Imam Immar Shahin

Kill the Jews! Oops, I didn’t mean it

Was it a Jew-hating one-off or a Jew-hating pattern?

That was the question on my mind when I heard the imam at the Davis Islamic Center, Ammar Shahin, apologize a week after his Jew-hating sermon in which he preached, “Oh Allah, count them [Jews] one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”

During a press conference held by religious leaders, a contrite Shahin said: “I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts. For this I truly apologize.”

What spurred his apology?

According to the Los Angeles Times, “In the days following his sermon, Shahin said he discussed his statements with a number of people within and outside the Muslim community. That’s when he realized ‘the level of harm it has caused.’”

In other words, until he talked to other people, it didn’t occur to him that calling for the annihilation of every Jew might cause “harm.”

So, was the Jew-hating sermon a one-off or a pattern?

It’s clear the Islamic Center would like us to believe it was an exception. After all, it’s a lot easier to excuse an exception than a habit.

But more than that, the Center wants to do what all smart lawyers tell you to do when your back is against the wall—change the target. Here, it is trying to do that by going after the messenger.

According to the Times, the Center’s initial reaction was that the imam’s comments had been taken out of context by “Islamophobic news organizations.” How many times have we heard that? This is a well-known reaction to criticism of Islam— attack the critic as “Islamophobic.”

The problem with that strategy, in this case, is that we’re dealing with hard facts. These are real words of hate spoken in real time by a real preacher.

The group that translated and disseminated the sermon, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), is a resource that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has described as “absolutely invaluable.” It’s hard to undermine a group whose sole focus is to translate.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Even a group that criticized Shahin’s sermon, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), couldn’t resist trying to take down the messenger.

“Groups like MEMRI exacerbate political divisions on the Middle East conflict rather than aim to reconcile differences,” MPAC said in a statement.

According to a report in JTA, MPAC “expressed frustration with MEMRI, an organization that has drawn fire from Islamic groups for what they say is its tendency to cut and paste Muslim pronouncements to cast them in the worst possible light.”

How’s that for a contradiction: Yes, we admit the sermon was vile and we apologize but please don’t trust the messenger who translated the sermon.

“We hear this all the time,” MEMRI founder Yigal Carmon told me on the phone. “Whenever we expose another Muslim preacher, they accuse us of cutting and pasting, of taking things out of context. They never mention that we show the whole context, the full sermon, everything, and allow viewers to make up their mind.”

According to Carmon, it is the Islamic Center that is doing the cutting and pasting. He claims the Center took down another embarrassing sermon from its website dated July 14, because “they want us to believe the July 21 sermon was a one-time thing.”

In the July 14 sermon, according to a MEMRI translation, Shahin prayed to Allah to “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and to “destroy them and do not spare their young and their elderly.”

Carmon also says the Center took down a sermon in which Shahin called the November 2016 forest fires near Haifa “good news from Palestine” and another in which he characterized democracy and the U.S. Constitution as a form of “idolatry.”

A few hours after Carmon and I spoke, he called to let me know that the Center had taken down its Youtube account as well as all sermons from its website. When I went to check, I randomly clicked on about twenty sermons over several years and, indeed, they all said “this video is unavailable.”

So, was the Jew-hating July 21 sermon a one-off or a pattern?

You tell me.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

French President Emmanuel Macron on May 27. Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

A French Jew’s killing provides a test for the new Macron administration

Before he threw Sarah Halimi to her death from a window of her third-story apartment in Paris, 27-year-old Kobili Traore called his Jewish neighbor “Satan” and cried out for Allah.

These and other facts about the April 4 incident that shocked French Jewry are known from testimonies and a recording made by a neighbor, according to the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism watchdog.

Years before the attack, Traore called a daughter of his 65-year-old victim, whom he beat savagely before killing, “a dirty Jewess,” the daughter said.

Despite these accounts Traore, who reportedly has no history of mental illness, was placed under psychiatric evaluation as per his temporary insanity claim. Prosecutors presented a draft indictment against him for voluntary manslaughter that contains no mention of the aggravated element of a hate crime.

