How can you not hate them?
The neo-fascist mob gathers under its leaders, shrieking with delight as they savage their enemies, which would be you and me and everyone we love. Their grievances are so very different in every country, but their hatred is all the same. They hate you because you are Muslim or merely because you don’t hate Muslims, in America and India and France. They hate you because you are Indigenous or support the rights of Indigenous people, in America and Brazil. They hate you because you are Black or you are indignant about centuries of injustice against Black people, in America and France. They hate you everywhere because you are an “elitist,” meaning that you read “dangerous” books and you think dangerous thoughts and you won’t go along with the mob. How do you not hate them back?
I am haunted by the survivors of the 2015 White racist massacre of Black worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. They forgave the perpetrator, may his name be blotted out. I can barely comprehend it. It leaves me gasping with awe. It should have driven every White racist in America who claims to be a Christian to his knees, begging God for forgiveness for his sins against this Christlike people. I am not, myself, a Christian, and I do not feel compelled to forgive the unrepentant murderers of my own people, the Jewish people. What would it even mean for me to “forgive” the people who herded my wife’s great grandfather, his son and daughter-in-law and their children, into cattle cars, deported them to Auschwitz and gassed them to death on arrival? I don’t think I have a right to forgive them, even if I wanted to. Nor do I think it is fair or reasonable to expect most people of any religion to strive for the Christian ideal of sainthood. (“Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent, but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases,” Orwell wrote slyly, the first sentence of his famous essay on Gandhi.)
But that leaves me with a problem, because it’s not just the actual blood-stained murderers who have done unforgiveable things; it’s the myriads of people, the masses of humanity, who cheer them on or excuse their actions. Dear God in heaven, after four years of cruelty and incompetence culminating in hundreds of thousands of Americans avoidably dead in a pandemic, fourteen million more Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2020 than had done so the first time around. How do I forgive them? I don’t, and I can’t, but I work so very hard, every day, not to repay their hatred with my own. So many of them are utterly oblivious. A friend of my wife’s posted on Facebook a few years ago how she agreed with Trump that people shouldn’t be allowed to come here from “s—hole countries.” I’m sure it didn’t even occur to her that our adopted son, whom she has met, comes from such a country. Am I supposed to confront her about it? Am I supposed to hate her for it? She doesn’t seem like a hateful person. She is poor and has a hard life, with a disabled husband, and she is working like a dog, long past the age when she should have retired. Sorry, things like that may help explain, but do not justify, her hatred. No, I don’t hate her back. Yes, I am furious with her.
I look at those faces, in the montage of pictures of the mobs in all those different countries that I’ve placed at the top of this essay. They all look so happy, gleeful, overjoyed that they have permission to spread their vile hatreds everywhere, that they are encouraged to do so. They have declared themselves my enemy, the enemy of every person I love and every decent thing in society, and I’d be a fool to shrug it off. So I fortify myself mentally, and I make ready to flee with the people I love. And yet, I must work so hard not to despair, and not to hate those dark masses of humanity right back.