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Saturday 20 October 2007

Will Rabbi Yoffie's message resonate?

Will Rabbi Yoffie's message resonate?

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is becoming American Jewry's Daniel, boldly strolling
into lions' dens as diverse as the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty
University and, more recently, the annual convention of the Islamic
Society of North America. He has managed to cut through the ideological
and theological fog of the "family values" debate to propose a sexual
ethic for teens that is both moral and realistic. He stood up to
Israel's since-fallen president, Moshe Katsav, who couldn't bring
himself to call the leader of America's largest Jewish denomination
In his speech to the Islamic society, Yoffie was forthright and pointed
when he warned that "surely no religious cause...can ever justify
murdering the innocent or targeting the uninvolved." He managed to
acknowledge "dignity for the Palestinians" while reminding his audience
that "Muslims will need to accept the reality of Israeli vulnerability,
including the vulnerability of that tiny nation's ever-threatened borders."
However, the balance - between reconciliation and admonishment - seemed
Yoffie seemed to buy into a theme of victimization among Muslims and to
take on faith what a New York Times article on the convention called,
with little substantiation, "growing intolerance" toward Islam and its
Said Yoffie: "[T]here 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."
THERE MAY be no shortage of such folks, but does their message really
predominate outside the fringes of talk radio? What's remarkable in the
six years since 9/11, and is a testament to the tradition of tolerance
in much of America, is the absence of a vicious anti-Muslim backlash,
legal or social. If anything, Americans have been more eager than their
European counterparts to give their Muslim neighbors the benefit of the
Granted, Muslim individuals and their charities face legal scrutiny
since the attacks.
But there is scrutiny, and there is harassment. Yoffie says it is time
to "end racial profiling and legal discrimination of any kind against
Muslim Americans." But would he really prefer that law enforcement
groups relax their surveillance of certain groups and leaders who have
proved to be ripe for recruiting terrorists? Besides, is it "racial"
profiling or good police and intelligence work to track the ideas and
movements of the very groups from which radical ideas and even more
radical acts have sprung?
The same Times article cites "leaders of American Muslim organizations"
who see three main factors behind "growing intolerance" against Muslims:
global terrorist attacks in the name of Islam, disappointing reports
from the Iraq war, and the agenda of some supporters of Israel who try
[to] taint Islam to undermine the Palestinians."
Let me characterize those "factors" this way: hot, warm, ice cold.
Islamist terrorism is real, and intractable. It is not the product of a
mere "radical fringe" of Muslims. Al-Qaida finds fertile soil for its
fanaticism across the Middle East, in Indonesia, in downtown London.
There are plenty of bad ideas in the Muslim world being spread by people
who find haven in countries that coddle the fanaticism they profess to
We talk of a "war on terrorism," and even that phrase is a curiously
tolerant evasion. If we are in a war, it is against a dangerous, and
quite real, trend within Islam toward religious fanaticism and
nihilistic violence.
The majority of Muslims who do not embrace this radicalism undoubtedly
suffer the indignities inherent in the effort to root out those who do.
But it is important to stress - given the trauma of 9/11 and the daily
Muslim-on-Muslim death toll in Iraq or the deadly backlash against the
Danish Mohammed cartoons and the Taliban's return to Afghanistan - how
tolerant and patient Americans remain.
As for the "supporters of Israel who try [to] taint Islam to undermine
the Palestinians": Show me the ZOA or MEMRI news release that has even
the fraction of the power of an Islamist suicide bombing to tarnish
Islam, or the ability of an Internet "beheading" video to cement public
If Americans stereotype Muslims, it is not because the "Israel Lobby"
told them to. It is because innocent people feel targeted by those who
would kill them for not being Muslim, or not being a certain type of
Muslim, or, really, for no reason at all.
Yoffie's speech is canny, beginning with a direct appeal to what
concerns his listeners most. That leads to a "let's all agree" second
half that tries to enlist them in his vision of a two-state solution in
the Middle East, unequivocal denunciation of terror, and, most
interestingly, an effort to stop thinking of the Arab-Israel conflict in
religious terms.
Can Muslims make this distinction?
"Political battles" have political solutions; "holy wars" are fought
only to the bitter end. Americans are ignorant of Islam, no doubt, but
the main thing they want to know is if its leaders and followers are
able to separate the religious and the secular and if groups like ISNA
are able to stand up and say, like Yoffie, "Let us do everything in our
power to prevent a political battle from being transformed into a holy
The writer is editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.


At 31 January 2008 at 01:41 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is wrong with today's Jews?
A perspective of a moderate Muslim.

When Muslims criticize Jews chances are it's Islamists. You rarely see moderate (an I do mean real moderate, not Islamists like CAIR who claim to be moderate) Muslims saying unflattering things about the Jews. So, normally, when I see the Jews do dumb things i.e., supporting an Islamist congressional candidate because of partisanship (American Jewish World's support for Keith Ellison) or providing utilities to a terrorist enclave (Gaza), I try to keep my mouth shut. For obvious reasons. But not this time.

I thought I've seen everything: Cuban missile crisis, fall of Berlin wall, 9/11. Until recently, I thought that the father of modern terrorism getting awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was the most peculiar event in my lifetime. But a recent, largely unnoticed event, could take the cake in peculiarity contest.

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