In July 1959, TV-WNTA aired a sensational documentary on American television: ‘The hate that hate produced’. Muslim activist Malcolm X and Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Elijah Muhammad featured prominently. The documentary shocked the nation.
The hate messages peddled by the NOI were chilling. In all fairness to Malcolm, this was before he made a life-changing trip to Mecca and distanced himself from the NOI. The hate that the NOI was spreading was described by the show’s producer Mike Wallace as “the hate that hate produced” – a circle of evil where no-one wins and everyone loses.
Religion is the new race
Fast-forward and times have changed, but not necessarily the script. Only this time, religion is the new race – and freedom, radicalisation and terrorism are the catchwords.
The events of February 2015 will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. A 55-year-old man is shot and killed at a theatre. Hours later, another man is gunned down at a synagogue. In the ensuing melee, several police officers are wounded and the alleged perpetrator killed. A peaceful city transforms into a massive crime scene. Police in combat gear cordon off and secure major installations. The air smells of fear.
Meanwhile, news media around the world run distressing headlines. Pundits draw comparisons to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Online, the hashtag #JegErDansker, like #JesuiCharlie before it, is trending. A visibly-shaken prime minister addresses the nation and the world calling the attacks “politically motivated”. For extremists, the chicken had come home to roost – to the free world, it was another attack on the freedom of expression, or was it?
How did we get here?
Is this a war on the freedom of expression? Anybody’s guess is as good as the next. Yet when the emotions have run their course, tough questions must be asked. How did we get into a situation in which a home-grown youth shoots dead innocent people going about their business? Answers are hard to come by. Going forward however, the nation must re-examine its multicultural relations.
Harming policemen and women who sacrifice themselves to protect the rest of us must not be tolerated. Killing innocent people must be abhorred, condemned and severely dealt with. Impressionable young men must be shown a sense of belonging to curb the possibility of them becoming the prey of the manipulative ideologies of extremists.
The media must exercise its freedom. Freedom of expression gives them the right to choose what to publish and what not to publish. By intentionally insulting Islam time and again, the media is insinuating that they do not regard Muslims as part of their clientele. In any business, the customer is king; if newspapers believed that Muslims are part of their readership, they would not insist on offending them time and again, would they?
To paraphrase Washington Post editor Paul Farhi, just as journalists choose not to publish pictures of soldiers killed in war, nudity and pornography, we can as well choose not to offend sections of our readership by not publishing humiliating caricatures of their prophet. It is a question of respect. To curb extremism, the drivers of radicalisation must be addressed: Islamaphobia and hostile foreign policy. Otherwise we are falling head-first into the evil circle of hate that produces hate.