The following op-ed was submitted by Endy Zemenides, executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, Illinois.
Senator Chris Van Hollen’s tweet best captured my feelings after I had finished reading about the evil white supremacist terrorist attack… no, massacre of peaceful Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Throughout Friday I read statements of solidarity with the Muslim community of New Zealand and condemnations of “hate” in all forms. But at the end of the day I felt spent. We’ve condemned over and over and over. We’ve prayed for Paris, for Istanbul, for Pittsburg. We’ve stood with Jews, with Muslims, with the LGBTQ community. “Never Again” comes out of our mouth accompanied by a queasy feeling that “Here we go again” is right around the corner.
We have failed.
I can’t help to feel that one of the major reasons we have failed is that we don’t speak honestly. Everyone has an opinion as to whether President Trump is “dog whistling” or repeating white supremacist talking points. But it is time to look in the mirror and ask whether our “standing” with victims is an empty gesture (since they are already dead), whether posting #turntolove or #lovewins is simply inane when hate has clearly gained an upper hand, and whether we are being rhetorically timid when we call that which we are presently condemning “hate.”
Last April, I listened to Madeleine Albright talk about the subject of her book Fascism: A Warning at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This morning, I recalled the dedication and opened up the book again:
To the victims of Fascism
Then and now
And to all who fight Fascism
And in themselves
Truth be told, I have grown as tired of this term as of any other. It is used too casually as a political insult or epithet and has lost it descriptive value. Albright captures the absurdity of the contemporary overuse of the term:
To use the term “Fascist” is to reveal oneself. For those on the far left, virtually any corporate bigwig fits the bill. To some on the not-so-far right, Barack Obama is a Fascist—in addition to being a Socialist and a closet Muslim. To a rebellious teen, Fascism may apply to any parentally imposed cell phone restriction. As people vent their daily frustrations, the word escapes a million mouths: teachers are called Fascists, and so, too, are feminists, chauvinists, yoga instructors, police, dieters, bureaucrats, bloggers, bicyclists, copy editors, people who have just quit smoking, and the makers of childproof packaging. If we continue to indulge this reflex, we may soon feel entitled to label as Fascist anyone of anything we find annoying—draining potency from what should be a powerful term.
Then I read this about the New Zealand terrorist:
Writing that he purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.
There you have it ladies and gentlemen. A terrorist, a mass murderer, a subscriber to an ideology that once found itself on history’s trash heap, is mocking us. And we come back with condemning “hate.” That is necessary, but insufficient.
Hate is merely a step. It is a step that we can’t stop many from taking – we don’t know what they learn in their homes; we can’t force them to join religious or community organizations that may promote love and fellowship; we are far away from fixing the lack of character development in our education system. But we can do something to prevent that hate from becoming suffering and death.
Ultimately, we have to address the fact that all the fascists and terrorists that have brought us to this point have acquired several weapons with ease. But there is an intervening step we can address right now, without waiting for laws to be passed.
Historically, fascists have consolidated their authoritarian rule by consolidating information. Ironically, fascists now use the staples of our information society to incubate hate and turn it into something more sinister and deadly. Social media companies have unfortunately become accomplices, and their declarations of being “deeply saddened” ring especially empty after the New Zealand terrorist live streamed the massacre on multiple platforms and posted a white supremacist manifesto on Twitter.
In 2011 – when there was still hope over the Arab Spring – social media platforms were considered tools for democracy and freedom. Today Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have taken their place in the arsenal of fascists and terrorists. Shame on them.
My indignation will not move any of these companies, but how we all utilize social media can change. My organization, the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), administers The Greek Current Facebook page. It posts articles from several major news outlets – from Greece’s Kathimerini, to The Financial Times, The New York Times, the BBC, and others – so our followers can get up to the minute news. As much as we’ve tried to manage it, our page still attracts comments that feature hateful language directed at immigrants, Muslims, and Jews.
No amount of clicks, likes or publicity is worth bringing such hate within our community. And to be clear, the people who believe in such hate are not part of the HALC community. The HALC community is one that subscribes to values such as philotimo, philoxenia, philanthropia. These values are essential to Hellenism and are companions of Hellenic patriotism. And they are most definitely foes of hate and white supremacy.
It is time to put substance behind slogans like #HateHasNoHomeHere. Therefore, HALC will cease giving purveyors of hate an audience and will be taking The Greek Current Facebook page down. Our actual members have proven their values over and over and they will be given alternative methods to keep current on Hellenic news.
To the Christchurch victims, I am sorry that our world has offered too little, too late once again. Greater societal action is needed, but sacrificing Facebook followers is the least we can do.
May the memories of those lost to modern day fascism be eternal.
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