Amid the heat of a rural Texas summer, a middle-aged man was walking back home when he was met with a local resident. The town neighbour — along with two of his friends — offered him a ride back home. What transpired instead would later become one of the most horrific acts of terror in recent memory. The man was beaten to a pulp, then chained to the back end of a truck, where he was later dragged for nearly two miles before being decapitated from the ordeal.
This was the fate of James Byrd Jr. on June 7, 1998. The crime outraged the entire nation, and galvanized broad efforts at combating institutionalized hatred. One of the legacies of the Byrd lynching was the passing of both state and federal hate crime laws. Terror incidents based on racist motivations created such uproar throughout the 1980s and 1990s that white supremacist and resistance groups would be forced to abandon calls for violence.
Indeed, much — perhaps a majority — of white nationalist groups in America openly denounce violence as a means to promote a racialist end. Even notorious websites such as Stormfront.org make it clear that calls for violence will not be tolerated. While such sentiments may sound insincere considering the source, one has to acknowledge that societal pressure and legal action forced white resistance groups to respect the civil rights of all people. The hatred is there, but the impunity to act on it has been mitigated. Where is the consistency?
The question then becomes, why are we not demanding the same standard towards religious extremism, in particular, from the so called “Religion of Peace?”
Ten years ago, 40 percent of British Religion of Peace practitioners supported the imposition of Sharia Law in the U.K., which among other horrors mandates the treatment of women as second-class citizens. It also calls for the “jizyah” — a coerced tax on religious minorities. If this is not the height of radicalized discrimination, what is?
When the Ku Klux Klan announced a rally two weeks after Byrd’s funeral, millions of Americans denounced the act as patently offensive and racist. There were no outreaches to build bridges of understanding with the Klan, no recollection of past crimes that occurred centuries ago. Nor did the American people care. They rightfully saw the Klan as a historically violent group which preaches racial and religious hatred.
Yet curiously, we see Americans — along with a vast majority of Western nations — cower and cater towards the propaganda of Religion of Peace apologists.
We are consistently told through the mainstream media that only a small fringe of Religion of Peace practitioners are violent, and that not all of their community members are terrorists. But where is the consistency in this argument? Why are we not then told that not all Klan members are violent, or even racist? Why the complete lack of national or even local media campaigns promoting tolerance towards white nationalist groups? Why don’t we have programs promoting the “good things” that white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups have contributed to society?
If all people, cultures, and ideologies share moral equivalence — and that is the heart of political correctness — why don’t we extend the same rights and privileges to white supremacists? The answer is patently obvious. Nazism and its derivatives are antithetical and deleterious to the principles and the Constitution of the U.S. While offensive speech is protected, the attempted imposition of unethical and illegal principles is not. In the same regard, any ideology or theology that calls for the discriminatory and violent treatment of social categories deemed undesirable is an affront not only to American liberty, but to all of humanity.
Religion as choice, not heritage
We ultimately do ourselves a severe disservice by assuming that religion is a scalar reality — it is not. Religion is a man-made institution, and thus is liable to risks of misinterpretation, miscalculation, and radicalization. Freedom of religion only goes so far before it infringes on the rights of others. At that point, it’s not freedom, but tyranny.
In the same manner, white supremacy is not a scalar attribute. Members choose to obey its doctrines or mandates. The power of any form of racism is the conscious acceptance of its validity. But as soon as we recognize racism for the evil that it is, that seemingly scalar validity vanishes like a boulder in zero gravity.
Demanding members of the Religion of Peace to stand against terrorism is a well-meaning but wholly unfruitful endeavor. Rather, we should demand — as millions of Americans did with white supremacists — that practitioners of the Religion of Peace either reform the Religion of Peace, or to leave it.
There is simply no other way. In the same manner that we do not allow white supremacists free reign to dictate our laws, or to educate the youth of America with racist ideologies, we should likewise safeguard our communities against any form of oppressive hate speech.
The choice to think freely is a guaranteed right. But to act freely is an entirely different matter.