Fighting Fire With Water

Maybe you received it too. The e-mail was forwarded to me by no fewer than three people, and in each case I was among hundreds of recipients. The photographs in the communication were prefaced by the all-caps pronouncement “THIS MUST BE SEEN AND PASSED AROUND THE WORLD. PLEASE DO SO.” They depicted a throng of Muslim men bowing or kneeling in prayer in the middle of a major city thoroughfare.

The famous thought attributed to Irish statesman Edmund Burke, “For evil to flourish, all that is needed is for good people to do nothing,” followed, in turn followed by an explanation that the scenes were “an accurate picture” of Madison Avenue in Manhattan, where Muslims “stop normal traffic every Friday afternoon by worshipping in the streets.” This inconveniencing of others, the writer added, takes place “between about 2 & 4 p.m.” in two places – “one at 42nd St & Madison Ave… [and by] another, even larger group, at 94th St & 3rd Ave.” Beneath that, there was a reminder of the controversy over the “Ground Zero mosque” and the admonition: “If we don’t wake up soon, we are going to ‘politically correct’ ourselves right out of our own country!”

One of the comments appended at the top of the e-mail by an earlier recipient who apparently lives in Israel, expressed relief that “Baruch Hashem, we all got out in plenty of time.”

I have spent most of 16 years of weekdays in Manhattan but, admittedly, have never been in midtown on a Friday afternoon. So the activity described, for all I knew, could in fact regularly occur as described. Somehow, though, it struck me as unlikely.

My skepticism was well-placed.

Although the photographs were real, a bit of research yielded the fact that what they depicted was a moment at last year’s Muslim Day Parade, an event that has taken place annually since 1985.

Like the St. Patrick’s Day parade celebrating Irish-American culture or the Columbus Day parade celebrating the Italo-American heritage or the Puerto Rican, West Indian or Chinese New Year (or the Salute to Israel) parades, a procession celebrating Islamic culture takes place in New York each year (on a Sunday, as it happens, the last one in September). For a quarter of a century, Muslims in the New York area have yearly obtained the requisite permits for the event, during which they peacefully celebrate their culture. The photographs captured their break for prayers.

Might there be participants in the parade who are unsavory characters, Jew haters, even terrorists? Well, certainly (although there are rumored to be Irish and Italo-American anti-Semites too). Might there be books among those sold (along with foods and clothing) at the post-parade festival that promote anti-Semitic or anti-western sentiment? Could be. Some enterprising investigative reporter might want to drop by next year’s festival and see.

But even if some ugliness is uncovered, it will not cancel the ugliness – and affront to truth – that was the widely distributed e-mail.

There is, unfortunately, plenty of Islamist sentiment out there, plenty of anti-Semitism both straightforward and barely concealed behind an “anti-Israel” cloak, plenty of anti-Americanism and hatred for all that is good, to demonstrate that the threat radical Islam poses to civilized society is real and dire and pressing.

But does that provide us permission to believe, much less propagate, any charge brought against Muslims? What would we think if photographs of the massive celebration of the Siyum HaShas Talmud-completion were circulated and described as Jews gathering to plan a takeover of the country (or to celebrate accomplishment of the same)?

Our Jewish danger-sensors must be turned on always, but our Jewish brains no less. Truth is a high Jewish ideal. Our enemies use lies as their weapon. Are we not better than that? We should be.

We would never think of trying to extinguish a fire with gasoline. Why would we think that we can fight lies with more lies?

© 2010 AMI MAGAZINE

[Rabbi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami]

The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.

Communications: [email protected]

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