Our hearts go out in sympathy to all of the innocent who perished in Paris at the hands of fanatics.
The appalling events in Paris remind us that we live in a world where hatred and violence cannot be tolerated or ignored. If we fail to deal with the people and the ideology of those who harbor such behaviors, beliefs and motivations before they commit heinous crimes, they can and will erupt in ways that harm many innocent people.
Unfortunately, the most efficient way to prevent further acts of terror is to enact a police –state type regime, which would be intolerable in a modern democratic society. The only other way is to very carefully open the door to dialogue and understanding. This takes a great deal of time and leadership from the political class. Do we have the vision and courage in Western countries for such an initiative?
Several years ago, in July of 2011, a Norwegian fanatic calmly took a rifle and murdered 77 young people attending a summer camp organized by a liberal political party. At trial, he told the judges, if given the opportunity, he would do it again.
Anders Behring Breivik committed one of the worst acts of mayhem and violence in Europe since the Bosnian War. It was a political act carried out in the name of right wing extremism. As much as it horrified the world, it did not generate anywhere near the upheaval and political recriminations that I believe will come from the events this week in Paris. It was simply dismissed as the act of a lunatic. Will the terrorism in Paris also be shrugged off after a year or two?
I can safely predict that, if Europe erupts in anti-Moslem rhetoric and ultimately anti-Moslem legislation, then all Westerners will be in even greater danger. The cycle of suspicion, hatred and violence will only escalate. Here’s why:
Judging from the events of recent years the West and Islam appear to be on a continuous confrontation course, especially in Europe. In truth, the confrontation goes back over a thousand years-- from the Crusades, to the colonization of North Africa by France in the 19th century, to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are feeling today the repercussions OF all these violent interactions magnified by the relative ease of travel, the availability of military grade weapons and modern communication.
Without sounding too simplistic, it is clear to me is that Moslems and Westerners, despite our centuries of contact, know far too little about each other’s culture and religion. Each side has demonized the other, exacerbated by repeated military confrontations. This lack of knowledge is a crucial factor in the accelerating cycle of violence which has buffeted the Middle East, Europe and North America for many decades.
In this terrible conflict, there have been a few moments when we managed to create an opening for dialogue and sanity. I was very proud to be an American when, following the aftermath of the 9-11 attack, then President George W. Bush invited American-Moslem leaders to the White House and spoke to our shell shocked nation movingly about tolerance and understanding. This is precisely what the president of France should do today.
I urge you, as members of the American Jewish community, to be a beacon of tolerance and understanding in a world where so many are quick to label and condemn without knowing much more than a few words seen on what passes for the news on TV.
We Jews know how it feels to be labelled as “other.” The process of transforming the paradigm from “them and us” or the “other” into a more cohesive and tolerant society is painfully difficult, but vital. This is, in my opinion, the only alternative to increased hostility, confrontation and ultimately more bloodshed in our now very small world.
See you in shul,
Steven L. Silver, Rabbi