Sotloff family mourns, challenges Islamic State leader to Koran debate


The family of Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist beheaded by Islamic State militants, said on Wednesday he was “a gentle soul,” and challenged the group's leader to a debate on the peaceful teachings of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

The group, which has captured territory in Syria and Iraq, released a video on Tuesday of Sotloff being beheaded. U.S. officials confirmed its authenticity on Wednesday. President Barack Obama vowed to “degrade and destroy” the group.

Barak Barfi, a friend of Sotloff who is serving as family spokesman, began a prepared statement from the family in English, remembering the slain journalist as a fan of American football who enjoyed junk food, the television series “South Park” and talking to his father about golf.

The 31-year-old Sotloff was “torn between two worlds,” the statement said, but “the Arab world pulled him.”

“He was no war junkie … He merely wanted to give voice to those who had none,” Barfi said outside the family's one-story home in a leafy Miami suburb.

Barfi ended the statement with off-the-cuff remarks in Arabic, saying “Steve died a martyr for the sake of God.”

He then challenged Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to debate Islam, saying, “Woe to you. You said the month of Ramadan is the month of mercy. Where is your mercy?”

“God does not love the aggressor,” added Barfi, who is an Arabic scholar and research fellow at the New America Foundation think tank in Washington.

He went on, “I am ready to debate you with kind preachings. I have no sword in my hand and I am ready for your answer.”

The other American hostage killed in recent weeks in retaliation for U.S. air strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq was journalist James Foley, who was shown being beheaded in a video released on Aug. 19.

Sotloff was a freelance journalist who traveled the Middle East writing for the magazines Time and Foreign Policy, among others.

“Steve was no hero,” the family said in its statement.

“Like all of us, he was a mere man who tried to find good concealed in a world of darkness. And if it did not exist, he tried to create it. He always sought to help those less privileged than himself, offering career services and precious contacts to newcomers in the region.”

Sotloff was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013 after he drove across the border from Turkey.

He grew up in the Miami area and studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. A spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry said on social media website Twitter that Sotloff also was an Israeli citizen.

Sotloff “yearned for a tranquil life where he could enjoy Miami Dolphins games on Sunday,” his family said.

“This week we mourn,” it added. “But we will emerge from this ordeal … We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess – fear.”

Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Will Dunham and Clarence Fernandez

From Nairobi to Pakistan religicide rears its ugly head


The carnage at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, the homicide bombers massacre of worshipers at an historic church in Peshawar, deposed Muslim Brotherhood loyalists torch scores of Coptic churches in Egypt, a series of vicious attacks against Nigerian Christians and churches…

Nigeria’s Boko Haram, (recently described by US State Department merely as a group with grievances about Nigerian governance) through its murderous targeting of innocent Christians, served as a cruel prequel to the Kenyan and Pakistan attacks. All wars are hell, but we are now witnessing not only a quest for conquest but a campaign to destroy anyone whose path to G-d deviates from the pure theology of hate.

Last month, Boko Haram terrorists disguised as Nigerian soldiers set up roadblocks between the cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu. Motorists were stopped and asked their names. If Muslims, they were allowed to pass only after reciting a line from the Koran. On that day, 143 motorists were identified as Christians. They were dragged out and killed–their bodies dumped along the side of the road. Two days later, more Christians were murdered at a different location.

We know of no evidence directly linking the attacks in these countries.  But Kenya's chief of general staff, Julius Karangi was correct in describing Al-Shabaab terrorists as “a multinational collection from all over the world… We have also have an idea that this is not a local event.” Coordinated or not, these terrorists all selected their victims according to religion.  In Pakistan it was simple enough—attack the embattled Christian minority at the historic All-Saints Church. The Nairobi murdererstook the time to identify Muslims and let them exit the mall.

On November 2nd, 1943 Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spoke at Berlin’s Luftwaffe Hall. Having met both Hitler and Himmler, he knew of what he spoke when he declared, “The Germans know how to get rid of the Jews.”

Little did anyone know that some of the Nazi techniques would be used 70 years later by al-Husseini’s heirs, jihadists who like the Nazis brazenly select who shall live, and who shall die.

