Signs of Hope From the Muslim World

Noting that we live in times of extremes has become a platitude. It seems that the middle has dropped out of so much of our conversation, and that the extremes dictate the discussion. Sadly, this is often true in our own Torah community.

Looking outside of it at the moment, we note the extremes that govern conversation about Islam. People have to choose between the simplistic and dangerous reductionism of Barack Obama (Islam is a religion of peace; no religion advocates murder) on the one hand, and an equally wrong monochromatic rejection of all things Muslim (the problem is the Koran; Muslims never speak out against terrorism) on the other.

The truth is rarely at the extremes, however. This is true even when the middle ground seems elusive to identify. Some of us have argued that the West will only be able to resist jihadist Islam with the help of large numbers of Muslim moderates. We have argued that we should do all in our power to encourage genuine moderation whenever and wherever we find it, even as we refuse to put on blinders about the sources and the huge extent and continued appeal of Islamic extremism. We have also recognized that the battle against the extremists will have to be waged aggressively by Muslims, not by us.

Believers in the middle ground were recently given two boosts. The first came from the largest Muslim country in the world: Indonesia. Islamic extremism thrives there, as evidenced by the recent toppling of a non-Muslim governor of Jakarta and conviction for blasphemy, both spurred by conservative forces trying to replace Indonesia’s present system with Sharia. However, it is also the nerve center of genuine moderation, of a significant counterforce to the ugliness of Wahhabism. A few weeks ago, the youth movement of the single largest Muslim organization in the world convened a gathering of 300 Muslim clerics, who produced a remarkable document on a different kind of Islam than we hear about from those on the extremes referenced above. Here are excerpts from that document, which also appeared in the cover letter they sent to people they knew in the West:

“It is false and counterproductive to claim that the actions of al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other such groups have nothing to do with Islam, [emphasis mine] or merely represent a perversion of Islamic teachings. They are, in fact, outgrowths of Wahhabism and other fundamentalist streams of Sunni Islam.


“For more than fifty years, Saudi Arabia has systematically propagated a supremacist, ultraconservative interpretation of Islam among Sunni Muslim populations worldwide. The Wahhabi/ultraconservative view of Islam—which is embraced not only by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but also by al-Qaeda and ISIS—is intricately wedded to those elements of classical Islamic law that foster sectarian hatred and violence.… [Legitimate] Saudi opposition to Iran[ian], ISIS and al-Qaeda [supremacism] does not and should not absolve it from responsibility for promoting the very ideology that underlies and animates Sunni extremism and terror.


“Muslims face a choice between starkly different visions of the future. Will they strive to recreate the long-lost ideal of religious, political and territorial unity beneath the banner of a Caliphate?… Or will they strive to develop a new religious sensibility that reflects the actual circumstances of our modern civilization, and contributes to the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal dignity and rights of every human being?”

And they are not the only ones in Indonesia working on this vision. A few weeks ago, I spent the better part of a day with an impressive group of accomplished academics and significant politicians from Indonesia who were touring the West under the aegis of Institut Leimena. We had time over glatt dinner in one of LA’s best restaurants (we had pulled the wine from the group menu out of deference to them – all practicing Muslims; they put it back in for us Jews) to ask the hard-hitting questions. While they acknowledged the attraction of religious extremism, they could not be budged from their commitment to exporting an alternative that they believe is far more authentic.

In a very different part of the world, a telecommunications giant produced a remarkable video for the Ramadan market. Millions have watched the piece, which follows a would-be suicide bomber on his way to making his statement. He encounters his victims – played in some cases by real-life survivors of jihadist terror – and others who remonstrate with him in song. They speak of substituting conversation for carnage. They talk of winning over others through persuasion, that religion cannot be subject to compulsion. Most importantly, they argue that his cry of Allahu Akbar is a cruel parody, because G-d is only dishonored through his activity.

Kuwait is an active and eager participant in the waning efforts of the Arab League boycott against Israel. Not long ago, state-run Kuwaiti Airlines gave up its lucrative New York to London route, rather than comply with US anti-discrimination law. The company refuses to sell tickets to Israelis. The video targeting suicide bombing could not have been made without government sanction. Apparently, it has not yet penetrated the minds of Kuwaiti rulers that the religious fundamentalism and primitivism of the Wahhabi jihadists shares much common ground with a public posture that refuses to accept the possibility of a Jewish state on a tiny sliver of land far from Kuwait City.

Still, the video offers hope that truth and sanity can eventually prevail.

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13 Responses

  1. mycroft says:

    Most readers  of CC are aware of the 1929 massacre in Hebron, I often wonder how many know that more were saved because of local Arabs who saved Jews at great risk to themselves.

    • Y. Ben-David says:

      I am not sure what the significance of that is in the macro scale. Some Germans saved Jews as well, but even the Germans (or at least, “official” Germany) themselves today admit that are guilty AS A NATION for what they did.  There is an attempt by the Arabs and the “progressive” anti-Israel Jews to claim that it was only a group of “outsiders” who carried out the massacre, but if that is so, and if all the Muslim and pro-Muslim apologists are correct when they say “they love Jews and respect Judaism, but only have a problem with Zionists”, then they should have insisted that the surviving Jews (who were not active in the Zionist movement) not be expelled from the city, as indeed happened. There was an attempt to have Jews return to Hevron in 1931, but there was always a lot of tension, and these Jews were forced to leave the city during the 1936 Arab uprising.

