to justify his existence, despite his immeasurable loss, is testament to the psychopathic depths at which supporters and sympathizers go to avoid a conversation on the ideological problem at hand: ideological supremacy and toxic nationalism. The poor man, perhaps out of shock or grace beyond our imagination, actually answered the ridiculous line of questions thrown at him.

This brings us to the second point.

How can we expect elected officials to be authentic in leading this conversation when some of them demonstrate the same vein of ignorance and paranoia that makes the most gross atrocities against minorities possible. When children raised in an environment that normalizes hate and alienation, they become adults who perpetuate the language of hate. Whether that happens to children in poverty-stricken war zones or it happens in the suburbs of America or in towns across Europe, the consequences are a mirror image of one another. In every instance, hate burrows deep into the subconscious of another generation. Meanwhile the counter-messaging is failing, bringing spears to the proverbial gun fight.

Much like the attempts of campuses across America that work to tame hate with educational rallies on hate symbols or testimonies of atrocities against a marginalized group, the congressional hearing did little to bring issues to surface with any impact on the narrative. Instead it reaffirms the narrative of hate by speaking in the language of hate. To quote civil right’s activist Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

If we want more primers on hate, agoras that churn the status quo are a good place to go. If we want solutions, we need to rethink how we talk about these issues in order to finally move beyond America’s dark history on race oppression and inequality.

Shireen Qudosi is a National Correspondent with Clarion Project. Follow her on Twitter @ShireenQudosi


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