The Necessity of Finding the “Us” and Not Focusing on the “Them”

Wed, 04/27/2016 - 3:03pm
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Coenraad Rood reflects on the importance of tolerance

Coenraad Rood reflects on the importance of tolerance, respect and encourages younger people to always stand up to injustice.

News of the deadly bombs that ripped apart the Brussels airport terminal last month sent a shockwave through me. I know that line, that place. I have stood in that spot. The “what if” scenario is not what troubles me most, however.

The terrorist bombs in Brussels that killed dozens of people on March 22 were a manifestation of hate that is becoming all too familiar. Every time an attack like this occurs, hate scores another victory over respect and decency. Another cloud is added to a gathering thunderhead that appears to be taking ominous shape the world over.

That troubles me deeply.                                                    

We must do what we can to dissipate it. And doing so will require resilience, and a measure of faith in humanity. It requires us to give humanity the benefit of the doubt – and to trust.

There is an organization that wants to partner with us. I cannot name it, but it is a well-known institution. But because there are a few individuals who question the organization’s agenda and disagree with their approach, an approach that includes working with Muslim and Palestinian communities, our affiliation with them is suddenly a problem. While those who disagree have a right to their opinions, their suspicions are unfounded. What is worse, their suspicions run counter to what is at the heart of our mission.

That disappoints me.

The organization in question works with Muslims and Jews and Christians to find common ground among them. It led in the development of teaching materials on anti-Semitism worldwide. And it wants to use testimony – our testimony – in an internationally sanctioned project. They are working to bridge the divides between us and them.  And if we do that, we can start to dissipate the clouds of hate.

Hate, unlike other feelings or dispositions, does not need much to grow; something that we are learning too well in every locale we are working in. Ignorance, fear and opportunity provide marvelous conditions for it to take root and spread. In the 30s in Germany, the Communists and the Socialists were so busy fighting each other that they missed the real threat that the rise of the Nazis posed. One might suggest that a similar dynamic is taking shape as our political leaders vie for power, oblivious to – or even exploitive of – the growing resentment between groups of people on the ground. In both cases, the result was and is a proliferation of fear, hate and a loss of democracy and decency. We are in danger of falling into the same trap when we set up a dynamic of “us” and “them.”

That outrages me.

In this current climate we cannot lose sight of what is important. We can do more together than we can separately and the partnerships that we have forged over the years have proved that. We cannot be distracted by a conflict about who is more righteous or which approach among recognized approaches to genocide education is best. Whether we put the particular or the universal first, both are necessary to achieving the behavioral change that we so desperately need in this world if we are going to counter the forces of hate. And we need to find a way to facilitate more of us working together. Whether it is in the field of genocide studies, or politics, it is time to find ways to come together, to coordinate our responses and our efforts.

And that gives me hope.

Kori Street