We’re in dire need of a humanistic holiday message, and I found a good one. It speaks directly to those Americans who most need to hear it, especially now.
In the aftermath of Paris and San Bernardino, the number of suspected hate crimes against Muslim-Americans have been three times higher than the norm. According to Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer who’s now an academic at the University of California, roughly 13 incidents have occurred every month since 2010; but this past month, it has spiked to 38. And those are just the reported incidents, such as:
In Queens, a Mulsim shopkeeper was beaten by a guy who shouted “I kill Muslims!” In Brooklyn, a Muslim woman pushing a baby stroller was spat on by a guy who shouted, “I’m gonna burn your temple down!” In Connecticut, a mosque was hit with several bullets from a high-powered rifle. In Michigan, a store clerk was shot in the face by a masked gunman who called his victim “a terrorist.” (The dark-skinned clerk wasn’t a Muslim.) In California, a Muslim praying in a park was attacked and beaten by a female state employe. Also in California, an Islamic center was set ablaze. Also in California, a Donald Trump fan (who wrote on Facebook, “I’ll follow this MAN to the end of the world”) was arrested after a tipster told cops that the Trumpitista intended to bomb some Muslims. The cops went to the guy’s home and found a live explosive device.
Amid all this ugliness, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, decided last Friday to visit the Islamic Society of Boston Culture Center. Ralph Gants was a top FBI official during the Reagan administration; he has been sponsored for judgeships by governors in both parties. At the Islamic Society, Gants requested, and was granted, permission to speak to its members. His aim was to calm nerves by invoking what’s best about America:
I asked to speak with you today because I know that this is a difficult time for persons who practice the Islamic faith in this country. And I am here to assure you that you do not stand alone….
You have two Constitutions (to protect you) : the United States Constitution, with its Bill of Rights, and our Massachusetts Constitution, with its Declaration of Rights, drafted by John Adams in 1780, which is older than the United States Constitution and we think, at times, wiser….
The purpose of a Declaration of Rights is to protect the rights of the minority, of those who are unpopular, even perhaps despised because of who they are, or where they came from, or what they believe, or what they have done. The popular majority does not much need a Declaration of Rights; they have the Legislature to protect them. We in our judiciary recognize our obligation to enforce those rights where they are abridged, regardless of whether it is popular to do so, sometimes knowing it will not be popular to do so….You should not be afraid to use them.
I also bring you a second message, not so much in my role as Chief Justice, but as someone who is very old and a Jew. The Old Testament many times reminds us, “Once we were strangers in the land of Egypt,” and that line is the centerpiece of the Jewish holiday of Passover. I think of that phrase often, because I know that once my forefathers were strangers in the land of the United States, as were the forefathers of nearly all of us, and many of us were not so welcome here….
If you add up all those who are Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Asian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Jewish-Americans, all those who once were strangers in this land of Egypt, you end up with the vast majority of this nation.
So I hold firm to the hope that, if we remember who we are and where we came from and what we once endured, if we remember that we, too, once were strangers in the land of Egypt, the vast majority of Americans will stand arm-in-arm with Muslim-Americans and, together, we will get past these troubling times.
Donald Trump’s cap says, “Let’s Make America Great Again.” But Judge Gants has reminded us why it still is.