I’d like to think that those who are multilingual are less likely to become racists and revert to deadly extremism because communicating with people in other languages opens one’s mind and introduces one to the beauties of other countries. But that would be wishful thinking because there’s proof to the contrary: 

  • The Tsarnaev brothers, the masterminds of the Boston Marathon bombing spoke at least three languages: Russian, Chechen and English. (They were ethnic Chechens and had grown up in Kyrgyzstan.) 
  • In 2017, Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek man in New York drove a vehicle into a bicycle lane and killed eight people. He probably spoke Uzbek, Russian and English. 
  • Biljana Plavšić, accused of war crimes and ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War. She had been a biology professor and studied in the United States on a Fulbright Grant. She speaks both English and Serbian (and maybe other languages), but obviously she didn’t embrace the values of multiculturalism and peaceful coexistence.

(These are just a few examples. Sadly, there are more.)

Thoughts at the Turkish Festival

I was thinking of this yesterday while attending the Turkish Festival in Monterey, California. There were two armed policemen with bulletproof vests at the Turkish Festival. I hadn’t seen armed police with bulletproof vests at festivals before in Monterey. I think they were to prevent copycat shootings or other violence.

While I was at the festival enjoying the music and belly dancing, I looked around and I wondered where I would run to in case there were a shooting. Would I look for shelter under the tables? Unfortunately, the festival would have been a perfect place for a white supremacist or Islamophobe to kill. There were over a hundred people watching and enjoying the belly dancing. The attendees were of different races and religions and spoke different languages, forming the multicultural fabric that makes the United States such a special place. Unfortunately, radical extremists (whether they are white nationalists, Islamic fundamentalists or have other affiliations) don’t believe in multiculturalism. They probably don’t care about multilingualism either because they believe that their religion/race/group is superior.)

The belly dancer drew the biggest crowd at the Turkish Festival and even got a little girl to dance with her! However, during the dancing, I was thinking of how I would escape if there were an active shooting.

I wanted to be 100% present at the Turkish Festival but my mind was preoccupied with the recent shootings. 

Just a week prior, about a 45 minutes drive from Monterey, a white supremacist shooter killed 3 people (two Hispanics and one Black person) at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The gunman was against mixed race people and liberal white people from Silicon Valley. It was hard for me to believe that somebody who grew up in Gilroy, a small city with a very large Hispanic population would develop into a white supremacist. He probably could recognize some Spanish words from the Mexican restaurant and shop signs around Gilroy. Nearby Silicon Valley companies love to boast about their “diversity and inclusion” programs. More and more English-speaking parents are enrolling their children in Spanish-English dual language immersion schools. Yet this 19 year old believed in exactly the opposite. How could this happen? 

Within 24 hours over the weekend, there had been two mass shootings in United States, one late at night in Dayton, Ohio and the other in El Paso, Texas at Walmart. The shooter at the Walmart in Texas is also a white supremacist and targeted the Walmart in a heavily Hispanic area.

What causes hate and violence? 

I don’t have a magic pill or solution to all of these ills but here are some thoughts. 

Gun control 

Most US politicians are too cowardly to take on the roots of the issues with gun violence and extremism. I take it as a given that we need to have more restrictive gun laws and ban assault weapons. However, even if our legislators manage to pass common sense gun legislation, including background checks, a longer waiting period to receive a gun and a ban on selling weapons to the severely mentally ill, the roots of this violence will still be there. Extremists who would have otherwise bought weapons but face too many restrictions, will resort to bombings or other deadly violence. So we have to get to the root causes of this extremism.

Hate speech & radicalization online

Some violence stems from the freedom to spread racist vitriol, fake news and communicate online about how to commit mass bloodshed.

Even the United States is a country that values freedom of speech, I don’t think freedom of speech should include hate speech and calls for violence. Groups on the internet that promote violence, religious fundamentalism, white supremacism, racism etc, should be banned. I also think that technology companies and the government need to cooperate to find ways to improve digital wellbeing, including ways to limit how people get radicalized by spending ridiculous hours online communicating with others who promote mass violence. We already know that kids and adults are getting addicted to social media because of infinite scroll and automated videos that autoplay. There needs to be much more education, especially geared towards parents about how to get their children from getting addicted to the Internet. 

Racism and false blame 

White supremacist thoughts have existed since the colonisation of the United States, resulting in killing of Native Americans, slavery, and institutionalized racial discrimination.

When President Trump said that four Congresswomen of color should go back to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he was inciting racist vitriol and validating the white supremacist thoughts. Three of the legislators were born in the United States and one came as a refugee from Somalia and is a naturalized US citizen. There’s no coincidence that at least two of the last three mass shootings were done by white supremacists so soon after the President called for these for Congresswomen to go back to where they came from. The President has to censor his racist thoughts for the sake of the nation. 

Some of these white supremacist terrorists think that immigrants are taking away their jobs but that’s just political rhetoric. As Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang pointed out, it’s not the immigrants that are taking away jobs, but robots, automation and artificial intelligence

The “thoughts and prayers” offered by US politicians who have been corrupted by the NRA gun lobby aren’t going to stop these massacres from happening.

We need to combat this epidemic of mass shootings like a public health department would work to eradicate a medical epidemic with a multi-faceted program to make it harder to buy guns, eliminate online racist forums, improve digital wellbeing and to educate people about the roots of racism and hate and the false narratives that promote racism and hatred.