Sometimes, words can kill.
A vocabulary carefully crafted into lethal lies almost always foreshadows fatalities.
In the case of Nazi Germany, the evidence of Hitler’s wicked intentions — from Mein Kampf to the Brown Shirts – was vividly clear. People may have ignored the alarm bells, but no one can say that there were not warnings of the brutality to come.
In 1994, Hutu radio broadcasts that called Tutsis cockroaches helped lead to genocide in Rwanda. Prior to the infamous broadcasts, a newspaper published the Hutu Ten Commandments, which smeared the rival ethnic tribe and included the eerily prescient eighth commandment: “Hutus must stop having mercy on the Tutsis.”
Earlier this month, in Gojra, Pakistan, more than 20,000 rioters torched 100 houses that belonged to Christian families and murdered seven people after a false rumor spread that the town’s Christians had defiled the Koran. Local mullahs enthusiastically furthered this big lie and used it to spark violence.
“We were afraid because the clerics had been railing against us in the mosques,” Riaz Masih, a Christian and retired math teacher whose house was gutted told the New York Times. “They said, ‘Let’s teach them a lesson.'”
The circumstances of these tragedies are vastly disparate in terms of geography, time period and circumstances. However, they illustrate three points:
1) Inflammatory and defamatory words, especially if spoken by religious or political authority figures, can and do lead to violence.
2) There is no shortage of mentally unbalanced people who will sometimes carry out shocking acts, and we should be very careful not to incite them with rhetoric that stokes their paranoia. Like stacks of firewood, these angry individuals go unnoticed until the gasoline is poured and the match is lit.
3) Americans are human beings, just like everyone else. So, the notion that what we say does not matter “because it could never happen here” is jingoistic foolishness.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Dr. Michael Brown, an anti-gay ideologue in Charlotte who brought hundreds of red shirted fundamentalists to that town’s gay pride event. Brown’s mission is to “raise up a holy army of uncompromising spirit-filled radicals who will shake an entire generation with the gospel of Jesus by life or death.”
If you haven’t noticed, the extreme right is getting dangerously delirious. A black president, a Latina on the Supreme Court and gay people gearing up to marry in Iowa has exacerbated this crowd’s feelings of marginalization.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of conservative leaders willing to exploit the situation for political gain. Just as Brown was able to organize the troops, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (among others), is mobilizing angry mobs (at least the ones who aren’t Republican operatives) to harass members of congress about health care at town hall meetings.
What these partisan “patriots” are doing is manufacturing mayhem and damaging democracy. It can’t be good for the nation to provoke the woefully out of touch and encourage them to go out of control.
It is contemptible that a major political party would exploit the ignorant, to fund the elite. These foaming-at-the-mouth fools (many think Medicare is a private health plan) rail against government bureaucrats influencing healthcare decisions. Yet, they seem blithely and suspiciously unconcerned about insurance company bureaucrats denying life or death coverage to maximize profits.
No matter your view on healthcare and Obama’s plan, this rabble rousing by Republicans on behalf of their lucrative lobby firms is disgraceful. These political opportunists stir the pot of pugnacity, but in their arrogance believe they can keep it from boiling over. When crowds are summoned, filled with alienated people who feel a competing sense of abandonment and entitlement, it is only a matter of time before people get hurt.
I am a staunch First Amendment advocate. But let’s not pretend such irresponsible words and behavior does not have casualties and consequences. We can best celebrate free speech and assembly by freely choosing not to incite or assemble irate mobs that lack control or any normal sense of inhibition.