In Jerusalem, two Palestinian teenagers slashed an Arab man from Bethlehem, mistakenly thinking he was a Jew. In Haifa, a Jewish man stabbed a Jewish pedestrian, mistakenly thinking he was an Arab.
The irony of these individual hate crimes felt like a stab wound in my increasingly broken heart. We hate with no real knowledge of the other. We paint “those people” with a broad bush of pernicious stereotype to justify our hatred and our anger.
What we see in our world today rightly provokes our revulsion and anger. The hideous acts of evil we see perpetrated by radical Islamists make our blood boil. Today’s attack on a police officer in Philadelphia by someone claiming to kill for “Allah” was simply hideous, and I am so grateful for the valor of that officer that, even after being wounded, still did all he could to incapacitate his attacker, who was eventually captured.
The beheadings of innocent captives, guilty only of the crime of wanting to make a compassionate difference in a war-torn land, the rampaging murder of scores of innocents whose only crime was sitting in a Parisian café, or enjoying a rock concert, and the slaughter of innocent men and women gathering for a holiday party all rightly evoke in me, and I suspect in all of us, overwhelming anger and anguish.
Terrorism makes us feel vulnerable and scared. The threat of random attack makes us all wonder if we are safe, no matter how unlikely it may be that we will be affected. Electronic media and the 24 hour news cycle amplifies the evil acts of a very few to seem much larger and more pernicious than they are.
Feeling threatened, we want to feel safe. Feeling vulnerable, we want to feel secure. Feeling powerless, we want to feel powerful.
The problem is that our natural responses only make the problem worse. The narrative of the Islamist organizations declares that America hates Islam and wants to destroy it. Thus they teach they are justified to attack the West.
So to feel safe, we fall into the trap of stereotype. When we say, “let’s ban Muslims from our shores”, or declare that all Muslims are suspected of evil motives until they prove otherwise, we ratify their awful narrative. When Mosques and Islamic community centers get vandalized and attacked, we validate the warped thinking Islamists purvey.
But worse, when we tolerate our own bigotry and hatred, we fall even further into a place where we can look just like them.
For decades Israel has suffered nearly unrelenting terrorist attacks. It’s understandable how we can become hardened when scores of people are murdered in restaurants and city buses by suicide murderers, and now daily attempts to stab innocent pedestrians or to ram a car into a bus stop. But in our resentment and our anger, we cannot turn a blind eye to the acts of terrorism spawned in response.
Dozens of so-called “price tag” acts of vandalism and terror have been committed by members of extremist Jewish organizations of the past years. Beginning with acts of slashing tires of scores of cars, spray painting hate-filled messages anti-Christian or anti-Muslim messages like “Death to Arabs” or “Arabs Out!” or “Jesus was a Monkey and Mary a Cow” have grown to include acts of arson against churches and mosques and homes.
Finally on July 31, 2015 the home of the Dawabsha family in the village of Duma near Nablus was set on fire, killing an 18 month old boy, Ali Dawabsha, and eventually claiming the lives of three others, including his four year old brother and his mother, who had rescued her older son, and ran back into the fire to try to rescue Ali.
Even though there was nearly universal condemnation of the attack, still at a wedding last week, dozens of young men celebrated with guns and knives and stabbed a picture of baby Ali.
Incredulously, the rabbi who officiated at the wedding claimed that it was the Israeli Shin-Bet intelligence service that had committed the act of arson, in order to blame it on the settler movement.
Listening to the deranged comments of the extremist rabbi sounded shockingly like the claims of Islamist leaders that it was the CIA and the Mossad who committed the terror acts of 9/11 just to make war against Islam.
We must guard against the rise of hatred in our community, else we will be drawn to become the enemy we detest. The answer to terrorism cannot be found in asking the TSA to implement the inquisition. We will not defeat terrorism through bigotry, stereotype, xenophobia, or anti-Muslim hatred. While we may feel insecure, labels will not protect us. While we may feel disempowered, the dark power of hatred will not make us stronger.
What will protect us from terrorism is a combination of constant vigilance and an unwavering commitment to the ideals of understanding, justice, compassion, and love. The more we can break down pernicious stereotypes, the more we resist the temptation to paint people with a broad brush, the more we stand up and say “NO!” to bigotry, violence, and hatred, in all its forms, the stronger and safer we will ultimately be.
We, of all people, know how dangerous bigoted propaganda, misinformation, and stereotype can be. We, of all people, know how important it is for good people to stand up together and say “NO!” The Torah teaches that we cannot remain indifferent to the plight of our neighbor, and we cannot remain indifferent when we see the rise in hatred and bigotry among our own people.
The strength of our society is found in the admonition our tradition has taught for centuries: to love the stranger and to love our neighbors as ourselves, for as Gandhi taught: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”