December 18, 2009
Mosque attacks rare
It was an atrocious attack on a place of worship all too familiar to Jews around the world. Congregants arrive to find charred remnants of a destroyed holy place. In this case, though, it was not a synagogue, but a mosque.
In the West Bank town of Yasuf, just south of Nablus, attackers burned prayer mats and Muslim holy texts. No arrests have been made in the case, which occurred last Friday. Israeli police have been forbidden entry to the mosque and so questions may arise about whether this was a provocative incident perpetrated not by Jewish extremists but by Palestinian ones. However, it appears that the attack was perpetrated by Jewish extremist settlers acting out against the Israeli government's settlement policy, which aims to slow expansion of Jewish communities in the West Bank.
The graffiti reflected the messaging of the settler extremists, who promise that Palestinians will "pay the price" for any hardening of Israeli settlement policy. Graffiti left on the premises read, in Hebrew, "Get ready to pay the price" and "We will burn you all."
During an historic visit to the scene of the crime, Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger seemed to acknowledge that the act was an attack by one faith group against another. In a rare comparison, the chief rabbi referred to the Shoah in condemning the incident.
"There were hundreds of synagogues. They took all of the holy books out onto the street and burned them," Metzger said. "We are still living this trauma. And in the state of Israel we will not allow a Jew to do something like this to Muslims."
In the shadow of global media attention to the mosque attack, allegations of a macabre anti-Christian attack in Gaza have been almost ignored. The Egyptian-Canadian Christian leader Majed El Shafie alleges that the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza is disinterring Christian bodies from their cemetery plots, claiming the remains pollute the earth.
Less morbid, but more serious, is the panoramic persecution of Christians all across the Muslim world. From Nigeria to Egypt, Sudan to Iran, Christians and other non-Muslims are terrorized and killed, sometimes by state sanction. (Crimes against Jews in Muslim countries are minimal, of course, because, in the past six decades, Jews have been forced to abandon their homes across the Arab and Muslim world.) The attack on Christian gravesites in Gaza, if reports are accurate, is consistent with the systematic desecration of non-Muslim graves and holy sites in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the years of Jordanian occupation, as well as under the Palestinian Authority.
In the Muslim world today, the concept of religious pluralism – that beliefs other than Islam are to be respected – has rarely taken hold. The general view, and often the official view, is that there are Muslims and there are infidels.
Judaism, by dint of its non-evangelical approach, is an inherently pluralist tradition. Israel, the world's only Jewish state, is a model of religious pluralism and the only place in the region where religious minorities are free and protected.
Christianity, with the exception of some evangelical segments, has accepted the view that disagreement on core theological issues should not be cause for violence or extreme disrespect.
Where religious intolerance is most rampant in the 21st century is in Muslim countries – where Islam is state law and where, in Saudi Arabia for example, other religions are explicitly illegal. This intolerance is sweeping Europe as well, as Muslim populations there rise and where attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions are reaching horrific proportions, prompting Jewish emigration to Israel and North America.
The attack on the Palestinian mosque last week captured the world's attention in part because it so clearly parallels, as the chief rabbi pointed out, the antecedents to genocide in the 1940s. Even so, the graphic parallel can distract from global reality. Worldwide, it is not Muslims who are under systematic assault either by raging street thugs or by official intolerance. On the contrary, religious intolerance is most rampant and street thuggery is assaulting religious minorities in Muslim countries and in Europe, where the vast proportion of anti-Semitic attacks are perpetrated not by neo-Nazis or other white supremacists, but by extremist Muslims.
So while last week's mosque attack is despicable and lamentable, it is newsworthy precisely because of its rarity. The incidents of synagogue burnings and graffiti attacks are so regular in Europe today that they hardly merit mention in media.