Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota care of their Facebook page.

Minnesota Jewish community affirms solidarity with firebombed mosque


The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota affirmed its solidarity with the Muslim community in the wake of an attack on a local mosque.

The blast at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Minneapolis occurred early Saturday while worshippers were gathered for early morning prayers. No one was injured in the attack, but the imam’s office, where someone threw a firebomb, was damaged, according to police.

“Earlier this year, the Muslim community placed an ad in the Star Tribune affirming solidarity with the Jewish community after the JCC bomb threats. Today, the Jewish community affirms its solidarity with the school, mosque, and local Muslim community,” Steve Hunegs, executive director of the JCRC of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said in a statement.

The attack caused an estimated $95,000 worth of damage.

A GoFundMe page set up to help the mosque has raised nearly $69,000 and a LaunchGood campaign has raised nearly $17,000. Donations ranged from $5 to hundreds of dollars.

“We are falling short of words to express our gratitude for all your love and support. May Allah bless you all!” the mosque said in an update on the GoFundMe page.

One message left by a donor couple on the page read: “We are American Jews who share your outrage and sorrow over the recent attack on your mosque. We are relieved that no one was injured, grateful to the first responders, and hopeful that the perpetrator(s) will soon be identified and brought to justice.”

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it was in contact with local, state and federal authorities as the investigation into the attack moves forward.

Photo courtesy of http://www.newtampamasjid.org/

Jews supporting torched Tampa mosque $18 at a time


The Muslim man who started a crowdfunding page to help repair a mosque in Tampa damaged in an arson attack realized that many of the donors were Jewish after noticing the gifts came in multiples of 18.

Adeel Karim set up the Stand With New Tampa Muslims Against Hate crowdfunding page on the Launchgood website on Feb. 24, the day of the attack in the wee hours of the morning. The fire was put out quickly, but the sprinkler system caused a great deal of water damage.

Karim’s campaign raised nearly $60,000 in less than a week, surpassing its $40,000 goal.

“I couldn’t understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause. There are sums of 18, 36, 72.00 dollars etc. then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Gold-stein, Rubin, Fisher…. Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called “Chai”. It wishes the recipient a long life,” Karim wrote Monday in a Facebook post.

“You learn something new every day. The Jewish faith has shown up in force to support our New Tampa Islamic community. I’m floored,” the post continued. It concluded with the hashtag #chaidelieverd.

The Islamic Society of New Tampa mosque hosts interfaith events.

A quote on its website reads: “Let us not forget that we are all members of the same human fraternity; our differences are meant to be embraced; our diversity should become our strength if we wholeheartedly commit ourselves to get to know each other because, as Allah has made clear, we are all descendants of one man and one woman.”

Earlier this month, a crowdfunding campaign launched by two Muslim Americans raised over $100,000 for a vandalized Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis.

Rabbi decries removal of polling site status from Florida mosque


A South Florida rabbi spoke up for a mosque that was delisted as a polling station.

Palm Beach County removed the Islamic Center of Boca Raton as a polling site after receiving complaints from voters, WPTV reported Monday.

That didn’t sit well with Rabbi Barry Silver of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in neighboring Boynton Beach.

 

“There’s a lot of violent Muslims around, and we need to be aware of that and we need to be on guard about that,” Silver told the TV station. “But to suggest that every mosque is pure evil and every other religious institution is pure good is just not accurate, and it’s prejudice and it’s wrong.”

Silver said if the mosque was decommissioned as a polling site, so should churches and synagogues.

County officials said the move to a local library was because of complaints from the public, WPTV said.

Florida man pleads guilty over threats to bomb two mosques


A Florida man pleaded guilty on Friday to a federal hate crime for threatening to bomb two mosques and shoot their congregants shortly after November's deadly attacks in Paris.

Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, of Seminole, pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs, U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley of the Middle District of Florida said.

Schnitzler entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Julie Sneed in Tampa.

The defendant faces up to 20 years in prison, but is likely to get much less under recommended federal guidelines. He remains free pending sentencing, which has not been scheduled.

Schnitzler admitted to having left profanity-laced voice messages with the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg and the Islamic Society of Pinellas County on Nov. 13, 2015, and in which he threatened congregants.

Both messages referred to the Paris attacks, which had occurred the same day and killed 130 people. Schnitzler admitted that his threats were prompted by the attacks.

In one message, he threatened to “personally have a militia” show up at one of mosques, and “firebomb you, shoot whoever is there on sight in the head.”

Bryant Camareno, a lawyer for Schnitzler, in a phone interview said his client expressed remorse at his plea hearing, and was “upset at the emotional harm” he caused congregants.

He also said Schnitzler was not a credible threat, having taken no steps to carry out the harms he threatened.

Schnitzler entered his plea one day after a Connecticut man, Ted Hakey Jr, pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime for shooting at an empty mosque next door to his Meriden home, one day after the Paris attacks. No one was injured.

At mosque, Bernie Sanders criticizes Trump, mentions Holocaust


Bernie Sanders referenced the Holocaust and condemned Republican candidate Donald Trump’s “anti-Muslim rhetoric and hatred” in a visit to a Washington mosque.

Sanders, the Democratic presidential hopeful and Vermont senator, participated in a roundtable discussion with Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders at the Masjid Muhammmed mosque on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported.

Sanders specifically criticized Trump’s recent call to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

“We must never forget what happened under the racist ideology of the Nazis, which led to the deaths of millions and millions of people, including family members of mine,” Sanders said at the northwest Washington mosque, which calls itself “the nation’s mosque.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslims in Congress, has endorsed Sanders and appeared with him at the mosque on Wednesday.

Torching of West Bank mosque called nationalistic attack


A West Bank mosque was set on fire and nationalist slogans were painted on its walls.

The attack in the Jaba village, near Bethlehem, occurred early Wednesday morning. A mosque window was broken and a burning object was thrown inside. The interior walls and furniture were damaged.

Worshippers who arrived at the mosque at 4:30 a.m. saw the flames and put out the fire, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

Phrases spray-painted on the mosque’s outside walls included “we want the redemption of Zion” and “revenge.”