The omission, along with the perceived indifference of authorities and the media in France to a crime that was largely eclipsed by a dramatic elections campaign, has left many members and leaders of the country’s traumatized Jewish community feeling marginalized and angry at a society they say is reluctant to confront anti-Semitism head-on.

“The authorities’ failure to state the terrorist and anti-Semitic nature of this murder is nothing unusual,” Shmuel Trigano, an author of 24 books and a scholar on anti-Semitism, said in an interview on Radio J three weeks after the killing.

Trigano for years has been accusing French authorities of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism – including at times when leaders of French Jewry praised their government for taking extraordinary measures to protect Jews, particularly for deploying thousands of armed soldiers around Jewish institutions for their protection following the murder of four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015.

Yet amid silence by authorities and the national media about the April 4 killing, l’affaire Halimi has emerged as a rallying issue for Jewish leaders, activists and prominent thinkers. They say the investigation is indicative of a deeper problem in French society and the community’s first major test for the administration of the newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron.

“Everything about this crime suggests there is an ongoing denial of reality” by authorities, 17 French intellectuals wrote this month in an open letter published in Le Figaro. “We demand all the truth be brought to light in the murder of Sarah Halimi,” added the authors, including Alain Finkielstein, a Jewish philosopher and member of the Academie Francaise — the guardian of French language and culture.

Amid growing criticism by its constituents CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, substituted its calls for patience for authorities’ handling of the investigation with open criticism over its handling and bid to intervene legally.

“A Jewish woman, a physician who ran a kindergarten, was murdered at her home amid cries of ‘Allah hu akbar,” CRIF Vice President Robert Ejnes wrote in a statement titled “An Increasingly Heavy Silence” nearly two months after the incident. The phrase “Allah hu akbar,” which means “God is great” in Arabic, is sometimes linked to terrorist attacks.

The judiciary, Ejnes added, “has not referenced the anti-Semitic character of the murder but it is clear that Ms. Sarah Halimi of blessed memory was killed because she was Jewish by a murderer motivated by Islamism.”

And the media “has practically not spoken about this, as though the defenestration of a woman is not unusual in Paris in 2017!” he wrote, giving voice to one of the aspects of the affair that many French Jews say is among its most painful aspects.

But it was the open letter by the 17 intellectuals on June 4 that broke the silence in the national media about that affair, according to Hervé Gardette, a journalist for the France Culture state radio station. On June 8, Gardette investigated the case in a program titled “Is There a Denial of Anti-Semitism in France?”

Long before the Halimi case, Jewish leaders and thinkers have been complaining for years of a reluctance in society to face inconvenient truths about crimes when their victims happen to be Jewish.

Gardette, who is not Jewish, acknowledged this on his show.

“Strikingly, this murder immediately brings to mind another older murder, of Ilan Halimi in 2006, 24 days after his abduction, and how long it took back then for the anti-Semitic character of the crime to be admitted by the detectives and journalists. So nothing has changed,” he said. “Is there a denial of anti-Semitism in France?”

Ilan Halimi (no relation), a Jewish phone salesman, was abducted, tortured and murdered by a gang led by a career criminal with a history of targeting mostly Jewish victims.

In an open letter addressed to French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, the French-Jewish philosopher and historian Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine suggested the silence around the Sarah Halimi case stems from the establishment’s desire not to offend Muslims — and to deprive the anti-Muslim far right, led by the leader of the National Front party Marine Le Pen, of campaign fodder.

“Insisting on not calling a spade a spade, minimizing (‘isolated acts’ and ‘lone wolves’), euphemizing (‘children lost to jihad’), justifying, banalizing and playing psychiatrist will get us nowhere,” Laignel-Lavastine wrote.

As for Macron, his official platform speaks of “fighting with determination against all radical streams that distort the values” of Islam, and the distrust of institutions, conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism they represent. But Macron has remained vague on solutions, proposing to conduct the fight by “helping French Muslims to achieve the [restructuring] of their institutions.”

