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Over the past few days, I have read about and personally witnessed some uncomfortable things that should alarm everybody.
Matt Rinaldi, a Texas state representative was physically assaulted and threatened by other members of the Texas state legislature after he called ICE on some demonstrators who were protesting a Texas immigration law and allegedly held up signs saying “We’re illegal and we’re here to stay.” If people were holding those signs, then they were advertising the fact that they were breaking the law. But even if they weren’t, that does not excuse the fact that he was shoved by other members of the Texas state legislature and threatened. Violence – or the threat of violence – is simply not an acceptable answer.
Of course, compared to what happened in Oregon – where two men were stabbed to death for defending two women from anti-Muslim epithets – what happened in Texas is incredibly minor. The fact that anybody would openly hurl racial slurs at somebody in public is bad enough, but when two men bravely stepped in to stop it were killed for their efforts, it goes from disgusting and vile to monstrous.
And to be honest, it makes me worry. This past weekend, I flew back and forth to Kentucky for business. At Newark airport on my way to Kentucky, I was struck by the fact that I saw a man with a turban under a hat. When I asked him why the turban was covered up, he told me it was because he was afraid some people would see it and react violently. I got a similar story from another man I met in the Kentucky airport on my way home. He was with his wife and two children and said he covered his turban because he was scared of potential violence against him.
Putting aside the fact that these men were Sikhs, which would make anybody that might harass them not just wrong but ignorant as well, the fact that anybody has to be scared to walk around wearing a turban in public is something that shook me to my very core.
As a Jewish man who grew up in a Muslim country, I faced a similar issue. It was well-known that nobody was to walk around wearing a yamaka for fear of being hurt. That scarred me as a young boy and I would imagine it does the same to the children of the man I met in Kentucky.
None of these things are related, yet in some way, they all fit together. The combination of hatred and violence or fear of violence is something that can cripple any society, and it is something we should do our best to stop.
This doesn’t mean we all have to get along or that we can’t be prejudice in some way. I’m not naïve or stupid. I understand that we are going to have heated disagreements on major and minor issues and while it would be nice if prejudice doesn’t exist, it does and we are all generally guilty of it in some form.
But there is a big difference between disagreeing with somebody and putting your hands on them. There is a big difference between disliking somebody because of his race and harassing or assaulting somebody because of that dislike. And there is a big difference between societies that understand these distinctions and those that do not.
People will blame President Trump and his “climate of fear and hatred” but let’s be honest here: this is not new. Blame the president all you want, but this has been happening for years and everybody involved is an adult. The question is how do we stop it, or at the very least, minimize it.
Punishing those who cross the line harshly is obviously part of the equation, but the truth is, it starts individually with each one of us. As a society, we have to understand that while there will always be bad apples who do terrible things, we need to make sure that individually, we do what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones from veering down this path. Because if we don’t, we could end up turning into something so awful, that we are no longer recognizable to ourselves or anyone else.