Residents of the village, located near the Gush Etzion bloc of Jewish settlements, blamed the arson attack on Jewish nationalists.

The attack occurred on the 21st anniversary on the Gregorian calendar of the massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron by a Jewish settler, Dr. Baruch Goldstein.

Women’s mosque forms in L.A., the first in U.S.


A mosaic of more than 100 women of all ages attended the inaugural Women’s Mosque of America’s jumma’a, the Friday call to prayer, on Jan 30. It was a landmark day for women in the Muslim community because, although women-only mosques exist in some other countries, including China, this is the first all-women’s mosque in the United States. To top it off, the women met at the Pico Union Project, a multifaith venue just west of downtown Los Angeles.

It seemed only natural to attend this nondenominational service, which promotes sisterhood among women, with my own sister. There was something very “Red Tent” about the service, and we couldn’t help but notice, both of us a rabbi’s daughter, the significance of being in the city’s oldest synagogue — formerly the home of Sinai Temple — attending an all-women’s service. My sister nudged me during the prayers to point out a Star of David stained-glass window overhead.  

As afternoon light filtered through windows and tinted the room a soft hue, devout women knelt and prayed in unison, many dressed in traditional garb, including a hijab (head covering). The room was flooded with striking colors from their stunning garments: fuchsia, periwinkle, turquoise and hot pink.

Echoing the women’s movement that so changed progressive Judaism in the 1970s and ’80s, including the advent of women rabbis, this was the longtime dream of M. Hasna Maznavi, 29, a Los Angeles filmmaker, who said she always knew she wanted to start a mosque. On Jan. 30, she stood on the bimah of this historic venue and saw her dream become a reality, as she assumed her role as founder and co-president of the mosque. Alongside her was co-president Sana Muttalib, 31, an attorney.

“In recent years, I started growing more disillusioned with my mosque-going experience,” Maznavi said during an interview two nights before her mosque’s unveiling. The daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants, she attended one of California’s biggest mosques, where men and women were equally on the board (her older sister was president of the mosque’s youth group). But as the mosque experienced increased funding, the building was renovated into a more traditional style, with women sitting in the balcony (according to custom) while men congregated on the ground floor. 

“Something that started to happen was that the architecture started to trickle down into the culture,” she continued. That division eventually led Maznavi to consider initiating what she called “mosque reform.” She began by posting on Facebook, recruiting friends to participate and forming a group of like-minded Muslim women. Eventually, a mutual friend connected her to Muttalib, who, much like  Maznavi, had become dissatisfied with her mosque’s custom of separating men and women.

“The women who were coming to this mosque were so talented and amazing, and they were oftentimes not bringing their whole selves to the mosque, just a piece of them,” Muttalib said. She wanted a safe place for devotion, where women could celebrate themselves, unapologetically and unfragmented.

Although they hadn’t met before, the two women became friends quickly because of shared outlooks. At one point in the jumma’a, right after the prayers had been uttered, the two stood talking in a corner of the prayer hall, smiling and hugging like childhood friends. 

“Every single weakness that I have is a strength of hers,” said Maznavi about collaborating with Muttalib. “I really feel like it’s a match made in heaven,” she added.

During the jumma’a — which was exclusive to women and children, with only boys 12 and younger allowed — young kids wove in and out among women, and one young boy even hid behind his mother’s bright clothing, bashfully peaking at the women around him.

Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council led the mosque’s first khutbah, or sermon. “I am proud and overwhelmingly humbled,” Lekovic said to the congregation. Lekovic, who was moved to step out of what she described as “her comfort zone” for the occasion — the fact that a woman would be delivering the khutbah was a source of heated controversy within the Muslim community — said she did it for two reasons: One was a passage in the Quran that says men and women are equal partners. “But there was another reason why I accepted this invitation,” Lekovic said, as a baby’s wail from outside the building was heard by all, “and that’s because of the little screamer that you hear outside of the four walls that we’re in.” She said she wants her daughter to grow up in a community where a women’s mosque is normal and not far-fetched, “and for that, I thank Allah, and I thank all of you for making it possible.”

After the sermon, the prayers began, and the women stood in five lines, facing the altar (in the direction of Mecca) as they went through the motions, standing shoulder to shoulder, bowing and rising as Lekovic adopted the role of imam (prayer leader) and recited the prayers. 

After the completion of the service, the congregation was asked to sit in a reflection circle. My sister and I squeezed our way into the vast lasso of a circle. It was then that the reality of the service started to sink in, when the multitude of voices were heard. 

“We are all with you,” one Jewish woman told the group, to a round of applause. “Sitting in this circle is so liberating,” said a Muslim woman. “I’m just so happy to be here, and to be a part of this growth and this experience,” said another, on the verge of tears. 

As salaam alaikum” — peace be upon you — another woman said to the group, and her fellow sisters responded in harmony, “Wa alaikum salaam” — and upon you, peace. 

Palestinian mosque in West Bank torched in suspected arson


A mosque was set alight in a suspected arson attack in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday and the name of an Israeli vigilante group called “price tag” was found scribbled on an outside wall, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned the incident in Aqraba, a village east of Nablus, and urged Israel's police chief to head an investigation adding that the case “should be treated as terrorism”.

The “price tag” group has carried out scores of attacks on Palestinian, Israeli Arab, and church property in the West Bank and inside Israel since 2008. The group says it aims to exact a price for any opposition to settlement building.

Residents told Reuters they noticed smoke coming from the building before dawn and rushed to douse the flames, which damaged a carpet and blackened one of the walls.

“If we hadn't rushed to put out the fire the entire building could have gone up in flames,” said Maher Fares, a villager.

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official from the Nablus area, said he suspected Jewish settlers in the area had carried out the attack. The settlement of Itamar is about 2 miles north of Aqraba.

“They broke a window and threw a firebomb into the mosque which burned the carpet,” Daghlas said.

Hebrew script reading “price tag” had been scrawled on the outside of the mosque, a Reuters cameraman said.

Rivlin demanded a wider crackdown against the vandals. Many suspects arrested in the past have been minors who are released without .

“We cannot continue to regard incidents like these as marginal. Rather, we must uproot them,” a statement from his office said.

