” […]Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” This poem by Martin Niemöller, he wrote thinking about what happened in the 19th and 20th century in Europe. However, reflecting on Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lybia, it would not be a false comment there either. Baghdad, Aleppo, Damascus, Sana and Benghazi all once had big Jewish populations, and now have none or almost none. Jews there were amongst the first that got expelled and pushed out, in some places violently so, marking the beginnings of an ever less tolerant and more monotone Middle East. There is no doubt in my mind, that Israel must be a safe haven for Jews, a country, with a clear Jewish history, in which many of the refugees from these places and from others now live. This, in spite of the wrongs and pain, that the reestablishment of a larger Jewish settlement caused on all sides. Because of the historical ruins on which the country stands, Israel is however morally also obligated to be mindful of its Muslim, Christian and other non-Jewish citizens and regional neighbours. Whilst that is not always easy, the spirit of #protecting and securing ethnic and religious minorities with mutual tolerance, respect and dignity is a virtue that must be spread throughout the wider region.
(This text was first published on my facebook, Daniel Zylbersztajn)
Now the hard work and soul searching must begin. In my opinion there is a big job for all of us ahead. I mentioned it earlier today in a facebook post where I argued that pupils in Europe ought to all visit Andalusia, Albania and Istanbul. Europeans must stop excluding Islam and Arab empires in the explanations on the history of its development. The tale of the development of its democracies and enlightenment itself are not without relation to knowledge come through from Arab sources. But there is little knowledge thereof likewise in some European Muslim communities, many of whom with little knowledge of Europe, whose families have migrated from Asia or the Indian Sub-continent. In my conversations with people, I learned that some were not even aware that Spain was once Arab and of the great buildings and legacies left behind. There were tolerant legacies in Baghdad in the Middle East as well as in Cordoba in Spain in which people of all faiths partook whilst Muslims had the upper hand. And yes the Arab and Turkish conquests were not peaceful affairs, they were conquests with the sword rather than just by the book. Neither were the crusades holy affairs of kindness to other human beings or further East activities by the Russian Byzantines. But if faith and religion are to have any meaning to anyone in the world at all, it can not be achieved through the gun or sword or terrorising people, can it? Islam and other faiths, including the Jewish tradition I uphold, have more to offer than the verses and paragraphs on the destruction of others (as we read over and over again most scriptures have these – should we all be at each others throats therefore?) . The fearfulness of a higher presence and meaning, for those who believe in it, the personal humbleness, and self-control, the reaching out of the hand to others even if they are not friends and the care for those in need, are these not the values that count, that we shall not murder, steal, take another’s partner, that we shall honour parents, and is not the promise that there is a God or for others Gods, and even for full hearted secular evolutionists that somehow we are all connected by shared origin and destiny, even if we may argue about the specifics? Islam, just as Catholicism and Judaism and all other world faiths, can actually be proud of its contributions to science and human advance. No followers of faith are free of wrong doing either. Arab conquests and Islamic fundamentalism, Christian crusades, justified slavery, genocide and colonialism and the Hindu curse of casts, along with Jewish biblical battles and some of Israel’s politics. If each stands in front of their God’s or morals jury, will they all be clean? Surely not! But I like to repeat, Islam contributed to European civilisation, and that is what we need to say loud most of all in all directions, because there are many who don’t know this and others who don’t want to know this. This is the message that needs to be spread on the internet and into the heads of insecure youngsters. These should be the responses, when they find themselves marginalised by small minded people. Then there cannot be an offence to vile cartoons, because well educated people will know that there is a different narrative to Islam which is quite connected and central to all that Europe is. You can bet a Croissant and Turkish Coffee on it!