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Getting It Wrong on Paris, Terror, Racism & Student Protests

French police officers patrol on the Champs Elysees in Paris, Sunday, Nov. 15. (Photo: ABC News)

In the wake of Friday’s horrific terror attack in Paris, social media went nuts. Right on cue, while most of us were expressing sympathy and solidarity, assorted partisans started using the grim news to push their pre-fabricated agendas.

Among many ugly expressions popping up online that day, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s tweet jumped out at me:

Judith Miller tweet

Miller, you may remember, is the reporter who published a series of stories in the New York Times based on leaks from top officials – most shown later to be spectacularly wrong – that helped fuel the run-up to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. What gets me about this tweet (and to be fair, others tweeted similar sentiments) isn’t just the nasty tone, and it’s not even how Miller’s reporting helped propel the war that arguably opened the door to the creation of ISIS in the first place. It’s how totally Miller misunderstands the issues involved.

Miller imagines that somehow the effort against terrorism is different from and more important than the fight against racism and intolerance. In fact, the two fights are one and the same.
The root problem isn’t Islam or Syrian refugees or unruly students on U.S. college campuses. It’s hatred of people who are different. It’s treating people as “other” and thus less than human because they read a different holy book (or none at all), speak a different language, were born on the other side of an arbitrary national border, or have a different skin color, sexual orientation or gender expression.

That’s what allows ISIS to slaughter perfect strangers it assumes don’t share its twisted interpretation of the Koran. It’s what lets students shout “n****r!” at black students at the University of Missouri and make death threats against those who protest against racism on campus. It’s what lets Donald Trump praise the brutal and racist “Operation Wetback” and see his poll numbers rise.

The problem isn’t any particular religion or ethnicity or political view. The problem is hatred. The answer is to oppose hatred wherever and whenever it appears – whether it’s in the Mideast, Paris, Ferguson, Baltimore or the University of Missouri.

Yes, I understand that there will be legitimate disagreements along the way. On campus in particular, the line between protecting minority students from harassment and stifling legitimate expressions of controversial views can be tricky, and humans sorting through these questions will make well-intentioned mistakes. Reasonable people can differ on where to draw the line.

But that’s not the point. The point is that the fight against racism and other forms of bigotry on campus isn’t in conflict with the fight against terror. It is the fight against terror. Because what underlies terror, wherever it occurs, is hatred of “the other.” Until we learn that, the terrorists will continue to win, and people like Judith Miller will continue to inadvertently help them.

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Bruce Mirken

Bruce Mirken is a San Francisco-based writer and the media director for the Greenlining Institute.

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