“If we do not act decisively, we will all pay the 'price tag',” Rivlin also said.

Reporting by Abed Qusini and Ali Sawafta; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Luke Baker and Raissa Kasolowsky

Israeli mosque entrance torched in suspected price tag attack


Israeli police are investigating the torching of the entrance to a mosque in northern Israel and the spraying of anti-Arab slogans on its walls.

A security camera at the Abu Bakr al Sadik Mosque in Um al-Fahm filmed three unidentified men wearing masks spray painting “Arabs out” in Hebrew on an external wall and setting fire to part of the entrance on Thursday night before fleeing the scene, the news site Ynet reported.

On Friday morning, hundreds of Arab residents arrived at the mosque to inspect the damage, which locals believe was a “price tag” attack, the term Jewish ultra-nationalists use for reprisal and intimidation attacks against Arabs and Israeli security forces for actions that are seen as targeting Jews in West Bank settlements or elsewhere in Israel.

An unnamed senior police source told Ynet that the suspected perpetrators arrived at the scene driving a Suzuki Baleno Wagon, and that Israel has about 50 automobiles of that model.

“I believe we will find the people responsible; we have to make progress on this and bring good results or it will end up hurting us,” the police officer said.

Jamal Zahalka, a Knesset lawmaker for the Arab-Israeli Balad party, told Ynet that had residents caught the perpetrators, “they would not have made it out of here alive.”

Jamil Makhajna, the local imam, told Ynet he believed the perpetrators were “seeking to harm relations between the peoples.”

Protesters storm Cairo building after bloodbath, U.S. to review Egypt aid


Supporters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood stormed and torched a government building in Cairo on Thursday, while families tried to identify hundreds of mutilated bodies piled in a Cairo mosque a day after they were shot dead by the security forces.

Egypt's health ministry says 623 people were killed and thousands wounded in the worst day of civil violence in the modern history of the most populous Arab state.

Brotherhood supporters say the death toll is far higher, with hundreds of bodies as yet uncounted by the authorities, whose troops and police crushed protests seeking the return of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

State television quoted the Interior Ministry as saying the security forces would again use live ammunition to counter any attacks against themselves or public buildings.

The U.N. Security Council will meet later on Thursday to discuss the situation after a meeting was requested by council members France, Britain and Australia.

International condemnation has rained down on Cairo's military-backed rulers for ordering the storming of pro-Morsi protest camps after dawn on Wednesday, six weeks after the army overthrew the country's first freely elected leader.

The U.S. State Department said it would review aid to Egypt “in all forms” after President Barack Obama cancelled plans for upcoming military exercises with the Egyptian army, which Washington funds with $1.3 billion in annual aid.

“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces,” Obama said.

“We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest.”

His Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Egypt's army chief that “the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defense cooperation at risk”.

Western diplomats have told Reuters that senior U.S. and European officials had been in contact with Egypt's rulers until the final hour, pleading with them not to order a military crackdown on the protest camps, where thousands of Morsi's followers had been camped out since before he was toppled.

There were reports of protests on Thursday but no repeat of the previous day's bloodbath. In Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, hundreds marched, chanting: “We will come back again for the sake of our martyrs!”

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said anger within the 85-year-old Islamist movement, which has millions of supporters across Egypt, was “beyond control”.

“After the blows and arrests and killings that we are facing, emotions are too high to be guided by anyone,” he said.

The Brotherhood has called on followers to march in Cairo later on Thursday, while funeral processions for those who died could provide further flashpoints in the coming days.

In Cairo, Reuters counted 228 bodies, most of them wrapped in white shrouds, arranged in rows on the floor of the Al-Imam mosque in northeast Cairo, close to the worst of the violence.

The mosque had been converted into a charnel house, resembling the aftermath of a World War One battlefield. Medics pushed burning incense sticks into blocks of ice covering the bodies and sprayed air freshener to cover up the stench.

Some men pulled back the shrouds to reveal badly charred corpses with smashed skulls. Women knelt and wept beside one body. Two men embraced each other and shed tears by another.

The bodies, piled there because morgues and hospitals were full, did not appear to be part of the official tally of 525 killed, which also includes more than 40 police and hundreds killed in clashes outside of the capital.

Several thousand people gathered in the square outside the mosque, chanting: “The army and the police are a dirty hand!”

In the Giza section of Cairo, Morsi supporters set fire to a governorate building, and state television said two police officers were killed in an armed attack on a police checkpoint.

“MILITARY TYRANNY”

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi removed Morsi from power on July 3 in the wake of huge protests by people frustrated at a lack of progress on economic reform and wary of what they saw as a creeping Islamist power grab.

The subsequent crackdown suggests an end to the open political role of the Brotherhood, which survived underground for decades before emerging as Egypt's dominant force after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a 2011 uprising.

“It's not about Morsi any more. Are we going to accept a new military tyranny in Egypt or not?” Haddad said.

Shocking scenes, including television footage of unarmed protesters dropping to the ground as security forces opened fire, have been seen around the world, but many Egyptians support the crackdown and resent international criticism of the army.

“What happened was the only logical way to end their sit-ins, which did have weapons and … violent people,” said Ismail Khaled, 31-year-old manager in a private company. “Thank God the police ended them. I wish they had done so sooner.”

The authorities and their allies, which control nearly all media inside Egypt, insist those inside the pro-Morsi camps were heavily armed, although international journalists have seen only limited evidence of weapons beyond sticks and rocks.

Churches around the country were attacked and many torched on Wednesday, stoking fear of an Islamist backlash among the Christian minority, 10 percent of the population of 85 million.

Cairo and other areas were largely calm overnight after the army-installed government declared a month-long state of emergency and a curfew on the capital and 10 other provinces from 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) to 6 a.m.

Most large Egyptian companies remained open and shipping sources said the Suez Canal was operating normally, but the stock exchange was closed and the central bank told all banks to stay shut. Some international firms halted production in and around Cairo, including Electrolux and General Motors.

In other examples of international condemnation, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called for the West to speak out.

“I am calling on Western countries. You remained silent in Gaza, you remained silent in Syria … You are still silent on Egypt. So how come you talk about democracy, freedom, global values and human rights?” he told a news conference.