Those who believe that France, despite its previous government’s strong mobilization to protect Jews, has a denial problem cite a long list of cases that they say have been swept under the carpet.

According to Trigano’s research, the French government under former President Jacques Chirac suppressed the anti-Semitic characteristics of at least 500 assaults recorded in the years 2000-02, when anti-Jewish incidents grew from a few dozen annually to hundreds of incidents each year.

More recent cases included the omission of an anti-Semitic motive in a draft indictment against the alleged perpetrators of a 2014 rape and robbery of a Jewish family in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The hate crime element was added following a public outcry.

In 2015, a man who stabbed three Jews near a synagogue in Marseille while crying Allah’s name was initially labeled mentally ill by police, who revised their indictment to omit any reference to mental health following criticism by Jewish leaders.

The question about denial “needs to be asked, and in those terms,” Alain Jakubowicz, president of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism – the French counterpart of the Anti-Defamation League – said during the June 8 radio broadcast. “There is a denial of reality when it comes to this new form of anti-Semitism, which is as deadly as the previous and which poses a problem particularly in France.”

Scholars and watchdogs also worry that anti-Semitic acts are labeled and minimized as “anti-Israel.” The scrapping this year of a documentary about this phenomenon — what some call the “new anti-Semitism” — by the Franco-German Arte television channel “shows the specific treatment of this subject in France, as opposed to other countries,” said Jakubowicz.

Magali Lafourcade, president of the French government’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, said she welcomes the debate over whether authorities downplay anti-Semitism and hate crimes. However, referring to the Halimi case during the France Culture broadcast, she said “we need to let the judiciary do its job” and detectives need time to review all aspects of the case.

In March, Lafourcade’s commission reported a 50 percent drop in the number of anti-Semitic crimes, which it attributed to the deployment of troops outside synagogues, Jewish schools and other institutions deemed at risk of anti-Semitic attacks. But her report questioned the existence of the “new anti-Semitism” and noted only far-right perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes, stating that other perpetrators could not be classified one way or another.

Jakubowicz rejected Lafourcade’s call to wait for word from the judiciary on the Halimi case.

“The entire reason for this mobilization,” he said in the radio program, “is that the judiciary is not doing its job.”

Shaming the murderers

A religious Muslim who murders an innocent person in the name of the Quran desecrates his own religion. I wish that idea had been the theme of last week’s White House Conference on Violent Extremism. 

Instead, President Barack Obama went out of his way to take religion out of religious violence. Referring to the growing threat of Islamic violence, the president suggested that this is not the real Islam.

“We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” he said. 

Well, the fanatics of ISIS might disagree. “The Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” Graeme Wood writes in a widely read essay in The Atlantic. “Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers … but the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

This interpretation harks back to the earliest days of Islam and includes a radical interpretation of takfir, the practice of excommunication. As Wood writes: “Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people.”

Taking violent religious texts literally may be a horrible idea, but it’s not a misinterpretation or perversion of Islam, even though the great majority of modern Muslims would never practice it. And it’s not just our current president who glosses over this uncomfortable reality. President George W. Bush made a similar wishful assertion in 2001, a few days after the 9/11 terror attacks, when he said, “These acts of violence violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

It’s not about giving religious fanatics the legitimacy they seek, it’s about giving them the public shaming they deserve.

Our wishful thinking comes from a good place — we’re conditioned in America to respect religion. So we want to believe that when a religious person kills in the name of religion, it must be a perversion. We look for another agenda. 

“Obama’s position seems to be that the leaders of these [jihadist] groups aren’t sincere in their beliefs,” Reihan Salam wrote in Slate. “He suggests that what ISIS is really after is power, as if its obsessive focus on acting in accordance with practices that were widespread in the days of Muhammad is merely window-dressing for thuggery and theft.”

One of Obama’s arguments for downplaying religion is that he doesn’t want to give fanatics the “religious legitimacy they seek.” But we’re in a war. It’s not about giving religious fanatics the legitimacy they seek, it’s about giving them the public shaming they deserve. Separating their acts from their religion and calling them “violent extremists” doesn’t offend or hurt them — it just lets them off the hook.

