On Friday, our world shook with news of yet another terror attack. As our British brothers and sisters were in the midst of their daily commute during the morning rush hour, when an explosive device detonated as a train pulled into the platform at the Parsons Green Station, injuring 30 passengers. While fear is a natural response, this shouldn’t be an opportunity for the media and opinion makers to tout that America should lead its Western allies in a War of Civilizations against Islam and Muslims.
Ironically, but not coincidentally, that is the same message that ISIS is propounding to Muslims around the world; most of whom, thankfully, are rejecting it. The reality is that the vast majority of Muslims in America and other Western countries despise ISIS’ hateful ideology. So, instead of demonizing Islam and all Muslims with a broad brush, Americans of diverse backgrounds should redouble our efforts to reach out to the peaceful moderate Muslim majority and speak out in opposition every time that prominent demagogues — including our government leaders — assert that American Muslims should be stripped of basic constitutional rights.
Why do I, a rabbi, advocate reaching out to Muslims? Because over the past ten years, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), which I serve as president, has been engaged in a highly successful effort to build ties of communication and cooperation between Muslims and Jews across America and around the world. During that time, I have come to know scores of Muslims — both leaders of organizations and grass roots folks — as personal friends, whom I know in my gut would no more support acts of murder and mayhem against innocent people than I would myself.
The juxtaposition of the savage terrorist attacks with the global expression of Muslim-Jewish friendship and solidarity represented by our Season of Twinning program, is striking. While, these attacks are calculated to cause people of different faiths and cultures to recoil from each other in fear and loathing, the Season of Twinning is about manifesting that Jews, Muslims and all people of conscience can not only co-exist, but can also nurture ties of friendship and trust.
I believe the entire civilized world must stand as one to vanquish ISIS and its hideous ideology of hatred and violence. Yet while fighting ISIS, we must resolve to work in close and fruitful cooperation with the vast majority of decent and peaceful Muslims in America and around the world. FFEU and like-minded organizations have demonstrated clearly over the past decade that such an approach can work. Indeed, the opposite approach; that of demonizing Islam and discriminating against Muslims, might cause some young Muslims to despair for their futures, and render them more receptive to the siren call of ISIS.
This reminder couldn’t be more pertinent as Jews and Muslims celebrate their respective New Year’s this week. It is a time when we focus on looking inwards for self-introspective and focus on bettering ourselves. The Eid al-Adha, one of the most joyous events in the Muslim calendar, just ended and while these holidays are very different, they do offer the opportunity for Jews and Muslims to take a few moments during the holiday observances to think about our brothers and sisters of the other faith, and pray for their happiness and well-being. Believe me, Jews and Muslims have much more that unites us than divides us; both in our core beliefs and in our common humanity.
This coming Sunday, I’m honored to serve as the Honorary Grand Marshal of the Muslim Day Parade which will take place in New York City. This is the first time a Jewish leader has been bestowed with the honor in the parade’s 32-year history and it is more critical than ever before as I stand with my Muslim brothers and show our solidarity with them.