A response to Islamaphobia and Trump: A Jewish Perspective

Painting of Donald Trump
A response to Islamaphobia and Trump: A Jewish Perspective
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About the Author

Stephen Wise

Stephen Wise

Rabbi Wise has focused much of his rabbinate in striving passionately to connect Jews of all ages to their Judaism. Whether its through prayer services, learning or social action, each presents a gateway to stronger Jewish identity. Rabbi Wise has worked recently developing programming for young adults in their 20-30's, starting ongoing successful groups in NYC and Florida, reigniting their connections to Judaism. Rabbi Wise is the spiritual leader for Oakville's Jewish community, and his congregation is Shaarei Beth-El on Morrison Road.

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First they came for the Muslims,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Muslim.
Then they came for the homosexuals,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a homosexual.
Then they came for blacks,
but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t black.
Then they came for the Jews,
but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me,
but there was no one left to speak up for me.

This was adapted from Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He used the poem to decry the lack of resistance to the Nazi Party, who targeted communists, socialists, homosexual, gypsies, and of course the Jews.

One of the great maxims of the Holocaust is “Never Again”. We must learn from those atrocities to never repeat them. But we seem to be in world now where our fears and innermost darkest thoughts are coming to the fore. And loudmouthed politicians are using their soapboxes to spew hatred, ignorance and intolerance to the masses – and sadly people are responding. And we are repeating the awful steps in pre-war Germany that led to the holocaust.

Donald Trump this week proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. Of all people, an athlete had one of the most insightful responses: Nazem Kadri, a proud Muslim from London, Ontario who plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, when asked to comment on Trump said, “well he’s entitled to his opinion but I think he’s delusional, he’s hurting his own campaign”. Sometimes its hard to separate personal beliefs from political rhetoric to gain votes. From either perspective what Trump said was outrageous and disgusting. If he actually believes we should discriminate against an entire religion because of some radical individuals, then he should not be in any kind of leadership role in normal society. He’s entitled to his racist bigoted views, but keep them to yourself, thank you very much.

If he is using these statements to win votes and sympathy, well sadly its working and maybe that’s even worse. For every more outlandish statement, he seems to be getting more support. It seems that the deeply held fears that people have but never express, are suddenly free to be spoken out loud because Trump says them. I’m not denying that people feel these things inside. That is human. When a terrorist starts shooting in a nightclub in Paris or a holiday party in San Bernadino, California, and does it in the name of Islam or ISIS, then its reasonable deep down to be suspicious and scared. Its irrational but it happens to many of us. It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you are home alone late at night. But when the lights turn on, and our brain clicks in, we know that its ok.

We know not all Muslims are terrorists. We probably each know individual Muslims who are respectful, kind, wonderful human beings, created in the image of god, just like you and me. But all Muslims are being scapegoated that they are all supportive of , or ISIS or terrorism and want to take over the world.

It’s a familiar refrain that we Jews know all too well. The quote by Niemoller in Germany came at a time when Jews were blamed for everything. It was our fault Germany lost the first world war because we were like a fifth column weakening Germany from behind. Then during the depression, it was the Jews who caused economic instability and allowed people to become homeless and destitute. Then it was the Jews who were filth, diseased and dirty caused sickness. We were also taking over the world, running the banks and the media. Now of course in every stereotype there is some truth. I bet there were Jews in media and business. And there were Jews who didn’t want Germany to win the war, and there were German Jewish communists and socialists too. But as soon as you suggest that an entire race of people are guilty, you move to intolerance, hatred and in the worst case scenario violence and murder. We Jews saw in the Holocaust the final solution, when Nazi Germany used their skills in organization, media and propaganda to begin a systematic process of finding Jews, forcing them to leave or gather in camps and finally mass murder. It’s a slippery slope.

Today we are on the edge of that slope. It starts with political leaders saying inflammatory statements such as all Muslims should be banned from America. The next step is all Muslims should be identified and separated and have different rules or laws apply to them. The next step is that they should be restricted from certain areas or occupations. And then….and where does it end. A world of distrust. A place where we hate each other, pull into our own silo’s, disrespect other religions and groups – a breakdown of society and a slide into anarchy and violence.

Now let’s give the other positive side of this. Right after the Paris attacks there were a handful of revenge attacks, even right here in Ontario, including muslim women in hijab being accosted on the bus in Toronto, a Hindu temple vandalized in Kitchener and a Mosque torched in Peterborough. But the reaction was swift and just. Our Prime Minister condemned the attacks, and stood by the Muslim community, as did police, faith leaders and local politicians. In fact Trudeau and the Liberal party stood by their pledge to bring in 25,000 mostly Muslim refugees from Syria despite backlash that those refugees might have terrorist connections. Of course Trudeau pledged to do all the proper checks and smartly extended his self-imposed deadline to February instead of December 31st, but he did not back down. Other Canadians also made us proud, perhaps none prouder than the Peterborough synagogue that last weekend opened their doors to the Muslim community to hold prayers in their sanctuary. Enzu Abdella, president of the mosque and the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association, said the overwhelming support from the rest of the community has turned a hateful crime into something positive.

“We’re so grateful to everyone. It’s not just the financial aspect that really makes us very proud to be Canadian and proud to be a part of the Peterborough community, but the comments we’ve received in support… it’s been great for us,” Abdella said.

Synagogue president Larry Gillman responded “We’re all in this together. We may be different religions, but we’re all one people and in times like this we have to stick together. It’s unfortunate that it took an act of hate for this to happen, but maybe through it some good with come of it. This incident should serve as a lesson that when incidents like the one in Paris happens, it is important that people don’t turn around and inflict acts of violence on others… This is Canada, this is not acceptable… We need to stand together to fight this kind of unacceptable behavior from anyone to any group.”

Exactly. When one group of people is attacked – either physically or verbally – everyone is attacked. It starts with one group, but can so easily be extended to others.

Let us be reminded that like Judaism, the essence of Islam is also peace. As Muhammed Ali said in response to Trump, “I am a Muslim, and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion … We, as Muslims, have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody. our Muslim leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”

This is what we need, more voices of reason from different faiths, from political leaders, from musicians and athletes and movie stars – people in the public eye who have the attention of the press and influence over many. I am proud that on Tuesday night, December 15, 2015, I had an opportunity to stand with my colleagues from the local Church and Mosque, the three of us, Abrahamic faiths together, offered a blessing before the chamber of commerce and the Governor General of Canada. That was the symbol of brotherhood and unity – which can easily trump divisiveness and hatred.



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Readers Comments (2)

  1. David The Voter says:

    You are seriously using a valid Jewish argument to support Muslims?

    Is this a piss-take or are you unaware of how funny this is?

    FFS Man.

  2. MikeP says:

    Love how you equate “coming to take away” with “we don’t want you in our home”.
    Because really….executing a religious group in the millions is morally equivalent the same as telling another religious group that they aren’t welcome to visit.

    and of course you leave out the part where Trump said “halting Muslim immigration….until we figure out why they hate us”.


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