The stories are heartbreaking and chilling. In the first few weeks of 2017, identity-based hatred appears to be pervasive and on the rise. Two immigrants from India were shot in Kansas allegedly by a man who confronted them about their visa status; historical Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in St. Louis and Philadelphia; and, in Rockville, Maryland, a Jewish couple, who put up a Black Lives Matter banner outside their home, received a threatening note with the word “Jew” written in German and the ominous promise of “mayhem.” On January 29th, six people were killed and 19 were injured in a mass-shooting at a mosque in Quebec City. The victims included fathers, an academic, and local businessmen. They were in the midst of evening prayers.
The epitaphs for 2016 are coming out by the hour. It was the worst of years, some are saying, in the midst of uncertain times. Of course, at midnight on the 31st, the challenges we face won’t go away. The only way that 2017 will be better is if we make it so.
This was a particularly difficult election for the United States. It exposed deep divisions and it was a year of ugly rhetoric and angry, sometimes violent, exchanges among people. Racism, misogyny, sexual assault, xenophobia, antisemitism, and just plain cruelty headlined news stories and became trending topics across social media. Many Americans could not wait for November 9th to arrive just so it would be over and they could move on. But “moving on” isn’t going to help Americans to address the tensions and issues raised by the long campaign season and the election itself. The election was a mirror held up to Americans, exposing deep damage and it created more at the same time.
It is impossible to imagine what Raphael Lemkin would be thinking and doing if he were alive today. He dedicated his life to stopping mass violence against people based on their identities and to holding those who were responsible accountable for their crimes. As a young man, he studied past slaughters, including pogroms against Jews, and he immersed himself in understanding the mass murder of the Armenians by the Turkish state, the failure to stop it, and to punish those who were responsible for it. In the midst of his efforts to draw attention to these issues, he lost 49 family members, including his parents, in the Holocaust. They died in the Warsaw ghetto, in concentration camps, and in the death marches.
On Easter Sunday, a splinter group of the Taliban killed more than 70 people, including children, in Lahore, Pakistan. The group said they were targeting Christians who had gone to Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park to celebrate the holiday with their families. It was mostly Muslims who were killed.
On Tuesday, March 22nd, at least 35 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in Brussels, Belgium. Victims came from across Belgium as well as from the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and China. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on Brussels' airport and a subway station in the center of the city. There have also been attacks in Turkey, Nigeria, Kenya, the Ivory Coast, Syria, and Iraq.
Life was pretty happy and full. Now on December 13, there came change that turned our world upside down. - Mr. Chen Deshou, a survivor of the Nanjing Atrocities
December 13th marks the 78th anniversary of the Nanjing Atrocities, when the lives of thousands of women, men, and children were turned upside down. This assault by the Japanese Imperial Army took place from December 13, 1937, through the end of March 1938. During this time soldiers ran riot in the captured Chinese capital, unleashing a spree of violence, murder, and rape on the population.
Nous pleurons avec le peuple de France. Ce qui s’est passé vendredi soir est inimaginable. Les Parisiens faisaient ce que tout le monde fait dans une société libre : ils passaient la soirée dehors avec des amis ou en famille, ils dînaient, buvaient, riaient, écoutaient de la musique, regardaient un match de football. À La fin de la soirée, plus de 120 personnes avaient été assassinées, des centaines blessées et des milliers terrorisées. Nous l’étions tous, d’ailleurs.
Une société libre et ouverte se fonde sur un contrat social qui prescrit que nous vivions ensemble dans la paix et le respect. Le terrorisme rompt ce contrat. C’est son objectif, pour qu’il devienne plus difficile de rester ouverts et inclusifs.
We mourn with the people of France. Friday evening’s events are unimaginable. Parisians were doing the things that people do in a free society, enjoying an evening out with friends and family, having dinner, a drink, a laugh, hearing music, watching a football match. By the end of the night, more than 100 people were murdered, hundreds were injured and thousands more were terrorized. In fact, we all were.
Remaining a free and open society is based on a social contract, that we will live together with respect and in peace. Terrorism disrupts this. It is designed to do just that, making it harder to remain open and inclusive.
Over the last few weeks, South Africa has been rocked by xenophobic violence.
According to The New York Times, approximately five million immigrants have settled in South Africa since the end of the apartheid in 1994. Many are refugees, or are pursuing economic opportunities in the country, which has become a relatively stable multiracial democracy. Many native South Africans are greeting these newcomers with prejudice, hatred, and violence—destroying local businesses and in some cases committing murder. Today, South Africa’s immigrant population lives in fear.
Unfortunately, the trend is not new. In 2007, a year before xenophobic attacks would break out nationwide, violence erupted in the small township of Zwelethemba, about two hours from Cape Town.
A Facing History teacher at the local high school recognized that his community was in crisis.
Last week, the United States media reported on an event that took place at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
A month ago, UCLA student Rachel Beyda put herself forward as a candidate for a student judicial board position. In the interview process, a student board member asked her, "Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?"
Members of the board then debated her candidacy and her ability to be unbiased.