Following the wave of violence and unruly chaos that we have witnessed in the past weeks across the Muslim world in response to a disgraceful yet amateurish satirical production that mocked Islam and its Prophet Muhammad, it is worth taking a moment to ponder the absolute hypocrisy, the sheer disrespect and the inverse morality of some of the leaders of the countries where the opposition is most fierce. One example strikes me as particularly pertinent.
Some months ago, an Iranian leader, indeed First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, appeared at a UN-sponsored conference on drug-trafficking and outrageously attacked the Talmud, one of Judaism’s most precious and revered books. Rahimi incredulously accused the Talmud as having as its objective to “destroy the world.” Rahimi added to his comments that “The Talmud teaches that it is lawful to acquire wealth through legal and illegal means… which gives (the Jews) the right to destroy humanity.”
It doesn’t require a Torah scholar to know that these statements are devoid of any veracity and are furthermore a despicable insult to Judaism and its core values. The Talmud, as anyone remotely aware of Jewish life will tell you, is at the heart of learning in yeshivot throughout the Jewish world and the basis of daily living for Orthodox Jews; essentially it is a guide to living a Jewish life.
The point of this article, however, isn’t to defend the Talmud and its beautiful contribution to Jewish life, ethics and philosophy; nor is it an attempt by any means to defend the vitriolic production that has understandably offended Muslims, sparking a wave of fury that is increasingly becoming common in this part of the world.
Rather, this piece is about the double standards of those who preach in the name of religion, becoming enraged at the sight of their sages being depicted adversely yet failing to have the decency to respect and honor the way of life of others.
Despite the outrageous nature of the comments that regularly emerge from Muslim countries, which strike at the very heart of the values of others, we rarely see assassination attempts on their ambassadors, their flags being burnt or their very existence being called into question. When Rahimi made his comments, there weren’t mass rallies across the State of Israel and the rest of the Jewish world belligerently calling for the destruction of the Iranian regime. It is here that the gross hypocrisy and double standards lie.
Within any democracy exists the right to question, to challenge, and most importantly, to offend. If one wants to criticize and cause offense, one has that right. Both irrational Iranian political leaders and foolish American filmmakers have the right to their opinions, as flawed as they may be. Of course, we have to learn where to draw the lines, but it is the response that is the issue. It is a debate and not a fight. It is a debate that should take place in courtrooms, universities and academic journals. The debate should be one of truth, evidence, academic prowess, and most importantly, mutual respect.
Indeed, in the very spirit of the Talmud, a book that urges debate and dispute but in a context of respect, we should take inspiration in debating the difficult questions that surround creating a democratic society — instead of killing each other. Violence is the antithesis of democracy.
What we have seen here is neither truth nor respect but rather a gross double standard and failure to understand the basic tenets of democracy. As long as this continues, certain parts of the Muslim world will never achieve true freedom.