When hate speaks, how much are we supposed to listen?
2011 began with some bleak news for Muslim-Christian relations around the world.
Recent attacks against churches in Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt have killed dozens of Christian worshippers. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is standing by the country's controversial blasphemy law which critics say threatens religious minorities.
How should political and religious leaders deal with these challenges to interfaith relations?
The world has focused its attention on the heinous attack on a Coptic Church in Egypt, where last Saturday jihadists committed another act of terror in the name of Islam, this time killing 21 and wounding 100 worshipers attending a midnight mass. On January 4th, Punjabi Governor Salman Taseer was murdered by one of his own body guards for among, other offenses to Islamist sensibilities, defending Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who stands condemned to death for allegedly violating Pakistan's strict anti-blasphemy laws.
Events like this bombing not only inflict horrors on other Muslims. Religious minorities of the Middle East are being persecuted everywhere in that wider region and their numbers are plummeting even in countries like Lebanon where they used to represent a significant aspect of both the population and local culture. Without a doubt the global reputation of Islam suffers each time a bomb goes off to chants of "Allahu Akhbar." In this recent tragedy there has also been the unfortunately typical lunacy from Islamists' quarters such as Iran's official TV station as well as clerics around Egypt blaming "The Jews" of perpetrating an act so incredibly evil that it boggles the mind that anyone would proudly claim it as their holy deed.
Fortunately, there have been some positive responses from other Muslim sources such as the prominent Al-Ahzar University which issued a condemnation, as well as ordinary Muslims, a group of whom have surrounded Coptic Churches to protect celebrations of Christmas, which is now occurring on the Coptic calendar.
The commission of terrible crimes like these in the name of Islam, which do not show any sign of abating, have been predicted with sad accuracy by one of the most interesting recent guests to visit the Eliezer brownstone at Yale University. Tarek Fatah, whose most recent book is entitled; The Jew is Not My Enemy: Uncovering the Roots of Islamic Antisemitism, has been warning his fellow believers that a flawed interpretation of Islam is behind the desire of Islamists to dominate not only other religions but to stifle discourse within the tradition which might bring out moderate and tolerant strains of the faith that he believes are its true character, and the character of its founder. Mr. Fatah is a smart and brave man and most importantly, he is an identified Muslim, seeking to elevate the tradition rather than disprove or tear it down. His book is written for a Western audience that he sees is all too ready to explain away misdeeds of Muslims out of a kind of twisted pity, but it is also a book for Muslims, a guide towards greater participation in a diverse world that is only getting smaller.
We non-Muslims can only offer our support to those who preach peace, but we should not be expected to disbelieve our eyes and ears when we are shown and told with terrible consistency that there is a very active element of Islam that believes we who hold other faiths must be eradicated or subjugated.
The views expressed by Rabbi Shmully Hecht do not necessarily reflect those of the Eliezer membership at large.