“Islamofascism Awareness Week” Comes to American Campuses!
by Rabbi Arthur Waskow; The American Muslim; Oct 21, 2007
Did that title make the hair on the back of your neck bristle? Did it feel like a bigoted attack on Christianity and Judaism?
When the feature film sent out for use in this Week—which focused on the disgusting Christian-led war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the disgusting Jewish-led killing of Muslim children by airplane bombng raids on Gaza -– also included interviews with a few peacenik Quakers, Methodists, and left-wing Jews, criticizing that war and those bombings, did you relax, feeling it was a balanced presentation of Judaism and Christianity?
NO??!! —Your guts, your kishkes, felt that practically all Christians and Jews were being set up as potential – indeed probable— bad guys? Could-be terrorists who – often manipulated by governments that Christians or Jews controlled—-- hated other religious communities but had not yet got around to buying the plastique for their bombs?
And since Christians are a huge majority in America but Jews are a small minority with a past of being persecuted, did you especially fear for the impact of Judeo-Christo-Fascism Awareness on Jews and Judaism? That this Week might incite anti-Semitism?
Did you urge universities to condemn this “travesty” and institute instead a real Judeo-Christian Awareness Week that looked at the wonderful achievements of Christian and Jewish prayer, charity, and social justice; the history of their persecution; AND the history of their violence against others? That did look closely at the murders of Muslims by Baruch/Aror Goldstein – but as an aberration? And looked at the support of Nazism by the leading respectable Lutheran theologians of Germany as terrible – a mistake? That discussed the genocidal passages of Torah as a long-ago transcended worldview in the light of Hillel’s teaching, “Do not do to your neighbor what would be hateful if your neighbor did it to you?”
Wow. Now THERE’S a concept!— Do not do to your neighbor what would be hateful if your neighbor did it to you!
So what are you doing about the fact that there is NO such week about to appear on US campuses, but on many campuses this coming week, there WILL appear a whole industrial machine called “Islamofascism Awareness Week”?
If you think it would be hateful toward you to have somebody produce Judeo-Christo-Fascism Awareness Week, what do you owe your Muslim neighbors? Or is Hillel’s teaching (and of course Jesus’ parallel interpretation of “Love your neighbor as yourself") a mere utopian joke aimed at naïve children?
Are there some Muslims who claim the authority of God to kill and destroy? Yes. Are there some Jews who claim this? Yes. And Christians? Yes. What do we do about this?
There are two valid responses, aimed at loving connection-making rather than at demonization. One is to learn about what drives SOME of the members of EVERY religious community – even polytheistic Hindus and compassionist Buddhists —to using aggressive violence SOME of the time.
How do we brighten the threads of peace and justice and healing in ALL our traditions, while bleaching toward calm and caring the fiery blood-red threads of violence in all of them? Truly, what tugs us toward compassion, what toward war? Scarcities or plenitudes of water, of oil, of safety, of health care, of honor and respect?
The other path is to learn from and with each other rather than preserving our ghettos of fear and alienation.
On Labor Day weekend, I had the honor and the pleasure of being one of three rabbis who spoke at the national convention of the Islamic Society of North America —an immense gathering of more than 35,000 American Muslims, held in hotels near Chicago. ISNA is the umbrella group for American Muslims.
The other rabbis were Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform movement, and Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, vice-president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform rabbis), who is slated to be the next president of the CCAR. Both of them were eloquent, and both were welcomed with excitement and long applause. I will come back to them.
My own experience was joyful. I shared a panel on interfaith relations with, among others, Shanta Premawardanha, associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches. We both spoke about plans for the October 8 Interfaith Fast, and its meaning. Dr. Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, executive director of ISNA, chaired the session and added his own excitement that Jews and Christians were ready to take part in one day of the Ramadan fast, and his hope that mosques everywhere would welcome others to their prayers.
And then I went wandering the ISNA bazaar. Books bound in silver. Flimsy pamphlets on how to observe the New Moon. Arabic calligraphy. Jewelled crescent moons. Head scarves. Robes in white, in black, in purple. Meditation beads. Travel agents for trips to Mecca, Karachi, Fez, Istanbul, Nairobi.