Georges Clemenceau, one of the chief architects of Versailles said, “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”  The world has been slow to understand that for some Islamists, victory is defined not merely by conquering territory, but by destroying people—especially people of (another) faith. The Nazis called it extermination. We call it Religicide- but whatever the label, we must act to thwart this horrific trend.

To have any hope, the counterattack must be led by Muslims. After the latest outrages, an important condemnation was expressed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “Those who have committed this heinous act have gone beyond basic principles of humanity…There is no cause that can justify the killing and maiming of young children, the elderly and the most innocent in society. This perverted mindset that sheds blood without regards to any humanity must be confronted and challenged by all of us,” its statement declared.

An important message – especially in light of the silence of religious leaders around the globe who failed to quickly and unequivocally expressed their outrage. It was diminished only by its depiction of these heinous crimes as “senseless violence.” Alas, the violence of the jihadists is anything but senseless, or simply uncontrolled barbarism.  It makes all too much sense to the demagogues who teach it to their followers. The platform of global jihadists includes religicide and genocide of anyone who prays and thinks differently than they.

Four hundred years ago, Rabbi Judah Loewe of Prague, known as the Maharal, puzzled over the biblical narrative of Cain and Abel, the earliest fratricide. As the curtain comes down, the good brother, Abel lies dead; his guilty brother Cain cops a suspended sentence. This sends a confusing message. Would it not have been better for good to triumph over evil, or at least for the murderer to have been brought to stricter justice? In answer, Maharal points to Abel’s name in the original Hebrew – hevel, which means vacuousness and emptiness.  Abel may have acted more properly than his brother, but his commitment to good was weak and flimsy, not firm and determined. Abel loses to Cain because good does not always win out over evil. Strong, resolute evil will beat outweak, irresolute good. It is a lesson that 21st century humankind would do well to ponder and internalize. 

If we don’t want to go the way of Abel, we better be prepared to take on Cain.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Criticism is not Islamophobia


Criticism is the oxygen of journalism. Here at the Jewish Journal, we will criticize anything that we believe deserves criticism, including religion. We will criticize preachers who use Christianity to express hatred and bigotry toward gays as much as we will criticize religious Jews who use the Torah to humiliate women rabbis wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall.

Personally, I’ve shown my revulsion at some of the stuff written in the Torah — like the admonition to stone your son to death if he desecrates the Sabbath—and I’ve railed against missionary Christians who twist the Torah in order to convert Jews.

But I have to confess — like most of the mainstream media in America, I’ve been very reluctant to criticize Islam.

When, several years ago, virtually every American paper refused to publish satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, I should have criticized that response. I understood that fear and intimidation probably played a role, given the riots that followed their publication in a Danish paper.

But it’s not as if the media has ever been afraid to publish cartoons that make fun of Jesus or Moses or Buddha — so why should they single out Muhammad for special treatment?

If you ask me, I think it’s time we stop walking on eggshells with Islam.

It’s not healthy. This notion that any critique of Islam equates to Islamophobia is absurd and patronizing. It says to Muslims: “We criticize Judaism and Christianity because we think they can handle it, but we don’t think you can.” That’s insulting to Islam and to Muslims.

Every religion needs a good dose of criticism. That’s how they improve and become more human. That’s how they shed their outdated and immoral layers, like slavery and oppression of women. Where would Judaism be today without the centuries of relentless self-reflection and self-criticism that goes on to this day?

How could it be wrong or Islamophobic to criticize a religious text that might justify the stoning to death of women or the killing of infidels?

After terror attacks that appear to have an Islamic connection, such as last week’s Boston massacre, we often hear defensive talk about how Islam is a “religion of peace.” To back this up, Muslim commentators like to quote a verse in the Koran (Surah 5, verse 32) that mentions the Talmudic idea that if you kill one human being, it is as if you have killed an entire world.

The problem, though, is that commentators usually fail to mention the verse that immediately follows, which is anything but peaceful: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”

Verse 32 works for me. Verse 33 turns my stomach.

