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Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Why should Muslims repudiate terror? 99.9% of Muslims have nothing to do with terror."


This is a great branding question that came to me by way of Twitter. Even though it's none of my business what Muslims do, I will try to answer it. Not just because it is of interest professionally, but out of many personal interests as well.

By way of a lengthy introduction to my thoughts, here is what happened to us just last night.

It was about 8 p.m., just after Shabbos ended. The local kosher pizza place was packed. It was as if none of us had eaten for 24 hours, we had to go out and get our "fix" of pizza, french fries or whatever...like blades of grass sticking up out of the earth after a long winter, we came up for air and out to socialize.

It was nice.

About half an hour into sitting there, I looked out the window and saw three police officers headed towards the shop.

I'm a little slow on the uptake, and it didn't occur to me that we were sitting right on top of the window, literally, so that if there was any trouble we'd be first to get hit, G-d forbid.

It did occur to me that there were two cop cars sitting outside the synagogue on Saturday morning, presumably to defend us against a potential terrorist attack, like a sympathy attack for the one in Paris.

My husband got beat up for being Jewish as a kid. He took self-defense for many years. Immediately upon seeing the cops he started to tell us, "Get away from the windows. Get away from the windows now."

I looked up and it seemed like some people were backing away from the doorway, as they looked outside with fear in their eyes. I stood up and the rest of us did too.

The cops walked up to some object around the corner from the pizza place and shone a skinny flashlight on it. I was terrified...what if someone had planted a bomb just outside? I imagined the headline flashing across The Washington Post, "Jews Firebombed At Local Pizza Establishment," and I could see in my mind the blood spattered all over the faces of the people who had eaten there so happily five minutes before.

Probably like a lot of people, I strive to be oblivious to all the potential dangers of life so that I can actually go about my daily business. But it's always there, under the surface, and the sight of those three police officers really triggered it.

What went through my mind in those few seconds? Because there was apparently nothing outside, and the police officers walked away and we finished our food.

I was not thinking that the local Muslim community had somehow targeted us. I have to tell you, as I said on Twitter - I live among Muslims, I work with Muslims, and I observe Muslims in the area community all the time. As a Jew whose observance is pretty far from what it should be, as someone who makes flimsy excuses for her failure to do better, I only wish that I had half of their religious devotion.

  • It was a Muslim woman praying on the D.C. Metro who inspired me to cover my hair in the traditional Jewish style many years ago, a practice I have since abandoned.
  • It was a Muslim employee who showed great loyalty to me in a workplace where, frankly, I was stabbed in the back so frequently, left and right, that I did not even see the knives coming anymore. 
  • It is a Muslim colleague who is so deeply respectful of Allah, who is really G-d, the one Universal G-d we all share, that said "No, No, No" when someone jokingly referred to him as "the G-d of the website," meaning that he had great expertise. 
  • It is the Muslims who live in my building who convene prayer groups, quietly, bringing food to one another's homes. They stand in the elevator with me, we do our laundry in the same machines, and I am obviously Jewish but have never once felt any hatred from them.
  • And it is a Muslim who, in Paris, saved Jews from the recent terrorist attack by hiding them in a walk-in freezer.

It is true, occasionally we have had the experience of hatred directed at us. But it is rare, and one could argue that Jews just as occasionally direct their hatred at Muslims. If there is extremism, as the Dalai Lama once wrote, "there are troublemakers in all religions" and it exists on both sides.

So I was not afraid that Muslims had attacked us. But I was afraid that radical, hateful fundamentalists speaking in the name of Islam had done so.

Which gets us back to the question of brand. Why should Muslims repudiate terror, if they are not terrorists?

And in the question itself is a kind of raw honesty, which is the honesty I have experienced from my Muslim colleagues, and which I appreciate.

The answer is that unfortunately, people (and groups) often get labeled inaccurately. It may not be true, it may not be fair, but there you go, there it is.

Even more unfair, to Muslims in particular, is that people have spoken on their behalf and called terrorism a religious thing.

Jews are no stranger to anti-Semitism, and to justify it many labels have been slapped on us. We're all wealthy money-cheaters, right? We're manipulative liars who all work for the Mossad.

It goes on and on...and it's particularly sad to hear of a local young woman, Jewish and - like most Jews - not wealthy. She goes to public school, where the kids thought it would be fun to throw coins in her face.

Worse yet is when Jews do bad things, things that have nothing to do with religion at all, and say they are acting in the service of G-d himself. That is nothing short of blasphemy.

So I really, really get it. I get that people act crappy no matter what religious label they possess.

And I'm not here to attack Muslims, apologize for Jews, or anything like that at all. I don't have a hidden agenda. What I want, very explicitly, is to live in peace. And just like violence begins with words of hatred, peace begins with conciliation and mutual understanding.

What we know is this, like Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof: "It's a very big world," plenty big enough for all of us to share.

G-d is also infinitely merciful, and infinitely gracious.

What we learned in synagogue this week: If we take just a couple of steps toward Him, he will take care of the rest, and take care of all of us.

So branding would be very helpful now. Muslims and Jews in particular ought to speak words of peace, together with mutual respect and security.

Branding does not have to be a tool of propagandists and corporate shills. It can be used for higher purposes.

Done right, maybe it could help bring the Great Redemption that all of us seek. Without the needless bloodshed.

Let's unite the world in favor of peace. Let's call the enemy what it is - terror - and get together as a planet to eradicate it.

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All opinions my own. Photo by Bart via Flickr. No endorsement expressed or implied.