When I was about fourteen I went to my father and asked him the kind of question that often stumps us as parents, not sure how to answer or respond. I expected him to react in the way other adults had when I asked them: a sigh, a sad shaking of the head, an explanation that it was complicated. But in this, as in most things, I underestimated my father, who had clearly given the topic a great deal of thought.
A voracious reader, I had been reading about the Holocaust. It was a learning journey for me, particularly confusing at times as I knew my ancestry was strongly and overwhelmingly German, and there were moments when I read about the atrocities of Nazi Germany that I could not even comprehend how I could share any link to these people as it was so far removed from what I knew to be right. So I went to my father and asked him one question: how could someone like me make sure something like the Holocaust never happened again?
I was so very naive in some ways. This was long before I knew that my father had volunteered to fight in the Canadian army in World War II, rejected only due to his flat feet unsuitable for long marches and likely because they knew he was underage despite his claims of being old enough. He volunteered even knowing that if accepted he would find himself on the opposite side of family he still had in Germany, going to war with his own. This was long before I knew the kind of discrimination he faced in Canada during those years as a Canadian German, insulated to some degree in the small German farming community where he lived but always careful when visiting the Prairie cities to never speak German as it would arouse suspicion and could end in being questioned by police, a beating or worse. The fact that he had been born in Canada meant little during those years, as simply being of German descent and being able to speak German made him and other German Canadians a target. I knew none of this then, things I would only learn in later years, and so I asked a question that must have awoken some very old memories.
You see I expected the sigh and the head shake, but my father didn't do that. My father looked at me and said it was quite simple.
"Don't let hatred have a home in your heart," he said.
He went on to explain how Hitler controlled the German people by encouraging them to foster hatred in their hearts and heads, ensuring they collectively hated entire groups of people. He used that hatred and his fomentation of fear to carry out the most hideous acts in human history. My father explained that if the German people had simply said no - that they refused to hate and fear their neighbours - that they could not have been controlled in the way they were. could not have behaved in the ways they did, could have seen the darkness long before it arrived and stopped it.
He told me to never allow someone else to tell me who to hate or why, because it would allow them to control me. He told me to never hate an entire group based on the actions of a few - as one could judge the entire human race based on the actions of people like Hitler, and condemn our entire species as evil and corrupt. Hate bad people for doing bad things, he said, not entire groups based on their nationality, their race, their colour. Never for a second believe that simply because a few do terrible things that all are terrible.
In later years, when he shared his stories of being German on the Prairies in those years, I realized how his words reflected on his own experience, too. He experienced fear and hatred simply because he was German Canadian, much like the Japanese Canadians we put into internment camps. It was based on a hatred and fear for an entire group, never acknowledging that a few individuals who do terrible things should not and could not be considered representative of everyone.
And in recent days I have thought a great deal about my father and his words as I watched the fallout from the terrorist attacks in Paris.
I watched as people I know fell prey to hatred in their hearts, spewing it forth on social media as they expressed their hatred and fear of Muslims. I observed in stunned silence, as they showed the kind of hatred that leads only to more hatred...and worse.
Let's be very blunt here: terrorism has no religion. Terrorism is based on extremist ideologies. The terrorists in Paris might have claimed to be Muslim, but that does not mean they are representative of Islam any more than members of the KKK are representative of Christianity. Terrorists are terrible people who do terrible things. Whatever they claim to be - Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists - they are simply bad people who do bad things. They do not represent entire groups of people, but if we allow ourselves to believe they do we have just opened a door in our heart to hatred and begun inviting it in.
And once hatred has set up residence it is hard to banish it, as hatred has insidious tentacles that grow inside you. How do we think terrorists are formed, anyhow? Out of love and compassion, or because they too have allowed hatred to have a home in their hearts and minds? So if we allow hatred to set up residence in ours, aren't we uncomfortably close to those terrorists in a manner where it would be better to be far different from them?
I have had the great honour and pleasure of spending time with our Muslim neighbours in this community. I will never forget my experience at the first Hijab Day, how the women showed me how to wear the hijab, their lovely smiles and words of kindness, the sense of sisterhood and understanding, and their willingness to be so vulnerable in sharing their world to allow someone like me to better understand it. I have had the experience of interviewing leaders in the Muslim community about their new mosque, treasuring their willingness to share their story not only with me but with other journalists I sent their way, taking a risk to open their doors to people like me who want to write about them. And one of my dearest friends wears a hijab and is one of the bravest and kindest people I know, always there when I need her.
And these are the people I am being told to hate? These are the people we are meant to fear, to see as some sort of threat? I can only wonder at the level of hatred in the hearts of those who spread such bile.
Don't let hatred have a home in your heart. You have the power to change history, my friends. If every single one of us refuses to answer when hatred comes knocking, when we choose compassion and understanding and inclusion instead of fear and hatred we push hatred further and further out into the cold. When we refuse to give it a home we change not only ourselves but the world around us. Instead of dwelling on our differences we embrace our commonalities. Rather than fearing what we do not understand we seek to learn more about it. And if each of us follows this path, reaching out and inviting each other into our hearts, we can successfully kick hatred to the curb, where it will watch in envy through the windows of our hearts as we celebrate together in peace, happiness and joy.
And that, my friends, is right where hatred should be.