When you are in a daily fight against Donald Trump’s white supremacist agenda, it’s difficult to be thankful—even on Thanksgiving Day. Trump has made demonizing minorities his favorite pastime, from his racist demand that four women of color in Congress “go back” to their country to his demeaning of black Americans as “low IQ” and “unintelligent,” to dubbing Latino immigrants “rapists” and “invaders.”
Trump’s words, like all world leaders’, do more than just elicit cheers at campaign rallies. They inspire action. So it’s not surprising that the FBI earlier this month reported that violent hate crimes had reached a 16-year high in 2018.
Worse, 2018 saw the highest number of hate crime murders in 27 years. This follows three years of unprecedented annual increases in hate crimes, from 2015 to 2017, which—not coincidentally—matches the rise of Trump.
Alarmingly, Trump’s white supremacist views have an impact beyond our borders. For example, the terrorist who murdered 50 Muslims who were praying in their mosque in New Zealand referred to Trump as a “renewed symbol of white identity.”
It’s this foul climate that explains why what took place in London this past weekend is so moving. The London Underground, much like the New York City subway, carries a truly diverse cross-section of people around that great city, and last weekend was no exception.
But unfortunately for one orthodox Jewish family traveling with their three young children, all of whom wore yarmulkes, one anti-Semitic bigot tried to tell this family that they don’t belong in England. The incident, captured on video, shows the man reading loudly “anti-Jewish Bible passages” directed at the family in an effort to harass them.
But then something beautiful happened. A Muslim woman wearing a hijab, Asma Shuweikh, is seen on camera confronting the anti-Semite. Shuweikh told the local media she “had to confront him,” adding, “Being a mother-of-two, I know what it’s like to be in that situation, and I would want someone to help if I was in that situation.”
Shuweikh engaged the man and successfully distracted him so that he stopped harassing the Jewish family. After the video of the incident went viral, Shuweikh was praised as a “hero,” while the man was arrested by the police and charged with committing a “racially aggravated public order offence.”
To fully appreciate this event, you have to be aware that in the UK, both Muslims and Jews have been the target of increasing hate crimes. In 2018, as the British government reported, the groups suffering the most hate crimes were Muslims, followed by Jews, with both communities seeing a spike in violent attacks visited upon them.
Yet there was a person from a community being subject to hate standing up for another from a community enduring the same pain. As one witness to the incident so aptly put it, “In this day and age we are told how intolerant everyone is and all religions hate each other, and there you had a Muslim woman sticking up for some Jewish children.”
And thankfully we’ve seen increasing displays of Jews and Muslims standing up for each other. After the horrific attack by an anti-immigrant, white supremacist terrorist last November at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that resulted in 11 Jews being murdered, Muslim groups raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the Jewish community recover.
And when a few months later an anti-immigrant, white supremacist terrorist in New Zealand killed 50 Muslims praying in their mosque, that same Tree of Life community raised funds to help that Muslim community.
But a few heartwarming stories can’t alleviate the risks currently confronting Muslims and Jews going forward, not just in the United States, but in other Western democracies as well. People who hate Jews or Muslims tend to hate the other group as well.
A 2018 Pew Survey of 15 Western European countries found that “attitudes toward Jews and Muslims are highly correlated with each other. People who express negative opinions about Muslims are more likely than others to also express negative views of Jews.”
That poll also found that, “Western Europeans who identify with the far-right side of the ideological spectrum in their country are more likely to express negative feelings about minorities and immigrants.”
Consequently, it’s not surprising that right-wing actors are attacking both communities. Even in Canada, which recently re-elected the progressive Justin Trudeau as prime minster, there has been an alarming 50 percent uptick in hate crimes in 2017 against minorities, with Jews being the number one group targeted followed closely by Muslims.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that for Muslims and Jews to thrive in the West, we need to stand with each other through these challenging times.
I get that some of us have strong differences over the Middle East conflict, but we are both minority faiths in a time where demonizing minorities is becoming not just acceptable, but a plank of politicians running for office from the United States to Europe—and winning a lot of votes and sometimes high office.
And as the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism warns us, “Hate crimes have increased in every presidential election year since national FBI record keeping began in the early 1990s.”
That means 2020 could be even worse. So this Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for the good things in our lives. But at same time prepare for a 2020 that may be the most challenging that Jews and Muslims in the U.S. have ever experienced.