And the people:
Every shade of skin, every twirl of hair. Jeans. Head scarves. Business suits. Long robes. Full-body covers, leaving only the eyes open to the world – and such eyes! From one ear, I heard “Asalaamu aleikum.” From another ear, “Wossup, bro?” Palestinian-Americans. African-Americans. Kuwaiti-Americans. Indonesian-Americans. Pakistani-Americans. Anglo-Saxon Americans.
One thing I did not hear, or see: Speeches or conversations or pamphlets that were anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli, anti-Christian. Maybe there were some in Arabic, or other languages. But the lingua franca of the conference was English.
Oh yes. ISNA, like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) was named by the US Department of Justice (under Attorney-General Gonzales) an unindicted co-conspirator in a case alleging a Muslim-American charity was funneling aid to Hamas.
AND – the FBI placed a full-page ad in ISNA’s program.
What is going on here?
Best-case scenario: Is the present government of the United States just crazy, does not know its right hand from its left? Worst-case scenario: is this good-cop/ bad-cop tactics? The government intimidates Muslims to cooperate with any intrusions the FBI cares to make, by smearing their name until they submit?
This “unindicted co-conspirator” label is both clever and vile. The government does not even have to persuade a grand jury – almost always ready to do what any prosecutor wants – that there is enough evidence even to begin trial. And once it puts the"co-conspirator" label on someone, there is no way to get acquitted – because you are not standing trial.
So they stuck this label on ISNA and also on CAIR – the Council on American-Islamic Relations. I have worked with both in efforts to end the Iraq war and to condemn terrorism.
While ISNA is a broad Islamic umbrella, CAIR is more analogous to the American Jewish Congress when Rabbi Joachim Prinz and later, Rabbi Henry Siegman were its directors and the AJCongress was still vigorously committed to protecting the human rights and civil liberties of Jews as well as of others.
In that vein, the feisty CAIR has condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, while in the name of God and Islam it has also condemned terrorist attacks upon Israelis. It has built strong American constituencies in local areas where there are sizeable Muslim communities.
Result: It is often condemned by those official Jewish organizations that brook no criticism of Israeli governmental policy and actions. It is accused of supporting terrorism although its website is full of condemnations of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis and of Al Qaeda on America. Thank God (and I do mean thank God), centrist American officials have rejected these attacks and have honored CAIR’s presence in the fabric of American life – as Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and former Admiral, now Congressman, Joe Sestak – did when they spoke at the annual CAIR dinner in Philadelphia.
I have gotten to know the staff of two local CAIR chapters—Philadelphia and Florida – as co-members of the Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah. Since the Tent (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) meets for extended retreats, sharing our spiritual journeys, our social-change work, and our prayer lives —I have gotten to know them in depth. I have been deeply impressed by them.
Back to Rabbis Yoffie and Dreyfus at the ISNA convention. Rabbi Dreyfus said, in part:
And finally Micah [the Prophet] tells us to walk modestly with our God. Of course this phrase, like so many others, is open to interpretation. I read it now to say that God has the power and the answers, and we need to be modest as we walk with God. In this context I would respectfully suggest that each of our faiths interprets God’s will and God’s expectations of us differently. We are only human, and cannot know everything. By walking modestly with our God, we recognize that we do not have all the truth and all the answers. I believe in religious pluralism. Pluralism recognizes that others hold truths that I do not share, but even while fundamentally disagreeing on what we hold sacred, we can respect others and their beliefs. This is, of course, very difficult and challenging, since we believe what we believe with great passion and sincerity. But it is the key to authentic interreligious relationships. …
As we listen to each other, as we weave together the strands of our Abrahamic faiths, we have the potential to face our common challenges, to serve God and humanity. May we continue the conversation as we journey forward together.
She was greeted with long and vigorous applause. For her full text, see — http://www.shalomctr.org/node/1303
And Rabbi Yoffie, speaking to a plenary session, said:
There exists in this country among all Americans — whether Jews, Christians, or non-believers — a huge and profound ignorance about Islam. It is not that stories about Islam are missing from our media; there is no shortage of voices prepared to tell us that fanaticism and intolerance are fundamental to Islamic religion, and that violence and even suicide bombing have deep Koranic roots. There is no lack of so-called experts who are eager to seize on any troubling statement by any Muslim thinker and pin it on Islam as a whole. Thus, it has been far too easy to spread the image of Islam as enemy, as terrorist, as the frightening unknown.