A more effective approach would be to put them on the defensive by accusing them of desecrating their own religion. The fact is, all the murders that religious fanatics are committing in the name of Allah dishonors Allah and the very religion they cherish so deeply.

We must stick to what we know. Most of us, including the president, are not theological experts on Islam. Who are we to decide what is and what isn’t Islam? There have been countless interpretations and reinterpretations across the centuries, some more peaceful than others. There is one thing, however, that is quite clear to all of us– what looks good and what looks bad. Chopping off a reporter’s head in the name of religion makes that religion look bad. Period. Case closed. So does lynching gays or stoning a woman to death.

Promoting peaceful coexistence in the name of religion looks good; promoting murder in the name of religion looks bad. This is true for all religions and for all societies and for all time.

Yes, the majority of Muslims are against jihadist violence, but they must take responsibility for the fact that most religious violence today emanates from their religion. As J.J. Goldberg writes in the Forward, “There are many sources of violent extremism in the world, but there’s basically just one that’s terrorizing vast sections of humanity right now, and that’s the one that identifies itself with purist Islam and jihad.”

The best way for supporters of Islam to defend Islam is to target and publicly shame those who are poisoning the image of Islam. Instead of attempting to separate these religious thugs from their religion, we must go in the opposite direction and tell them: “You’re not just violent extremists. You’re religious sinners and desecrators. By murdering in the name of Islam, you are destroying the image of your own faith.”

Obama alluded to this at his conference when he said: “Violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.” That should become his main line of attack in the war against religious fanatics.

It’s time to raise the stakes. Instead of trying to convince people that Islam is a “religion of peace,” let’s go after those who are making Islam look like a religion of war. It’s no longer enough to say, “We are not at war against Islam.” We must now say, “You who murder in the name of Islam are the ones who are really at war against Islam.”

In the long struggle against religious fanatics, let’s remember who the bad guys are and let's never forget the lethal weapon of public shame.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Why religion is a laughing matter

Satire and caricature are funny things. The most effective satire makes us laugh — but then it also gives us something to chew on, to think about.  

Not all satire is humorous, however. In the Middle Ages, caricatured figures were generally not intended to be funny, as for example in the Christian sculptural traditions that depicted Jews and heretics with deformed features. That was essentially an early version of hate speech. Satire runs on a spectrum from humor to bitterness to hatred, a range of meanings that can only be deciphered in their cultural context. We learn to figure out what is funny (think of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), what is trying to be funny but is really in bad taste (“The Interview”) and what is downright mean (Nazi cartoons of Jews).  

But within this complexity, caricaturing and satirizing religion historically have been even more sensitive. The Protestant Reformation produced humorous and heated satire against Roman Catholicism, and even the pope. Once Protestantism was established in a country, however, satire was censored. Humorous cartoons about political issues came into prominence from the Napoleonic Age onward; but the authority of religion protected what was demarcated as holy. In intensely secular, revolutionary France, prelates could be lampooned, but in America it was more often the “enthusiasts” — the wild sectarians such as Mormons and millenarians — who would appear as the object of caricature. Mainstream religion — decorous, solemn and rational — rarely suffered direct attack until the late 20th century.

Why have we not been able to laugh at religion? Underneath it all, are we afraid to take religion lightly? That a wrathful deity might put up with all kinds of other crimes against humanity, life and even lack of devotion to Himself, but not with being laughed at? Would the creator of humanity, who made the world completely good, regret creating a laughing being more than a murderous one? This would be an ironic theological outcome for Western religions. Not that Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism or Hinduism are known for rollicking laugh-fests.

Oddly enough, given its minority status, Judaism seems to be the religion that has produced a larger repertoire of humorous religious satire. The tradition that supposedly invented the absolutist, jealous, wrathful God also produced a people that considers religion pretty funny? That is pretty funny, but true. Jokes about rabbis abound, as well as about Jewish practices such as the Passover matzah and bitter herbs, circumcision, conversion and bar mitzvah, not to mention theological topics such as God, Satan and death. Such jokes are even recited from the pulpits of quite religious congregations. Are Jews secret atheists? Is this revenge?

