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Paving a Road to Coexistence

On April 6 of this year, in a speech in front of the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, President Obama said the United States “is not and will never be at war with Islam.” Additionally, according to the New York Times, he stated: “America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.”

               And yet, here comes my colleague from the right, with the audacity—not of hope, mind you, but of despair—to suggest that disengagement, rather than engagement; that separation, rather than inclusion; that animosity, rather than friendship, is the right course of action. His doomsday scenario, and others such as his, fall ripe into the hands of our enemies; not the least among them are the terror masterminds, hidden in mountain caves, planning their next attack against Jews in particular, and western civilization as a whole.

               But let’s go back to the first black president, who was also the first president to celebrate Passover with a Seder in the White House. As did many African-American Jews in homes and synagogues in our major cities. (Yes, African-American Jews!) Yet here again, I hear from the right how problematic, how fruitless the relationship between Jews and Blacks are, and always were. Not so, I say. From the African-American Civil Rights Movement, to the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, all the way to the present day with the election of Barak Obama, Jews—indeed, mostly of liberal, progressive inclinations—found the way to engage, support and march ahead with their fellow black citizens on a road not to nowhere, but toward a better tomorrow and a real progress.

               The word progress, of course, is like waving a red cape in front of conservatives and people on the right. Because, when it comes to the forces that want to widen the divide, who are set for some reason or other on preventing the possibility of mutual, peaceful coexistence, anything goes; and any terrorist attack, or any sign of disagreement with the west, is enough of a proof that there are no chances for coexistence. Granted, this road of common ground is full of potholes and bumps. And yes, there are strong elements within the Muslim world, here in America as well—just as we have those elements within us—who are committed on rivalry; on domination; on fostering hate and continuity of the endless war. We have to fight these adversarial elements within our society by opening our hearts and minds.

               We just observed Holocaust Remembrance Day, and we will be well advised not to forget from which nations we, the Jewish People, had suffered the most. From the Greeks to the Romans; from the Russian to the Germans; the atrocities and pogroms and mass exterminations came from European countries, from the most “admired, advanced and cultured” people on earth. And yet, in Muslim countries through centauries of Diaspora, Jews lived in relative peace. To this day—even in Iran, the “devil” nation reincarnation —Jews are allowed to go about their daily business without fear, and practice their cultural and religious beliefs freely.

As for establishing a dialogue with the Latino, Hispanic population, I will add only this: First, it is not mutually exclusive. In other words, working to engage and strengthen relations between Jews and Hispanics does not negate doing the same with the Muslim population. Second, to say, as my colleague had stated, that the “Latino population… truly strives to peacefully integrate into American society,” implies that the Muslim population does not. This statesman is wrong at best, and false at worst. Moreover, many Americans in fact accuse the Latinos of the same “crime:” they don’t want to integrate, to learn and speak English (on our voting ballots, and other such services, do we have Arabic or Hispanic written and voiced?); most of them came here illegally anyhow, and want to reverse the course of history and return California and Texas to Mexico, and other such abominable things. It would do us good not only to reject these notions but to walk together ahead: Jews and Muslims—Latinos, too—not Jews against Muslims.

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