Senior EU diplomats will meet on Monday to assess the situation and consider possible action after what Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino called a “brutal, overwhelming and inexcusable” military reaction.

But the United Arab Emirates, one of several Gulf Arab states that collectively sent $12 billion to fund the interim government, said the Egyptian government had “exercised maximum self-control”.

Back on the streets of Cairo, some spoke of their despair.

“Yesterday I cried. I think we're the furthest we've ever been from true reform or justice,” said Sara, who declined to give her last name, describing herself as a secular activist.

“I don't believe that this is going to end in one month. I think is the beginning of another 30 years of military rule.”

Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla, Michael Georgy, Tom Finn and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo, Alexandria Sage in Paris and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Peter Graff and Mike Collett-White; Editing by Michael Georgy and Will Waterman

Abbas denies Jerusalem’s Jewish heritage


Jerusalem’s identity is Arab, and the city’s and Christian holy sites must be protected from Israeli threats, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said.

Abbas also said that Israeli authorities want to build a Jewish Temple on the site of the al-Aksa mosque and Dome of the Rock, in a statement issued Tuesday on the anniversary of an attempted arson of the Al-Aksa Mosque in 1969 by an Australian Christian, who was later found to be clinically insane.

“Their ultimate goal is to rob Muslims and Christians of their holy shrines, destroy the Al Aksa mosque and build the alleged Jewish temple,” he said.

He also said that Israeli excavation work in Jerusalem, and in the Western Wall tunnels beneath the mosque, “will not undermine the fact that the city will forever be Arabic, Islamic and Christian.”

Abbas concluded that “there will be no peace or stability before our beloved city and eternal capital is liberated from occupation and settlement.”

The Orthodox Union slammed Abbas’ denial of Jewish heritage in Jerusalem. Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director for Public Policy, said in a statement:
“President Abbas’ statement is only the latest in which he and other Palestinian leaders have outrageously denied the millennia-old connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.  The existence of our two holy Temples is not ‘alleged’—it is fact. Just as it is fact that Jerusalem has served as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people since the times of King David; just as it is fact that only under modern Israeli sovereignty have Jerusalem’s holy sites been protected and open to access by people of all faiths; and just as it is fact that Jerusalem must and will remain a united city, and the capital of Israel and the Jewish people eternally.”

French Jewish leaders ‘outraged’ by mosque desecration near Toulouse


French Jewish leaders are calling the tossing of two pig heads into a mosque not far from Toulouse “an odious desecration.”

Worshippers at the Salam mosque in Montauban in southern France discovered two pig heads at the entrance to the building yesterday.

On March 15, Muslim extremist Mohammed Merah murdered two French soldiers in the city. Days later, he murdered three children and rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, which is about 31 miles north of Montauban.

The CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, called the incident “an odious desecration” and said it “identifies with the outrage of the Muslim community, which was deeply offended by the act perpetrated during Ramadan.”

The Jewish communities of France convey their “sincerest sentiments of friendship” to the Muslim community, the statement said.

France’s Union of Jewish Students also said in a statement that it was appalled by an incident that had occurred in a “worrying climate of hatred.”

According to AFP, the incident on Thursday was the first of its kind in the Tarn-et-Garonne region, leading to speculation it was a response to Merah’s March shooting spree.

In 2009, unknown individuals hung pig’s feet outside a mosque in Castres, about 75 miles southeast of Montauban.

Dennis Prager interviews New York’s ‘Ground Zero’ imam


On July 20, Jewish Journal columnist Dennis Prager conducted a lengthy interview on his radio show with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, author of “What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America,” who is best known for his plans to build an Islamic community center, including a mosque, near the World Trade Center in New York. What follows is the transcribed text of that interview.

Dennis Prager: Imam Rauf, welcome to the Dennis Prager show.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: Thank you very much, Dennis. It’s my pleasure to be with you.

DP: Nothing interests me more than the question of what will be Islam’s future. Anybody, whatever their position, has to be almost preoccupied with the question. . . .

Let me begin by asking you for a governing definition of an “Islamist.” Mine is: A Muslim who wishes Sharia to be the law of a land. What is yours?

IR: The Sharia is nothing more than the principles of the ten commandments, the principles that Jesus said, the two major commandments: To love the Lord, thy God, with all of your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. . . . Sharia law, in terms of its positive law, Dennis, is the protection and furtherance of six basic human rights: The right to life, the right to honor and dignity, the right to freedom of religion, the right to pursue your intellectual pursuits, to have a family, and to practice the faith of your choice, and to pursue property.

DP: Let me give you an example of Sharia law, and tell me where this falls under one of those six headings. During the month of Ramadan, on a street in Morocco, I was smoking my pipe and a man came over and said, “This is Ramadan. You can’t smoke.” Another example is the Somali cab drivers in Minneapolis who refuse to take passengers who have a bottle of beer in their car because of the ban on alcohol.

IR: This is a misapplication of Sharia. God’s law involves giving human beings the freedom to sin, the freedom to make mistakes, and part of the law of the land has to be to give people these freedoms. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misapplication of Islamic law in many countries.

DP: But is it not a basic yearning of, as you call yourself, orthodox Muslims, to want to see an Islamic state?

IR: Well, you see, there is a lot of basic misunderstanding around that. The action of the cab driver is no different than the action of a devout, fundamentalist Christian who kills a doctor who provides abortion services because he believes it is wrong. Taking the law into your own hands is wrong. Even under Islamic law, no human being is allowed to take the law into their own hands.

DP: But is it not the dream of every faithful Muslim to have an Islamic society, meaning that the state is Muslim and enforces Muslim law?

IR: That is not really completely true. In fact, in many countries, like in Pakistan, the Islamic political parties have never gained more than 25% of the vote. This is the problem: what has happened in the Muslim world in the last fifty, sixty years is that we have adopted the bad systems of what happened in Europe centuries ago when the state established a particular religion. This is the scourge which has become quite prominent in many Muslim countries, or sectors of Muslim-majority countries, and this is the battle that we have to wage today internally within Islam.

