Commentary by Mohamed Hammoud in London, ON
“All Jews must die.”
This was the shout of a lone gunman as he opened fire on a congregation of Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Saturday morning. 11 people were killed, six injured, including four police officers. The incident has brought together the Jewish and Muslim communities through a reverberating message of responding to hate with love.
Some might wonder how two communities normally seen at odds over political differences can unite, but since the attacks, Muslims in both Canada and the United States have taken to various social media platforms to express their solidarity with their Jewish brethren and are speaking out against hate crimes and all related forms of vitriolic rhetoric. At least two organizations have undertaken crowdfunding activities to raise money for the families of the victims, already exceeding targets with over $110,000 in just two days. Other Muslim organizations have been active in helping the families with grocery shopping and organizing vigils.
Many have been quick to criticize U.S. President Donald Trump for his response; although he denounced the hate incident, when asked about gun control, he responded that the shooting has “little to do with it.” Again, not unlike his response to the Florida shooting earlier this year, Trump recommended using guns to solve the problem and use armed guards to protect churches and synagogues. He eschewed the real issues of curbing gun violence or striving to heal a country rent asunder by his vitriolic rhetoric. And with his unwavering support of neo-Nazis and the Ultra-right, his unapologetic “America First” rhetoric and xenophobic policies, few have any confidence in his ability to curb an alarming increase in antisemitic hate crimes.
In Canada, the wash over effect is a 60 per cent spike in online hate. According to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and StatsCan, data shows that the Jewish community continues to be the most common target of hate crimes, closely followed by attacks on Muslims. Understandably, members of the two Abrahamic faiths recognize the importance of finding common ground. The notion of turning faith sanctuaries into heavily-guarded fortresses is very disturbing. Places of worship represent safe havens where we can nurture a sense of belonging and community-building and members can draw on shared experiences to foster opportunities to build relationships with their neighbors through interfaith dialogue. Some fear that turning churches and synagogues into guarded fortresses might have the adverse effect of bolstering more horrific attacks.
When asked about the recent incident in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Debra Stahlberg Dressler of Temple Israel in London, Ontario, explained that “it’s time to acknowledge that rhetoric can and does kill. Maybe not in the moment, but when hatred and falsehoods are the currency of public discussion, violence seems to become inevitable.” Speaking at the Interfaith Tree Planting held by Reforest London on Sunday, October 28, 2018, Rabbi Dressler expressed her gratitude for the show of support and solidarity from Muslims and Christians.
What we need most now is not more guns, we don’t need more fear of the other. We need to foster climates of acceptance and open our doors and build bridges and adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against any expressions of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and any other sort of bigotry, as well as attitudes and ideologies that can breed acts of hate and rob us of our religious freedom, pluralism and liberties. As Rabbi Dressler reminds us, there is hope, after all, it is “relationships are what ultimately will keep us safe.”
Mohamed Hammoud has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. He is also an active contributor to New Canadian Media and a member of the NCM Collective.