I had to turn off the news this morning. I just couldn't watch for another second. My heart goes out to the victims of the Orlando shooting and their families. I'm also angry - for better or worse, that's how I tend to respond. It's been heart-wrenching to hear the report of what happened during the early morning hours of June 12 - people crawling out to safety while others hid, texting their loved ones goodbye, victims helping other victims as best they could, sobbing parents still waiting for word of their children, not knowing if they are dead or alive. It is horrible to watch and for my own mental health I had to turn it off for a while. At the same time, I had to lay aside what I'd planned to post about today, because how can I write a blog about racism and not deal with this event?
Yes, I know, the shooter didn't seem to have race in mind as he chose his victims. I know that he targeted members of the LGBT community. I know that race, sexual orientation, and gender identity are not the same issues, and although (of course) I believe that ALL people deserve to be treated with respect, I'm not trying to tie the shooter's hateful actions to racism. That's not where I see racism in this sad, complicated, infuriating mess. Instead, I'm talking about the responses I've heard from political figures and from every day people. Tragically, that's where racism has reared its ugly head.
We're all asking the same question - how do we prevent this from happening again? For some, fear and anger (and remember I'm angry too - I get that) lead to one conclusion, one group to blame - Muslims. The shooter was Muslim and declared his allegiance to a militant Islamist group. What could be more obvious? We need to ban Muslims from entering the country (never mind that the shooter was born in New York). We need to keep a closer watch on Muslim neighborhoods. And any idea of taking in refugees from Syria or anywhere near it - well, unthinkable. These people are clearly our enemies and we need to protect ourselves against them. And so, for some (many of them Christian believers like I am) the response to hate is more hate.
Meanwhile, back in Holland, not far from the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, something quite different is taking place. The church I attended while there, a church that is part of a conservative Pentecostal denomination, is welcoming refugees with open arms. They have totally shifted the focus of their ministry toward helping the large group of recently arrived that are in need. Rather than pulling back in fear and anger, people of faith are doing whatever they can, sometimes opening up their homes and taking in people to live. As a result, there are so many new converts in the church that they had to begin an English speaking service (English being the language the Dutch citizens and the refugees have in common).
We can learn something here, I believe. I know that not everyone in the Netherlands or in other European countries agrees on their country's refugee policies. I'm sure that these countries have their own particular set of problems and I'm not trying to say that they are better than we are. But I saw with my own eyes how, rather than respond with bigoted statements based on stereotypical ideas, people of faith are responding in love. Our country needs to be smart. Our leaders need to fight terrorism on physical and psychological fronts. But we can't do that by promoting racist ideas against the entirety of a religious group. We can't fight hate with hate.