January 8, 2015
Dear Friend of Israel,
It has happened again. This week, heavily armed radical Islamist gunmen stormed the offices of a newspaper in Paris, killing 12, including the editor-in-chief of the paper and two policemen. The gunmen could be heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is great” – on videos of the attack.
What sort of offense could have merited such a violent response? The newspaper, called Charlie Hebdo, was known for publishing satirical cartoons of political and religious figures. In the past, it had published cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed in a negative light, and radical Islamists reacted the way radical Islamists often do in such situations – by murdering in cold blood those they believed responsible for insulting their faith.
This despicable act echoes similar acts in recent years. In 2004, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a radical Islamist on the streets of Amsterdam while on his way to work. Van Gogh’s “crime” was producing a film titled Submission that was highly critical of the treatment of women under radical Islam.
In 2005-2006, furious over cartoons critical of their religion that were first published in a Danish newspaper and later reprinted across Europe, protestors attacked and burned the Danish embassies in Lebanon and Syria. In Gaza, masked gunmen took over European Union offices. In Europe, the protests were less violent but no less disturbing – demonstrators in London carried signs saying “exterminate those who mock Islam” and “prepare for the real Holocaust.”
The list of bloody responses to perceived insults to the religion of Islam could go on. And it’s important to note that there is an astonishing double standard – and astonishing hypocrisy – at work here. Vile and stereotypical depictions of Jews appear almost daily in the Arab press, many of them far worse than the drawings that led to Islamist attacks on European newspapers. Christians in the U.S are used to having their faith made light of in newspapers, magazines, on television, and on the internet. Yet, neither Jews nor Christians riot or even threaten violence in response to these insults.
This is much more than just an issue of freedom of the press. And these violent responses raise the fundamental question of how free and democratic societies – like the U.S. and Israel – should respond to Islamic radicalism. These acts force us to ask ourselves – will violence and intimidation rule the day, or will freedom and the rule of law?
Our answer must be clear and unambiguous, and we must speak with one voice. As Jews and Christians we should be just as quick to defend the principle of individual rights – a principle based on our shared Judeo-Christian heritage – as others are to attack them. We must be as quick to reject violence in defense of some misbegotten idea of faith as others are to resort to it. And we must redouble our efforts to fight terror wherever and whenever it occurs.
Today, I ask you to pray for the loved ones of those murdered in this cowardly attack in Paris, the latest in a long series of radical Islamist atrocities. And pray for the day when those atrocities will finally cease, and God will bless us, and His entire world, with His most precious gift – the gift of shalom, peace.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein