Suspect or Respect ?

On May 18 (10 Iyyar) I wrote about Generalizations and Stereotypes of Muslims. The following comment arrived from my neighbor, the former British barrister who made the original comments that so upset me. It deserves its own entry; my own comments follow.

Shira Schmidt telephoned me, and told me of this blog. She wanted me to read the comments. I confess it. I am the one who made the comments that so angered Shira.

It is true that not all Muslims behave like barbarians. However, the discussion [I had with Shira and others] took place in the context of talk about the current Middle East situation. I said that there could not be peace for at least a generation, given the nature of education in the Arab world, and the success of the educators and their rulers in inculcating a culture of hatred for, and mindless brutality towards, Jews.

We all saw, and were horrified by, the film of the lynchings in Ramallah of the two reservists who strayed into Arab-controlled territory. We saw the crowd rejoicing when one barbarian stood at a window waving hands which had been dipped in the blood of their victims. What the TV stations did not show was what followed the dumping of the battered bodies out of the windows of the police station (a police station!). The film was too horrifying. Some stills from the film were eventually published. They showed Arab Muslims running through the streets, triumphantly waving internal body parts at passers-by. We also noticed how, throughout the episode, officers of the so-called “Palestine Police” stood by, watching – and doing nothing, though they did rush around afterwards, collecting the film taken by journalists, and threatening them not to publish any of the story.

Recently, in another context the Jerusalem Post gave an account of Hafez Assad decorating with a medal a soldier who had “mutilated the bodies of 26 Israeli soldiers”. In civlised areas of the world, mutilation of the dead is regarded as barbarism. I had two friends who were involved in the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath. One was a front line medic, and the other worked on Chevra Kadisha duties. Both came back changed men. Neither would talk much about what they had seen. Both are religious men, to whom suicide is anathema. Both insisted (in separate conversations with the writer) that because of what they had seen, they would never be without a last bullet for themselves if captivity looked like a possibility. Others have written of the nature of the mutilations, practised if possible on living men and women, so I won’t repeat them. I only use the words “barbarians” and “wild animals” because there are no stronger terms.

Certainly there are Muslims who do not think like that. I had a very good Muslim friend in my former home town who was horrified at the behaviour of the Arabs of the Middle East. (I know – “some of my best friends are Jews”). However, he was the first to admit that his approach was the exception rather than the rule. Note that he was speaking in England, not the Middle East. The fact is that whenever Jews are killed, there are celebrations in “Palestine”. When the Scuds were flying, in 1990, the “Palestinians” stood on their rooftops and cheered. No thought about making war on civilians – just cheering at Jews being killed. The fact is that today, surveys show that among Muslims in the Middle East, something over 75%support suicide bombing.

A society that can educate its children to go and blow themselves up in the middle of a crowd of youngsters waiting to enter a disco (Dolphinarium) is sick. A society with members who can take schoolchildren hostage and murder them (Maalot) is barbarous. A society that publicly rejoices in the brandishing of body parts taken from dead Jews is psychotic. On reflection, I am quite wrong to speak of the local Muslims as “wild animals”. Wild animals do not behave like that.

And people who retort that the Israelis kill civilians ought to be ashamed of themselves. No Israeli would dream of shooting dead, from a distance of about 6 feet, a 5 year-old child who was cowering under her bed after hearing her mother and sister shot dead by Arab Muslims who had burst into their home in the middle of the night. And no “Palestinian” terrorist goes out on an attack wearing uniform – when dead, they are all “civlians”.

Like Shira, I live in town where there are many Arab Muslims. We see them in our cafes, meet them in our shops, stand with them at bus stops, brush by them in our markets. How many Arab Muslims today would tolerate me in their town cafes, shops, markets. I know perfectly well that the RAMBAM lived and worked among Muslims. That was in the days when Muslim civilisation existed. Since shortly after that period, and certainly since the end of the 15th century, Muslim culture has been stuck in a time warp. Even if we include the late Saint Yasser Arafat, how many Arab Muslim Nobel Prize winners have here been? Can anyone challenge the statistic, produced by a Muslim think-tank, that since printing was invented, less books have been translated into Arabic than are translated into Spanish in a single year?

I cannot go into a “Palestinian” town and hope to come out alive. It is a capital offence in Jordan (let alone the Arabian “states”) to sell land to a Jew. I know who I think are civilised and who are barbarians, and where are the real “apartheid states”.

I regret having upset Shira – but the arguments are not all one-sided, and there are many more I could deploy. For example, if all generalisations are dangerous and/or false, that statement, too, must be dangerous and/or false. I apologise also for the fact that this submission is already far too long, so if you have got this far, thank you for reading it.

One response I have to this is that I agree that we have to be cautious, but we also must show respect. This duality is expressed in the episode from the minor tractate Derech Eretz Rabba (Ch.5), under the rubric “kabdehu v’hashdehu” meaning consider a stranger suspect (hashdehu), and at the same time honor/respect him (kabdehu) as if he were the highly esteemed R. Gamaliel himself.

A stranger called at the house of R. Yehoshua . The rabbi gave him to eat and drink, took him up to the roof to sleep there, and then removed the step-ladder leading to the roof. The man was a thief, and arose by night, and took R. Yehoshua’s valuables … and in the attempt to descend and carry off the booty the stranger fell down and almost broke his neck. When R. Yehoshua came in the morning and found him in that condition, he said to the stranger, “You ignoramus, is this what people like you do?” He answered, “Rabbi, I did not suspect that a person of your station would remove the ladder.” R. Yehoshua rejoined, “Did you not notice yesterday that I was cautious about you?”
From that time on R. Yehoshua proclaimed that one should consider strangers as suspect, and still one should respect and honor them as he would R. Gamaliel.

I am not a Pollyanna who closes her eyes to possible danger; on the other hand I think we should speak and act respectfully towards Muslims. Otherwise, the contempt we Jews sometimes show will lead to a danger, about which I will write another time.
Shira Schmidt Netanya 10 b’Sivan

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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4 Responses

  1. Joe Schick says:

    “I confess it. I am the one who made the comments that so angered Shira.”

    Nothing to “confess.” Until large numbers of the Muslim world condemn the routine mass murder committed by so many of their religion’s adherents, there is no onus on us to “show respect” beyond on an individual level.

  2. ralphie says:

    I hesitate to write this, because I do believe to great extent what the barrister wrote. But I have a teeny bit more optimism about the society in general, only because I know that regular people are not free to express their true thoughts in surveys they respond to. But at the same time I also believe that the biggest barrier to peace is the educational infrastructure and official propaganda of the leadership of such societies (I guess that’s some more duality for you…)

  3. Shragie says:

    There are many more proofs that we must exhibit respect for all walks of life. These proofs, however, cannot always be applied. While an innocent God fearing Arab should be respected, his people, governments and religion as a whole have warranted nothing but disrespect. I implore that you refer to Chazal who teach us that demonstrating kindness for the cruel results in the cruelty for the kind

  4. Zev says:

    Mr. Barrister, you’re right on target. No need to apologize.

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