No. Jewish humor comes from the Jewish tradition of destabilizing structures of power — which is the source of both revolutionary ideology in the sociopolitical realm and humorous satire. From biblical times, our texts recount the overthrow of ancient worldviews that believed in child sacrifice, the rights of the first-born, divine humans, divine rights of kings and dynastic rule. They limit the power of owners over slaves, of husbands and fathers over women, even of humans over animas with the laws of the Sabbath.  

But humor can go deeper, liberating the mind. The Exodus story is in part a satire on Pharaoh who believes himself a god. While he was issuing decrees and whips were lashing the Israelites, women outsmarted him. The midrash tells us of the midwives who said, “We can’t kill the Hebrew boys as they emerge from the womb — the women deliver their babies so fast we can’t get there in time.” Really! And if you believe that, I’ll sell you a bridge over the Nile. Worse yet, modern children’s songs about the Ten Plagues make Pharaoh a laughingstock, a helpless victim of forces he thinks he controls. 

The story of Balaam and his talking donkey in the book of Numbers is a parody of a prophet who thinks he can outsmart the deity and get rich. The tale of Elijah competing with the prophets of Baal in the book of Kings is a hilarious caricature. The book of Esther satirizes the power of villains and foolish kings. The book of Jonah has plenty of irony: Really, Jonah, you think you can run away from an infinite God? The strange ending to that story could almost be a cartoon: You feel sorry for the plant that died, but not for the thousands of people of Nineveh who would have died if they had not repented? And so many cattle?   

Our problem today is that too much of religion has not fulfilled its promise as a disruptive, liberating force. It is another bastion of structural stability and entrenched power. Ironies of divine behavior are interpreted as warnings and punishments. The force of humor is repressed by being associated with arrogance: Religious authorities proclaim it sinful to satirize views of God, religion or its representatives. But, isn’t the arrogant shoe on the other foot?

Religion in most traditions is no laughing matter because it is defined as nonmatter, as “spiritual,” as on a higher level than we benighted humans. But for Judaism, everything human is, simply, human. Everything natural is, simply, nature. There are visible and invisible worlds, but “God” is not defined by any of their terminologies. So everything, including our religions, is subject to critique.  

Humor — as satire, as caricature — is a Jewish way of subverting idolatry. But the best humor comes not with bitterness or revolutionary zeal. It comes with love, or at least appreciation, for the precarious and tender efforts of human and divine partners to be in relationship.  

One of the cartoons that supposedly angered Islamic radicals depicted the founder of Islam, holding his head in his hands and saying, “It’s so hard to be loved by idiots.” The cartoon could have been one of God as the old bearded man in the sky, looking down on His human creations. It must be hard for Him, too, to be loved by those idiosyncratic creatures who forget what He is all about.

Tamar Frankiel is president of the Academy for Jewish Religion California and a scholar of comparative religion.

Cartoon: Je Suis Charlie

For murdered teens, revenge is not enough

When I first heard the tragic news that the three kidnapped Israeli boys had been murdered by Palestinian terrorists, my immediate instinct was to cry out for revenge. What other sentiment could I have? How else to respond to such cruelty? Should we not punish the murderers and their Hamas leaders so as to deter future attacks?

This seems to be the general sentiment here in Israel, where, over the past two weeks, I have seen a nation go from prayer to grief to understandable anger.

Since the day of the abductions, the country prayed for the boys to return home. Somehow, we all thought, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would find a way. But they didn’t. When the three dead bodies were finally found, the country went into that familiar chaotic emotion that blends grief with rage.

You grieve with one side of your heart, you scream for punishment with the other. This instinct to punish is a survival mechanism that dates from the beginning of time. Punishing evil is a way of keeping order, of making sure that the forces of good prevail.

Unrestrained evil is the biggest threat to the survival of our species, and when that evil is done in the name of God, as so often happens in the Middle East, all hell breaks loose, all rules go out the window.

