Here’s a painful reality no one wants to hear.
In 2013 Israel forcibly administered birth control injections to Ethiopian Jewish women, and did so without their consent or knowledge. Likewise, more than half of the 135,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel live in poverty, and only half even have a high school diploma. The recent police brutality against Ethiopian Jews in Israel has again highlighted what many Ethiopian Jews consider ongoing racism and prejudice by Israelis and the Israeli government.
As a non-Jew I can approach this reality in two manners.
The first option is to recognize that an injustice exists, promulgated by a minority of people in Israel, and work to root out the ignorance and racism causing the aforementioned matters. I would become an ally to those Jews who oppose racism and injustice. I would recognize that the vast majority of Jews do. And I would offer myself as a support to create bridges of justice, understanding, and pluralism.
The second option is to demonize Judaism and all Jews, assume that the minority of intolerant Jews actually represent all Jews everywhere, hold a conference mocking Jews under the guise of free speech, invite racist hatemongers to lecture at that conference, and then play victim when people call me a bigot.
Because Islam teaches me to build bridges of understanding, promote universal freedom of conscience, recognize the equality of all humanity, and to remain always just — even in the face of injustice — I cannot possibly entertain the second option. In response to the injustice faced by Ethiopian Jews, I seek to find bridges of understanding and pluralism, not demonization of all Judaism or all Jews.
Therefore, I found it ironic, obscure, and nothing less than uncivilized when an anti-Islam hate group, led by an extremist far right hate monger who identifies as Jewish, launched a “Draw Muhammad Contest” in Texas under the guise of free speech. The hate group demonized all Islam and the world’s billions of Muslims by judging them according to the acts of a few extremists. The hate group invited the racist and anti-Islam bigot Geert Wilders to lecture at that conference. And the hate group succeeded only in providing more propaganda to extremists to falsely allege that Americans and Jews are anti-Islam.
We — meaning the rest of society who rises above bigotry and incivility — won’t fall for it. We recognize that free speech is a sacred right. We recognize that violence is never an acceptable response to incendiary and uncivilized speech, no matter how childish and ignorant such speech is. Indeed, the shooters who attacked the anti-Islam hate rally find no refuge in Islam or any civilized society. And we also recognize that those shooters do not represent anyone but their own vain twisted desires.
I’ve already written how Islam champions free speech, how ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, and how Muslim leadership emphatically condemns all forms of terrorism. There’s no shortage of such statements from Muslims the world over.
My appeal here instead is to ask all society — regardless of faith or no faith — to rise above bigotry and intolerance. Hold yourself to a higher standard of speech than the bare minimum the law requires. Elevate your morality, your civility, your consciousness, and your actions to a standard of wisdom and goodly exhortation.
We cannot expect to defeat extremism by providing extremists fodder for their next campaign video. No, we defeat extremism by taking away the one thing they want — hate. As His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam recently stated, “Let it not be that in the name of freedom of speech the peace of the entire world be destroyed.”
As a Muslim, I cannot tolerate demonization of all Jews and Judaism for the unjust acts of a few Israeli Jews towards Ethiopian Jews. Likewise, we cannot tolerate demonization of all Muslims and Islam for the unjust acts by some Muslims.
Should a bigot claim to be Muslim, Jewish, Christian, atheist, or whoever — bigots have no place in civilized society. Rather than blanket demonization, let us stand on the tenets of education, compassion, and pluralism — united against all forms of extremism.
That’s the reality we all want.