The Immigrant Mind: Charlottesville, Iraq and Anti-Semitism

Luma Simms | August 31, 2017

Umoo (Uncle) S. (a dear friend of my family) had an import-export business in Iraq. He was a Christian, and his business partner and trusted friend was a Jew. What eventually became of his prosperous business and this sincere friendship? It was destroyed by anti-Semitism.

He was eventually jailed, and his partner was hanged. He lost several other Jewish friends during that time – all hanged. And he lost his business. My paternal grandmother worked at a Jewish school in Mosul for many years before she married my grandfather and became a stay-at-home mom; her closest friend was Jewish. She lost her best friend because of anti-Semitism. Like so many Jews from all over Iraq after 1948, her friend was forced to leave Mosul. All across the Middle East, Jews were either killed or driven out.

Arab anti-Semitism is real and deadly.

On Friday night, August 11, and Saturday, August 12, our country was shaken by the events in Charlottesville, Va. A clash between protestors and anti-protestors. That neo-Nazi rally that ended with a political murder did not bode well for our country. Although Police Chief Al Thomas said that the chaos and violence involved “mutually engaged attacks” fueled by “mutually combative individuals,” the anti-Semitism was palpable and should have been condemned outright without equivocation.

Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville experienced what one could objectively call terror, as men wearing fatigues and armed with semi-automatic weapons stood across the street from the synagogue. Alan Zimmerman, the president of the congregation, wrote about his experience here.

The United States is a big country; what can one swastika-wearing, Nazi flag and tiki torch-carrying crowd do?

Normalize this type of evil.

My soul is weary of anti-Semitism. And if I am thus weighed down, I cannot imagine what my Jewish fellow men must feel.

When we moved a few months ago, it was to a house down the street from a Chabad Jewish Center. It also happens to be within walking distance of my aging parents. Our neighborhood has a rhythm that I find beautiful, in no small part because of the families who walk together, to and from Shabbat at the synagogue. I cannot bear the thought of anti-Semitic violence terrorizing my neighborhood. In comfortable suburbs like the one I live in, it seems unthinkable that the violence we see in other places would ever spread to ours.

But if we understand human nature – and we know history – this evil can indeed spread unless people are vigilantly working against it. My husband once met a man in a public park who was a Holocaust denier. Through some machinations, the conversation (which seemed to begin innocently enough) arrived at: “You know, there was never any proof that the ovens in the camps were intended for people.” My husband – educated, intelligent and not incapable of argument – just did not know what to say.

The proper response to such evil ideas is more speech – truth – that must be taught and propagated with intentionality and vigor. In this country, people are free to advocate ideas no matter how wrongheaded or destructive they are. Our response should not be to forcefully silence them, but to have the truth so abundantly accessible that no one is caught flat-footed for a response, or left vulnerable to being swayed by pernicious and evil ideas.

Charlottesville is not a big deal because the alt-right and the alt-left were going at each other. It is a big deal because anti-Semitism and other forms of racism – which have lately been enabled and fed by ubiquitous, anonymous Internet access – are not being contained underground and to the peripheries. Racism is becoming normalized right before our eyes. We have an opportunity and an obligation to seek truth ourselves and promulgate it in every way possible.

We won’t change every mind and we won’t lead everyone to let go of racial hatred. But we can stop the infection from spreading.