“You don’t want to live in Britain? Well you know what you can do! Assimilate or get out!” scream the mesages from other people’s Facebook accounts. Or versions of that. Different words, same message. Photos of women in burqas holding guns. An image of the Qu’ran with a blood-red cross stamped across it. All overlaid with the same words. “If you don’t do things the way WE do them we don’t want you here”. Although usually much angrier and more insulting than that, sometimes containing thinly-veiled, badly-thought-out threats.
We live in a climate of hate and fear. And we feel helpless. Powerless to protect ourselves and our families from the threat: that dark ominous cloud of hidden faces and foreign hieroglyphs; millions of people who, we are told, will stop at nothing to see our grisly demise. It is no wonder that in the absence of more meaningful options for taking action, those tiny, infinitesimal acts – “like” and “share” – feel like at least we are doing something … expressing our outrage; standing strong; showing defiance in the face of extreme adversity.
More and more of my friends are turning to these images, to the act of “sharing” on social media, as a way of expressing their growing fear and anger. And it is not for me to comment on whether that fear and anger is justified. Certainly this is the first time in my nearly-forty-years of existence that I have felt anxious about being part of the Jewish community in Britain. Not scared exactly … but nervous. But it is exactly this that I would like to ask you to consider before clicking “share” next time. So many of the people who have passed these images on are people who I know care for me. Love and respect me. So please. Consider this.
My faith is not your faith. I have no desire to leave my religion and join yours. Am I being disrespectful to your beliefs?
A large percentage of the friends I socialise with regularly are Jewish. I like that. I like being with people who are like me and who share my culture. Am I a racist?
My children go to a Jewish school. Many of their friends are Jewish and they are being taught about the Jewish way of life. Should we try harder to integrate?
I like traditional Jewish food. I like the way it forms such a strong part of our culture. I read from a prayer book written in letters that are meaningless to you. Yiddish words frequently drop into my conversations – words that you probably don’t understand. Should I do more to assimilate?
I would be offended if you walked into my place of worship and ate pork – a threat I have seen directed at people of another faith in some of the images you “like”. Should I get out of your country?
My children wear a school uniform that bears a Star of David and sometimes I wear one around my neck. Occasionally I even leave synagogue forgetting I am still wearing my kippah (skullcap). Would you like us to go back to where we came from?
I’m not saying don’t be angry. I’m saying be specific in your anger. You don’t really hate 1.6 billion people; that’s just not possible. But I accept you might hate the handful of people who make the news. You don’t actually hate them because of their religion. But I understand you might hate them because of the way they use their religion to justify horrendous, unimaginable acts. I’m not telling you not to hate. But be specific in your hatred.
Yes, you may be fearful. But every time you mindlessly pass on a generalised, all-encompassing warning to those who are different, you are including me in that, and you are increasing my fear and my feelings of alienation and otherness and unwantedness. If you care enough to click “share”, then care enough to write your own words. In a world that feels balanced precariously on the edge of terror, please don’t feed the hatred that will be all our undoing. Think. Think about what is making you angry and scared. And then by all means say it. But in your own words.