Just a few days after election day, swastikas started appearing in the heart of Jewish Crown Heights in Brooklyn. I was distraught and felt helpless, so I did the only thing that I could do: I reached out to a local rabbi and offered any assistance he might need. That led to the exchange below, which in turn inspired many other such conversations.
BREAKING: Swastika spray painted on Montgomery St in heart of Jewish Crown Heights. Note: This is not a first here (h/t @HirshelTzig ) pic.twitter.com/u6RAMY4NRn
— Mottel (@Mottel) November 13, 2016
Touching note I got from someone. With attitudes like this, I think America IS already great. pic.twitter.com/QLJ7y7M7DQ
— Mottel (@Mottel) November 13, 2016
Much that was previously unthinkable in the United States has already taken place in the short time since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president. But not all of those unthinkables are terrible, nation-breaking things. Some are even “great”: We’ve seen members of the LGBT community invited by their Muslim neighbors into the local mosque to get to know one another; millions of American women and men took to the streets in the largest set of demonstrations in U.S. history to stand in solidarity with women who had to endure Trump’s unvarnished misogyny throughout his campaign; the Palestinian flag was raised at O’Hare International Airport where Jewish organizations met refugees with warm welcome signs; in New York, a 17-year-old Muslim boy, seeing an Orthodox Jewish woman assaulted, jumped in to help police catch her assailant.
It is this spirit that we so urgently need to summon today if we are to hold the line against Trump.
It’s important to be clear about what we face. Hitler once contended that “any violence which does not spring from a spiritual base will be wavering and uncertain. It lacks the stability which can only rest in a fanatical outlook.” This is one reason, despite the parallels being drawn between the two men in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning Muslims, why Trump is not Adolf Hitler. There’s nothing in the Trump administration that even resembles a commitment to fervently held beliefs. Trump lacks Hitler’s fanaticism, substituting instead a frighteningly childish impressionability. There’s no “stability” to Trump’s administration. Hitler was a decorated soldier, went to prison for “political crimes” where he wrote a book, and, as a powerful orator, served as a potent vessel for his incendiary worldview. Trump draft dodged, would never believe in something passionately enough to be thrown in jail for it, doesn’t read books, and is known for speeches that are almost as badly written as they are poorly delivered.
But all these differences between Trump and Hitler don’t mean that the agenda of Trump’s first week in office, his reckless campaign, and the mess of his presidential transition haven’t all been profoundly dangerous. And that is why as an Arab, a Muslim, a person who works in the creative/intellectual industries, a journalist, and an American, I appeal to my Jewish readers for your guidance and leadership. In the face of the despair that we face, we must rediscover the ancient and beautiful alliance we had at Alhambra, that fabled fortress in Andalusia, Spain, where Jews, Muslims, and Christians coexisted. I believe that we can do much more than just stumble through the next few years and survive. I believe we can thrive. And so I am asking you to join your hand to mine.
I realize that this request imposes responsibilities on my part. Over the course of covering the Trump campaign, I saw my Jewish colleagues subjected to images and threats that we haven’t seen expressed with such frequency and force since the 1930s. I saw Trump supporters refer to “Zionism” (without knowing what it was) as the greatest threat in the world, and I saw them cheer on their candidate while he resurrected anti-Semitic tropes in a speech focused on “international bankers.” I know trauma has been reawakened for many Jews. I am also aware that we are entering an era where I will be tasked with having the backs of my Jewish brothers and sisters. That is a responsibility I will honor without fail of passion or method.
I also ask, in the spirit of Alhambra, that you continue to have my back.
Just as Muslims must recommit to the ideals that make Islam one of the great civilizational forces in world history, I speak as a friend and sympathetic critic of Israel when I urge Jewish communities around the world to pressure members of the Knesset to condemn the Muslim ban in the strongest possible terms. Israel’s failure to do this will compromise the foundational ideals of the nation that once captured the imagination of the entire world. Here in America, the right wing within the Jewish community must not make the same mistake that Republicans made with Trump: that of compromising their most cherished ideas in order to garner what they want in the short term. You must speak out with one voice against the administration’s depredations.
I am asking that we work together and resist any attempt to divide us in the fight against injustice. We are truly in the same boat. Trump’s affinity for Jared Kushner says about as much for his love of Jews as his appointment of Ben Carson speaks to his “reverence” for black Americans. Kellyanne Conway’s presence in Trump’s inner circle no more excuses his well-documented misogyny. We must not allow the personal affinity between Trump and such individuals to distract us from the structural racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism that Trump’s government champions. We must speak out against those who would claim to represent us while serving up only self-inflicted wounds upon our communities.
To everyone who utters the words “never again” as they recall the fate of their ancestors: I thank you. I believe that the example that was passed down to you from your forbears will shine a light through the darkness ahead. I want to ask you, in the spirit of Alhambra, to share your light with our beleaguered country as a source of illumination and hope, and not retreat in fear. We are all one another’s strength.
History can repeat itself and that is one of the main reasons we study it. In our case, we know how this movie ends. If humanity is to stand any chance at re-writing the script in order to force an alternate ending after the 2016 election, then we need to work together, each community bringing their own unique strengths to our joint social labor. Together we will suffer and recreate each other over the coming years. We will not be consumed by the chaotic fires of chauvinism or crude nativism.
For all its effort to sow fear, the Trump-Bannon administration miscalculated one vital element: America is much more diverse than either of them would like to admit and certainly more diverse that 1930s Germany—and when faced with adversity, we bind closer together.
The evidence is everywhere, from the streets of Brooklyn to the terminal at O’Hare International Airport. Whenever the Trump administration has deployed the rhetoric of division, we have reacted by bringing our diverse communities ever closer together. Where our leaders have left a vacuum of craven silence, citizens have filled that void with empathy and community. If we continue to step outside of the comfort of tribal familiarity and instead stand together then we will not simply achieve our goal of surviving this storm. We will thrive and come out of it a stronger and more diverse American family than ever before.
In seeking to tear us apart, Trump, Bannon and their allies may have actualized the stuff of their worst nightmares.
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Mohammed Fairouz is a composer whose operas and symphonies have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and The Kennedy Center and internationally at venues such as the Dutch National Opera, Dubai Opera and the Barbican in London. His writings on the arts and foreign policy have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy Magazine, The National (UAE), The Independent, Open Democracy, and The Huffington Post among others.