The just concluded year was a dangerous and dispiriting one for Jews and Muslims alike in many places around the world where they live as minorities. Consider some of the happenings both in the United States and around the world.
2019 ended with a spate of violent attacks on Orthodox Jews, including a murderous rampage at a kosher deli in Jersey City and a stabbing attack on participants in a Hanukkah party at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, NY. Earlier in 2019, there were fatal attacks by white supremacist gunmen on synagogues in Poway, California, and Halle, Germany. Both were seemingly copycat crimes for the murderous attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by a Jew-hating shooter in late 2018, that left 11 worshipers dead.
The most horrendous act of anti-Muslim violence last year took place on March 31 in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a gunman attacked two mosques, killing 51 worshipers and wounding 49 others.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, there were 1664 hate crimes against Muslims in 2018 and more than 500 in the first four months of 2019 alone. These included arson attacks on mosques in New York, Connecticut, and California, including one apparently carried out by the same gunman who later attacked the synagogue in Poway. The most horrendous act of anti-Muslim violence last year took place on March 31 in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a gunman attacked two mosques, killing 51 worshipers and wounding 49 others.
At the same time, governments around the world carried out acts of brutal oppression against Muslims that were often met only by silence by the Trump Administration.
India ended the long-standing autonomy of the mainly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir, instituting a military lock-down that involved arresting thousands of Kashmiri civilians while cutting off Internet and telephone services. At the end of the year, India’s parliament passed a law allowing adherents of many religions, other than Islam, who had come from certain South Asian countries to apply for Indian citizenship; an explicitly discriminatory measure that could be the first step toward stripping away basic rights from an estimated 170 million Muslim citizens of India.
In 2019, the world became aware of the pervasiveness of so-called “re-education camps” set up by the Chinese government in the mainly Muslim Xinjiang Autonomous Region, in which more than one million ethnic Uyghurs and other Chinese Muslims are being held for indefinite periods. Under the guise of countering terrorism and extremism, the prisoners are being subjected to brainwashing to strip them of their Uyghur/Islamic identity and transform them into model Chinese citizens.
Elsewhere in the world, Russia has intensified its crackdown on the Crimean Tatars, a small Muslim ethnic group in occupied Crimea, raiding mosques and private homes to arrest activists and seize religious literature.
President Trump has shown little concern for the well-being of vulnerable Muslim communities in the Middle East.
President Trump has shown little concern for the well-being of vulnerable Muslim communities in the Middle East. He abruptly ordered U.S. troops out of Syria, leaving America’s longtime Kurdish allies to endure invasion by Turkey. No less heartbreaking, the Administration has continued to support the wholesale Saudi military onslaught against starving Yemeni civilians.
Trump’s misguided decision to assassinate General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, seems guaranteed to greatly increase tensions between America and much of the Muslim world.
Back home, the Trump Administration has sought to weaponize the issue of Antisemitism by conflating it with criticism of Israel, a step seemingly calculated to drive a wedge between American Jews and Muslims; and which threatens to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, especially on university campuses. Specifically, the Administration has adopted new language expanding the definition of Antisemitism to include opposing the Jewish state and criticizing Israel more harshly than other countries.
The U.S. Department of Education has announced it is investigating incidents involving anti-Israel advocacy at Rutgers, Columbia, and New York Universities; charging that the universities allegedly created a hostile atmosphere against Jewish students. The Administration constantly berates the rise of Antisemitism, even as Trump himself frequently employs anti-Semitic memes, yet never says a word in opposition to Islamophobia; strongly enforcing its discriminatory ‘Muslim ban’, while tweeting that Muslim and African-American congresswomen should “go back where they came from.”
At this moment of crisis here and around the world, Jews and Muslims — America’s two largest minority faith communities — must stand up for each other when either community is victimized by hate crimes or incitement.
At this moment of crisis here and around the world, Jews and Muslims — America’s two largest minority faith communities — must stand up for each other when either community is victimized by hate crimes or incitement. Neither Muslim nor Jewish communal life would long endure in an authoritarian white Christian ethno-state; and none of us can feel safe in an America filled with heavily armed people who feel sanctioned by the bigoted rhetoric of political leaders to lash out violently at minorities.
As we enter the fateful year 2020, let us join in a united front of Muslims, Jews and people of conscience of diverse backgrounds to defend core American principles of pluralism, democracy and religious freedom for all.
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Walter Ruby and Ovais Sheikh are leaders of Jews, Muslims and Allied Acting Together (JAMAAT), a Washington area interfaith organization. Ovais Sheikh, a businessman based in Virginia, was a member of the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden, NY, for 25 years.