How did this happen?
How did it happen that Christian fundamentalists, such as Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham, make vicious and public attacks against your religious tradition?
How did it happen that when a Muslim congressman takes his oath of office while holding the Koran, Dennis Prager suggests that the congressman is more dangerous to America than the terrorists of 9/11?
How did it happen that a member of Congress, Tom Tancredo, now running for President, calls for the bombing of Mecca and Medina?
Even more important, how did it happen that law-abiding Muslims in this country can find themselves condemned for dual-loyalty and blamed for the crimes of terrorists they abhor?
And how did it happen that in the name of security, Muslim detainees and inmates are exposed to abusive and discriminatory treatment that violates the most fundamental principles of our constitution?
One reason that all of this happens is the profound ignorance to which I referred. We know nothing of Islam — nothing. That is why we must educate our members, and we need your help. And we hope in doing so we will set an example for all Americans.
Because the time has come put aside what the media says is wrong with Islam and to hear from Muslims themselves what is right with Islam.
The time has come to listen to our Muslim neighbors speak, from their heart and in their own words, about the spiritual power of Islam and their love for their religion.
The time has come for Americans to learn how far removed Islam is from the perverse distortions of the terrorists who too often dominate the media, subverting Islam’s image by professing to speak in its name.
The time has come to stand up to the opportunists in our midst — the media figures, religious leaders, and politicians who demonize Muslims and bash Islam, exploiting the fears of their fellow citizens for their own purposes. …
We hope to accomplish all this and more with our dialogue program. This dialogue will not be easy. … Because God is God and we are not God, we can recognize that other religions have much to teach us.
The dialogue will not be one way, of course. You will teach us about Islam and we will teach you about Judaism. We will help you to overcome stereotyping of Muslims, and you will help us to overcome stereotyping of Jews.
We are especially worried now about anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Anti-Semitism is not native to Islamic tradition, but a virulent form of it is found today in a number of Islamic societies, and we urgently require your assistance in mobilizing Muslims here and abroad to delegitimize and combat it.
A measure of our success will be our ability, each of us, to discuss and confront extremism in our midst. As a Jew I know that our sacred texts, including the Hebrew Bible, are filled with contradictory propositions, and these include passages that appear to promote violence and thus offend our ethical sensibilities. Such texts are to be found in all religions, including Christianity and Islam.
The overwhelming majority of Jews reject violence by interpreting these texts in a constructive way, but a tiny, extremist minority chooses destructive interpretations instead, finding in the sacred words a vengeful, hateful God. Especially disturbing is the fact that the moderate majority, at least some of the time, decides to cower in the face of the fanatic minority — perhaps because they seem more authentic, or appear to have greater faith and greater commitment. When this happens, my task as a rabbi is to rally that reasonable, often-silent majority and encourage them to assert the moderate principles that define their beliefs and Judaism’s highest ideals.
My Christian and Muslim friends tell me that precisely the same dynamic operates in their traditions, and from what I can see, that is manifestly so. Surely, as we know from the headlines, you have what I know must be for you as well as for us an alarming number of extremists of your own — those who kill in the name of God and hijack Islam in the process.
It is therefore our collective task to strengthen and inspire one another as we fight the fanatics and work to promote the values of justice and love that are common to both our faiths.
Rabbi Yoffie’s address brought a standing ovation from thousands of Muslims. Even if he had not been representing more than a million American Jews, what he said would have been, IS, profoundly important. For his full text, see – http://www.shalomctr.org/node/1302
Any honest and Godly assessment of Islam must, in this moment of extreme danger and high promise in our complex histories, include just such words as these. Any program, like the impending “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” that does not, is a slap in the face of the Living God we claim to celebrate.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, co-author, The Tent of Abraham; director, The Shalom Center http://www.shalomctr.org, which voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click on— http://www.shalomctr.org/subscribe