Columns

Malik ’18: Don’t ignore bigotry when addressing polarization

By
Staff Columnist
Monday, November 28, 2016

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, “there have been at least 700 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation since the election.” I fear that more hate-fueled incidents like these will occur because the disgusting bigotry that President-elect Donald Trump openly exhibited in his campaign has been condoned and legitimized through his election.

I’m not claiming that everyone responsible for these acts of hate backed Trump — the report explains that some of these acts were committed against Trump supporters. I’m also not claiming that every person who voted for Trump is a bigot. I don’t think people who oppose hatred and intolerance should demonize the people who voted for Trump, many of whom also oppose hatred and intolerance. Our fellow human beings should be treated with dignity and recognition of their humanity and complexity.

But still, many of the people who voted for Trump must have been aware of the abhorrent statements that he made about numerous marginalized groups and — even if they disapproved — they still sent the message those statements weren’t deal-breakers when casting their ballots. As we move forward and work to bridge the political divisions in our society, we cannot forget or normalize the terrible things that Trump has said. Recent incidents show that racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance don’t just exist in the realm of ideas or discourse, but translate into dangerous actions.

We need to talk to people in our homes, towns and cities who voted for Trump while drawing an absolute line against the peddling of fear and vitriol that hurts people’s lives. Sometimes, we’ll need to show compassion and courtesy, while at other times, we’ll need a more confrontational approach. Some people might be fully aware of the harm that Trump’s presidency could cause for many, but others might be unaware or misinformed. The approaches we use when engaging with others will depend on the situations that we find ourselves in, and we shouldn’t dismiss or antagonize people from the start.

In addition to engaging with the people who voted for Trump while disapproving of his views, those of us with the privilege and relative safety to do so need to engage with Trump supporters who do hold harmful beliefs. According to an article written by Ta-Nehisi Coates for the Atlantic, a poll conducted from March to June showed that about 40 percent of people who supported Trump believed “blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier and ruder than whites” and about two-thirds of supporters  at that time believed that President Barack Obama “is not American.” Also, in another article for the Atlantic, Peter Beinart points out that, according to a survey, “Trump supporters in South Carolina were … far more likely than the supporters of other GOP candidates to wish the South had won the Civil War and to consider whites a superior race.”  These views are literally, physically dangerous. To these people, we need to explain why these beliefs are wrong and harmful, if we can. Sometimes, we might be able to convince people to change their views. Other times, we won’t be able to. But even if we can’t change other people’s minds, we should at least try.

Furthermore, we have to make sure that we protect ourselves and those around us from such stubborn prejudice. This involves reporting hateful incidents. It includes putting pressure on elected officials through letters, phone calls and protests to prevent destructive legislation from being implemented and to oppose members of Trump’s administration who have promoted racist views and policies. It includes working with and donating to justice-seeking organizations that help people who will be most vulnerable during Trump’s presidency due to the policies that his administration might enact and the hate groups who feel emboldened by Trump’s success in the election.

In the years ahead, as we work to bridge the divides in this country, we cannot ignore or downplay the hate and bigotry that are alive in the United States and have been legitimized by the recent election. We have to confront hatred and bigotry directly. As we try to bring this country together, we cannot do it at the expense of doing what is right.

Ameer Malik ’18 can be reached at ameer_malik@brown.edu.

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2 Comments

  1. I used the contact form of the Southern Poverty Law Center website and sent them this letter in reaction to them publishing an “anti-Muslim extremist” list which included Ali and Nawaz. I don’t know if they’ll reply or give the stock reply, but I did what I do. Read my initial reaction here. Enjoy.

    To Whom It May Concern,
    Southern Poverty Law Center

    I recently came across your report on “anti-Muslim extremists” which includes the names of Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I write to you in order to cordially ask you to include my name in the list as an example of an awful extremist. Following you will see my justification for this humble request.

