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April 21, 2014 | 21st Nisan 5774

One God?

Galilee Diary #308, October 22, 2006
Marc J. Rosenstein

Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and the whole Israelite community… When Phinehas, son of Elazar son of Aaron the priest saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand, he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly.

-Numbers 25:6-8

A thriving industry has developed since 9/11 in the production of works of research, literature, and commentary proving that terror, fanaticism, fundamentalism, world domination, intolerance, and misogyny, among other unsavory behaviors, are built-in in Islamic religion, Arab culture, or both. Verses from the Koran can be adduced to demonstrate the roots of these activities, not to mention violent hostility to the Jews. Most of this literature, of course, is being produced by Christians in Europe and America, although there are certainly Jewish scholars and pundits and preachers participating in the effort. This campaign, which has now risen (or descended) to the level of public discussion of whether it is OK for Moslem women to wear the veil in public, is making me increasingly uncomfortable. A few thoughts:

1. This view is popular in Israel, as it makes our moral position vis a vis the Palestinians much less ambivalent: if the other side is really the manifestation of a deep-seated, world-wide, implacable system of evil, then we don’t have to listen to the voices arguing that we ourselves bear some responsibility for the continuation of the conflict. We should not even consider ever negotiating with the Palestinians who have now shown their true colors by electing a Hamas government, and the only long term solution is a biblical battle of extermination (hopefully, our God will be stronger). Daunting, but morally simple.

2. For the Europeans, too, this approach helps simplify their impossibly complex situation: in recent decades, blond, Christian Europe has been flooded with immigrants who are dark and Moslem, whose culture is really very different from what had been assumed to be "European," and whose numbers are such that they must be reckoned with as a cultural, social, and economic part of Europe. The classical understanding of what is "French," or "German," or "English" is being undermined by this shift in demography, and it seems that European society is struggling to cope with and understand its new identity (or is it identities?). Christian Europe tried oh so hard to get rid of its Others 70 years ago, and the effort crashed in flames. Now what?

3. Give me a break. We don't have to dig very deep to find passages in the Hebrew Bible that are horrendously offensive to our humane sensibilities – and examples of cruel and intolerant behavior by Jews in both ancient and modern times, in the name of God and Israel. And it goes without saying – but maybe it shouldn't – that the amount of Christian, Moslem, Jewish, and pagan blood spilled by Christians in the name of the God of love over the past 1,000 years dwarfs all the most grandiose plans of El Qaida.

Demonization of the Other is of course a time-honored phenomenon, and can be quite effective, as we Jews know from historical experience. However, it really isn't very useful if what you are trying to do is make the world a better, safer, saner place. It doesn't give us the tools or the motivation for any kind of social change, economic progress, or educational endeavor. Its moral simplification of a confusing reality is comforting, and it's good for fund-raising, vote-getting, and submerging (or suppressing) differences (1984? Been there, done that). But I continue to believe that its doomsday vision is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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