This is what concerns me about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initial response to the murders: He’s playing by the usual rules. You kill and I kill you back. Brutal meets brutal. “Hamas will pay,” he declared, and sure enough, one way or another, the IDF will make sure that Hamas pays.

But why are we so sure that the best way to punish Hamas is through the violence they revere? Why are we so sure that violence, even justified violence in the name of justice, is the thing that will hurt them the most?

Don’t get me wrong. We need to find the murderers and punish them. We need to inflict pain on the leaders of Hamas to discourage future attacks. This is infinitely wiser than rewarding them by releasing terrorists in return for hostages.

The problem with this standard kind of punishment, however, is that it doesn’t go deep enough. If we really want to punish the murderers and the ideology they represent, we must introduce something new into the picture: God.

The Hamas charter preaches killing in the name of God. This is a desecration of God’s name. We must turn the tables on the religious murderers and accuse them, loudly and publicly, of desecrating God’s name.

We must shame and humiliate the God-driven killers by using their own language.

“I can assure you that Allah does not want innocent students to be murdered,” Netanyahu must say to the leaders of Hamas. “To suggest otherwise is the ultimate blasphemy.”

Bibi must stop worrying about the Western media and the Western world, and speak directly to Muslims. He must tell them the truth: “The Quran did not sanction the deaths of these three boys.”

In this holy period of Ramadan, Bibi must be relentless and fearless with this message. He must tell the murderers that when they took the lives of these boys, and ripped out the hearts of their families, they also ripped out the heart of Allah.

“Yes, Allah is great,” Bibi must declare. “He is great because He values life, the life of all His children. You, who murder in the name of Allah, owe Him repentance. How will you repent?”

Bibi and others must preach in the name of a loving Allah with the same fiery passion as those who preach in the name of a hateful Allah.

This is bigger than terrorism. It’s bigger than the rules of crime and punishment. It’s bigger than the secular values of law and order.

This is, above all, about God, and helping the loving God win.

This loving God came up in a meeting I had in Ramallah last week with a Palestinian spokesperson. My friend Felice Friedson, who runs a Middle East news service called The Media Line, had arranged the meeting. After a long conversation that was full of polite talking points, I decided to take a chance. I looked him in the eye and said: “You and I have the same father, Abraham. We are children of the same God. We are all created in His image. Why is this not part of the conversation between our people?”

He seemed taken aback by my bluntness.

It felt odd that after a long discussion of politics, I would bring up God. But it got his attention. He nodded quietly. It was obvious that he took the notion of God seriously.

Here’s the point: This is a region where God is taken very seriously. Especially for those who kill in the name of God, nothing is bigger than the Almighty.

We must fight these killers not just with lethal missiles, but with lethal messages.

God-driven murderers who are now rampaging through much of the Middle East must be universally accused, loudly and relentlessly, of dishonoring their own God.

Nothing can hurt them more.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Boston suspect’s web page venerates Islam, Chechen independence

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev posted links to Islamic websites and others calling for Chechen independence on what appears to be his page on a Russian language social networking site.

Abusive comments in Russian and English were flooding onto Tsarnaev's page on VK, a Russian-language social media site, on Friday after he was identified as a suspect in the bombing of the Boston marathon.

Police launched a massive manhunt for Tsarnaev, 19, after killing his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a shootout overnight.

On the site, the younger Tsarnaev identifies himself as a 2011 graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It says he went to primary school in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, a province in Russia that borders Chechnya, and lists his languages as English, Russian and Chechen.

His “World view” is listed as “Islam” and his “Personal priority” is “career and money”.

He has posted links to videos of fighters in the Syrian civil war and to Islamic web pages with titles like “Salamworld, my religion is Islam” and “There is no God but Allah, let that ring out in our hearts”.

He also has links to pages calling for independence for Chechnya, a region of Russia that lost its bid for secession after two wars in the 1990s.

The page also reveals a sense of humour, around his identity as a member of a minority from southern Russia's restive Caucasus, which includes Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and other predominately Muslim regions that have seen two decades of unrest since the fall of the Soviet Union.

