Islamophobia & anti-Semitism


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Muslims Should Disarm Islamophobia With Kindness

By Mustafa Akyol


The Quran has many verses that command a courteous response to even a terrible insult to Islam.

Until the night of Jan. 18, Mila Orriols, a 16-year-old lesbian and atheist schoolgirl from southern France, probably did not expect to initiate a national controversy. But that is what happened when she live-streamed herself on Instagram while applying makeup, only to get into a quarrel with a man who, in her words, began “hitting on her heavily.” The online fight soon turned into matters of identity, and at some point the angry Mila said, “the Quran is a religion of hatred,” and used a vile vulgarity to describe Islam.

The very fact that she defined the Quran as “a religion” was a sign that Mila was not in touch with Islamic theology. (The Quran is the holy book of Islam, the religion). Yet still, her comment, which quickly spread on social media, was taken seriously by many French Muslims, some of whom reacted with anger. “I receive 200 messages of hate each minute,” Mila said, before she was put under police protection against death threats and went into hiding.

Since then, the Mila affair has become a national controversy in France, with numerous media stories, comments from President Emmanuel Macron, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Countless Twitter posts adopted the hashtag JeSuisMila# (“I am Mila”), evoking #JeSuisCharlie, the motto for supporting the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after Islamist terrorists claiming ties to Al Qaeda in 2015 attacked its office and murdered 12 people.

In other words, the Mila affair has become yet another episode in an oft-repeated pattern: A Westerner mocks or openly demeans Islam, often labeling it as a harsh, intolerant and violent religion. In return, some Muslims have harsh, intolerant or even violent reactions — without realizing that they only seem to confirm the accusation.

Of course, not all Muslims agree with this knee-jerk reaction; many simply prefer to stay silent. But while silence does not exacerbate the problem, it doesn’t solve it either. Other Muslims seek a response in identity politics, by slamming all critics of Islam as racists. But that best-defense-is-offense approach also doesn’t help much, nor does its premise — that Muslims are a race, which is not very accurate.

Here is what we Muslims should see: A very negative view of Islam, often called Islamophobia, is now a real, even lethal, problem in the world. In part, it derives from factors beyond our control — nativism in the West, Hindu supremacy in India or totalitarianism in China. But it is also caused by factors within us — the justification of many terrible deeds in the name of Islam today, from terrorism to tyranny, from patriarchy to bigotry. It is only normal that some non-Muslims are shocked by these wrongdoings, and judge Islam accordingly.

In return, it is mainly our duty to clean up our house, challenge the harsh interpretations of our faith and also build alliances with all the good-willed people who are committed to protecting human rights. Just last week, the German justice minister indicated that her country would do its part when she declared that far-right terrorists are Germany’s No. 1 threat. That statement came after a right-wing gunman with racist views killed nine mostly young people in a hookah bar in the city of Hanau.

Moreover, we should respond to Islamophobia in a way that will not reinforce it, but rather disarm it.

The answer is right there in the Quran.

First, the Quran warns us against what unfortunately has become a dominant mood in the contemporary Muslim public sphere: anger. Verse 3:134 defines good Muslims, rather, as “those who restrain their anger and who forgive people.” Other verses also praise prophets such as Abraham, Isaac and Shuaib for having hilm, a moral virtue that implies forbearance, gentleness and forgiveness.

In verse 16:125, the Quran also explains how hilm must be practiced when Muslims are in conversation with others:

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching. Argue with them in the most courteous way … .”

In another verse, 41:34, the Quran goes even further, advising what we today call “killing with kindness”:

“Good and evil cannot be equal. Repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an intimate friend.”

So, in the light of these verses, the Muslim reaction against Islamophobia should be calm and gentle, and “in the most courteous way.” Muslims should even go out of their way to win the hearts and minds of those who seem hostile.

One reason this doesn’t happen often enough is that the verses quoted above have not fully defined the Islamic perspective on engagement with non-Muslims. The Quran also has verses commanding war against “unbelievers” until they are converted or subdued. In medieval Islam, these belligerent verses were taken as the pivotal ones by the mainstream jurisprudential tradition, which unmistakably grew under conquest-hungry empires. This tradition even explicitly “abrogated” more than a hundred Quranic verses that preached civility, including the ones just quoted above — 16:125 and 41:34.

Worse than that, medieval Muslim jurists invented severe blasphemy laws to punish anyone who insulted Islam. Among these jurists were the 48 Christians of Cordoba who, in the mid-ninth century, publicly defamed the Prophet Muhammad, only to be beheaded for it. Clearly, killing with kindness was gone, and replaced by killing with the sword.

Today, the verdicts behind such grim episodes still inspire extremists in the Muslim world. However, we, the reasonable Muslims, don’t have to blindly abide by medieval jurisprudence. We can take peace, not war, as the normal state of human affairs. Similarly, we can defend our faith not with the dictates of power, but the appeals of reason and virtue.

With that in mind, if I were a Muslim leader in France, here is how I would respond to Mila: I would send her a kind letter filled with hilm. “We respect your freedom of speech, and regret the hate poured on you,” it would read. “But ours is really a religion of compassion, not hate.” I would also add a helpful introductory book on Islam, and even a nice bouquet of flowers.

Perhaps then, the young Mila Orriols would see Islam in a brighter light. And with her, the rest of French society, and maybe even the broader modern world.

