“Je Suis Charlie”? What Took You So Long? – Friday, January 9, 2015

I am writing these words as Shabbat approaches, two days after the horrific slaughter in Paris, in which Islamic terrorists murdered twelve people, including the entire editorial staff of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo,” purportedly for insulting the prophet Mohammed and therefore the entirety of the Muslim world. The killers are still on the loose, and now another armed gunman associated with them has taken hostages at a kosher grocery store in eastern Paris, on a Friday morning when he clearly knew the market would be crowded with pre-Shabbat shoppers.

As the two terrorist brothers – at least one of them well known to French security forces as a jihad recruiter – remain at large, the French nation has been joined by others across the globe in protest of this cold, calculated, well-planned mass murder. “Je Suis Charlie,” posters and t-shirts and social-networking sites proclaim, “I Am Charlie.” Condemnation for terror and sympathy for France have come in from throughout the Western world and in some isolated spots in the Muslim world, such as Egypt. Je Suis Charlie? Really? What took you all so long?

This is, after all, not the first time that Muslim terrorists have created carnage in France. In March of 2012, four people – a rabbi and three children – were killed at a Jewish day school in Toulouse. In the summer of 2014, anti-Israel demonstrations throughout France turned violent and ugly, with rioters trapping terrified worshipers at a synagogue in Paris and screaming “Death to Jews” and “Hitler was right.” Even after it became clear that Israel’s incursion into Gaza was merely a pretext for unbridled Jew-hatred, there was a respectable amount of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing but not much else.

So what’s changed? Simply, that the targets of Islamic terror in Europe are no longer just Jews.

Let’s face it, as long as it was Jews who were being attacked – or Jewish children killed – the world could blame Jews themselves for causing the problems. It’s Israel’s fault for building a security fence. It’s Israel’s fault for bombing Gaza. Now, the world knows what we Jews have known all along: These attacks were not on Jews alone. They were attacks on the very foundations of modern, democratic Western society, including freedom of speech and of religion.

Along with economic opportunity, these were freedoms that drew many of our grandparents and great-grandparents from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to America in the last century. My great-grandmother wanted her children to “be Americans” – not only to speak English and to be educated in the American public school system but, more than anything else, to embrace America’s modern democratic principles and freedoms from which such economic opportunity sprung.

That is not necessarily true of at least some of the millions of immigrants who have made their way to Europe from Muslim nations of the middle and near east, but who seemed determined to lock their children into the closed social and political world from which they came. They do not accept that if one moves to an open society for economic reasons, one must accept the open-ness of the society in general.

In Hebrew, we call this principle “Dina d’malchuta dina” – the law of the land is the law. It is an acknowledgement by Jews who no longer live in closed systems, where one’s entire way of life is controlled by rabbinic law courts and independent Jewish jurisprudence, that one must abide by the secular legal, ethical and societal principles of the communities and nations in which one now lives. For some substantial number of Muslims in the West, it seems, this principle does not apply.

Perhaps this uncomfortable juxtaposition of old-country values espoused by their immigrant parents, versus new-country values espoused by Western democracy, plays a role in thousands of young people turning to jihad; such cultural alienation – a generation adrift — combined with perceived economic inequities could be a potent and toxic mixture.

Ironically, the principles on which Western civilization rests have allowed Islamic fundamentalism to creep into society along with the mass influx of millions of Muslims into Europe and Great Britain over the past two decades. Cognizant of the desire to respect all peoples’ beliefs and religious practices, Western governments have been loath to criticize, let alone circumscribe, the virulent hatred and intolerance spewing from numerous Muslim leaders who have taken up pulpits in England and Europe. To the contrary, many have bent over backwards to prosecute – not those who incite to jihad – but those who dare to criticize them. Politicians, artists, and cartoonists alike have been taken to task, and some taken to court, for daring to point out or poke fun. Some – Theo Van Gogh and now the entire staff of “Charlie Hebdo” – have been murdered for exercising their basic freedom of expression.

French Jews saw this coming, of course. Thousands of them made aliyah to Israel in 2014, many even in the midst of the Gaza incursion last summer. Israel under siege, they determined, was still a safer place for Jews than France. It’s not surprising they would be in the vanguard. We Jews always have known that intolerance against us is just the tip of the iceberg; that people who hate are, fundamentally, people who hate. They hate those who are different, those who do not conform, those who do not agree, those who do not submit. We Jews, few in number, are always an easy target for haters. But we also remember the words attributed to theologian Martin Niemoller in the horror of the Shoah:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

First the Islamists came for the Jews. But the world by and large did not speak out, because they were not Jews. Now the Islamists have come for the satirists. Does the world stand by, because most of them are not satirists? Do they think that the cartoonists of “Charlie Hebdo” are in a different category, because they, like Zionists, were asking for it? Or does this massacre fundamentally change the way that the West will respond to the intolerance and violence inherent in fundamentalist Islam?

Will we now be willing to expose, condemn, and, yes, silence hate speech that incites violence in the name of religion? Will Western media outlets reprint the cartoons of “Charlie Hebdo” and others like them, because they can and must stand up for freedom of expression? Will we finally learn that, by the time there is no one else to speak for us, it is too late?
©2015 Audrey R. Korotkin


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