Houses of worship are, at their best, places of peace and tranquility, spiritual oases where pain and suffering are comforted, not inflicted.
Yet, again, a house of worship in the United States has been assaulted, suddenly transformed into a killing zone by an anti-Semite armed with a readily available weapon fully capable of rapidly inflicting mass casualties.
Eleven Jews, 11 of our fellow Americans, were shot and killed Saturday at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. They ranged in age from 59 to 97; the eldest among them, Rose Mallinger, was alive during the Holocaust, but would not survive the attack at her beloved synagogue.
Robert Bowers, 46, was taken into custody after a firefight that wounded several law enforcement officers who responded. According to news reports, Bowers told an officer that he "wanted all Jews to die" because they "were committing genocide against his people."
That is the kind of filthy lie that Bowers regularly spouted on social media, consistent with websites that he and other bigots frequent. It is the kind of sentiment that can be easily spread on the internet, the type of expression that was audibilized during the riots launched by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, slightly more than one year ago.
Similar hatred was also at the root of the murders in 2015 that temporarily transformed another house of peaceful worship — Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina — into a death trap. That is where Dylann Roof, a white supremacist then in his early 20s, committed a calculated assault that killed nine black parishioners. Like Bowers, Roof ranted on the internet; instead of Jews, his targets were African-Americans.
When Americans are targeted by bigots simply because of religious beliefs, race, ethnicity or gender, it should be a concern of all Americans. To that end, in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh shooting, we reaffirm our commitment to not only religious freedom and tolerance, but acceptance of differences, whether religious or racial.
This is yet another time for Americans to embrace and nurture common bonds, rather than exploit divisions.
There have been many calls for President Donald Trump, who appropriately condemned the anti-Semitic violence, to speak seriously about other threats — including the bombs that were sent by one of his supporters to prominent Democrats and CNN.
In light of Trump's proclivity for acting presidential one moment and temperamental the next, fueling the fires of radicals and giving cover to mainstream politicians seeking to appeal to the fringes, we appeal to the president for silence.
Silence — at rallies, on Twitter and in other statements — would be golden.
While we recognize the losses of American Jews in Pittsburgh and remember the African-American Christians in Charleston, and all the other targets of hate crimes, let us not forget those who were slain in other places long thought to be sanctuaries from fatal attacks — the schools where Americans have sent their children to learn — as well as other public and private venues.
And let us pledge, in their names, to make America safe from gun violence.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD