The principles of non-violence are little known and desperately needed. Here’s a simple take-away lesson. One major characteristic of violence, verbal as well as physical, is that it tends to escalate. It is most easily reversed at the beginning and becomes progressively more difficult to stop as it spirals into more intense violence. Those who study the effects of intervention in violent situations have found that when others object or actively intervene, their efforts tend to slow or stop the violence. Dr. Ervin Staub, who survived under Nazi rule, reports in The Roots of Evil, that the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Nazis in Germany began their campaigns of genocide with small persecutions which citizens allowed to continue. He reports that action by “bystanders” (those who are not victim or perpetrator) empowers the victim and diminishes the power of the aggressor. But ignoring the suffering of others allows the violence to escalate.
We’ve seen this principle in action more recently. Hate talk spread unchecked across all forms of media played a major part in creating the horrific ethnic violence in Serbia, in Rwanda, and in the Congo. Yes, there were reasoned objections but they weren’t loud enough or frequent enough to turn the tide.
Hate talk and repressive policies put into place sounds familiar. Today Muslim headscarves are banned in France, the construction of minarets are banned in Switzerland, Muslim travelers are profiled, and pundits advance the cause of prejudice unchecked. And now, the recent horrific acts of violence by Anders Breivik, an anti-Muslim terrorist.
How do we, the bystanders, intervene?
Be informed. Get your news from widely acclaimed Al Jazeera. Read Islamophobia by Chris Hedges and No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan.
Step beyond a limiting cultural framework. If you have no Muslim friends, seek to make them in your community.
Take action when newscasters and pundits utter anti-Islamic rhetoric. Contact the network with your objections. Also let the sponsors of the show know you’ll boycott their products if these violations continue.
Take action when politicians use anti-Islamic rhetoric. Contact them to explain you’ll be voting them out of office.
Actively object if you hear anti-Islamic rhetoric in a personal conversation. Silence is generally taken for agreement.
Actively object if you witness prejudice against any Muslim person. This means intervening in your school or workplace as well as in public. Here are some tactics for non-violent intervention.
What other ways can we de-escalate Islamophobia?