Mustafa Akyol (@akyolinenglish) is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute, and the author of “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.”


The title of your thread is wrong.
There's nothing such as "irrational fear of Islam."
It's only rational to fear such a religion.

Not interested in taking part in this conversation until your correct the title.


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Queen Esther, a Hero for Our Time
A paradox of Jewish fragility and heroism.

By Meir Soloveichik


A 19th-century depiction of Esther (born Hadassah), the queen of Ahasuerus and the heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther. Credit...Fine Art Images/Heritage Images, via Getty Images
A perplexing paradox lies at the heart of Purim, the holiday celebrated this week by Jews around the world. No day is more associated with Jewish joy; yet rightly understood the scriptural source of our celebration — the biblical book of Esther — proclaims a terrifying teaching.

Let us briefly review the plot. The Persian king Ahasuerus — the character in the Bible most akin to Henry VIII — is overcome by drunken rage and rids himself of his wife. In a contest eerily akin to reality shows today, he conducts a search for a new queen, ultimately choosing a beautiful Jewish woman named Esther, who is advised by her cousin Mordecai not to disclose her religious identity. Haman, the high-ranking minister to Ahasuerus, convinces the king to decree a genocide of the Jews. Urged into action by her cousin, Esther plays on the king’s paranoia, engaging in court intrigue to turn him against Haman, who is hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. At Esther’s initiative, and with Ahasuerus’ encouragement, Jews across the empire wage war against Haman’s allies, and Mordecai is given the political position once held by Haman. The central ritual of Purim is the reading of this biblical book aloud in synagogue as a celebration of Jewish salvation and the defeat of anti-Semitism.

Yet as the final words are read, and joyous song erupts in the sanctuary, the careful reader realizes that the security of Persian Jewry, and of Mordecai and Esther, is anything other than assured, and that even the swift nature of Haman’s fall is a reflection of terrifying political instability. In such a society, with such an unbalanced and capricious king, could not another Haman easily arise?

The disquieting conclusion of Esther’s tale was eloquently described by my great-uncle, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. “If a prime minister who just yesterday enjoyed the full confidence and trust of the king was suddenly convicted and executed,” he reflected, “then who is wise and clairvoyant enough to assure us that the same unreasonable, absurd, neurotic change of mood and mind will not repeat itself?” The Purim tale reminds us that a government, and the society it oversees, can turn against its most vulnerable in a matter of moments. This is why, he argued, Esther’s story is no triumphal tale; on the contrary, it is “the book of the vulnerability of man in general and specifically of the vulnerability of the Jew.”

That it was Rabbi Soloveitchik who understood this isn’t a coincidence. As a young man in the 1920s, he had traveled from Eastern Europe to study philosophy in the University of Berlin. The city was then a center of Jewish intellectual and cultural achievement; Rabbi Soloveitchik would have met coreligionists who saw themselves as both German and Jewish, who had served the kaiser in the First World War and were patriotically committed to their country’s future. They would have spoken of the Enlightenment, and progress, and religious acceptance in their society. Then that very same society embraced a Haman-figure, and the lives Jews knew in Europe disappeared forever. Small wonder, then, that a rabbi who escaped this inferno would recognize the frightening implications of Jewish vulnerability inherent in Esther’s tale.

Why, then, is Purim marked as a holiday? If the conclusion of Esther is more nerve-racking than is often thought, what is the source of our joy? The answer, in part, is that it is this very vulnerability that makes Jewish heroism possible, and that is why, on Purim, we focus on the woman that gave this biblical book her name: it is Esther whom we celebrate. Precisely because of the constancy of Jewish vulnerability, we glorify Esther’s initiative, courage, and wisdom to inculcate these same virtues in our posterity.

Here we must understand how different the Book of Esther is from every other book in the Hebrew Bible. In this tale no mention is made of the divine; the Jews inhabit a world devoid of revelation. Whereas in every other scriptural tale political engagements are under prophetic instruction, in the Persian court God gives no guidance to the Jews facing a terrible danger. Esther, Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, faced an unprecedented question: “How can the Jew triumph over his adversaries and enemies if God has stopped speaking to him, if the cryptic messages he receives remain unintelligible and incomprehensible?”

In this sense, Esther is the first biblical figure, male or female, to engage in statesmanship. Previous heroes — Moses and Elijah, Samuel and Deborah — are prophets who are guided and guarded by the Divine, but Esther operates on instinct, reflecting a mastery of realpolitik. As Isaiah Berlin wrote in his essay “On Political Judgment,” great leaders practice affairs of state not as a science but an art; they are, more akin to orchestra conductors than chemists. Facing a crisis, they “grasp the unique combination of characteristics that constitute this particular situation — this and no other.” Esther is the first scriptural figure to embody this description, emerging as a woman for all seasons, a hero celebrated year after year.

Purim thus marks the fragility of Jewish security, but also the possibility of heroism in the face of this vulnerability. It is therefore a holiday for our time. Around the world, and especially in a Europe that should know better, anti-Semitism has made itself manifest once again. As Esther’s example is celebrated, and Jews gather in synagogue to study her terrifying tale, we are reminded why, in the face of hate, we remain vigilant — and why we continue to joyously celebrate all the same.

Meir Soloveichik, the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, is the director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.