DP: So you think that all of these bad things that we see today in the Islamic world are all aberrations. Let me cite Ibn Khaldun, considered by both non-Muslims and Muslims be the greatest Muslim thinker ever, outside of Muhammad. He wrote that Jihad, for example, means waging war to convert people to Islam; and that Islam is a greater religion than Judaism or Christianity, because those two religions do not believe in Jihad, whereas Muslims do. Now, is he an aberration?

IR: Look, he is a sociologist. That statement is disproven by the vast majority of Islamic history from the very earliest times, when the followers of the prophets conquered other countries. Their system of rule until the ottomans a century ago, developed systems where people of every religion other than Islam were protected. And that is the system that we need to reintroduce to the Muslim world today. The aberrations we have today are just like the aberrations in Christianity centuries ago, when you had the inquisition.

DP: My study of Islamic history does not have such a rosy picture. The most dramatic example is Hindus in India, where Hindu historians estimate that many tens of millions of Hindus, because they were not monotheists—Jews and Christians were generally treated differently—were just slaughtered by the Islamic invasions of India. So yours is not my understanding of the Muslim past.

IR: I beg to differ with you, Dennis. In fact, almost 80% of India was ruled by Muslims, and they ruled over Muslims and non-Muslims. If that were true, in the lands where Muslims ruled, there would be nothing but Muslims like you see traditionally in Europe where any religion other, or any interpretation other than that particular opinion of Christianity—you don’t find other churches existing in those countries until right recently in European history.

You find under Ottoman rule and Muslim rule, all kinds of other religions. It’s only in the last century or even half a century that this triumphalist Islam has become dominant. This is the problem that exists in the Muslim world today. It only began about a century ago when the nation-state concept began and we created a religious nationalism. When India was split into Pakistan and India back in 1947-48, that’s when these problems really began and have become increasingly strong over the last fifty years and this is what we need to push against. This is why I say that the battlefront is not between Islam and the West, or Islam or Muslims and Hindus, or Muslims and Jews, although that is certainly a factor. The real battlefront is between all good, peace-loving, moderate people of all faith, traditions, against extremists of all faith, traditions, and that’s the battlefront we need to wage and to wage it together if we are going to win this battle for peace.

DP: Tell me what group represents extremist Christians today. There are one to two billion Christians. Who are the extremists that we have to battle against?

IR: Well, I mean, it is less of a problem in Christianity than it is among Muslims but those who have said negative things about Islam who, you know, the attitude of the doctors who kill abortion doctors for example.

DP: But they represent nobody. Let’s be honest, nobody fears being blown up by Christians. People don’t fear being blown up by Hindus or Jews or Buddhists. You could say the Tamils, but that was restricted to Sri Lanka. The reason that I take my shoes off at the airport is fear of Muslim extremists, not Jewish or Christian or Buddhist.

IR: And we accept that. We acknowledge that fact that the Muslim extremists today are the problem. We acknowledge that. I acknowledge that and Muslims acknowledge that.

DP: Well CAIR doesn’t. I’ve debated CAIR on national television and they say that there is more terror in the world by non-Muslims than by Muslims. That’s their basic line. You’re not a representative of CAIR, but please don’t say this is what all Muslims acknowledge.

IR: I’m not saying all Muslims acknowledge but the vast majority of Muslims acknowledge that.

Israeli leaders condemn attack on West Bank mosque


Israeli leaders vowed to bring the attackers of a West Bank mosque to justice.

The mosque, near Ramallah, was set on fire and vandalized early Tuesday morning in what is being called a price tag attack. The graffiti messages include “The war has begun,”  “Pay the price” and “Ulpana war.”

“This was the work of intolerant, irresponsible lawbreakers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday morning. “We will act quickly in order to bring them to justice.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the incident, saying in a statement, “It is an extremely serious and criminal act that was perpetrated in order to disturb the day-to-day life of the region’s inhabitants. I gave an order to the IDF and to the other security agencies to act with all the means at their disposal to capture the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

In early June, price tag attacks were carried out in an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood and in the mixed Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom. References to Ulpana were spray-painted on cars in both of those incidents.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremists have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions, or for Palestinian attacks on Jews. The graffiti referred to the upcoming removal of five homes from the outlying neighborhood of Ulpana in the Beit El settlement.

The U.S. State Department condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms,” calling it provocative. “Hateful, dangerous, and provocative actions such as these are never justified,” spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.

Baltimore synagogue offers to share parking lot with mosque


A synagogue in a Baltimore suburb with a large Orthodox Jewish population has offered to share its parking lot with a mosque.

The Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville, Md., has offered the use of its parking facilities to a fledgling congregation of Ahmaddiya Muslims that recently purchased a former mansion and assisted-living facility across from the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, the Baltimore Jewish Times reported. The congregation is part of an international Muslim movement founded in 1889 in India that preaches universal peace.

The congregation of Ahmaddiya Muslims is made up of 40 families. Its leader, Dr. Agha Khan, a neurosurgeon at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, met recently with Rabbi Andrew Busch of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and other congregational officials in an effort to build good relations. Khan also met with Baltimore Jewish Council officials and leaders of the Pikesville-Greenspring Communication Coalition Community, according to the newspaper.

“Right from the beginning, because of his involvement with Sinai, he knew he needed to have some discussions with leadership in the Jewish community,” Dr. Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, told the Baltimore Jewish Times.

The Ahmaddiya congregation plans to put in its own parking lot in the future.

State Department condemns vandalism of West Bank mosque


The United States condemned the vandalizing of a mosque in the northern West Bank.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s most recent vandalizing of a mosque, as well as the burning of three cars, in the West Bank village of Dir Istiya. Hateful, dangerous, and provocative actions such as these are never justified,”  the State Department said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The words “price tag” and “Gal Arye Yosef” were spray-painted on the wall of the mosque in the village of Dir Istiya, near Ariel, in the early Wednesday morning attack. The graffiti refers to an illegal outpost that was razed the previous day.

The State Department statement noted that the Israeli government “pledged to capture those responsible for these reprehensible attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice” and called on the local authorities to “work together with the community to reduce tension and to defend religious freedom.”

“We again call for calm on the part of all parties and urge them to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence. Violence only serves to impede the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on acceptance and respect,” the statement said.

