Tuesday, December 8, 2015

I will not be silent

Let me say again: I will not be silent

I've been putting off this post for a while. There's so much I want to say, and it's so hard to find words adequate to express these feelings. But it has to be said, because I cannot simply let it go.
What feelings do I need to express? Rage. Horror. Sorrow. Fury. Despair. Terror. 
Why? Shootings. Terrorism. Discrimination. Scapegoating of Refugees. Hate.
The world is a pretty terrible place in a lot of ways. Bad things happen everyday. I feel like nothing I do can make a lasting difference. But I believe that feeling is wrong. Bad things happen, but so do good things. The good things are just smaller, easier to miss. Why am I taking time from my final papers and pushing back my lunch hour to share my thoughts? Because I believe in hope and change. 


People saying that more gun laws won't fix the problem of mass shootings. Well, maybe not, but since we currently don't research the subject on a large scale, and gun stores aren't required to publish their sales data, and we keep losing people to other people with guns, it's time we actually did something. I don't know what we should do, but I don't want to live in a place that has had more shootings than days in the year. Yes, this year. 2015. In our country that's supposedly at peace. And it's not the end of the year yet. There has to be a solution. Banning automatic, multiple shot weapons (assault rifles, sniper rifles, etc.) from sale to private individuals would be a good start. I don't care if someone wants to have a rifle, a shotgun or target pistol, even though I will personally never own one, but anything more is designed for killing people, not hunting or self protection. And note I said private individuals, not law enforcement agencies or military. Don't bring up the argument that if guns are illegal, only criminals will have them. Other countries with tough gun laws don't have mass shootings. Japan's laws are so strict that not even criminals have guns. Note that the guns used in most mass shootings are obtained legally, sometimes thanks to loopholes or mistakes in background checks. Those loopholes need to be closed, and background checks need to be much more thorough. And don't tell me that most shooters have mental illnesses. Some do, yes, but there's more to it than that, and if it were just mental illness, all the perpetrators would fit that profile, or all people with mental illness would be violent. They do not and they are not. This is domestic terrorism. The fact that we only discuss mental illness after a shooting where the perpetrator is mentally ill is another severe societal problem. The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to stop. 


It's happening everywhere. Syria. Paris. Beirut. Pakistan. It may not show up on Fox news, but people are dying every day. And of course the shootings I discuss above are domestic terrorism. Daesh (ISIS) is one of the perpetrators, and it's a mistake to confuse them with their victims. Most Muslims are shocked and horrified by the Paris attacks, and those who live in places where they experience such attacks with regularity can empathize even more. 


Some claim that we'll be safer if we turn away those who are different from "us". People try to set "us" against "them" in another attempt to create a scapegoat to blame for the world's problems. Muslims. Jews. Blacks. Native Americans. People of Japanese Descent. Muslims again. It's happened before, and this is how it starts. We forget history, we ignore its lessons, and we fall into the same trap. Again. The photo is of a sign at Auschwitz with a quote by Santayana, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." In 1492, Spain exiled Muslims and Jews, and over the next centuries, Spanish society fell into the trap of trying to distance itself from anything Islamic or Jewish. People with the wrong names or the wrong ancestors (those who converted when they were forced to choose: convert, leave or die) were shunned. Purity of lineage and religious orthodoxy were highly esteemed. Severe economic problems were only one side-effect of this. Similar things happened during Francisco Franco's dictatorship. Franco, like Hitler, was fascist, and tried to squash independence among Basque and Catalan people, among other atrocities. 

Scapegoating of Refugees

I worked with refugees from Burma for a few weeks in 2011. Cast out of their country, their cultures and languages despised, they'd spent up to years in refugee camps before coming to the USA. They struggled to learn English, they worked, and they opened their homes to three white girls who were there to share a message about Jesus. They had little and they welcomed us and fed us. They remain a marginalized group here, but at least they no longer fear for their lives. Hearing about the refugee crisis now reminds me of those people. They are good people who just want to live with their families somewhere that they don't have to be afraid. Most refugees have to apply for safe haven, and they don't get to choose where they go. It's the least likely way for a terrorist to try and get into the USA. 


The world seems filled with hate, and that overwhelms me with despair at times. I wonder what I can possibly do to make a difference when so many people with power and influence transmit messages of hatred and divisiveness daily. Well, this is what I will do. I will not be silent. In the face of hate, I will share love. In the face of scapegoating, I will build bridges of understanding. In the face of discrimination, I will befriend those around me. In the face of terrorism, I will spread hope. In the face of pain and death, I will mourn with those who mourn and I will do everything within my power to stop the suffering. Let us learn from history and break the cycle of hate. We are more than our fears. We are more than hate. We can love one another and rejoice in our shared humanity. If we come together rather than let divisive rhetoric drive us apart, we have a chance. 

When I dwell on the hateful, terrible things in the world, I want to push back, and I get angry. No, furious. Rage fills me and my first impulse is to lash out. But hate only breeds more hate. The only way to overcome hatred is with love. We can make the world a better place. If each of us does one small thing each day, it will make a difference. Small, everyday, ordinary, simple deeds can change the world and push back the infectious power of hate. Learn from history. Learn from literature. Learn from one another. And keep fighting.