I grew up going to Quran school at my small, non-denominational mosque in a Virginia business center squished between a Days Inn and a dusty storage facility. It’s been vandalized and threatened on multiple occasions. Most recently, after the shooting in San Bernardino, California that famously triggered then-candidate Trump’s Muslim ban proposal, the masjid received a threat via voicemail.
“You all will be sorry,” the imam claimed the voicemail said. “You all will be killed.”
I flinch writing those words. It is always difficult to write about tragedy, and it is always difficult to articulate pain. It’s especially difficult to talk about pain that hasn’t yet hit your nerves but still throbs. The constancy of impending tragedy is so emotionally taxing that you make it mundane in order to survive. I now only cry reading about those threats when I actively make the mental link between the threat and my memory: Going to a wedding there. My dad driving over to do his midday prayers in the middle of a long workday. Being nine years old and fidgeting while praying in congregation. Running around barefoot over ornate prayer rugs.
When violence and hate are embedded in your life, when they transcend beyond the political moment, there is a kind of apathy (or “desensitization,” as we like to say in this country) toward the plights of others. It’s like the Oppression Olympics, in a way, where you condescendingly want to say “Welcome to the club,” even though that’s a horrible, shameful way to react to hate.
I am ashamed to admit that I’ve done this, like when anti-Semitic flyers were posted around campus last year and my immediate reaction was that the community response was overblown. This is, again, shameful. But I am confessing this for a reason: I have to be aware of the mechanisms inside me that lead to apathy before I can dismantle them. We all do, before we can build strong coalitions against the very violence that pervades our lives.
When a man opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning, he yelled, “All Jews must die.”
I think I am writing circles around what I mean, which is that we should all share in this pain. In The Washington Post, Colbert King wrote of Matthew Shepard’s interment, a possibly racially motivated shooting in Jeffersontown, Kentucky and the tragic shooting in Pittsburgh, remarking that “in today’s America, there is no safety from hate.” Hate is expansive. It is broad, and as such, its effects are collective.
The pernicious nature of this hate, however, is that in its less extreme forms it pulls us apart, luring us into trying to win at oppression instead of empathizing. There is a small kernel inside of me — that I am once again ashamed to admit ever existed — that asks if I got fewer push notifications during the Quebec City shooting in 2017, or why none of my friends ever checked in with me after similar events and threats. It never asks why I didn’t reach out to my Jewish friends after I learned swastikas were painted on a Jewish community center miles from my high school. It’s always far easier to notice when your community is the one in pain, and as such it is easier to elevate your pain above that of others.
There is little productive value in comparing pain. There is far more value in listening, empathy and coalition building. I am, of course, not saying anything new or interesting, and I am very aware that I have fallen into a pit of clichés and lazy platitudes about fighting hate with love. I don’t know, I’m at a loss.
I guess, truly, what I am trying to say is that I am hurt alongside my Jewish friends and neighbors. I implore the religious communities at Cornell to take this time to show interfaith solidarity, as nobody should ever have to worship in fear. I encourage readers to donate to HIAS. And I urge us all — myself especially — to listen and understand each other’s pain, first and foremost.
Pegah Moradi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. All Jokes Aside runs every other Monday this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.