To the editor:
Several years ago, as a board member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, I publicly excoriated the publisher of mass transit advertisements depicting Arab mistreatment of Jews in the Middle East, and in hateful terms, castigated all Arabs and Muslims with predictable results.
In successfully pressing the ban against all such advertisements, my colleagues and I made clear that hateful and ill-considered speech is harmful speech that inevitably escalates into violence, eroding and ultimately destroying moral principles and democracy.
Recently, rocks were hurled at several Riverdale synagogues by a hit-and-run bigot and anti-Semitic racist uncaring as to who or what he might maim. It was not the first such incident. Nor will it, unfortunately, be the last.
As Hamas and its followers resume (for purely internal political purposes) their hate campaign and inflammatory calls for Palestinian violence in Israel, promptly followed by planned assaults on innocent civilians in Jerusalem.
As Turkey’s dictator orchestrates attacks on Christian religious institutions.
As China unapologetically persecutes and seeks to crush the Muslim Uyghur population.
As Russia snuffs out media criticism and the voices of democracy led by Alexei Navalny.
As Iran continues to fund terrorism and waves its potential nuclear might to successfully intimidate the followers of Neville Chamberlain’s discredited “peace in our time” principles.
And as rape once again becomes a weapon of Eritrean despots in Tigray … hate and violence surround us and promise to escalate.
Tragically, few in what once was the seat of the articulate and outspoken criticism of all hatemongers — New York — will today speak out against knowingly harmful or hateful speech. Against all efforts to stir the cauldron of hatred, and against all ensuing efforts to incite or condone resultant violence.
Few will have the courage to recall that the multi-racial Selma protesters, multi-denominational clergy and responsible media once combined to ultimately achieve far more than confrontational excesses such as were recently urged by a prominent Democratic congresswoman from California, or by the senseless destruction of Portland, and in other great urban centers.
The marchers at Selma were dedicated to peaceful protest, and they made their point. Lyndon Johnson — a Texan — crafted the civil rights laws that are the precursors for the painfully slow but inexorable progress we finally see. And when a handful of seemingly dedicated hatemongers and anti-Semitic racists in the Congress knowingly fan the flames of incitement in order to gain extremist attention and support, little wonder rocks are thrown at synagogues.
And it is no answer to say that these extremist legislators are simply pointing out perceived shortcomings. There are far more sensitive, balanced and effective ways of doing so then knowingly insensitive and harmful speech and conduct designed to incite.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., taught that lesson well for those who care to learn and remember. To those of us who have experienced all this before — albeit in another land and some 80 years ago — including the ensuing scars of inexplicable pain, death and horrific destruction — the dense of déjà vu is overwhelming.
Santayana was right: We have not learned the lessons of history, and apparently are doomed to relive them.