An attempt to attack the mosque was carried out last September.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly condemned the attack and commanded the Israel Defense Forces and officials in the defense establishment to “act resolutely, purposefully and to use all the means at their disposal to capture the lawless rioters and bring them to justice,” according to a statement issued from the Ministry of Defense.

“Such acts prevent the IDF from carrying out its primary missions, including the basic protection of the region’s residents,” Barak said. “These activities are designed to damage the fragile relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in the Judea and Samaria region, as well as between Israel and its neighbors. The IDF, in cooperation with the police and security personnel, will act robustly against these criminal activities.”

West Bank mosque set alight following outpost razing


A mosque in the West Bank was set alight hours after Israeli soldiers demolished two structures in an illegal outpost.

The interior of a mosque in a village near Ramallah was torched after being soaked with gasoline on Thursday morning. The words “war” and “Mitzpe Yitzhar,” the outpost that was razed early Thursday morning, were painted on the mosque. The attack comes a day after an historic unused mosque in Jerusalem was set on fire, damaging its exterior, and Palestinian vehicles were torched in the West Bank. Right-wing extremists have been blamed for the attacks.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the mosque attack a declaration of war by the settlers against the Palestinian people. He placed responsibility for the attack on the Israeli government and called on the international community to get involved.

The attack came hours after hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police dismantled two buildings, one residential, in the illegal West Bank outpost of Mitzpe Yitzhar, in which five families live.

There was little resistance since the area around the outpost was declared a closed military zone, preventing dozens of right-wing activists from entering the site.

On Tuesday night, settlers and right-wing activists vandalized a West Bank Israel Defense Forces base, injuring an officer, and threw stones at Palestinian cars after IDF forces in the area mobilized in that settlers thought was an effort to raze a West Bank outpost.

Meanwhile, on Thursday five people arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of involvement in price tag attacks against Palestinian property were ordered held for another 24 hours by the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court. Their arrest led to clashes between right-wing activists and police in Jerusalem.

Also on Thursday during a meeting with settlement leaders and rabbis, Israeli President Shimon Peres criticized the attacks against Palestinians and the IDF.

“There is no room for criminality, violation of the law and riotousness. It’s horrible to see our sons and daughters enter IDF bases and nearly kill an officer,” he reportedly said. He called the settlers actions “adding fuel to the fire” in the Middle East.

Jerusalem mosque torched as rightists clash with police


Israeli right-wing activists clashed with police in Jerusalem, after a mosque in the capital city was targeted by arsonists.

The torching of the mosque on Wednesday morning followed a series of other so-called price tag attacks in the West Bank in reaction to the possible evacuation of illegal outposts.

The Nebi Akasha mosque, built in the 12th century and not in use for several years, was set alight and the words “price tag,” as well as “Mohammed is dead” and “A good Arab is a dead Arab,” were spray painted on and around the site.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers and their supporters have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

On Tuesday night, two trucks and a car were set alight in a Palestinian village near Nablus. A Jewish woman was also arrested in connection with rocks thrown at Palestinian cars in the northern West Bank. The incidents reportedly were triggered by the movement of an Israel Defense Forces convoy, which sparked concern that it was on the way to dismantle the Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost, scheduled to be razed by the end of the calendar year, according to Haaretz.

When police in Jerusalem attempted to arrest suspects Wednesday in connection with recent price tag attacks, activists began clashing with officers and rioting, including slashing tires and breaking the windows of several police cars, Haaretz reported.

Also on Wednesday, a special meeting convened by Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed recent acts of violence by extremist settlers, and decided to recommend to Netanyahu that acts of violence by right-wing activists be called terror acts and the perpetrators terrorists.

Vandalism on Safed synagogues being probed as retaliation for mosque arson


Police are investigating vandalism on four synagogues in Safed as possible retaliation for a mosque arson in northern Israel.

The words “Death to Jews” were spray-painted on the synagogues and a car Tuesday night in the northern Israeli city.

The mosque arson took place on Oct. 2 in the Bedouin Arab town of Tuba Zanghariya. Two Arab cemeteries in Jaffa also were vandalized last week.

“This is an unusual phenomenon, which does not characterize the nature of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Safed,” the city’s mayor, Ilan Shohat, told Haaretz. “Just as we condemn the desecration of Islamic holy sites, so we condemn despicable acts like this.”

Two suspects, men with ties to the West Bank, have been arrested in the mosque arson. The attack is being called a “price tag” attack, in which extremist settlers exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

The mosque attack referenced the death of a West Bank resident who was killed in a rock attack on his car.

Second suspect arrested in mosque arson


A second suspect was arrested in connection with the burning of a mosque in a Bedouin-Arab town in northern Israel.

Few details have been released about the second suspect, who reportedly is a resident of the West Bank. He was scheduled to appear Monday in a Tel Aviv court for a hearing on extending his remand.

An 18-year old Jewish man from northern Israel was arrested hours after the Oct. 2 torching of the main mosque of the Upper Galilee town of Tuba Zanghariya. He reportedly studied at a West Bank yeshiva.

Both suspects are suspected of “direct involvement” in the arson attack, Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told news agencies.

Suspect arrested in mosque arson


Police have arrested an 18-year-old Jewish male in connection with the arson of a mosque in a Bedouin Arab town in northern Israel.

Police confirmed that they made the arrest several hours after the attack and that the suspect since then has been held in prison, according to reports.

The mosque in Tuba-Zangariyye was set alight Oct. 2, destroying holy books and prayer rugs.

Graffiti, including the words “price tag” and “Palmer,” were spray-painted on the walls of the mosque.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews. Palmer likely refers to Israeli Asher Palmer, who was killed Sept. 23 along with his infant son after a rock thrown in an apparent terrorist attack crashed through the windshield of his car, causing him to lose control of the vehicle, which then flipped over.

Israeli and Jewish leaders around the world, as well as the governments of several countries, condemned the arson attack. 

A U.S. State Department statement Tuesday “strongly” condemning the arson noted “that the Israeli Government also strongly condemned the attacks, and we endorse stepped-up efforts by law enforcement authorities to act vigorously to bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act and similar attacks that have taken place in the West Bank.”

