Category Archives: Islam

Massacre in Norway: “The Answer to Violence is Even More Democracy”

So much to say about Friday’s tragic massacre in Norway. Chief among them: the death (I hope) of our misguided assumptions that terrorism must necessarily = Islamism.

Much has been written about the immediate media speculation – most notably by the New York Times – that this attack was carried out by an Islamist terror group. As journalist Ahmed Moor correctly points out, these assumption reveal just how deeply this meme is ingrained in the American consciousness – one that cuts across right-left political lines.

I’m also in full agreement with Moor when he says the real “Clash of Civilizations” is not between the West and Islam, but between “normal, sane people of the world and the right-wing zealots who see doom, destruction, hellfire and God’s Will at every turn:”

Anders Behring Breivik, Mohammed Atta and Baruch Goldstein are all cut from the same rotten cloth. Anwar Al-Awlaki and Glenn Beck – the peddlers of the faith – all share the same core afflictions.

These men are insecure, violently inclined, and illiberal. The outside world scares them. They hate homosexuals and strong women. For them, difference is a source of insecurity. Their values are militarism, conformism, chauvinism and jingoism. Worst of all they seek to pressure us into compliance while they work frantically to destroy themselves – and the rest of us with them.

All indications are that the hate-mongers – who are on the same side of this war, irrespective of religion – are winning in America. The unreflective, superficial, wan editors of the NYT are an indication of just how successful the right wing has been at eviscerating the left.

Terror expert Robert Lambert actually warns that ultra-nationalists pose an even greater threat than al-Qaeda, citing a disturbing litany of European plots that were foiled before they were able to be carried out. (Of course, as the example of Timothy McVeigh tragically reminds us, we Americans should not be so blase as to assume ultra-nationalist terror is only a European problem.)

What should be our response?  I can think of none better than that of Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg. (Oh, would that we had heard these kinds of words from President Bush following 9/11):

This is a message from all of Norway: You will not destroy us. You will not destroy our democracy or our quest for a better world. ..This night we will comfort each other, talk with each other and stand together. Tomorrow we will show the world that Norway’s democracy grows stronger when it is challenged…

We must never cease to stand up for our values. We have to show that our open society can pass this test too, and that the answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity, but never naivete.  This is what we owe to the victims and to those they hold dear.

May the memory of the victims be for a blessing.

Mark Stroman Executed: The “Mission of Reconciliation” Lives On…

Postscript to my July 11 post, “Rais Bhuiyan and the Power of Forgiveness:”

A federal district judge in Austin rejected Bhuiyan’s request for a stay of execution on Wednesday afternoon. His lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court, where Justice Antonin Scalia turned it down.  Mark Stroman was executed this past Wednesday.

Columnist Tony Norman, writing today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Sometimes the best Christians are the ones who pray to Allah.

Deep in the heart of the Christian republic of Texas, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh named Rais Bhuiyan waged a futile legal battle to spare the life of the man who tried to kill him a decade ago…

Though his partner in forgiveness is dead, Mr. Bhuiyan continues to take the mission of reconciliation seriously. Maybe one day he’ll find a Christian or two in Texas who take it seriously, too.

I would only add that we all struggle to realize the sacred mission of reconciliation seriously, whether we are Christian, Muslim or Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Jain – and whether we live in Texas, California, New York or Illinois.

Thank you, Rais Bhuiyan. You are a true spiritual teacher for us all.

Rais Bhuiyan and the Power of Forgiveness


Click above to see the story of Rais Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi Muslim man who was shot and grievously wounded during a post-9/11 shooting spree.

You may remember that immediately following the attacks on September 11, a white supremacist named Mark Stroman shot and killed two men: Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani on September 15 and Vasudev Patel, an immigrant from India, on October 4. Bhuiyan was the only one to survive this rampage – he was shot and wounded on September 21. All of the attacks took place in Dallas gas stations and convenience stores.

The powerful twist to this story: Bhuiyan has forgiven Stroman, and is now pleading for a stay of his execution, which is scheduled to take place on July 20.

From Bhuiyan’s website, “World Without Hate:”

There are three reasons I feel this way. The first is because of what I learned from my parents. They raised me with the religious principle that he is best who can forgive easily. The second reason is because of what I believe as a Muslim, which is that human lives are precious and that no one has the right to take another human’s life. In my faith, forgiveness is the best policy and Islam doesn’t allow for hate and killing. And, finally, I seek solace for the wives and children of Mr. Hasan and Mr. Patel, who are also victims in this tragedy. Executing Stroman is not what they want, either. They have already suffered so much; it will only cause more suffering if he is executed.

In another extraordinary twist to this story, Mark Stroman himself has become the subject of a documentary that Israeli filmmaker Ilan Ziv has been working on for the past seven years.


Following a confessed killer and a self-described racist seemed like an odd choice for a film, let alone for a film that would take years to make. But there was something in Mark that caught my attention. There was something beyond the facade of tattoos and the “red neck” talk. Even seven years ago I could detect certain vulnerabilities, warmth and intelligence that did not fit the image of a serial killer, “a monster” as the prosecutor tried to portray him.

Over the years I interviewed Mark’s relatives, friends and his victims but most of all I kept in touch with Mark. I helped him out when I could, corresponded with him. and visited him a few times with a camera but many more times without.

I created a website, Execution Chronicles, where Mark began to post weekly blogs. In the past 3 years, Mark posted over 151 blogs, which are a testimony to his growth and development. In retrospect, what seemed odd at the time has paid off. Mark as changed considerably and has become quite thoughtful and insightful about his own past and racist views.

