Believe it or not, I’m something of an optimist. I like to see the silver lining in everything. But I’m also a bit of a realist as well, keeping my expectations in check. (For example, I’m optimistic that this school year will go well and I’ll have great students, but I’m realistic in knowing that there will be a few who will test my patience to the extreme. It happens every year and I don’t see why this year will be different.)
But this latest blast of bad news is awful and so demoralizing that there is no silver lining. We think that because we are civilized nations, nations of great technology, that we are somehow superior to our ancestors. And then things like this happen. Charlottesville. Barcelona.
I’m having some trouble putting my thoughts into words eloquently, so please bear with me as I attempt to explain myself.
Barcelona is, unequivocally, a tragedy of international importance. As of this writing, there is still little news making its way to the States, only the death tolls and that the van driver has not been caught. The fact that this person could drive through the streets/sidewalks and just mow people down is horrifying and my heart goes out to everyone affected. No one should have to deal with this. And it’s so terrifying because it could literally happen anywhere. And that’s the point of terrorism. It can happen anywhere, at any time, to anyone. They’re trying to instill fear because it gives them power.
And Charlottesville. I spent most of Saturday unaware of what was happening as I was stuck in a car for a long road trip. But what I’ve learned since then has sickened me greatly. Because, like Barcelona, this is terrorism.
I’m not denying that people have the right to free speech. Both sides had permits to march that day. And because we have that free speech, we also have the right to disagree with each other. But free speech ends where that speech threatens another person. And I’m not necessarily talking about death threats or threats of violence (though they absolutely apply); I’m talking about any time another person legitimately feels threatened by what you’re saying. By saying their race needs to go; that their religion makes them monsters; that their gender makes them a sinner bound for hell. When you hear these things enough times from enough different people, you start to hear the threats behind them.
While I 100%, absolutely, whole-heartedly disagree with President Trump’s “many sides” comment about Charlottesville, I understand where he’s coming from, in that at some point both sides likely tried to start fights. I’ve seen videos that imply one side or another started a fight. I don’t know; I wasn’t there. Maybe both sides played a role; maybe they didn’t. This article on mob mentality shows how quickly things can spiral out of control in large group settings, so I can’t say for sure that either side is completely blameless. But I absolutely do not think you can put both sides on the same playing field. One ideology preaches hatred and exclusion, the other acceptance. While I don’t think violence is the answer, I think sometimes there is a need to show an amount of force. I just prefer it to be in the form of legal documents and numbers rather than fists and clubs.
I cannot stand by silently while someone will not condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. That’s not how I was raised. I was raised that people are to be treated equally. I was raised to put myself in the shoes of someone else I had a disagreement with to first see their side before I responded. I was raised to believe that everyone has value.
That is not the rhetoric of those who marched at Charlottesville. I’ve seen the videos where they march and scream about how the Jews will not replace them. I’ve seen the Nazi swastikas they carry and the salutes. It’s frightening, and I can’t even imagine what it would be like to see it in real life. And the fact that is such a blatant repetition of German Nazi rhetoric and actions is all the more threatening and horrifying.
What kind of things have to happen to a person so that they believe the things they do? What happens to make them think Jews are trying to replace them or that an African American woman is more of a threat than a man in camo pants and carrying a rifle across his back? What kind of life does that person have?
I am in no way trying to trivialize the situation as I make the following comparison; I am merely trying to find a context to make everything make sense. But to me, I see a startling number of similarities between what is happening now and the plots of the later Harry Potter books. (Again, in no way am I trying to trivialize what’s happened in real life.) This rise of hatred reminds me of the resurrection of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. The resistance to them reminds me of Dumbledore’s Army and the original Order. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Cornelius Fudge (maybe Rufus Scrimgeour?) refuse to do anything about Voldemort’s return? (It’s been a while since I’ve read the later books.)
And it’s from those books that I have learned what happens in these situations: fear will triumph for a time. For now, we have politicians who fear coming forward and being vocal in their condemnation. For now, we have average citizens who fear the consequences of standing against them and attending rallies for fear of being attacked. For now, there are a number of people thriving on the thrill they’re feeling from being in that power position and creating that fear. For once in their lives, they feel powerful and it’s addicting.
But if Harry and Dumbeldore’s Army have taught me anything, it’s that evil cannot and will not reign forever, not when there are enough people ready to fight for what they believe in. The roots of evil may not fully disappear for a time (like Voldemort and his Horcruxes), but it can be extinguished. The Phoenix will rise from the ashes. We will persevere. But it will not be a simple journey. It wasn’t easy for Harry, Ron, or Hermione in Deathly Hallows, and it won’t be easy for us.
I have much faith in humanity, that right will eventually overcome wrongs. It has in the past. Slavery was eventually abolished (though after much horrific history that should never be forgotten) and the Nazis were defeated (ditto about the history). The Civil Rights Movement finally brought about much-needed equality in terms of the law, even if certain lawmakers still try to claw their way back to Jim Crow. We have risen above it before and I believe we will again.
It’s just so heartbreaking that the cost of bringing change to the world are the deaths of so many innocents.