In this Saturday, March 16, 2019, file photo, flowers lay at a memorial near the Masjid Al Noor mosque for victims in last week's shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. The leafy New Zealand city where a self-proclaimed racist fatally shot 50 people at mosques during Friday prayers is known for its picturesque meandering river and English heritage. For decades, the southern city of Christchurch also has been the center of the country's small but persistent white supremacist movement.
Photo: AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File
Photo: AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File

Opinion: How we respond to hate crimes matters

Violent terrorism, targeting a faith group has struck again, this time in normally placid New Zealand.

As we in Atlanta and elsewhere in the U.S. scrolled through social media feeds and watched the breaking news from halfway around the world, Muslim worshippers in Christchurch had gathered for Friday morning prayers. It is no accident that the shooters chose the Muslim sabbath to strike the Masjid al Noor mosque and the Linwood Masjid. Within minutes, 49 Muslims were dead, at least 20 others were seriously wounded, and a community and country are left wondering how this destruction could happen.

Targeting houses of worship, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim, occurs too frequently and has devastating consequences for congregations and wider communities. The perpetrators, as in Christchurch, are hatemongers who are adherents of twisted ideologies.

This hate is global. While racists, Islamaphobes and anti-Semites might target a specific group, our global community is at risk. We have experienced massacres in Paris, Belgium, Mumbai and Buenos Aires. In fact, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium have all documented significant increase in hate crimes, especially against Muslims and Jews and these same hate crimes are on the rise in the United States.

While these racists, Islamaphobes and anti-Semites might target a specific group, we are all at risk from targeting the beacons of peace – houses of worship once thought to be safe havens. Religious institutions are now protected by police, metal detectors and community activists.

Closer to home, Charleston, Orlando and Pittsburgh’s religious communities are all victims of the senseless acts. Each of these travesties are perpetrated by humans who confuse the purpose and meaning of any religion. They use social media and technology to glorify their destruction, spread their message and recruit others to join their cause. Indeed, one of the New Zealand shooters had the audacity to stream his vicious, deadly attacks inside the mosques. Their goal is not just to kill, but to terrorize all of us.

After the evil, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists come together. We join together, arm-and-arm, in mourning and anger, but also in solidarity to collaboratively form links of understanding, trust and support in the rights of all to worship freely or not at all.

These gatherings are the light that disrupts darkness. They are not just forms of healing, they are the way that the world truly is.

In the last half of the 20th century, Atlanta staked its claim as a global leader in business, academics, philanthropy and creating community. However, we have not been immune to our own challenges. The past few years have given rise to hate crimes in Georgia. Although not all are officially reported, it is clearly evident on social media that the number of incidents is on the rise.

To combat hate, Atlanta’s faith communities have been working in tandem to demonstrate that, despite our differences, it is far more important for us to know each other. We work side-by-side to show the world that we are first human beings and friends, not just people who pass each other on the street. We have a rich history of breaking bread, celebrating holidays, traveling the world and breaching barriers within our communities. We enjoy films, concerts, theater and school events in community centers, synagogues, mosques and churches that we all share as Atlantans. While successful, there is still much more to do.

Now is the time to create a Coalition of Conscience to conjoin a diverse group of people, who represent all walks of life. We need to show that Atlantans believe in unity, pluralism, democracy and oppose hate, bigotry, supremacy and divisiveness. Through our shared values, we seek to prevent the spread of hateful ideologies and abort future attacks.

We have a collective responsibility to create one strong community and to never forget that Atlanta remains the “city too busy to hate.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Dov Wilker is Atlanta Regional Director, American Jewish Committee.

X