Major U.S. Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella body, also have condemned the arson.

A New Israel Fund appeal to Jewish clergy to condemn the mosque’s burning and to thank Israel’s leadership for speaking out against it garnered nearly 400 signatures within three hours.

Israel holds suspects in settler deaths, mosque fire


Israel said on Thursday it had arrested five Palestinians in the West Bank in connection with the stoning of a vehicle that overturned, killing a Jewish settler and his baby late last month.

Their arrest earlier this month was announced after Israel said it was holding a Jewish youth as a suspect in the retaliatory torching of a mosque on Monday in the Arab village of Tuba-Zangariya in northern Israel.

The September 23 deaths of settler Asher Palmer and his son are believed to have driven reprisal “price tag” attacks by pro-settler extremists since then. “Price tag” is what assailants have scrawled as graffiti at the scene of their attacks, alluding to the deaths of the settler father and baby.

Retaliation for the deaths has included the setting of a mosque on fire inside Israel and a stoning attack on Palestinian homes in a West Bank village, which triggered a Palestinian protest in which one person was shot dead by Israeli troops trying to quell it.

An Israeli security official said two Palestinians were suspected of stoning Palmer’s car as he drove in the Hebron area, and that three others were suspected of having taken his gun after he was killed in an ensuing car crash.

The weapon has since been retrieved, said the official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

No more details were given about the suspects.

Israeli media said the suspect in the mosque arson was a resident of northern Israel who had been studying at a religious seminary at a settlement in the West Bank, territory Israel occupied in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want for a state.

Three other militant settlers were charged in a court in Jerusalem on Wednesday with planning to set fire to a West Bank mosque.

Mainstream leaders of the 500,000 settlers living in the West Bank have strongly condemned the mosque vandalism and urged the Israeli government to apprehend the perpetrators.

Tensions between settlers and some of the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank have risen alongside a Palestinian application for statehood recognition filed at the United Nations last month, a step Israel opposes.

Palestinians launched the statehood bid a year after peace talks collapsed over Israel’s refusal to extend a partial moratorium on the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Bedouin Arabs riot following mosque arson


Residents of the Bedouin Arab town of Tuba-Zangariyye in northern Israel have torched local community buildings in the wake of an arson attack on a local mosque.

The protesters, mostly village youth, set fire to the local council building Monday night and also seriously damaged the local youth cultural center and village health clinic by breaking doors and windows, and damaging property inside. They also threw rocks at police and were dispersed with tear gas.

On Sunday night, the community’s mosque was set on fire, destroying holy books and prayer rugs.

Graffiti, including the words “price tag” and “Palmer,” were spray-painted on the walls of the mosque, according to reports. Police reportedly have arrested some suspects in the Sunday night arson attack.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews. Palmer likely refers to Israeli Asher Palmer, who was killed Sept. 23 along with his infant son after a rock thrown in an apparent terrorist attack crashed through the windshield of his car, causing him to lose control of the vehicle, which then flipped over.

Residents of Tuba-Zangariyye, which has a population of slightly more than 5,000, have blamed extremists from the nearby town of Safed. The village also is near the Golan Heights.

Bedouin villages in the north have declared a general strike beginning Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Israeli police have stepped up alerts in the area out of concern that Israeli Arabs will carry out revenge attacks, Haaretz reported.

The attack was condemned across Israel’s political and religious spectrum and by Jewish organizations in the United States.

Outpost homes razed, mosque attacked in alleged retribution


Several hundred police officers arrived early Monday morning at the Migron outpost to raze three permanent homes.

Hours later, a mosque in the West Bank near Nablus was vandalized in what is believed to be a “price tag” attack. “Price tag” refers to the strategy extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

Unknown assailants broke windows on the first floor of the mosque and threw burning tires into the building on Monday morning before prayers, according to reports. The words “Alei Ayin and Migron – Social Justice” was spray painted in Hebrew outside the building.

Palestinian authorities claim settlers have attacked at least six mosques in the West Bank in the past two years.

Israeli forces arrived at the Migron outpost, located several miles north of Jerusalem, to begin razing the structures at 1 a.m. but were forced to halt the operation at 2:30 a.m. following an injunction by a Supreme Court justice. The injunction was canceled at 4:30 a.m.,  after the high court issued another order, sanctioning the demolition.

Six teens who threw stones at the police were arrested.

The three structures were home to several families, including one woman who had recently had a baby, according to the Jerusalem Post. They had been ordered razed by the Supreme Court following a lawsuit filed by the Yesh Din Israeli human rights group. The three homes were razed separately because they were built recently, following an agreement in 2008 between the Yesha settlers’ group and the state to relocate the entire outpost to a settlement nearby, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Last month, the Supreme Court issued a ruling ordering the state to dismantle the entire outpost, home to about 50 families, by April 2012, after determining that it was built on private Palestinian lands, following a petition by Peace Now.

Mosques organize prayer for 'Irvine 11'


Mosques in Southern California sponsored prayer services in support of 10 students going on trial for interrupting a university speech last year by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren.

The students from the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, Riverside are set to go on trial Monday. Each is charged with one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one misdemeanor count of the disturbance of a meeting. If convicted, each student could face a sentence of up to a year in jail or lesser punishments, including probation with community service and fines.

Charges against an eleventh student were dropped earlier this month.

During Oren’s Feb. 8, 2010 speech at UC Irvine, the 11 defendants stood one by one and shouted at the ambassador, calling him a “mass murderer” and a “war criminal,” among other insults. The disruptions, organized to protest Israeli actions in Gaza, prompted Oren to walk off the stage twice.

Eight of the defendants were students at UC Irvine and were members of the Muslim Student Union, which was suspended by the university for a year. The others attended the University of California, Riverside.

“There is no question that these students are being treated like criminals because they’re Muslim,” Kifah Shah, spokesperson for the Stand with the Eleven Campaign, said in a statement on the group’s website. The organization also is signing up supporters to attend each court session.

State Department condemns West Bank mosque torching


The United States condemned the torching of a West Bank mosque.