A video labelled “tormenting my brother” shows a man resembling his dead brother Tamerlan laughing and imitating the accents of different Caucasian ethnic groups.

He has posted his own joke: “A car goes by with a Chechen, a Dagestani and an Ingush inside. Question: who is driving?”

The answer: the police.

Elsewhere on the Internet, a photo essay entitled “Will box for passport” shows the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev practicing boxing at a gym. The captions identify him as a Chechen heavyweight boxer, in the United States for five years.

“I don't have a single American friend,” one caption quotes him as saying. “I don't understand them.”

Reporting by Peter Graff; editing by Philippa Fletcher

What do I think about Zionism as a Turkish Muslim?

For the last couple of years — and especially the last couple of days — my Jewish friends all over the world have expressed their concern whether anti-Semitism is on the rise in Turkey. First of all Turkey has a population over 70 million. There is a great deal of diversity and plurality in Turkey. There can be some isolated events, individual statements but comments to present Turkey as a country becoming antisemitic are misleading and does not have any grounds whatsoever. Israelis and our Jewish brothers and sisters in general should not be concerned at all because there is no question of Turks' hating Israel or Jews in general, God forbid.

The Zionist conception of the devout Jewish people, who wish to live in peace and security in Israel alongside Muslims, seeking peace and wishing to worship in the lands of their forefathers and engaging in business is perfectly normal from an Islamic perspective. In that sense, as a Muslim I support Zionism. I fully back the devout Jewish people living in peace and security in their own lands, remembering God, worshiping in their synagogues and engaging in science and trade in their own land.

What is not well-known is that the Zionist belief held by a devout Jew and based on the Torah does not in any way conflict with the Koran. What is more, the Jews’ living in that region is indicated in the Koran, in which it is revealed that God has settled the Children of Israel on it:

“Remember Moses said to his people: 'O my people! Call in remembrance the favour of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. O my people! Enter the Holy Land which Allah hath assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.'” (Koran, 5:20-21)

It is also revealed in the Koran that the Jews are a blessed people from the line of the Prophet Abraham and descended from the worthy prophets of God. There is no doubt that the Jews' efforts to migrate and build a homeland for themselves wherever they desire in the world is a most lawful demand. For that reason, it is the Jews' most natural right to wish to live in their own holy lands. Their ancestors lie buried in these lands, which are of the greatest significance to them. Indeed, God reveals in the Koran that He has settled the Jews in those lands they live in:

“We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling-place, and provided for them sustenance of the best: it was after knowledge had been granted to them, that they fell into schisms. Verily Allah will judge between them as to the schisms amongst them, on the Day of Judgment.” (Koran, 10:93)

In another verse God says referring to Jerusalem:

“And remember We said: 'Enter this town, and eat of the plenty therein as ye wish; but enter the gate with humility, in posture and in words, and We shall forgive you your faults and increase (the portion of) those who do good.'” (Koran, 2:58)

And there are other verses of the Koran that indicate the right of Jews to dwell on the Holy Land:

“They say, 'If we follow the guidance with you, we shall be forcibly uprooted from our land.' Have We not established a safe haven for them to which produce of every kind is brought, provision direct from Us? But most of them do not know it.” (Koran, 28:57)

“And We said unto the Children of Israel after him: Dwell in the land; but when the promise of the Hereafter cometh to pass We shall bring you as a crowd gathered out of various nations.” (Koran, 17:104)

As revealed in the verses, God has settled the Jews in these lands, and Jews have the right to live freely on those lands, as do Muslims and Christians. This is also a promise of God for Jews to gather them in the Holy Land, only with the conditions realized. The words of the Torah state that God would only realize His Promise to the Jews on the condition that they love Him and obey Him:

“And when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers…” (Deuteronomy, 30:2-5)

I also would like to point out my thoughts concerning the remarks attributed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's that appeared in the international media. As it happens in all ideologies, people can impart different meanings to ideologies, faiths they practice or talk about. So sometimes it is important how people interpret things or what people understand, and carry into effect with those ideas.

