America's very own ISIS
The White Nationalist Movement spreading its wings across the US is destroying multiculturalism - the foundation of American society, writes Priya Mahadevan.
I am an Indian woman who has been a citizen of the USA for the past twelve years, while I have lived in the country for over twenty-two years. Charlottesville, Virginia, has been my home for the past fifteen years and probably will be for another ten, until my husband can retire from UVA and we can go back home to my husband's home country, Canada. We now alternatingly refer to it as Trudeau Land or Promised Land, for its relative peace, love, and unequivocal acceptance of differences; where diversity is still celebrated and welcomed with open arms.
I run a stall at the Charlottesville City Market on Saturdays from 7 in the morning to noon. Here I promote my mantra of vegetarianism and sell my masala dosas and Indian spices. I also sell the picture books I have written in the past few years. On Saturday, July 8, the first white nationalist rally gathered at Emancipation Park, but since it started at 2 p.m., we braved the market and got home before the said rally began.
The Charlottesville City Market is one of the most vibrant and bustling markets in the country and vendors from many countries represent their wares here. Charlottesville is known for its progressive and liberal values and was also declared a sanctuary city by our Mayor soon after Donald Trump's decree to ban immigrants. In this city, we celebrate our diversity and differences. I love my customers, most of whom are white and see the beauty of eating healthy vegetarian food as much as I do. These elements of Charlottesville are why I even ventured to share my South Indian cuisine with those who live here: people who are open minded, well travelled, or hungry enough to either try or revisit dosas. A dosa to a South Indian is what a burger is to an American. The City Market was a place we looked forward to being at every week – over the past 5 years that I have been a part of it, I have developed strong, empathetic relationships with my customers and many of them are more closely held as friends rather than just customers.
Saturday, August 12, on the other hand, was a different day with a different story. Much as I wanted to stand my ground and attend market to serve up the best food I could, my self-preserving, physical-confrontation-fearing, there-are-better-ways-to-die mind was made up to skip market this day. This time around, all groups of haters had been called upon to join the rally, and it was to start at 10 a.m. in the thick of the market session. Nope, I decided - better to be safe than sorry, although that cost me a monetary loss much like it did to many businesses in the city. But that whole day, I was on social media and had the television on, and what unfolded was beyond any horror that I'd anticipated.
A domestic terrorist had ploughed his car at a fast pace through a crowd much like the ISIS terrorists had in Nice and London and again in Paris where an 8-year old had lost her life. Wait. The people who invaded our beautiful, peaceful and eclectic city were the American ISIS. There are no two ways about this. No fancy complicated names like Fascist, Neo Nazi, Alt-Right, KKK, and White-Nationalists, supremacists needed. They are collectively terrorists, and like ISIS they recruited lost boys or young men who seek attention, even if it deems the worst kind, to do their dirty bidding. These people want to massacre anyone who does not conform to their idea of "American", reiterated by the standard of pure white; while they also gloat when maligning those they've shamelessly murdered and injured. Much like ISIS, they use religion and race as justification to perform the same hateful murders.
What went down on Aug 12 is a reminder to parents and schools around the nation to emphasise on the need for kindness, love, and acceptance. I am a mother of three beautifully sensitive children who are taught every day that kindness is free and limitless, and can be shared without measure. While my older kids grew up in a relatively safe and fearless environment where being brown was the least of their worries, the immediate and horrible fall out of the Trump administration is the new American ISIS that has made me (and people like me) more aware of my color and ethnicity, things I never had to think about. I have always been proud to be an Indian in America, embracing the beauty of my adopted country while retaining my Indian identity by sharing my culture and food with my immediate community.
I feel my youngest child is being robbed of her natural ability to be the American she is by birth, and I fear for my older kids who are away in college. Virginia is an open carry state and I am constantly on edge, praying that my kids don't encounter this hate directly. This is a recent worry. While I have always vetted sleepovers based on the possibility that my kid's friends' family may be potential gun owners, I have never had to worry for their safety on an everyday basis.
This home-brewed ISIS who are recruiting young men must be stopped. "If you are not outraged, then you are not paying attention," Heather Heyer had posted on Facebook soon before her murder. Heyer was white and was yet killed because she stood on the side of justice. American ISIS came with masks, shields, batons, homemade pepper sprays, and semi-automatic assault rifles. The carnage in Charlottesville could have been a far intense and bloody massacre had they chosen to open fire. Such rage and hate can only be quelled by effective leadership and by educating the youth of America about the beauty of diversity. They called it a peaceful rally despite all the weapons that they came equipped with. There is nothing peaceful about hate. And there should be a law that city authorities can fall back on to deny any such assembly anywhere in the US if weapons are a part of it.
Our children need to be protected and we need to start doing that now. As everybody has observed, it is 2017 and we all presumed homogeneity and racism were ghosts of the past. They are now presenting themselves as the ISIS equivalent in America terrorising and threatening the postulates of open-minded value and ideal, regardless of colour or race, as was witnessed in Heyer's murder. There is no way we should allow this terrorism to gain any further momentum. I am an American citizen and I refuse to live in fear.
(The author originates from India, lives in Virgina, USA. The views expressed are strictly personal.)