The extreme and hateful statements attributed to the Hanafis recently in The Washington Post raise two serious problems. The first is the responsibility that the media incur in allowing hatemongers to propagate their prejudices and bigotry in print or over the airwaves. The second is the failure of leaders in our city to take an active role in combating these prejudices.
Persons consumed with hate may have "reasons" for their sick view of their fellow men, but their hatred is misdirected and should not appear to be sanctioned or excused by community spokesmen or by reporters and editors.
We watched and listened to the living horror of 134 area citizens held hostage by persons -- themselves victims of hate -- who were driven by a festering hatred for their fellow citizens. With alarming frequency we hear and read shockingly rabid verbal attacks on Zionists and Jews by Black Muslims.
These diatribes twist the truth and are calculated to prey on prejudices and frustrations in order to generate hatred. Through the efficiency of mass communication, we have learned of the growth of Ku Klux Klan membership in our community. Organizations that earned universal contempt by their extreme bigotry have come back to life, boasting the support of religious communities. We have watched and listened to instant, worldwide news coverage of desperate men driven by hate to perform desperate acts -- to harm innocent neighbors. We have seen men and woman in our city and in other cities around the world spewing out hatred in the name of religion, brotherhood and even love.
We hear the renewal of old myths believed long ago debunked. We read with horror "jokes" maligning black Americans, attacks on our city as the "crime capital," outlandish allegations of undue Jewish power and influence.
The thread of hatred used to create scapegoats for the ills and stresses of society weaves through such canards. Those in our city who feel estranged from the life around them seek to strike out, to place blame by waging a war of hatred against a scapegoat target.
What functions do the media perform in this? None, say some in the press. They merely report what occurs. Yet it seems clear that news reports of a hostage-taking in Indiana lent support to another in Baltimore, and again in Washington, forging a chain of hatred. Millions of Americans who hear the hatred of the frustrated and thwarted -- who get a daily dose of hate capsules in news coverage -- begin to empathize with hate. The Hanafi fanatics who murdered and beat and threatened somehow seem to develop an image of unfortunates with whom we should sympathize. The long-respected Zionist movement of national return to a Jewish homeland somehow becomes twisted into an image of racism. In our city we can see the growth and spread of hatred. The most obvious of anti-Semitic lies are printed without contradiction in The Washington Post --oted sources (some traceable to publications of such white racists as Wallace White, and others even to the writings of the Third Reich) offering such historically and factually inaccurate statements as "Zionists teach that anyone who is not Jewish is a beast," and suggesting that "Zionist Jews" are responsible for black slavery. The same sort of statements that appeared unchallenged in The Post were heard earlier as "fact" in area campus debates, in discussions among citizens, in radio talk shows. Hate has been validated as fact by the news media.
Of course we have a "right to know," and of course the media have an obligation to tell us. But should not the media also have a responsibility for the overall effect their pronouncements will have on the community? The Post, for example, has been far more scrupulous in reporting Hanafi statements --whether based on fact or not -- than in balancing obvious excesses with other, more objective information. The media must guard against inadvertently giving hate an undeserved credibility.
The most venomous of attacks are printed in newspapers, broadcast on radio and television. The response is a deadening, threatening silence. Media dutifully report the hatred, but where are the editorial voices combating it with truth and reason? Where is the family of man reaching out to help and understand one another's hurts and needs?
Where are the voices of our civic, religious and community leaders, calling for an end to hatred? It is both good and necessary to praise those who worked effectively and tirelessly to free the innocents in our community who were the objects of hatred. But many of those same leaders have not taken the affirmative steps necessary to coalesce all the parts of our community to stamp out hatred.
The only real hope to dispel the growth of hatred among our citizens is through the presentation of truth. The history, hopes and aspirations of all peoples -- Jews, Christians and Moslems, blacks and whites -- must be presented truthfully and be openly received by others. The combined challenge to the religious, political and communications leadership of our community, then, is to seek new, effective ways to build a strong, unified campaign against the growth of hatred.