United States of Emergency: Beyond Charlottesville

This past weekend offered a horrifying example of growing boldness empowering the hateful in America. The rally to “Unite the Right” under the alt-right banner culminated in the death of a counter protester run down by a white supremacist. Two local policeman helping to subdue the unrest were also killed in a helicopter incident.

The rally’s stated purpose was to protest the removal of a General Robert. E Lee Confederacy statue. The protest was organized by card-carrying bigot Richard Spencer, among others. Spencer played a key role in coining the term “alt-right” and has done much work to mainstream the divisive, radical ideology.

Ensuing discussions around who’s to blame for last weekend’s tragedy are moot and counter-productive. Ownership is clear. Richard Spencer, David Duke and their neo-Nazi thugs, including James Fields (the second-degree murder charge facing piece of garbage who mowed Heather Heyer) are directly responsible for the mayhem. Their words and actions incited hatred and violence that led to Saturday’s events. As political tensions blow up like powder kegs on issues such as Russia’s totalitarian actions, and the loose cannon of North Korea, it’s time for our country’s leaders to take strong, immutable positions against hate speech and violence.

To to white supremacists/nationalists/Neo-nazis trying to “take the country back,” a word of caution: nationalism is NOT patriotism. Members of “Unite to Right” are focused, not dissimilarly from their “spiritual” leader, President Trump, on entitled demanding and punishment, lacking any positive agenda to create a better, more productive America for anyone (including themselves).

There’s a severe disconnect between Spencer’s band of terrorists, who claim to feel disenfranchised, and the basic principles of inclusion. Gaining access and acceptance does not need to come at the expense of other groups. Equality and inclusion are not limited resources. The xenophobia I examined last week is boiling over, courtesy of a President that refuses to condemn the hate-filled intolerance of his core constituents. In fact, last weekend’s verbal response from The Donald adopted a “many sides” position that managed to affirm the white supremacists while casting vague blame on counter protesters. This is sickening.

You know Trump failed at bringing the country together beyond expectation when other conservatives trip over themselves to call out and condemn acts of domestic terrorism for what they are. The list includes Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Jeff Flake, and Tim Scott. Only open, vocal condemnation of white supremacists and their supporters will tell the Neo-Nazis they are not welcome here. The rhetoric of Republican leaders outside the White House is promising.

We need more than words, however. We need action. While freedom of speech is a foundational right, the border stop at inciting violent hate. Our leaders must condemn hatred and adopt all measures to protect diversity. Useless statements that allow white nationalists to misinterpret their advantage and gain momentum are the enemy.

If it’s time to “Make America Great Again,” we can’t equivocate. The alt-right is just plain wrong – and dangerous. 

America is in a state of emergency. We cannot doubt it. It’s 2017 and Nazis are terrorizing our country. Our collective response will make history – because either we stood together to expel hate, or because we failed our Constitutional commitment to each other.


I Can’t Write About Syria (June 11, 2011)

Because then I would be forced to acknowledge that I can’t even locate the Middle Eastern country on a map, that my 1980s, Cold War ideology-laced, primary school geography education didn’t go a lot farther than the United States, Europe and enemy nation Russia. I would have to confront that educators and students of the Me Decade ignored “irrelevant” areas like India, the Middle East and Africa as little more than impoverished, Third World also-rans. I would have to admit that I am still playing catch-up to overcome my early curriculum limitations.

I can’t write about Syria because then I would have to face the shameful truth that I have been spoiled by maturing in a liberal democracy, one that is certainly imperfect, and seems to be slightly more broken with each passing year. But my nation is also one where it’s impossible to bind an old man in the street while soldiers kick him for sport as the cameras roll, and nobody makes a move.

I would have to digest that I will never witness thousands of my fellow Americans fleeing for the border of another sovereign nation, simply protecting their right to live. I can comfortably sit in my kitchen and hurl words bombs from behind a laptop and no secret police, no agents of a totalitarian regime, are going to break down my door and drag me off, perhaps never to be seen again.

I would have to be grateful that I live in a land where there is nothing more abhorrent to the common palate than the murder of children. My nieces, KK and Raina, go to bed every night never considering food, shelter, safety or security. Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, the 13 year-old boy taken by soldiers in Jiza, and returned to his family in pieces, suffered so much at the end of his young life, simply for following the example of his freedom loving parents. My sister will never be forced to go on state television and praise the very regime that murdered her child. We will simply never be subject to that level of sanctioned terror.

I cannot write about what’s happening in Syria because then I would have to confess that I look away from the images of civil war, even as Anderson Cooper urges me to see and digest the human atrocity, as though I were watching a particularly graphic episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I would admit to being sickened by own pampered discomfort.

I would have to admit that my democratically elected government appears to be very selective about which holocausts it will engage, and that many of decisions seem to stem, not from human rights or security issues, but from more mercenary economic and political concerns. Libya, sure we’ll join the fight. We never liked Gadhafi much anyway. But Egypt or the truly sickening situation in Syria, no thank you sir.

If I wrote about Syria, I would have to admit that I feel useless, paralyzed and frustrated. I would have to admit that I don’t know how to help, and so instead, I turn off the TV and drink a glass of wine to calm my nerves. I would have to own that I know absolutely nothing about real human suffering.