Activists, politicians, and journalists are pointing the finger at Donald Trump as the cause of the global overflow of supremacist hate. The gunmen in the El Paso, Poway, and Christchurch shootings, which targeted Hispanics, Jews, and Muslims respectively, all left manifestos making their connection to Trump’s charged rhetoric crystal clear.
Trump assuredly enflames the hatred of racists. But the re-emergence of racial hate in this millennium has its roots in the words and actions of a different president – George W. Bush.
Nine days after Americans watched in horror video replays of packed 737s slamming into the sides of the twin towers, and the pancake collapse of the massive structures, Bush addressed Americans and asked, “Why do they hate us?” His absurdly inaccurate answer, “They hate our freedoms,” paved the way for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now Americans were watching “shock and awe” on TV and processing their trauma with feelings of retaliation.
Hate speech directed at Muslims became common. Evangelical figureheads led the way. In his paper, New Boundaries—Evangelicals and Islam after 9/11, Richard Cimino points out that, “Throughout 2002 and early 2003, evangelical Protestant leaders had shown themselves to be among the most caustic critics of Islam in the U.S. In separate instances and within a few months, evangelist Franklin Graham called Islam a ‘very wicked and evil religion’. In a similar manner, Southern Baptist leader Jerry Vines created headlines by preaching that Mohammed was a ‘demon-possessed pedophile.’”
On the streets, some Americans processed their trauma with rage and violence. The FBI has tabulated data on hate crimes against Muslims ever since. In the throes of deep trauma, without realizing what we had done, America had uncorked a magic lamp and summoned forth the evil genie of racial hatred.
For the decades since the civil rights movement, the genie had only seen the inside of his lamp. Prior to 9/11, public hate speech was considered scandalous and racism was confined to smoky back rooms and secret meetings. One slip-up and a politician’s career could be over.
But now, with respect to Muslims, there was a new standard. It was definitely OK for politicians, religious figureheads, supremacist leaders – and the general public – to speak openly about their hatred for Muslims.
The evil genie was released. He was summoned to direct his dark energy towards Muslims. But soon he began turning his head, first this way, then that. His gaze fell upon Jews, African-Americans, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, even upon those at nonbinary places on the sexuality spectrum.
With Trump and other politicians fanning the flames, hate speech and hate crimes now encompass any and every group not considered part of the “family” of supremacists – culminating in virtual acts of war targeting specific ethnicities or religions considered “enemies” of America.
How do we get the genie back into his lamp? Having found the roots of today’s hate in America’s response to the trauma of 9/11, I propose that we start there. Processing trauma is complex and requires great courage on the part of the victim. But as with most psychological issues, awareness is where the process begins. Next, I recommend we access resources to help process our trauma. In the last two decades, pioneers such as Peter Levine have done substantial work in this arena. Levine’s Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute is a great resource for learning more about healing from trauma.
Thirdly, Americans need to recognize that our trauma is being exploited for political gain in the form of Islamophobia. Stay tuned for a future blog post on this subject, but for now suffice it to say that hundreds of millions are being spent on creating and disseminating misinformation about Muslims to keep American voters mired in fear and not voting on the real issues. I wrote my book, Why Do They Hate Us? Making Peace with the Muslim World, to counter the misinformation with truth about Islam’s peace-loving mainstream.
Finally, where possible, non-Muslim Americans should reach out to their Muslim neighbors in friendship. It takes a little extra effort to socialize across cultural boundaries, but in these times, surely we can all see that it’s essential. Hate crimes against Muslims spike during the election cycle. Your Muslim neighbor or coworker would deeply appreciate your invitation to coffee or lunch.
By addressing the recent wave of racism and hate at its source, our 9/11 trauma and fear of Muslims, I am convinced that we can command the genie to return to his lamp, and many groups marginalized by hate will benefit.
For peace, shalom, and salaam,