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By Niso Nahmiyas

These days, it seems I can’t go one news cycle without getting a new alert about terror attacks or settler violence as tensions rise in the occupied West Bank and pundits predict that we are on the "eve of a Third Intifada."

Though I have always felt deeply interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the broader Israeli-Arab conflict and global Jewish-Muslim relations, this year it all feels a bit closer to home. That’s because in the fall I spent the semester abroad living and studying in Jerusalem, where I was witness to the quotidian friction of life there, and came to know some of the forms of hatred which are fanning the flames of these recent episodes of violence.

I came back home to my Duke community knowing that I needed to further explore the reasons behind what I had seen and heard, and was thrilled to find the "Combating Hate in the Digital Age" course taught by Professors David Schanzer and Abdullah Antepli. Professor Antepli has been a friend and mentor for me throughout my time here as an undergraduate, and is to me a model and embodiment of everything we need to help resolve this "holy war." A self-described recovering anti-Semite and pro-Palestinian Muslim, he and I first met at an event discussing the theological underpinnings of the Israel-Palestine conflict and how we can use religion to build bridges rather than burn them.

In many ways this has been the focus of our course so far; in our investigations of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, we have studied the scriptural foundations for these forms of hatred and how religious texts are used to promote violence against other groups. While it would be nice to think that these are blatant perversions of the texts themselves, the reality is that the religious extremists of our world do not need to dig too deep to find validation for their hateful ways. This is a sobering reality, but if we are to understand these forms of hatred as disease then we must accurately diagnose its origins. Moreover, in order to engage in meaningful dialogue with someone who has a faith-based prejudice toward others, one must appeal to their faith.

The class, as is suggested by its name, covers some extremely hard topics. Recently, we have been reviewing incidents of hate speech on college campuses and hate crimes across the U.S. in order to understand how the hatred we have studied manifests in our society. Questions like the blurred line between free speech and hate speech as well as the efficacy and morality of hate crime laws are considered, with classmates offering a diverse array of opinions on these matters. Given the relevance of these issues to the debates which dominate today’s public discourse, it is impossible to not bring current events into our weekly discussions.

To me the most frustrating thing about Israelis and Palestinians is that when you listen to each of their national narratives, it’s like a broken record. But for as long as this conflict has existed they have never been able to realize how similar they are to each other, because they hate each other. Hatred is perhaps best understood as a virus; once it infects the body, it never leaves.

Niso Nahmiyas
Niso Nahmiyas

This does not mean that all hope is lost. That virus can be treated, the body can gradually heal, and maybe even one day we will find a cure. The normal human response to hate is to run away from it, which is natural and reasonable. However, more than anything I feel that what this class has taught me to do is to stand in front of hate, to engage with it, to negotiate with it, and in some ways, to accept it.

We certainly don’t need to elevate the hateful voices in our society any more than is already being done by social media algorithms and “alternative news” sites. Yet we do ourselves a disservice by simply ignoring or dismissing them. If we are serious about combating hate, then the first thing we need to do is listen, and to understand. Only then can we begin to fight back.

Niso Nahmiyas is a junior at Duke University from New York City. Niso is majoring in International Comparative Studies with a focus in the Middle East, and is pursuing the Philosophy, Politics, & Economics (PPE) certificate. Outside of the classroom, he is the President of First Generation Investors at Duke, a service organization working with local Durham public high schools, and he is a die-hard Duke basketball fan. 


Sanford Celebrates Abdullah Antepli Awards

Sanford students, faculty and staff gathered on Thursday to celebrate two awards recently received by Professor Abdullah Antepli. Antepli received the Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Award and is the first Kay Family Award honoree. The awards honor his decades of work in humanitarian projects and interfaith relations Antepli discussed his career and inspiration in a conversation with Joel Fleishman, the founding director of the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, now the Sanford School of Public Policy.

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