Image: Sign with “Violence” and “Hate Speech” with “No” symbols over them. Photo by John S. Quarterman, some rights reserved. Cropped for use here.
I’ve been listening to the news organizations do their endless “special report” drill on the massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida. I finally turned off the television.
The so-called news had devolved into a cycle of speculation: hate crime? terrorism? domestic? ISIS? wash-rinse-repeat…
Let’s get something straight (pun intended): Hate leads to Terror. The magnitude of this particular act of violence is unprecedented, but there is ample precedent for the hate that inspired it. Someone failed to teach the murderer that violence against anyone is unacceptable. Maybe his parents tried to teach him, but over the years acquaintances listened to his verbal violence against LGBTQ folks and said nothing. Someone heard homophobic words and said nothing. Others encouraged him, all those voices that said “someone ought to do something” or that said that “killing LGBTQ people is God’s will” bear responsibility. That includes ISIS, along with voices closer to home.
I believe in free speech and I also believe in the absolute necessity of challenging hateful speech, whether it is justified with a quote from the Bible, from the Quran, or from someone’s sainted grandma. It doesn’t matter how it is justified: it’s still hate.
לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ
Do not go slandering among your people. Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor. – Leviticus 19:16
This verse has two parts. (1) Don’t slander. (2) Don’t stand on the blood of your neighbor.
These two commandments are side by side because they are related. Hateful speech leads to violence, and when we listen to hateful speech and do not challenge it, we stand in the blood of another human being. We do not remain clean.
(By the way, if anyone is thinking about arguing that “slander isn’t slander if it’s true,” please stop right there. Rechilut, the Hebrew word in question, may also be translated “gossip.” It may be either true or false.)
When we listen passively to anyone (elderly uncles included) talk about what “ought to happen” to a group of people, we stand in the blood of those human beings. This is equally true whether the targeted group is a group we like or a group we don’t like at all.
Let’s resolve to speak up every time we hear hate speech against:
- LGBTQ people
- People of color
- Persons with disabilities
- Fat people
- Thin people
- Mentally ill people
… and anyone else.
To do less is to stand in the blood of another.
Addendum: I write this as much for myself as for any reader. I, too, have let hate speech pass when I have written off the speaker as beyond learning. I was wrong to do that. I teach not only with my words but with my silence. Whenever I let hateful speech pass unchallenged, I teach the speaker that I think it is OK. I was wrong to do that.
8 thoughts on “Stop the Hateful Cycle”
I had to turn social media off. So much hate; if not in the original posts, then in the comments. (Some of my native friends pointed out that there were larger numbers killed in murderous attacks of the past, just by people acting as agents of the US government during the “plains wars.”) I agree with you so much. Hate is hate. A society that runs on hate speech and the threat of verbal and economic violence to “others” will continue to see acts of physical violence. We must be better. We must be better all the time, not just when the news shocks us into discussion.
Yes. I’m stepping away from the news. At this point, there’s no “news,” it’s all speculation and gossip, anyway, except for those poor, poor people waiting for news of loved ones. You put it well: We must be better.
I cannot like enough what you wrote here. As uncomfortable as confronting hatred and hate speech maybe, staying idle or silent is akin to condoning it. The work also has to start with the hate speech that is spewed often unknowingly by people who don’t even realize how hateful their speech is. It may often be people we know well and love, and then it feels like we can’t antagonize them but it is still our duty.
And of course, I do not mean that we should have hateful reactions to haters either. This has become such a deadly game. I have felt sad a lot today even though it is a holy day. I have tried very hard to realize that in the liturgy we celebrate today a lot is contained for our own sake.
Chag shavuot sameach, dear Rabbi Ruth!
Chag Shavuot sameach, Otir! I wrote it partly because I am guilty of letting hateful speech pass when it comes from someone elderly, or when I think that person will not learn anyway. I cannot do that any longer. It is a holy day, a day to learn, and I’m trying to learn better.
Chag Sameach Rabbi Adar! I’d like to add that it’s not only hate speech we need to speak out against. It’s also addressing words that demean and offend, or imply superiority and inferiority. Words that might be said not so much out of hate but fear and ignorance, too.
We need to address all words that demean and offend. One would think that patriotic folks could get behind the idea that “all persons are created equal” even if Jefferson himself did not live up to the words.