French Jews and Muslims have made common cause against this extremist, even as Middle Eastern Jews and Muslims are at each others’ throats. So whether Jews and Muslims are allies or enemies seemingly depends on the quirks of geography. The same Muslim with whom I, a Jew, am allied in France becomes my fearsome enemy in the Middle East. This makes sense?
I learned the first part of this nonsensical lesson – the fear part - on Nov. 22nd, 1963, when I was a high school student and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas. In the days before the Dallas police apprehended Lee Harvey Oswald, many Jews were intensely fearful that, were the assassin found to be Jewish, Americans would unleash their collective wrath against us. So please God, went our collective prayer, don’t let the assassin be one of us!
That same prayer is how many minority communities still deal with prejudice. We rejoice when the bad guys are “the other.” The finger of blame has temporarily been deflected from us, even while we live in terror that next time the extremist may come from among us, that our community may not dodge the bullet. This makes sense?
In France, an extremist has targeted two unlikely minorities. Jews and Muslims can not blame each other, throwing off our ingrained blame game. And yet, how much thought are we giving to the alternative?
The alternative to the “Please, let the fanatic be from the other community” mindset is straightforward. Instead of seeking to blame the other, why not move beyond prejudice and put the blame simply where it belongs: on the fanatic? A fanatic who may - or may not – claim to share our religious identity, but with whom we non-fanatics have nothing in common. Why not seek to end religious prejudice and collective blame in favor of apprehending violent fanatics?
These fanatics include Muslim suicide bombers who proclaim they are doing the will of Allah, and West Bank settlers who shoot others in the name of reclaiming land God gave to “His Chosen people.” Fanatics also include Christian fundamentalists who advocate for Israel because it fulfills a Biblical prophecy of the return of Christ, followed by Armageddon. Fun “holy” projects, one and all, aren’t they?
Targeting the fanatic who often operates in the name of religion, rather than the religion itself, would not settle all differences or wars. But it would remove the most toxic element: the hatred and fear of the “other” which makes coming to terms with those from different communities and religions virtually impossible.
As tragic as the murders in France were, they may also be a jumping off point for something greater: a deeper look at who we are as humans who happen to identify with one religion or another. Tragedy focuses the mind. What matters now is whether the mind focuses on eliminating further tragedies or falls back on what is familiar: renewing the blame game.
Just ask French Jews and Muslims, huddled under police protection, if they won’t work together with the (predominantly Catholic) national police to capture the killer. And once police have apprehended the killer, ask what they gain by dissolving this ad hoc safety net to resume religious prejudice.
“Please God, let the extremist come from the other community.” Is that really the best we can come up with to abort such tragedies in France, in America, and in the Middle East?
The answers might prove interesting.By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist