Hamid Karzai recently called the brave and selfless members of the United States military ‘demons’ who were guilty of perhaps ‘500’ atrocities against the people of the Afghanistan. One would have thought that the American Commander-in-Chief would swiftly denounce this stunning act of ingratitude by reminding him that nearly 2000 American troops have given their lives for the freedom of the Afghani people. They are angels of mercy, not demons. But in remaining silent President Obama not only missed an opportunity to defend the honor of our brave men and women in uniform, but also missed an opportunity to remind Muslims the world over of the beautiful tenets of their faith that would never brook such shameful ingratitude. The Koran, Sura 14, says that those who are grateful will be given more by God. And the prophet Mohammad also said, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue.”
The point is this: capitulation by Western leaders in the face of pressure or bullying from Islamic leaders who, with their misguided actions, betray a great world religion is bad for the West and bad for Islam.
For the last three years I banged my head against a wall called the City of Englewood – its Mayor and Council – cajoling, pushing, and nearly begging that they do something about the Libyan Embassy that is my immediate next-door neighbor. Tax it, fine it, do something to make life uncomfortable for the Gaddafi government who owned it so that the murderous regime would choose to sell it and return the millions of dollars invested in it – all in an attempt to make it comfortable for Gaddafi to stay for a short while – and return the money to the Libyan people to whom it belonged.
Now comes the unbelievable news that the city’s inaction potentially endangered its inhabitants greatly, and not just me, its neighbor. We now know that the Gaddafi regime, under the concealment of diplomatic immunity, was using its embassies throughout the world to stockpile weapons like handguns, sub-machine guns, plastic explosives, hand grenades, and wiretapping equipment. In some embassies the equipment even included booby-trapped vehicles and rocket-propelled grenades.
All this was revealed when the weapons were discovered by representatives of Libya’s interim government, the National Transitional Council who started taking over the embassies abroad.
When NTC Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdul Aziz was asked whether he thought that the weapons, which were shipped in diplomatic bags, were planned for covert operations by Gaddafi and his regime, he answered “I have no single doubt in my mind.” Aziz revealed that the weapons discovered thus far are just the tip of the iceberg and even included “chemical stuff.”
I still have no idea if the Embassy next door to me has been searched after this information was revealed. Pretty scary for a small Jersey town or for the Rabbi who lives next-door with nine kids and a Synagogue on his property, or the Moriah Jewish Day School with a thousand Jewish kids that is also a next-door neighbor.
I had actually told city officials how worried I was that there might be arms in the Embassy. But like everything else it was just shrugged off. This led to a clash between me and Congressman Steve Rothman who publicly gave me and other Englewood residents advice to be “appropriately good neighbors” to the Libyans and followed up later, after I had publicly rejected his advice, with publishing a three page press release attacking me and defending the status quo of the Libyans living tax-free in Englewood, since the city had lost an earlier challenge nearly 30 years earlier.
But what we have learned from the brave Arab peoples of Libya, Egypt, and Syria in the courageous Arab spring is that there can be no capitulation in the face of oppression and terrorism.
BBC head Mark Thomson recently confessed – to the Oxford University research project known as The Free Speech Debate – to giving Islam a better media portrayal than Christianity out of fear, arguing that the media had to consider the difference between ‘violent threats’ in place of polite complaints if they pushed ahead with certain types of satire.
Thompson said: ‘Without question, “I complain in the strongest possible terms”, is different from, “I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write.” This definitely raises the stakes.’
Thomson was commenting on a 2005 BBC portrayal of Jesus wearing a diaper, something they pushed ahead with even as 45,000 people complained the broadcaster about its irreverent treatment of Christian themes. Thompson belatedly accepted their argument that the BBC would not have ridiculed Islam in a similar fashion.
The idea that one of the world’s foremost news organizations would capitulate to fear and intimidation is deeply disturbing, and not principally for Westerners but for Muslims. The more the West shows an unwillingness to bow in the face of fright and panic, the more our oppressed Muslim brothers and sisters who live in various totalitarian regimes will feel they have committed partners in confronting tyrants like Basher Assad of Syria, and the more Islam will be purged of a militaristic strain that is a betrayal of its core values.
Those who argue that Islam is an inherently violent faith, or anti-Jewish, deliberately deny history as when Sultan Saladin took back Jerusalem in 1187 and allowed all Christians to ransom their lives and the penniless to go free. The Christians had expected the same harsh treatment that they had meted out in conquering Jerusalem in 1099, when all Muslims and Jews were massacred. Saladin was also generous in his treatment of the Jewish community in his realm. In 1190, he called on Jews to settle once again within the walls of Jerusalem, since they had been banned from the city during the Crusader occupation. Maimonides, one of Judaism’s greatest thinkers, was court physician to Saladin.
To assail Islam as inherently anti-modern is likewise to ignore how already in the ninth century Muslim rulers were prioritizing general education when few others were. Al-Mamun, Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, established state-funded academies that translated Greek and other works of antiquity, thereby predating European universities by some three centuries. The Abbasid Muslim Empire brought about agricultural innovations in the 8th century that would not be seen in the West until late in the twelfth century. Al-Razi of Baghdad wrote numerous medical books in the tenth century which included groundbreaking health treatments which the West would not match for another six hundred years. In the sixteenth century Muslim Sultan Akbar of India was renowned for cross-cultural political appointments and enacting laws that embraced religious tolerance and protection of women and children. He was also one of the first commanders to insist on humane treatment of captured enemy troops.
Islam today can experience the same kind of enlightened golden age it has in the past if it, along with the West, stands up to the murderers and bullies who betray a great world religion by daring to speak wickedly in its name.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who just published Kosher Jesus, is running for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District and recently won the Bergen County Republican Endorsement in a vote. His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.