As President Obama aptly stated, “we are not at war with Islam.” However, we are at war with the people who pervert the Muslim faith to support death and destruction. They are motivated by radical interpretations of Islam and we should not shy away from identifying them as such. During World War II, we identified the enemy as Nazi Germany. When the Soviet Union threatened world stability, again, we identified the enemy as communism. If the goal is to eliminate the threat, then let’s be clear about who is trying to harm us and the reasons behind it.
Why have the fascists, communists and now the Islamists gone after the Jews? Because in their assaults on democratic values, on freedom, on modernity, they know the Jews represent them all. They see Jews as a particular evil, so they start with the Jews.
But it doesn’t stop there. Why the reluctance of democratic societies to recognize that anti-Semitism is the canary in the coal mine? Partly it’s out of a desire to live with illusions, to convince oneself that things are not so bad. Attacks on Jews are one thing, but that doesn’t mean that we are at risk.
And partly, it’s remnant of the deeply embedded stereotypes about Jews that held sway for centuries: the Jews are the “other” and the Jews bring on themselves their own victimhood.
Our efforts to get Western countries to protect their Jews must therefore not only rest on moral arguments. We must work to demonstrate, as Paris showed so powerfully last month, that standing up for the Jewish community is indeed to stand up for the well-being of democratic society.
Propaganda disseminated by Islamic extremists regularly promotes anti-Semitism and is often packaged with explicit calls for violence against Jewish targets around the world. These groups are focused on exploiting hatred of Jews in an effort to connect with, appeal to, and ultimately recruit a cadre of would-be extremists in the United States, Europe and around the world.
Last summer, they used the war between Hamas and Israel to advance their own missions and rally recruits. Just a few days ago, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, al-Shabaab, released a video justifying the September 2013 terror attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi and encouraged similar attacks on “American or Jewish-owned” shopping centers.
The terror attacks in Paris and Denmark serve as another wake-up call to Jewish communities around the world of the continued danger posed by individuals motivated by radical interpretations of Islam. Those attacks, and the dozens of additional plots against Jews and Jewish institutions around the world, including in the United States, underscore the urgent need for an examination of the role of anti-Semitism in terrorist indoctrination as part of any effort to mitigate the threat of violent extremism.
The success of the recent White House summit on extremism is dependent on what happens in communities across America — a point the president stressed in his address. Boston’s political, community, and religious leaders must work together to curb the harmful consequences of the spread of hateful rhetoric and ideologies.
We need strategies to deconstruct the extremist narrative and use communication platforms to disseminate a counter-narrative. The pulpit is one of the oldest and most effective platforms. Clergy of all faiths play a tremendous role in putting forth a counter-narrative, focusing on American pluralism, inclusiveness, and democracy. Extremist recruiters are looking for vulnerable people who will buy into their mission. If we don’t give their prospects better options soon, it will be too late.
Islamic extremists have shown no restraint in murdering Muslims, Christians and Jews. They target Jewish institutions, democratic freedoms and law enforcement. They have identified us as the enemy; we should not hesitate to do the same.