Open Fire and a Pig’s Head: The International Spread of Antisemitism and Islamophobia

By Jacob Imber

On the morning of Saturday, October 27th, a gunman opened fire during a service at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Eleven people were killed and six were injured, including police officers and congregation members. Officials identified the suspected shooter as forty-six-year-old Robert D. Bowers and linked him to several social media accounts espousing antisemitic and neo-Nazi rhetoric. In particular, Bowers’s posts on Gab, a platform generally used for alt-right free speech, threatened violence against Jewish refugees and swore to take action against a Jewish nonprofit called HIAS.

In response, President Trump characterized the event as a “wicked act of mass murder” but insisted that gun laws had “little to do” with Bowers’s actions. Later, he asserted that armed guards inside of the synagogue could have prevented bloodshed from ensuing. Others have designated the tragedy as an instance of domestic terrorism, citing nationwide gun control as essential to prevent future shootings.

On both sides of the political aisle, local and federal politicians alike are focusing on the developing story as midterms rapidly approach. Leaders could potentially face the ends of their elected careers within the next two weeks, depending on their responses to constituents and the situation at hand. Conversely, they may solidify their positions as multi-term representatives if able to react appropriately. In that sense, the Tree of Life shooting represents a contentious intersection of debates regarding religious tolerance and gun legislation, all within eleven days of midterm elections. It also stands as a sobering reminder of the rise in antisemitism that the U.S. has experienced in the past year.

Meanwhile, officials in the United Kingdom are responding to the cultural aftermath of an Islamophobic hate crime in Manchester. On October 3rd, an unidentified attacker threw a brick and severed pig’s head through the window of a Muslim family’s home before driving away with two other individuals. The Mahmood family, residents of the area for twenty-nine years, recall that two of their children were watching television when the objects almost hit them directly. No injuries resulted; however, similar attacks against the Muslim community have recently taken place in which victims required immediate medical attention.

In the wake of Brexit, British officials have reported a steady increase in Islamophobic crimes across the U.K., including several incidents involving dismembered pigs. Because the Quran considers pork haram, or forbidden, butchered pigs have comprised an offensive trope throughout the attacks. These events have also coincided with a push for legislation restricting the religious expression of Muslim women, specifically those who choose to wear hijab or burqa. Although these offenses may not carry the same shock effect as the mass shooting in Pittsburgh, they certainly indicate a similar uptick in prejudices toward religious minorities. They point toward a common fear of those who are different as dangerous and dishonest, thereby further isolating already marginalized communities. It only complicates the issue that Jewish and Muslim communities tend to regard one another with a similar level of mistrust. At the moment, there is no solution, only a grim landscape of wariness both toward and among Jewish and Muslim communities.

Jacob Imber is a freshman in the College and writes about cultural barriers across international affairs, specifically in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.


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