  2. mb says:

    There’s a time line here.

    Judaism took about 1500 years to finally rid itself of fundamentalist militarism.

    Christianity, ditto, following the disastrous 100 years war.

    So now Islam, if it follows the precedent, should be on a par around the beginning of the 21 st or 22 nd century.

    I’ll be 153 (or 253) then. Looking forward to it.

    • dr. bill says:

      i think you mean 22nd and 23rd.  IAC, given the exponential explosion in information dissemination, there is at least the possibility that you or even i may live to see it.

    • Bob Miller says:

      So, mb, which if any military operations ordered by HaShem as documented in Tanach do you object to?

  3. Wolfgang Schremser says:

    It sounds like the Indonesian authors identify Wahabism as the sole source of terrorism. Is not ISIS more wedded to Salafism which is quite different from Wahabism in that it goes closer to the Medina Muslim root of Islam?

    Maybe they should try to reestablish early Mecca Islam, which was comparatively peaceful???

  4. DF says:

    You say the truth is rarely at the extremes. No doubt.  The problem with this platitude, however, is that it leaves one in paralysis. Would we be writing the Bible, we would never be able to think of the Tree of Knowledge as “bad” – something to stay away from – because, after all, we would reason, knowledge can also be good. We would certainly not speak of figures like Jacob and Esau in black and white shades, as the sages did. We would call them – complicated.The point is this: It does no good to stress the good in otherwise harmful people, movements, or religions. Everybody knows such good points exist; but they are overshadowed and outweighed by the bad. [As one recent Jewish commentator wrote, the Bikur Cholim provided by Satmar no more mitigates the massive Chillul Hashem that group just organized, than the social services provided by Hamas excuses its support of terrorism.] Islam has a violence problem in its religion. I don’t know if its possible to fix that. But unless and until it does, it remains a problem. The President is 100% right to focus on it, and all those who keep piping up “but its not all of them” – as if we didn’t realize that – are furthering the problem.   

  5. Bob Miller says:

    How do rank-and-file Muslim citizens of Indonesia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia typically view Jews and Israel?   Has there been any change over recent years or months?

    • mycroft says:

      One has to be careful not to extrapolate anti-semitic attitudes ofthe population from a countries policies

      thus   from “The most anti-Semitic region in the world is the Middle East and North Africa, with 74 percent harboring anti-Semitic views. Eastern Europe was second at 34 percent. The least anti-Semitic region was Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) at 14 percent.
      • The three countries outside the Middle East with the highest rates of anti-Semitic attitudes were Greece, at 69 percent, Malaysia at 61 percent and Armenia at 58 percent.
      • About 49 percent of Muslims worldwide harbor anti-Semitic views, compared to 24 percent of Christians.
      • The West Bank and Gaza were the most anti-Semitic places surveyed, with 93 percent of respondents expressing anti-Semitic views. The Arab country with the lowest level of anti-Semitic views was Morocco, at 80 percent. Iran ranked as the least anti-Semitic country in the Middle East, at 56 percent.”

      Iran the  least anti-semitic  country in the Middle East -less than Greece.                                           least

    • Y. Ben-David says:

      George Orwell visited Morocco in 1939 and wrote a article about it called “Marrakesh” (it is available on line). He wrote at length about the situation of the Jews there and he described the unbelievable poverty, degredation and filth many Jews were sunk in. Yet, he points out how much virulent antisemitism there was there.  Muslims would tell him that Jews run the country and they are all rich. When Orwell told them of how bad the situation of the Jews was and that they were worse off than the poorest of the Muslims they would say “they are hiding their money”. Orwell said Nazi antisemitic propaganda would find a fertile soil for their work in the country.

      Today, we hear many Jews tell about how supposedly good the Jews had it in that country and how the Muslims were good neighbors. A common refrain was how the Muslims would sell pitas (hametz) to the Jews right after Pesach ended, as if this was some sort of generous act on their part, instead just a way to make a quick buck.

      If this is what a “good country” was like This is nothing more than a modern version of Datan and Aviram’s longing for the good old days in Egypt (this week’s Torah portion of Korach!).

  6. Raymond says:

    It is not my intention to show even the slightest trace of disrespect toward the author of the above article, and yet I cannot help but think that he may be placing hope above reality.  All of us Jews, even the most strident among us (such as myself, as it so happens) longs for peace for our Jewish people more than just about anything in the world.  We Jews are not violent by nature; we would rather spend our time in intellectual pursuits, or spending time with our families and friends.  It is a mistake, though, to think that all other social groups on Earth have similar peaceful aspirations.  All one has to do to doubt any claims that the islamoNazis want peace, is to look at their thoroughly bloodthirsty history that has hardly taken a break since its inception approximately 1,400 years ago.  I do not trust our violently savage enemies for even one moment, not as long as they keep proudly insisting on murdering completely innocent, unarmed human beings all over the world.  If my skepticism sounds a bit paranoid, I am reminded of something that the late, great Rabbi Kahane was fond of saying, namely that “Paranoid Jews live longer.”

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