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Only you can prevent fascism

by Jeff Sykes

“And during the few moments that we have left, we want to have just an offthe-cuff chat between you and me “” us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.” “”Malcolm X, Detroit, Michigan Nov. 10, 1963 Those words have always meant a lot to me, ever since I heard them for the first time. I didn’t know when I first heard the Living Colour song “Cult of Personality” who spoke them, but I did know they meant something to me, a directive of sorts to be clear and speak plainly, directly addressing the point at hand.

Living Colour comes to Chapel Hill on Feb. 9, and it seems fitting that a band with such a powerful message should still be en vogue more than 20 years after it set the rock scene on notice. “Cult of Personality” remains one of the hardest rock songs to play, a Mixolydian matrix of riffs requiring a dexterity I seldom possess.

Living Colour has another song, “Funny Vibe”, that’s been relevant lately as well. After pledging not to rob, beat, rape nor hurt, harm, hate “you,” the speaker goes on to ask “Why you want to give me that funny vibe?” It’s an unspoken message questioning the racial tension that remains in America.

In case you’re unaware, Living Colour is an epic fusion rock band made up of four African American men. Breaking on the scene in the late 1980s, they exposed America to the idea that brothers can rock. Not since Hendrix had a black band made that much impact on rock culture. To a know-nothing 17-year-old at the time I thought Vernon Reid was the second coming of Hendrix, completing the fusion with Miles Davis that was hinted at before his death.

But I digress. I learned so much from that band, coming as I did from a suburban white middle class milieu, ensconced in the mall and surfeited by my father’s credit card. I began at that time to search for the unique, to question the reality of my surroundings, to follow the path that led away from mainstream American culture.

Which leads me to this point. Last week I wrote a story about one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had as a journalist. Having been invited by the president of the Islamic Center of Greensboro in early December to consider writing a story about their school, I finally visited the center and the Islamic Academy of Greensboro on Dec. 19, a Friday. I attended their main weekly prayer service in a packed facility with an estimated 500 Muslims practicing their faith.

It was a very humbling experience.

I took preconceived notions and anxieties into the center. I walked out more enlightened about my reality, the world around me and my community.

I made a Facebook post about the experience that day. I received several positive replies and inquiries about the purpose of my visit. I also received one comment along the lines of “you should be ashamed for going to such a place, Islam is the enemy of America,” or some such nonsense and another that read “you’re lucky to have left with your head.”

I deleted both comments and unfriended both. The interesting thing is both came from obese white men who have, at one time or another, either lived mostly as shut ins or in extreme social isolation. Being an obese white middle-aged male, I tend to know a lot of other obese white middle-aged males.

But I’ll be damned if I will fall prey to the hate that pervades much of the discourse in this country these days.

We scheduled the story for publication last week, Jan. 7. I felt so good about the story, what I’d written and how I’d conveyed the experience. Before the third-party vendor that manages our website could even post the article to the web, news of the massacre in Paris spread like wildfire across the Internet.

I was saddened at the violence and loss of life, but at the same time apprehensive about my story. Was it obsolete because of the violence? Would it attract intense negative feedback because of the international situation? I decided the best course of action would be to wait until Thursday to post the story.

Once I did, it received the type of positive response I’d hoped for. Except for the one commenter who accused me of fabricating the story to deflect attention from the massacre in Paris. Crazy, I know.

But that was exceeded Saturday when Fox News host Jeanine Pirro went on an epic, batshit crazy rant on federally regulated airwaves claiming that the United States should facilitate the killing of extremists everywhere by arming Muslims to kill other Muslims and then “look the other way” while the killing goes on unabated.

Such mindless hate is the vanguard of fascism.

And so let me state clearly that hate and fear can only lead to destruction. Just ask the innocent villagers in Nigeria being slaughtered by government security forces afraid Boko Haram will recruit them down the road.

It’s a violent world at times. But as FDR said, again quoted in that epic Living Colour song, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” !

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