The way I see it, the future of Islam and its reputation in the world will hinge on which verse will win out—verse 32 or verse 33.

So far, it looks like the wrong verse is winning. Since 9/11, close to 20,000 acts of terrorism have been recorded throughout the world under the name of Islam, many of those against Muslims themselves.

It’s suicidal and counterproductive for the world to pretend that violence-prone religious texts like verse 33 do not exist, especially if those texts are used to instigate violence against “infidels” and other mischief-makers.

Religions shouldn’t get an automatic pass at respect. They have to earn it. If you’re a member of a religion where some members use the religion as an excuse to kill people, your job is not to convince me that you’re a religion of peace, but to convince your co-religionists who are actually doing the killing.

It’s ironic that verse 32 borrows from Jewish texts. Muslims who believe in that peaceful verse might want to borrow something else from the Jews: a big mouth.

These Muslims of verse 32 have been too quiet for too long. If they want the world to show more respect for their cherished religion, they must rise up and make more noise against their violent minority who believe in verse 33.

There’s no dishonor in self-criticism. Jews do it all the time. Maybe that’s why you don’t see much criticism of Islam in Jewish papers—we’re too busy criticizing ourselves.

But criticism is not an end in itself– it must lead to results. The Muslims of verse 32 must win the moral battle against the Muslims of verse 33, even if it takes a century. And they must not recoil at criticism that may come from outsiders who have good intentions. In fact, they must use it to shame their violent cohorts.

Constructive criticism of violent texts is not Islamophobia. It’s the beginning of positive change. Painting all criticism of Islam with the Islamophobic brush is just as wrong as painting all Muslims with a violent brush. It suffocates debate and the very process of evolution.

To borrow from another Jewish mantra, constructive criticism is good for the Jews, good for the Muslims and good for the world.

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 http://www.facebook.com/sinemtezyapar or follow her on Twitter @SinemTezyapar

Opinion: Burn books or kill people?


Imagine being the mother of one of the U.S. soldiers murdered last week in Afghanistan in retaliation for the burning of Korans on a U.S. military base there. First, you discover that the Korans had already been desecrated by the jihadist prisoners themselves, who purloined the holy books with what U.S. authorities described as “extremist inscriptions” meant for covert and violent purposes. In fact, that’s why the Korans were seized in the first place — they were considered a security threat.

Next, you learn that although U.S. authorities had good reason to destroy these books, they did so inadvertently. As Andrew C. McCarthy reports in National Review Online: “The soldiers dispatched to burn refuse from the jail were not the officials who had seized the books, had no idea they were burning Korans, and tried desperately to retrieve the books when the situation was brought to their attention.”

Then, after learning that your son was killed because of this American “mistake,” you read about the reaction of President Barack Obama. The president didn’t defend America’s position or make a passionate appeal against murdering innocents in the name of religion. Instead, he offered an apology to the Afghan president: “I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident. … I extend to you and the Afghani people my sincere apologies.”

No mention of the murder of your son. No public condolences to the families of those murdered.

Now, if you are the mother of one of those boys, how are you supposed to feel? The world shows its empathy for the followers of a burned holy book but seems utterly indifferent to those murdered by some of those very followers.

What am I missing here?

Can you imagine if religious Jews had gone on a murderous rampage after Palestinians destroyed Torah scrolls while desecrating Joseph’s tomb a few years ago in Nablus? Can you imagine if Buddhist or Christian or Hindu groups murdered people every time someone desecrated their religion? Would anyone apologize to the offended religious groups even though they killed people in retaliation — as we are doing now with Muslims — or would they condemn the murderers, as well they should?

Why are we so silent at this blatant double standard?

Why do we patronize Muslims by treating them so differently, as if we can’t expect the same behavior from them that we do of other religious groups? What are we saying, that they love their religion more than we love ours? That they’re more fiercely protective of their holy books? That they’re not as “civilized” as we are?

This is insulting to Muslims and to the very idea of religion. The beauty of religion is that it’s supposed to add goodness to our lives and help us value the supremacy and divinity of human life. How is our cowardly reaction to the murder of God’s children honoring Islam or any other religion?

