In the 1970s a military dictator, General Zia ul Haq, came to power in Pakistan by overthrowing a duly elected government. Very soon, he began a campaign to implement his intolerant vision of religion in the country. His decade-long reign started a descent for Pakistan into an existence of hatred and violence from which the country, more than 35 years later, has yet to emerge.
In Zia’s Pakistan, first certain religious sects were targeted, and then rights of minorities were curtailed. The legal framework of the country was altered to meet the dictates of Zia’s version of Islam. As extremists grew in power and influence, many Pakistanis supported them, thinking that these “religiously motivated” people would lead the country toward a more pious society. Of course, what has happened is far from that – there has only been violence and killing of the innocent. When these so-called “religious extremists” attacked a school in December 2014 and brutally slaughtered over 140 students, Pakistan finally got a wake-up call. But by then perhaps things had already moved past the point of no return. It was clear that these extremists have nothing to do with any religion – they are just violent extremists.
Here in the U.S., just last week, a white supremacist extremist named Jeremy Joseph Christian stabbed three white men on a commuter train in Portland. The men had stood up to defend two teenagers Mr. Christian was threatening and harassing with an anti-Muslim tirade, saying they should go back to Saudi Arabia (no one has accused these racists of having their geography right). One of the teenagers was wearing a hijab, the Muslim head covering. The other was African American, and not a Muslim. Two of the heroic men Mr. Christian stabbed died, while the third was taken to a hospital with serious wounds to his neck.
This was hardly an isolated incident. Just last week a black man was stabbed with a machete in California by Anthony Hammond, a 34-year old white man. The incident received very little media attention. Also not receiving much attention was the case of a white man in a pickup truck police say intentionally ran over and killed a 20-year-old Native American man and injured another. The Quinault Indian Nation’s press statement indicated that the driver was screaming racial slurs when he ran over the two tribal members. This incident happened in the Seattle area and was reported by the Seattle Times.
Just two weeks ago a young black man was stabbed on the campus of the University of Maryland by a man who belonged to a white extremist group called Alt-Reich: Nation, a play on “alt-right,” a polite word for people with racist extremist views. There is more – LeBron James’ Los Angeles home was spray-painted with racist graffiti, and someone left a noose inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
While such incidents may have been happening all along, the Southern Poverty Law Center and ACLU have both documented a significant spike in such crimes over the past year.
Anyone who has worked in business knows that the “tone from the top” counts for a lot. Companies that are respected for their integrity have leadership that walks the talk. Sadly, our president has too often refused to overtly condemn hatred and racism, and we are seeing how this may be encouraging hate groups, whose numbers have grown rapidly.
Some time during the Obama years, surveillance of racist right-wing hate groups was deemphasized in favor of targeting only Muslim extremists. It is unlikely that this administration will put a high priority on tracking racist hate groups. One can only wonder how many presidential tweets would have occurred if the perpetrators of these crimes had been Mohammed instead of Christian or Anthony.
Unfortunately, as we have seen, victims are not going to be just racial or religious minorities. Hatred will destroy everyone. One can only hope enough concerned citizens will wake up to what is happening before it is too late.
S. Qaisar Shareef concluded a career of nearly 30 years with Procter & Gamble Company in 2011. He is the author of When Tribesmen Came Calling: Building an Enduring American Business in Pakistan, to be published in July 2017 by Blue Ear Books. He lives outside Washington, D.C.