By Rabbi Marc Schneier
Ever since the ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in Paris, replete with horrendous media images of remorseless killers remorselessly gunning down scores of concert goers while intoning 'Allahu Akhbar' (God is great), we have heard a growing drumbeat in the media by influential opinion makers 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 Muslim majority and speak out in opposition every time those prominent demagogues -- including presidential candidates -- assert that American Muslims should be stripped of basic constitutional rights.
Why do I, an Orthodox rabbi, advocate reaching out to Muslims? Because over the past eight 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.
Indeed, many of these people are even now speaking out clearly and unambiguously, against the monstrous crimes of ISIS and Al-Queda. Azhar Azeez, President of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest umbrella body for Muslims in the U.S. and Canada and with which FFEU has worked closely to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations, declared, "We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks in Paris. No religious tradition can ever justify nor condone such ruthless and senseless acts of violence." The Muslim-Public Affairs Council, another important American Muslim organization, placed a French flag on its Facebook page in solidarity with the victims of what it called the "despicable" Paris attacks. Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, described the killings as "horrific and abhorrent", while French Muslim commentators like Fateh Kimouche, founder of the prominent French Muslim blog Al Kanz and FFEU's own European coordinator, Samia Hathroubi, made the point that all of France, including its large Muslim population, stand together in a "united front against terrorists".
Meanwhile, the leaders of many Muslim countries in Asia and the Arab world issued unequivocal condemnations of the Paris attacks; pointing out that these actions are diametrically opposed to the values of mercy in Islam and adding that that eliminating terrorism would require a "concerted effort" from a "unified moral stance".
It is ironic that the savage Paris attacks, which followed by less than 24 hours, ISIS inspired bombings in Beirut that took several scores of lives, most of them Muslim -- took place two weeks after FFEU launched its annual two-month long Season of Twinning, during the course of which thousands of Muslims and Jews in 20 countries around the world will hold joint events focused on the theme of 'We Refuse to Be Enemies.' Since November 1, we have already held inspiring twinning Muslim-Jewish events on this theme in such diverse locales as Trenton, NJ, Washington, New York, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Winnipeg, Canada, San Jose, CA, and Manchester, UK, with scores of events still to come in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, Montreal, London, Brussels, Berlin, Copenhagen, Warsaw, Vienna, Malmo, Tel Aviv, Tunis and many other locales (for details of recent events, click links to our Season of Twinning Blog and FFEU Facebook page.)
The juxtaposition of the savage terrorist attacks with the global expression of Muslim-Jewish friendship and solidarity represented by the Season of Twinning, is striking. While, the attacks were 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.
So let Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of all faiths and none, step forward together and declare, as the proud French people are doing in the wake of these horrendous terror attacks; 'Nous Sommes Unis', (We are United). Let us declare also as participants in the Season of Twinning are doing in cities around the world; 'We Refuse To Be Enemies'. Let us collectively empower ourselves by publicly embracing each other and affirming that together we can build a better world in which our children and grandchildren will live together in peace and harmony. The time for action is now.
Rabbi Marc Schneier is President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and is the co-author, with Imam Shami Ali, of Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues the Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims, Beacon Press