Murder is not just a morally depraved act, it’s also a serious crime. Why are human rights groups not up in arms over this double crime against humanity and religion?

And please don’t tell me we can’t speak up because it will “trigger” the Muslim street, as if Muslims are machines that get “triggered.” How dehumanizing. Speaking the truth is a sign of respect, and in this case, the truth is this: Religious fanaticism that leads to murder is an insult to all religions, including Islam, and it must never be tolerated.

Of course, it is perfectly appropriate to protest offensive acts, whether those acts are cartoons that mock Muhammad, Moses or Jesus, or whether it’s the burning of holy books. But protesting an act and murdering people are two completely different things. If we can’t draw a big thick red line at the taking of human life, what kind of civilization are we?

In fact, I have this idea for a “performance art” exhibit that would dramatize this thick line between holy paper and human life. Let’s set up a one-day “burning station” outside the White House and burn books — not holy books, just regular books — as expressions of extreme love for human life. The portable exhibit would be called “Life Is the Holiest Book” and would include pictures and stories of the four U.S. servicemen who were murdered in Afghanistan last week for “holy reasons.”

Yes, the burning of books would be offensive to many people, myself included. But that’s the point. We need to make a shocking statement to the world that being offended for any reason whatsoever can never justify murdering people, and that the very idea of murder is the ultimate desecration of religion.

Let’s demonstrate to religious fanatics everywhere that the only thing worth being fanatic about is the defense of human life.

I can think of a few grieving mothers who wouldn’t mind burning a few
holy books if it would help bring their sons back.


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

12 killed in attack on U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan [VIDEO]


Afghan protesters angered by the burning of a Koran by a U.S. pastor killed at least 12 U.N. workers in Mazar-e Sharif, washingtonpost.com reports.

At least 12 people were killed in Afghanistan Friday, most of them foreigners, when a United Nations compound was stormed by Afghans enraged by a Florida pastor’s burning of a Koran, according to Afghan officials.

Thousands of protesters mobilized after a midday sermon, then surged toward the offices of the United Nations in Mazar-e Sharif, northern Afghanistan’s largest city and normally a bastion of calm.

Some in the crowd broke into the U.N. office and attacked the staff, killing security guards and members of the U.N. mission, officials said.

The attack drew worldwide attention, which had been diverted in recent weeks from the Afghan war by upheaval in the Middle East, and threatened to undermine administration efforts to portray Afghanistan as moving steadily toward stability.

Video courtesy of AP.

D.C. interfaith summit denounces anti-Muslim bigotry


An interfaith summit of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders denounced anti-Muslim bigotry.

In a statement released by the group, which represented the majority of the country’s Jews, Muslims and Christians, participants announced that they came together Tuesday in Washington, D.C., “to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community.”

The emergency summit was called by the Islamic Society of North America and co-organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Representatives from the Reconstructionist movement, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding founded by Rabbi Marc Schneier and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization of more than 125 Jewish community relations councils and 14 national agencies, also were in attendance.

Summit participants included the national leadership of the mainstream Protestant, evangelical Christian, Baptist and Catholic churches, as well as Muslim and Jewish leaders.

Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center is among several in the group scheduled to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday to coordinate Muslim outreach efforts with the Obama administration.

The group called upon religious clergy to join efforts to denounce anti-Muslim bigotry and hate violence, saying “leaders of local congregations have a special responsibility to teach with accuracy, fairness and respect about other faith traditions.”

Also Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League announced the formation of the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques to monitor and respond to anti-Muslim bigotry related to efforts to build mosques across the United States. The coalition is expected to begin functioning in about two weeks, according to ADL national director Abraham Foxman.

VIDEO: This just in — Saudis are Jews in disguise!


Former Lebanese Minister Wiam Wahhab: The Saudi regime Is used by the Jews to avenge the defeat of the Qaynuqa Tribe by the Prophet Muhammad.

Huh?

In other words, The House of Saud are Jews in disguise.