I’ve been fairly open about my faith in the healing power of forgiveness – as well as my moral views on the death penalty. I urge you to join me in signing Rais Bhuiyan’s petition to Texas governor Rick Perry to grant a stay of execution to Mark Stroman. I do believe that ending yet another life will only magnify further the hate and violence that has marked this tragic story. Bhiuyan and Ziv are showing us a different way – we’d do well to follow their moral example.

(h/t: Anya Cordell)

Fighting for Religious Inclusion in New Jersey

So proud of my friend and colleague Rabbi Elliott Tepperman for helping lead the charge toward religious inclusion in New Jersey!

From the New Jersey Jewish News:

Motivated by what he called “the Jewish obligation to welcome the stranger,” Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Montclair is leading a drive to support the building of an Islamic cultural center in Bridgewater, a plan that has met with strong opposition from some of its neighbors…

In a Feb. 18 e-mail letter cowritten by Tepperman and cosigned by 20 other rabbis, one cantor, and five rabbinical students, the religious leader of the Reconstructionist Bnai Keshet synagogue called on the people of Bridgewater “to affirm their commitment to religious freedom and to seriously consider options that would allow for the building of this mosque within its borders.”

…To Tepperman, land-use issues pose “a reasonable question. I know one has to be careful with that because often potentially legitimate concerns are pushed up against much less legitimate concerns. In one breath, people say things very much deserving of consideration, like parking. Then, in the next breath, they say, ‘And we’re concerned if it might be a terrorist organization.’ When I hear those things side-by-side it makes me very suspicious that parking is not the main concern and the concerns are primarily being fueled by prejudiced assumptions about Muslims.”

The Egyptian Revolution: Odds and Ends

A few Egypt-related odds and ends that have caught my eye of late:

– Check out a reliably sane analysis of the situation by my friend Aziz Abu Sarah from an interview broadcast yesterday on Washington’s Fox 5 News (above).

– Below: a picture from Nevine Zaki’s Twitter feed: Egyptian Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers amidst the demonstration. (It appears they’re returning the favor – see my blog post from 1/8).

– For a change, some non-fear-based background on the Muslim Brotherhood:

To be blunt and colloquial, this is not your grandmother’s Muslim Brotherhood. And this isn’t their revolution. What we talking about is a group with has evolved over the years into a middle-class, conservative organization. They made a bet against radical change and instead became a systemic player. Their goals are limited. And there is not a shred of evidence that they would become radical in an open democracy because it is a sure way to reduce themselves to fringe players. They are very shrewd about. And that’s why they’re not going to upset the apple cart. (Samer Shehata, Assistant Professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University)

– And one more tweet for good measure:

Mitchell Plitnick
MitchellPlit Mitchell Plitnick
Oy. Stop calling them “Mubarak supporters.” They are Mubarak’s goons, and we know that many of them are on the Mubarak payroll.

Not In Your Local Paper: Egyptian Muslims Protect Coptic Community With Their Bodies


Muslims protect and greet Orthodox Christians leaving the church where Alexandria bomb blast took place. (Photo: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

An important and inspiring report out of Egypt. From AhramOnline:

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

Sorry to see that this story has been virtually ignored by the mainstream media. It seems to have been broken by the Egyptian press, but other than a report on WaPo’s online edition, I could only see it covered via the blogosphere.

What else is new? When it comes to Islam, it seems, the actions of an extremist minority is considered newsworthy while the courage of the Muslim majority flies right off the radar screen.

Be sure to pass this one on…

We’re Not Muslims! (Not That There’s Anything Wrong With Them…)

Here’s a sure sign that American Islamophobia has officially sent us through the proverbial looking glass.

From the WashPo blog:

A Christian church in Phoenix has had to make a presidential-type denial: It is not Muslim. The building under construction will feature a domed ceiling, and protesters have taken that as a sign the church is not what it says it is. The leaders have hung up a sign saying, “We are building a Christian house of worship,” the Atlantic reports...

“I have nothing against Islamic people,” Carlos Montemayor, the pastor of the church, said in a phone interview. But local commentary had been growing, saying that the building was a mosque and an investigation should be launched into the church. He put the sign up to stop the comments.

Calling Out Political Islamophobia

Many of you, I’m sure, read about the Pew study last August that determined 18% of Americans (roughly one in five) believe that President Obama is a Muslim. And I’m sure many might be tempted to disprove this claim as patently ridiculous.  My response? What should it matter if he was?

Let’s be honest. Those who cast doubt on Obama’s religious affiliation are not driven by compelling evidence – they are simply fomenting Islamophobia for abject political purposes.

Take a look at this interview clip with Sarah Palin (above). She purports to be making argument against a media “double standard” – but she plays her true cards when she refers to our president as “Barack Hussein Obama.”

This is about as patently cynical as it gets.  It’s clear that Palin and her ilk aren’t really all that interested in media accountability or presenting anything resembling evidence. They’re really just riding a rising wave of American anti-Muslim prejudice, pure and simple.

My two cents? We need to spend less time trying to dissuade irrational people from holding irrational ideas and more time calling out these Islamophobes for who they really are. No, Obama is not a Muslim, but if we’re not troubled in the least by the prospect of a Muslim president, then it seem to me we should be prepared to stand up and say so in no uncertain terms.

Confronting Islamophobia: A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5771

From my Rosh Hashanah sermon last Thursday:

So what is the real issue here?  I don’t think it’s about sensitivity to individuals who may or may not be offended by this particular construction project. The real issue is really quite straightforward. The real issue, I believe, is the same as it ever was – and as Jews, it’s an issue we know all too well. Will America be a land of religious liberty for all or merely the few?

Click below to read the entire sermon:

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