Question: what’s even more alarming than the fact that verbal abuse, racist invectives and hate crimes have seen a significant increase in the days following the U.S. presidential election?
Answer: that the vast majority appear to be perpetrated by young people, from middle schoolers up through our supposedly educated college students. What a difference between material and spiritual education!
Some offenses are written: for instance, a number of walls defaced with Nazi-themed graffiti around the city of Philadelphia; “Build wall” and “[Expletive deleted] your safe space” in front of the library on a Louisiana college campus; “#Go back to Africa” and “Make America great again” written on a toilet paper dispenser and “Whites only,” and “White America” scrawled on the bathroom door at a high school in Minnesota; and “Black lives doesn’t [sic] matter and neither does your vote” on a wall in North Carolina.
Verbal abuse includes middle school students in Michigan chanting, “Build the wall, build the wall,” in the school cafeteria, and a Muslim student in Michigan being harassed and ordered to remove her hijab or be set on fire. A woman wearing a hijab was robbed in California by men who made remarks about deporting Muslims.
Some took to technology to spread their messages of hate. Black students at a Pennsylvania university received photos of lynchings and hate messages sent to them on their phones. A video posted by a California high schooler showed him handing students of varying ethnicities letters with “deportation” written across the top.
Another Muslim woman in California was physically assaulted by a man who grabbed at her head scarf and choked her.
This is just a sampling of xenophobic attacks running rampant from coast to coast in America, the land of the free.
After being disheartened by these reports, I was thrilled to see college students come in to Macy’s European Coffeehouse in Flagstaff on November 10th. I was there, along with my friends Ladjamaya Green and Mark and Kitty Lutness, to present an evening program on “Building Community through the Arts.”
Our topic centered around the oneness of humanity, an essential point on which we must agree in order to build healthy, thriving communities where the needs of all are considered of equal value.
As I was writing this and simultaneously listening to the local news, I heard a truly positive story. Rather than a politically charged, negative rally like the ones occurring around the country, teachers in Phoenix led a multi-generational group in a rally promoting love and unity. Just a few months earlier, 20 different groups in the same city staged a “love is stronger than hate” demonstration at the mosque which recently saw hate-filled anti-Muslims and angry counter-demonstrators facing each other in a negative exchange. The groups endeavored to get a message across for people to stop the hate, stop the fear, and learn to see each other as equals.
Baha’is look to Abdu’l-Baha as the exemplar of how to live our lives in relation to our connections with the Creator, our own selves, our families, friends, communities and the world. He encouraged us to “Look at me, follow me, be as I am.”
How was he? He was selfless, always putting the needs of others before himself. He maintained a delightful sense of humor. He never felt sorry for himself, not even as he spent most of his life as a prisoner and exile, and had his very life threatened daily. He explained how he survived, and how he hoped we would survive:
…in all the sorrows of life you can obtain supreme consolation. If your days on earth are numbered, you know that everlasting life awaits you. If material anxiety envelops you in a dark cloud, spiritual radiance lightens your path. Verily, those whose minds are illumined by the Spirit of the Most High have supreme consolation.
I myself was in prison forty years—one year alone would have been impossible to bear—nobody survived that imprisonment more than a year! But, thank God, during all those forty years I was supremely happy! Every day, on waking, it was like hearing good tidings, and every night infinite joy was mine. Spirituality was my comfort, and turning to God was my greatest joy. If this had not been so, do you think it possible that I could have lived through those forty years in prison?
Thus, spirituality is the greatest of God’s gifts, and ‘Life Everlasting’ means ‘Turning to God’. May you, one and all, increase daily in spirituality, may you be strengthened in all goodness, may you be helped more and more by the Divine consolation, be made free by the Holy Spirit of God, and may the power of the Heavenly Kingdom live and work among you. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 111-112.
In another instance Abdu’l-Baha posed a question:
He then continued:
The answer is self-evident. Love and fellowship are absolutely needful to win the good-pleasure of God which is the goal of all human attainment. We must be united. We must love each other. We must ever praise each other. We must bestow commendation upon all people, thus removing the discord and hatred which have caused alienation amongst men. – Ibid.
All of us, young and old, can counter the negativity threatening society by heeding the advice of Abdu’l-Baha. Go forth, my friends, trusting in God and with love in your hearts.