October 25, 2001
The Reason We Should Talk
Though a terrorist attack may demolish tall buildings, it will never succeed in leveling the spirits or the values that America represents.
This country will most certainly keep moving forward. Justice will prevail and healing will take place. Americans -- black, white, Chicanos, Orientals, Christians, Jews, Muslims -- must speak with one voice that we are 100 percent behind our government in finding and punishing those responsible for this heinous act. The terrorists attack is indeed against the values that America symbolizes (i.e. our freedom and the hope that America offers to those who come to its shores). Our prayers and tears are for those heroic and innocent people and their families who were casualties of this crime.
As the healing process commences, Jews and Muslims who live with each other in this country have a unique opportunity to improve their relationships with each other. It is predominately the politics in the Middle East that have influenced this relationship, and not any deep-rooted ideological schism. Interestingly, even the issues in the Middle East, as complex as they have become, can be helped if the American Jews and Muslims reach out to each other.
So far the relations between these two groups have been based on distrust, and therefore whatever attempts there have been of engaging in a dialogue have not borne any fruit.
Certainly the task is not at all easy. Yet if they choose to work together, American Jews and Muslims can not only contribute a great deal to the healing process that America needs, but also toward attainment of peace and prosperity in the Middle East.
In coming together there should be no illusion; each side must acknowledge the honest differences and hear each other out.
Obviously, a new language of discourse -- instead of old rhetoric -- will help move the dialogue along. Trust will build on each side only if the extreme elements are prevented from fanning the flames of hatred.
Regardless of the understanding on each side of geography, history and politics, our religious roots are one; once again this must be a sound basis of reaching out to each other.
While all American Muslims uniformly have condemned the recent act of barbarism, this is not enough; they must do more. They must not allow the miscreants and mischief-mongers to raise the old canard of a "Jewish conspiracy" behind the recent tragic events. Also, if after careful inquiry it unfortunately comes out that these acts have been perpetrated by misguided Muslims in the name of Islam, then as difficult as it is, the American Muslims must speak to others to point out that true Islam totally rejects and condemns these acts of barbarism. It should be an anathema to all Muslims that these terrorists would be identified with them as Muslims, much less that they should walk free in any place where Muslims hold sway. The American Muslims consistently should be in the forefront in condemning all acts of terrorism including suicide bombing anywhere where there is loss of life and property of noncombatants.
American Jews can be helpful in this situation. They have relationships and experiences with the media. Above all, they, more than others, understand how a religion can be tarnished or how a people can be persecuted and demonized. They can help in the effort to make the point that there is no "radical fundamentalist Islam" and when terrorism rears its ugly head "it's not Islam, it's politics."
One may choose to interpret the history of medieval times by applying the current standards of human rights and democratic principles to purposely find faults or assign blame to Islam and Muslims for mistreating the Jews. However, the fact remains that there was no wholesale massacre of Jews by the Muslims (even if one does not acknowledge the contrary, that the Jews in their Diaspora were indeed given refuge in Muslim lands). A more positive yet objective view of the historical relationship needs to be articulated.
There are American Jews and Muslims who have worked hard over the year to build bridges of understanding with all communities living in the United States. They are disturbed by the prospect of young people in their communities being poisoned with hatred. Instilling in the minds of young generations a love of peace, understanding, truth and justice is the challenge that lies ahead. The Torah states, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" and the Quran states "Oh mankind We [God] created you from a single pair of male and female that you may know each other -- not that you may despise each other." Indeed. Isaac and Ishmael, Jew and Muslim, were born from the same father, Abraham. The Muslim-Jewish conflict needs a solution but definitely not one based on hatred.
The knowledge of the fact that the road ahead is going to be even more difficult should not deter those from embarking on this journey. There are enough people in each community who are committed to peace, justice, and human rights, and working together they can redirect this relationship, which will not only produce results for their own communities but for a better America and a better world.