To some extent, last week’s shooting at a Jewish community centre in Kansas City should seem unexceptional. After all, shootings in the US are not exactly rare – both in terms of individual gun crimes and multiple shootings like this one. The fact that only three people were killed should, if anything, make it seem less remarkable than many other similar incidents in which there were higher numbers of fatalities. However, the Kansas City shooting is shocking to us because of its targets – we generally go about our lives assuming that anti-Semitism is dead and buried, especially in places like the US where the memory of World War II is still so prevalent.
Ever since 9/11, it has seemed like the racists, nationalists, and xenophobes among the US population have targeted Arabs and Muslims instead – or anyone who happens to have the bad fortune to look like they might be an Arab or Muslim in the minds of these right-wingers. This hatred of Muslims has reached such a level that if we heard a story about someone entering a Mosque or Muslim-focused community centre and killing three people, we would not really be too shocked – that level of hatred seems almost ‘normal’ today. There would probably even be a fairly large percentage of the population that would think of such an attack as a good thing.
An attack on the Jewish community, however, is seen as out of the ordinary and shocking, because over the past 50 years Jews have come to be seen as ‘good citizens’ – to the extent that almost no one in America, outside of a few fringe extremists, could possibly say that the Kansas City shooting was justifiable. But this attack should remind us that a hundred years ago (and perhaps even more recently than that) Jews were viewed in the same way as Muslims are today.
What this shows us is that the target of right wing hate is always shifting along with the changes in society, economy, and migration. In 1914, the minority group that they encouraged us to hate were the Jews; in 2014, the tactics are the same, but the target has changed to the Muslims. Whichever is the most exploited, defenceless, and demonized minority group at the time will be the target of hate. We can see similar patterns in other places, for example in the UK, where each new wave of immigrants has attracted hate for a certain period of time, before becoming ‘normal’, with the hate then moving onto the latest group – Jews, blacks, Indians, Travellers, Poles, Romanians, and so on.
In each case, the aim is the same – to shift the focus of the poor away from the inherent instability and inequality of capitalism, and to get them to place the blame for their problems on immigrants and other ‘outsider’ groups. By emphasizing the difference of these groups – whether in terms of skin color, language, religion, or culture – the right wing encourages the British poor to take their anger out on the only people who are even poorer and even more exploited.
The shooting in Kansas City, because it is an attack on a group that used to be seen as outsiders but who have now made the switch to being ‘good citizens’, jolts us into realizing the way this philosophy of hate works. We remember that Jews used to be as victimized as Muslims are now, and see that there is no reason to hate anyone for their religion or skin color. Instead, those of us who are poor and exploited by the mechanics of the capitalist system should join together and practice solidarity rather than hate – whether Jew, Muslim, black, white, or anything else.