    I am an atheist living in Iran. The name you see here is not my real name, that is due to my extremism. As a bigot, I believe that there is no God, and that there should be dissenting voices within the Muslim culture championing freedom and equality, and that some of those voices must challenge religious institutes. Because of these extremist beliefs I face the danger of consequences at the hands of the victims of my bigotry, ranging from execution to losing my livelihood to being ostracized by the society. Therefore I am sure that you forgive me for not lifting my hood. (Here I compared myself with the KKK for your pleasure).

    I believe I am far worthier than Mr. Nawaz for the title of “anti-Muslim extremist”. I write for a blog called “On the Margin of Error” on the atheist channel of Patheos network, in which I have three aims: one is to criticize Islamic ideologies, traditions, and institutions. That is, by definition, extremist and bigoted. My second goal is to convince Westerners to support Iranian reformists within the regime and to encourage diplomacy with Iran. (I said I’m a bigot, not a competent one).

    But the third reason is the most important: I try to narrate the story of an ex-Muslim. In the report it was said that Mr. Nawaz sharing a cartoon that Muslims consider blasphemous was one reason for being on the list, well, you know what is the ultimate blasphemy according to the Muslims? Apostasy! In fact, apostates are considered unclean by Muslims. That makes me much more extremist than Mr. Nawaz. In fact, Mr. Nawaz can easily rectify his extremist stance by drawing a moral equivalence between the cartoonist and those who want to behead him, but I, this living blasphemy in flesh and blood, can only rectify it by committing suicide.

    I will try to not take up much of your time. I will list some of my extremist stances. This form does not allow for links, but I invite you to check out my blog as evidence. I’m sure you will find out that there are many more bigoted ideas of mine to be found there.

    I believe that the Qur’an is a violent book. I respect the goals of Muslims who want to advance peaceful interpretations, but I think they’re wrong. While I consider myself an ally of progressive Muslims, I think it’s my right to express my intellectual disagreement with them regarding their scriptures.
    I think Muslim societies are not completely blameless in the violent actions of the few. While terrorists are indeed a minority, they also are symptoms of wider social diseases such as sexism and bigotry toward others. I guess that wanting to reform the society from bottom is extremist, and a moderate try to ignore the social roots of Islamic extremism.
    I think it’s the moral duty of everyone to reject silencing and show Muslims that they cannot expect others to adhere to their religion and to respect a warlord who died 1500 years ago.
    Normally when an organization claims to “fight hate” and “teach tolerance”, I expect it to support people like me. Because I think I do those things. But it’s clear that the existence of Islamophobia in the West warrants such a reaction that Islamic societies should have no internal critics, and that “fighting hate”, for someone like me, means simply not existing.

    That is why I ask you to include me in your list. I believe it will be mutually beneficial. You will have a more comprehensive list, and I will wear your scarlet letter like a badge of honor.

    Sincerely yours,
    Kaveh Mousavi,
    Ex-Muslim, atheist, reformist, extremist

  2. Man with Axe says:

    You wrote: “But still, many of the people who voted for Trump must have been aware of the abhorrent statements that he made about numerous marginalized groups and — even if they disapproved — they still sent the message those statements weren’t deal-breakers when casting their ballots.”

    I didn’t vote for Trump because the statements you reference, about John McCain, Mexicans generally, a Mexican-American judge specifically, women, and several others, were in fact deal breakers for me. I also had one or two policy reasons not to vote for him

    But I am amazed that Hillary Clinton’s long history of lies, corruption, and incompetence were not deal breakers for you. Her impotence and lies surrounding the attack on Benghazi, her opposition to gay marriage until she realized it was politically more beneficial to support it, her unimpressive tenure at state, her absence of accomplishment in the senate, her long history of scandals in Arkansas and in the White House. None of this made a dent in your affections for her, evidently. So why would you think that Trump supporters, who see in him a champion of their interests, would be put off by a few untoward comments?

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