Rabbi Avi Shafran
Am Echad Resources
Nearly as enlightening as watching people protest their portrayal as mindless, violent fanatics by engaging in mindless, violent fanaticism is watching them respond to tasteless insults with even more tasteless insults of their own.
First we witnessed a millions-strong collective temper-tantrum engulf large parts of the Muslim world – riots, torching of embassies, curses, threats and attacks on individuals – in response to some newspaper cartoons that mocked Islam, through its central figure, as a religion less than respectful of innocent lives.
And then we were graced with the telling reaction of some others who joined the jihad junket at a distance, like Farid Mortazavi, an editor at Iran’s largest newspaper, who offered a prize of gold coins to readers who submit the best cartoons discrediting the Holocaust. And the “Arab European League” (one of whose “principals” [sic] is to “fight every form of racism”), which posted on its website a series of its own creative caricatures implying that the Holocaust is a Jewish fabrication (one of them, peculiarly, portraying Hitler sharing a bed with Anne Frank).
Iranian President Mahmoud (“Adolph”) Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel, wouldn’t be left out of the fun either. He was quoted as saying: “If [Western] newspapers are free, why do not they publish anything about the innocence of the Palestinians and protest against the crimes committed by the Zionists?”
If you’re wondering why Muslims angered by actions in largely Christian countries choose to vent their considerable spleen at… Jews, well, welcome to contemporary times – pungently reminiscent, of course, of earlier ones.
Leave aside, though, the oddity of Abdul, insulted by Chris, attacking Yankel. Leave aside, for that matter, even the fact that to deny the Holocaust is to lie, while to connect some Muslims’ bad behavior with the faith they claim as their justification is to simply take them at their word. Consider only the truly astounding hypocrisy here: Societies whose media teem with patently libelous, venom-saturated, inflammatory words and images about Jews are expressing outrage at the idea of an impolite press.
To be sure, there are sane Islamic voices. Muhammad al-Hamadi, writing in the United Arab Emirates’ Al Ittihad, contends that “We [Muslims] must be honest with ourselves and admit that we are the reason for these drawings. Any harm to… Islam is a result of Muslims who have come to reflect the worst image of Islam…”
And, in a letter to The New York Times, Saleem Ahmed, an author of books about Islamic teachings, suggests that “instead of torching Danish and other embassies, Muslims should torch the cause of European anger: extremist Muslim literature inciting suicide bombers and other terrorists.”
We must appreciate words like those, and hope that they reflect a larger portion of the Islamic world than the crazed, wide-eyed images that scowl at us from the front pages these days. But neither can we ignore the Muslim in the street, like Mawli Abdul Qahar Abu Israra, who, interviewed on February 6 in Afghanistan, shared his sincere sentiments. “They want to test our feelings,” he told the BBC. “They want to know whether Muslims are extremists or not. Death to them and to their newspapers.”
Or the Muslim in the pulpit. The very next day, Britain’s most prominent Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was convicted of racial hatred and soliciting murder, by using his sermons to urge the killing of non-Muslims.
Jews don’t preach violence against other religions. We would be overjoyed, in fact, if adherents of Islam followed its precepts as understood by many Muslims: tolerance and good will. What is more, we do not engage in public mockery of other faiths, and can well relate (if only from our own experience with much of the Arab press) to the sense of outrage felt at such things.
But neither do Jews riot when we are portrayed, as so often we are, as horrible monsters, nor even when the cold-blooded murder of a third of our people (the equivalent of 300-odd million Muslims today) is made into a sick joke or derided as a lie.
Some might surmise that the reason for our reticence is fear of consequences. After all, Jews comprise a mere fraction of one percent of the world’s populace; if we were to go on a rampage, it would not likely be as long-lived as the recent Muslim one has proven.
Others might point to the proclivity in some Jewish circles for social liberalism, including the embrace of ideals like the “right” of free expression (scare quotes in deference to Jewish religious law, which in fact places clear limits on expression).
But there is something deeper, I think, that explains the lack of Jewish Sturm und Drang despite the abundance of anti-Semitic abuse.
It lies in a fundamental Jewish religious attitude, one articulated at the end of the mainstay of every Jewish prayer: the silent Amidah, or “standing”-service.
Its penultimate paragraph begins: “My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent.”
The sentiment is not one of resignation, but of faith – in the ultimate setting straight of things by a Power stronger than any mortal one. It is the utterance of one who does not feel the need to vent fury or to counter insult in kind, someone who has confidence in the final victory of truth and of justice. It is a prayer that has imbued the collective Jewish soul for centuries, and continues to today.
It continues: “As to all those who plot evil against me, quickly obliterate their plans and wreak havoc on their intentions.”
And let us say Amen.