America has a rising hate crime problem, and our disjointed Congress has finally taken notice of it as the House Judiciary committee held a hearing on the rise of hate crimes and white nationalism on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released hate crime statistics for 2017 and found that there was an increase of 17 percent in reported hate crimes. One would hope that both sides, Republicans and Democrats, could contribute meaningful and active dialogue towards this rising issue, but like most topics in American politics, that was a bad presumption. Democrats brought representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, like the senior vice-president for policy, Eileen Hershenov, and Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, a father who lost his two daughters in an anti-Muslim hate crime. Republicans brought Candace Owens, a conservative activist who was cited in the New Zealand terrorist’s manifesto, and Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America. The hearing was also attended by representatives from Google and Facebook, who faced questioning on how their social media platforms handle hate speech.
This was nothing more than the Republican and the American conservative movement’s blatant endorsement of the anti-Muslim, and arguably the anti-Arab, hysteria that has rocked American politics since the swearing in of Congress’ first two Muslim women – Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan). On March 23, Omar gave a speech at the Council on American-Islamic Relations banquet in which she conveyed the “discomfort” that Muslim-Americans have been living with since 9/11 as she described the terrorist attack as “some people [that] did something.” Whatever one’s interpretation of Omar’s comments, the reaction towards her has been vile and extremely venomous. Ilhan Omar has been the subject of virulent attention coming from the Republican party, of which has grossly fermented into death threats levied against the congresswoman. Rhetoric from conservative commentators, such as Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, deemed her as “anti-American,” in regard to her comments about 9/11. The President, who has stooped to low extremes, tweeted an egregious video of the Congresswoman’s comments overlaid with the 9/11 terrorist attack to millions of followers, clearing the path for potential violent incitement against Omar. If this entire debacle did not convey the American conservative movement’s rabid hostility towards America’s Muslim population, then the congressional hearing surely had.
The congressional hearing on hate effectively revealed the true, hateful nature of the Republican party, as conveyed through the individuals that they had brought. Less than a month after the Christchurch Mosque shootings, Republicans invited Candace Owens to the hearing, someone who was cited by the terrorist as having the most influence on his hateful identity. Imagine if Congress had invited someone who inspired, but did not partake in, the terrorist attacks of San Bernardino or 9/11 – the outrage, rightfully so, would be immense. While Owens influenced the Christchurch terrorist, she has made anti-Muslim comments which were amplified to her audience as she warned that, “Europe will become a Muslim majority continent by 2050,” or when she falsely stated that, “There has never been a Muslim majority country where Sharia law was not implemented.” Given the character of Candace Owens, the Republicans have complete disdain for the Muslim community. Perhaps the most distasteful part of the entire hearing, which was supposed to be about white terrorism, turned into a hearing in which Dr. Abu-Salha was asked questions pertaining to his religion of Islam. For instance, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) asked Dr. Abu-Salha whether, “Islam teach Muslims to hate Jewish people?” or when Congresswoman Sheilah Jackson Lee (D-Texas) asked if he taught his children hate. Dr. Abu-Salha responded and stated that Islam does not teach Muslims to hate Jewish people and that he did not teach hatred to his children. While the congressman and congresswoman agreed with his answers, Morton Klein, the same very man who called Arabs “filthy,” questioned the grieving father about his statements and called on Muslims to “step it up.” From this interaction, it is clear that Republicans do not care about the Muslim-American community, and in fact, they actively work to demonize them.
Ironically, while Facebook and YouTube representatives attended the meeting and had the congressional hearings live streamed, white nationalist comments appeared on these platforms as it was happening. YouTube’s livestream was plagued with users commenting disparaging anti-Semitic comments towards Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary committee chairman. YouTube, a platform known for allowing white supremacists on its site, quickly disabled such comments after they were made public. Not only is Congress ill-prepared to tackle the real issue of white nationalism, but social media giants have no clue either. In fact, this was more indicative of how these platforms have allowed the far-right to ferment online without any consequences.
What transpired during this congressional hearing was nothing more than a clear reiteration that America has a rising hate problem, in physical life and online. However, the fact that Republicans’ senseless decision to invite two individuals, who have done nothing but build their careers on fear mongering and lies, shows that the party is not serious in tackling the epidemic of white nationalism.