By Janet Langhart Cohen
According to many surveys, America is one of the most religious nations in the world. Presumably, those who claim to be religious adhere to the teachings of tolerance, compassion, and the love of their fellow man. But surveys also show that those who claim to be religious, particularly white males, feel that their power, which is really a claim of white privilege , is slipping away. Their thoughts are about anything but love, as one click onto their websites reveals. They stir a rancid, witches brew of anti-Semitism, racism and hatred for anyone who differs from their skin color or pathetic ideologies.
On June 10, their hatred walked through the doors of the U.S. Holocaust Museum and murdered security officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, a young, black man who opened the door for an elderly individual he thought was in need of assistance. Officer Johns’ act of kindness was repaid with a bullet blasted into his chest.
My play Anne & Emmett was to debut that evening at the Museum. It is an imaginary conversation that takes place between Anne Frank and Emmett Till–two young teenagers who perished in the fires of religious and racial hatred. Anne was a Jewish girl who died in a Nazi concentration camp, and Emmett was a black boy brutally murdered in Money, Miss., for whistling at a white woman. Their dialogue reveals just how much they had in common and how similar were the tactics of their respective oppressors.
I want Anne’s and Emmett’s stories to be remembered, to be sure, but I want more. I want the good people in this country–in this world– to act, to stand up, expose, condemn, marginalize and prosecute the purveyors of hatred and violence. Yes, we need to respect the fundamental value of free speech, but when speech urges and incites others to engage in violent acts, there must be consequences other than sad and stony silence.
The growing numbers of anti-Semites and racists, many who claim to be religious, wrap themselves in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution while saluting Hitler’s Nazi flag and igniting the cross of the Ku Klux Klan. They are domestic terrorists and must be seen as such. They should not be viewed as decent, “God fearing” citizens who are just expressing their harmless discontents. Their religious affiliations are as false as their claims of superiority, and when they urge their votaries to engage in acts of violence, however subtle and shaded be their code words, they should expect to treated as the criminals they are.
Janet Langhart Cohen is a journalist, playwright, author of the memoir “From
Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas” and co-author of “Love in Black and
White: Race, Religion and Romance” with her husband William S. Cohen, former
Secretary of Defense.