In Kansas, an anti-immigrant terrorist killed one man and shot two others this week. In Florida and in Texas, arsonists burned mosques in January and February. Dozens of Jewish Community Centers have received bomb threats over the past two months, and two Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized in the past week. In each case, people have responded, fighting back against terrorism and hate. We need to acknowledge the hatred and bigotry that exists in our country. We need to name these actions as terrorism. We also need to recognize the responses of Americans rejecting that terrorism. We need to insist that we are the majority, not the haters, not the bigots, not the terrorists. This is our country, and we will not let them take it away.
Killing in Kansas
On February 22, a 51-year-old white man yelled at two Indian immigrants in a Kansas City bar, using racial slurs. Patrons objected, and he was told to leave the bar. He returned, yelling at them to “get out of my country.” Then he shot them, killing 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounding 32-year-old Alok Madasani and 24-year-old Ian Grillot, who tried to stop the shooter.
Both Kuchibhotla and Madasani were engineers, legally working in the United states, and had been here for years. The Guardian reported that Kuchibohotla’s wife, Sunayana Dumala, asked, “Do we belong here?” She said:
“We’ve read many times in newspapers of some kind of shooting happening somewhere. I was always concerned, ‘Are we doing the right thing staying in the US or America?’ But he always assured me good things happen in America.”
Madasani’s father, speaking by telephone from India, said, “I request other parents to think twice before sending their children to the United States.”
The killing in Kansas was an act of anti-immigrant terrorism. Like most terrorist acts in the United States, it came from a right-wing, racist terrorist. And Americans responded, rejecting that hatred and terrorism.
In less than a week since the Kansas shooting, three GoFundMe accounts raised more than a million dollars for the families of the three victims. The money will pay for medical expenses and for “funeral expenses and other ongoing grief / recovery support costs,” including returning Kuchibhotla’s body to his family in India. We are the majority, not the haters.
Burning mosques in Texas and Florida
In Tampa, Florida, a 2 a.m. fire on February 24 damaged the Islamic Center of New Tampa, which houses the Daarus Salaam mosque. Firefighters put out the fire, and said it was arson. This was the third mosque fire in Tampa in a year. Shakiel Humayun wrote on Facebook:
“Our local Mosque in Tampa was sealed off this morning. We were not allowed to pray Fajr inside, nor will there be Friday prayers there today….
“The anti-Islamic threats targeting our Muslim community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
An interfaith gathering to show solidarity with the Muslim community was held the night of February 24 at the site of the burned mosque. Tampa’s mayor spoke out at a news conference:
“There are tens of thousands of Tampanians who do not happen to be Muslim but today stand with our Muslim community and say not on my watch, not in my city,” Buckhorn said. “We will not tolerate this. We will stand up in the face of opposition. We will stand up in the face of anybody who would choose to demonize anybody for any reason, specifically and directly because of their religion.”
On January 29, a mosque in Victoria, Texas was burned to the ground. The Texas Tribune reported:
“In an interview outside of the ash and rubble last week, the center’s president Dr. Shahid Hashmi, told the Tribune that his community would forgive anyone found to have set the fire. “But there’s no way we can forget. There’s no way our children can forget,” he said.”
The community responded. A Jewish congregation in Victoria handed the mosque leaders keys to the synagogue, so they can hold services there while rebuilding begins. Other offers and help poured in, including more than a million dollars for rebuilding raised through GoFundMe efforts.
“Hashmi said three local churches said his congregation could use their buildings. Also offered up was an empty office building, which the congregation used for three days before moving into a mobile home on the mosque property, Hashmi said.
“It’s a beautiful community,” he said.
“Though Hashmi always knew his own east Texas community would support the mosque, he was stunned by the outpouring of support from people outside Victoria” .
We can conquer hate. We can beat back terrorism.
Threats to Jewish Community Centers, cemeteries vandalized
On February 20, there were more bomb threats to more Jewish Community Centers across the country, including our JCC in St. Paul. This brought the number to 69 bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country and in one Canadian province in January and February of 2017.
On the same day, a century-old Jewish cemetery in Missouri was vandalized, with more than 170 headstones damaged or overturned. Less than a week later, on February 26, a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was vandalized. Cemetery vandalism triggers historical memory, as the Washington Post reported:
“During World War II, under the Nazi regime, many Jewish cemeteries were damaged across Europe, including in the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia), Poland, Germany and Greece. During Kristallnacht in November 1938, also known as the “Night of Broken Glass,” Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, along with businesses and synagogues, by anti-Semitic mobs throughout the Reich.”
Aaron Breitbart, a researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles told the Washington Post:
“Whenever there is an upsurge in bigotry against any group of people, others generally get caught up in it. It’s a warning not simply to Jews but to society that there is a certain sickness, a certain rottenness that is rearing its ugly head once again. It may be the Jews one time, but it’ll be others as well. That’s why all forms of bigotry are dangerous, even if you aren’t the target at the particular time.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those making the bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers. Muslims launched a fundraising campaign to repair the damage at the Jewish cemetery in Missouri, raising more than triple their initial $20,000 goal in just the first day. Any funds over and above the amount needed in Missouri, they said, would go to repair other cemeteries:
“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event. “
Newsweek reported a year ago that right-wing terrorists have killed more Americans than jihadists have. The threat from the right has grown even more over the past year, with escalating racism and anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim actions.
This is not what we want for our country. We can act to stop the hate. We can build bridges between communities that are stronger than the hate that tries to separate us.
Last year, Minnesotans across party lines joined to place a full-page ad in the Star Tribune denouncing anti-Muslim bigotry. The ad, reported the Strib, “was the brainstorm of Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and John Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management, who describes himself as a ‘card-carrying Republican.’”
On February 24, Minnesota Muslims placed an ad extending “sincere sympathies over the cowardly acts of hate, vandalism, and bomb threats that recently afflicted our Jewish friends and neighbors.” The ad went on to say:
“We stand together with you in these difficult and challenging times. Religious and ethnic intolerance and harmful acts have no place in our American society.”
We can build bridges by reaching out to neighbors, by getting to know people who are under attack – whether they are Muslim or Jewish, African American or Latino, immigrants or transgender students. We can build bridges by reaching out to Republicans and conservatives and anyone who will join in opposing hatred and bigotry. We can defeat the haters. We can reclaim our country.
What you can do:
Speak up. You don’t have to be Jewish to tell people you are outraged at the vandalism of cemeteries and the threats to bomb community centers. You don’t have to be Muslim to tell people that burning mosques and threats to kill Muslims are hateful and un-American. You don’t have to be an immigrant to tell people that it is wrong to demonize and target immigrants. You don’t have to be Black or Native American or Latino to speak up when someone makes a racist comment or tells a racist “joke.”
Reach out. Go beyond your comfort zone. That might mean visiting a mosque or synagogue, talking to someone who is an immigrant about their experience, or talking to a Republican. We have to talk to each other.
Hold onto hope.The haters are a minority. The terrorists are a minority of a minority. They will not prevail.