The word Zionism also has several very different meanings. It would be misleading to bundle them altogether and automatically assume the Prime Minister Erdogan intended them all. The word Zionism is associated with the connection of the Children of Israel with the Holy Land as well as Biblical commandments that are required to be performed there. The word is also associated with the search of a community tied, together by a common religious and cultural heritage, for a homeland free from persecution. Lastly, the word is associated with the specific political and strategic policy decisions of various administrations of the State of Israel, which is often anti-religious.

In the first two usages, the word Zionism is used only in the positive, constructive sense, that is, the building of a nation. It does not imply any criticism or condemnation of any other group whatsoever, so it is definitely not in the same category as Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In addition, juxtaposing Zionism with racism does not have basis in these two understandings of the term because racism cannot be tolerated in this Torah binded Zionism:

“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

So I see it as particularly crucial for our Prime Minister Erdogan to make a clarification and explain that he is not against the concept of Zionism which represents the Jewish people's right to establish a state in Israel. But I find it important that he clarifies his intention and be specific about what he is being critical about rather than proscribing all the rights of Jews. And I would humbly ask him to discriminate what kind of Zionism he sees as a threat, or at least explain that he is referring to an understanding which represents a cruel version that is far away from the moral virtue that Judaism teaches. I am sure that he will offer a new explanation so that our Israeli brothers and sisters will feel comfortable about.

As a side note; in the wide-spread political arena of the whole Middle East, being opposed to Zionism, opposed to Israel and opposed to Freemasonry is a classical right-wing statement. In other words, when a person makes statements against these subjects, then he gains political power. If he is a writer or a leader of a religious group, then his position is strengthened. Therefore, someone who is anti-Masonic, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish is strengthened on the right. But I have to advocate the truth. My conscience will not permit the defamation and accusation of someone who has not committed a crime, a member of the People of the Book. That is incompatible with my religious belief. I do not say things so that some other people will approve of them or simply like what I have to say.

The Jews are the People of the Book, whom God created and praised for their good attributes and criticized for their errors, just in the same way He talks about Muslims. I as a Muslim believe that Jews must be able to live by their own faith and to live as they wish in their own country. God says in the Koran that the Jews exist, and it is perfectly normal for them to live in Israel. And thus, I want both the Palestinians and the Israelis to live fraternally in a friendly and amicable manner in the region in wealth and abundance.

Sinem Tezyapar is a political and religious commentator from Turkey, and an executive producer at A9 TV. She is also the spokesperson of a prominent international interfaith organization. To reach her, visit or follow her on Twitter @SinemTezyapar

Morsi answers amen to imam’s prayers for destruction of Jews

A video shows Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi saying amen to the prayers by an imam calling on Allah to “destroy the Jews and their supporters.”

Morsi in last weekend's service is seen praying with great concentration at a mosque in the Matrouh governorate. The service was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“Oh Allah, absolve us of our sins, strengthen us, and grant us victory over the infidels,” prayed Futouh Abd Al-Nabi Mansour, the local head of the religious council. “O Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. O Allah, disperse them, rend them asunder. O Allah, demonstrate Your might and greatness upon them. Show us Your omnipotence, O Lord.”

The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern about the anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Egypt.

“The drumbeat of anti-Semitism in the 'new' Egypt is growing louder and reverberating further under President Morsi, and we are increasingly concerned about the continuing expressions of hatred for Jews and Israel in Egyptian society and President Morsi's silence in the face of most of these public expressions of hate,” Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director, said in a statement.

The prayer service came just days after Morsi sent a letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres calling him a “great and good friend,” and requesting that the two countries continue “maintaining and strengthening the cordial relations which so happily exist between our two countries,” according to the Times of Israel, which published a photo of the letter. The letter was presented to Peres by Egypt's new ambassador to Israel.

A founder of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, Ahmad Hamrawi, over the weekend left the Muslim Brotherhood over the letter, calling it “national and religious treason to millions of Egyptians” and alleging secret ties between Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The ADL wrote to Morsi last week urging him to reject statements made by the supreme authority of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, who called for violence against Jews and Israel.