This week has been harrowing for our friends at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine innocent people were killed while praying in the sanctuary of their church. Dylaan Roof, a 21-year-old male, was arrested yesterday in North Carolina. Information available on social media portrays him as being sympathetic towards apartheid regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia, and possibly white supremacist groups.
I cannot believe a 21-year-old male could have so much hatred in his heart to commit this horrendous crime. I have sometimes naively thought that racial and ethnic divides are a thing of the past. But then the realities on the ground remind me otherwise.
Just last week, Muslims in St. Louis had to endure the hatred spewed against them by AFDI (American Freedom Defense Initiative). Over 100 billboards were erected depicting the Prophet Muhammad. AFDI held a competition to “protect freedom of speech.” The animosity and hostility shown by the group and its leader Pamela Geller is an example of how the seeds of hatred are sown.
Roof purportedly said to one of the pleading church members, "No, you have taken over this country.” Where did he learn this from, how did he grow up with these paranoid ideas? Where do Ms.Geller and her group get the idea that “If you oppose drawing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, it means you are bowing to the implementation of Sharia law in America”? I suppose when you have so much hatred in your hearts, you justify all the wrong things.
The same applies to the Muslims with extremist ideas who tried to shoot people at the contest. When animosity blocks your mind, you do not listen to the voices of reason, peace and love. You do not see the reality around you.
Roof failed to see that African Americans have not “taken over America”; their struggle for erasing racism is not over yet. Ms. Geller and her group fails to understand that Muslims’ outrage at drawing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad is not an infringement on freedom of speech; it is the utmost respect for our prophets and prohibition by our faith to draw the images of prophets. The radical Muslims who attempted to shoot the artists drawing the cartoons in Texas failed to understand that killing innocent people even if we are hurt by their hatred is not allowed in our faith.
When the extremist groups in our country spew hatred in the name of freedom of speech, they may sow seeds of intolerance, racism, and prejudice. Some may take these ideas to fanatical level and hurt the communities. It is too early to know how Roof was radicalized and resorted to this terrorist act, but we can only imagine that he was exposed to these racist rants at an early age.
Why does he have this delusion that African Americans are taking over this country? Why does he sympathize with the brutal eras of South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and identify with the confederate flag? Why does AFDI believe that Muslims are going to impose Sharia law in America when they know very well that our constitution does not allow any other laws to be implemented? How does Ms. Geller justify being disrespectful towards other faiths, mocking Islam, intentionally hurting Muslims by holding the contest to draw cartoons of Prophet Muhammad?
This is not freedom of speech. Pope Francis eloquently stated in response to Charlie Hebdo tragedy, ”There are limits to freedom of expression, one cannot insult other people’s faith.”
Freedom of speech is our right, but with the rights come responsibilities. If we are going to spread racism, hatred, bias, hate mongering under the disguise of freedom of speech, then unfortunately we may see these tragedies again.
In this tragic moment of the loss of innocent lives in Charleston, we have also seen numerous scenes of unity, support and outpouring of love among different communities. And then one of the most poignant quotes from Chris Singleton, son of one of the victims, Sharonda Singleton,” We already forgive him for what he is done; Love is stronger than hate." Ms. Singleton, your legacy will live in this young man, who has the most beautiful values.