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This past Sunday, the predominantly Jewish suburb of Sarcelles in Paris suffered attacks by rioters, reportedly mostly Arab and North African youth, according to The Algemeiner, a New York-based Jewish news site. A kosher grocery and Jewish-owned pharmacy were burned to the ground and a synagogue firebombed. These incidents came a day after a rally in the north of Paris, called to protest the Israeli assault on Gaza, degenerated into violence that left 27 police officers wounded. The attacks left some in the Jewish community in France wondering if they needed to leave the country for their own safety.
Muslim residents of Brooklyn, New York, were also worried about their safety this past week, as reported in the New York Metro of July 22. Three young men circled a city block at least six times with flashing lights, blaring horns and waving Israeli flags as worshipers were arriving for morning prayers at 4 a.m. This was the latest in a series of hate crimes against Muslims in this neighborhood. In early July, residents along Ocean Parkway found anti-Muslim graffiti along Ocean Parkway. Last Friday evening, three older Muslim men in Coney Island were pelted with eggs and insults as they walked to the Thayba Islamic Center for prayer. “This is for your Allah,” the assailants allegedly shouted.
ING, in line with the principles of justice advocated by all our religious traditions, rejects notions of collective guilt and collective punishment. In situations of violence, whether in Gaza, in Paris, in Brooklyn, or elsewhere, it is all too easy to blame whole peoples and whole communities for the actions of a few. We call in particular on all those critical of Israeli actions to refrain from blaming those actions on the Jewish people as a whole, just as we call on those critical of organizations such as Hamas and those who join us in condemning the attacks in Sarcelles to refrain from blaming Muslims or Arabs as a whole. Every incident of violence should make us turn with greater determination to making peace in our hearts and in our actions with the diversity of peoples, cultures, and faiths in our world.
In Brooklyn, faith leaders from a variety of traditions clearly took that imperative to heart as they gathered last Tuesday to push back against the hate attacks against their Muslim sisters and brothers. “It makes me very deeply sad that anyone would behave in a harassing way to someone else’s worship,” Rabbi Valerie Lieber of the Kane Street Synagogue said. “And it makes me especially sad that it was Jews who were doing this.” Lieber argued that the disrespect to anybody’s worship is not American or Jewish and “does not help Israel.”
“I know many people are very upset about what is happening in Israel and Gaza,” she said, “And yet there are appropriate ways to express yourself — not to harass other people.”
The rioters in Paris were indeed allegedly upset by the situation in Gaza. Such attacks as these, however, have nothing in common with legitimate protest. There have been numerous expressions of sympathy in France with the population in Gaza, caught in the crossfire between Hamas and the Israeli government. All have been peaceful except for the two incidents mentioned.
The report in The Allgemeiner has drawn a whole series of virulently Islamophobic comments, some blaming the French government for admitting Muslims to France and other rehashing the usual allegations that Europe is about to be subjected to shariah law.
No evidence has been reported as to the religious affiliation of the rioters or any religious motivation for the Parisian riots. It is, nonetheless, clear that these horrific actions can easily be exploited by Islamophobes to stoke hatred of the Muslim community as a whole.
All this underscores the importance of what ING has presented this Ramadan on basic principles held by all religions. The crises of the present movement both put these principles to the test and demonstrate how crucial they are to the safety of our communities and our planet. Our world will know peace only when people of different cultures and religions find mutual understanding and respect—precisely as the varied faiths we profess call us to do.