“This attack is the latest of several such acts of violence against West Bank mosques. These incidents have served to undermine efforts to promote a comprehensive peace in the region. We call on the Israeli government to investigate this attack and bring the perpetrators to justice, and for calm from all parties,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.

Burning tires were rolled into the mosque in the Maghayer village near Ramallah on Tuesday, setting rugs in the building on fire, according to reports. The building sustained fire damage; no deaths or injuries were reported. Village officials blamed Jewish settlers for the attack, though no suspects have been named.

The mosque’s walls also were sprayed with graffiti that reportedly read “Alei Ayin”—the name of a nearby settlement outpost that was demolished last week by Israeli police. Other slogans spray-painted on the wall reportedly read “Price Tag” and “This is only the beginning.”

“Price tag” refers to the strategy extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes or their attacks on Jews.

A joint Israeli police-military investigation has been launched into the incident.

The American Jewish Committee also condemned the attack.

“No house of worship, whatever the faith, should be so targeted and willfully damaged,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “We categorically condemn this attack on a mosque and hope the perpetrators will soon be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There can be no excuse, no explanation, and no justification for such a brazen assault and desecration.”

Several West Bank mosques have been torched in the last year; most of the incidents were blamed on Jewish settlers.

Jewish settlers accused of torching mosque


Palestinian leaders are blaming Jewish settlers for a fire in a West Bank mosque.

The fire early Tuesday morning broke out in a mosque inside a village school building in Hawara, near Nablus. The governor of Nablus, Jibreen al Bakri, accused settlers of arson, Reuters reported.

Two Palestinian men from Hawara have been arrested and reportedly confessed to the murder of five members of the Fogel family from the nearby Jewish settlement of Itamar.

Israeli police are investigating the mosque incident. Unlike other recent arson and vandal attacks in West Bank Palestinian areas, where graffiti written in Hebrew was found at the scenes, no such signs were found in Hawara, police told Reuters.

Pelosi calls for transparency from both sides in mosque dispute


Nancy Pelosi agreed with an ADL call on a group planning a mosque near Ground Zero to reveal its funders, but said the mosque’s opponents should do the same.

The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives weighed in Wednesday on the controversy. She echoed statements from President Obama that freedom of religion is paramount, but that the decision about the planned mosque is a local matter.

“The freedom of religion is a Constitutional right,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Where a place of worship is located is a local decision.” New York authorities, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have supported the mosque and community center, planned for a run-down area within three blocks of the World Trade Center felled in the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks.

Polling shows most Americans oppose the planned mosque, which also will serve as as an interfaith center, and a vocal opposition group has garnered the support of much of the Republican leadership, who have made the mosque an issue in the November midterm elections.

The Anti-Defamation League earlier this month issued a statement upholding religious freedom and decrying mosque opponents who have made bigoted statements, but also calling on the center’s organizers to respect the sensibilities of Sept. 11 victims and build it elsewhere.

The ADL also called for the organization behind the planned mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, to release a list of donors,  apparently heeding reports that its leaders have in the past consorted with Islamic radicals.

Pelosi in her statement said she agreed with a statement from the Interfaith Alliance, a religious freedom group that includes a number of prominent rabbis on its board.

Pelosi quoted this sentence from the Interfaith Alliance statement: “We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.”

The entire Alliance statement expressed disappointment in the ADL: “It is unfair to prejudge the impact this center can have on reconciliation before it is even built,” it said. “And we must remember that just because someone prays in a mosque, that does not make them any less of a citizen than you or me.” It was not clear from her statement whether Pelosi endorsed the entire Alliance statement.

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said he appreciated Pelosi’s support for transparency, but regretted the politicization of the issue.

Shlomo’s World


Shlomo Wollins begins his narration well before we reach Hebron, a city on the very fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His tour, by car and by foot, on this late January day is an entry into a worldview of The Chosen and The Other, in which Jews, God’s Good Guys, are the victims of Arabs, but it’s also a world in which Jews are victors over Arabs.

At times, it’s a persuasive, irresistible message.

“You see that bus stop beside the road,” he says, indicating a nondescript crossroads on the drive south from Jerusalem. “That’s where three Jews were gunned down, including a 10-year-old boy and a pregnant woman. Just like that — as they waited for the bus. I came down and helped push dirt into three graves.”

I don’t doubt that Wollins did just that. His bearded, 40-something face is creased with kindness. His handshake is firm. His hug is warm. He was born and raised in America and tells me he made and lost a fortune in corporate America before immigrating to Israel. Inevitably, his conversation circles back to his dark vision of inevitable war.

“Right now the majority of people want to conclude that war is not necessary. That is a delusion,” Wollins says.

I crane my neck for a swift look as our car races by the bus stop. There’s a glimpse of a makeshift stone memorial. There isn’t much else to see there, except for a handful of Jews waiting for a bus.

Wollins himself usually rides the bus to Hebron, so he’s not absolutely sure how to navigate. He almost casually notes that a wrong turn would land us in an Arab village, with potentially deadly consequences.

On the way, we make two wrong turns. Each time, our driver, Orit, the third member of our party, wheels a hasty retreat. Perhaps the element of surprise works in our favor. Some bewildered Arab children seem as though they aren’t expecting an Israeli license plate. Had they been ready for us, would these adorable sprites really have lobbed rocks, or worse?

The unreality, the illogic of it all leaves me more fearless than I know I should be. Even the main road that we stick to runs almost exclusively through West Bank territory populated almost entirely by Arabs. Orit, a journalist I know to be intrepid, clearly looks nervous. Maybe she’s trying to remember if she got that spare tire repaired.

But we arrive in Hebron without incident — just ahead of a tour bus of mostly middle-aged U.S. visitors. If it’s safe for them today….

The bus’ appearance also says something about the irrepressible urge for normality, which asserts itself in Israel at any possible opportunity.

It’s no secret why a tour bus would stop here. Hebron and its environs are revered by both Muslim and Jewish faithful as the burial place, in the Cave of Machpelah, of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. There’s been a Jewish presence on and off since then — and when it was off, it usually was in the wake of a bloody, unprovoked event. A local museum commemorates a 1929 expulsion pogrom that killed 67 Jews and wounded 60. When Jordan controlled the area from 1948 to 1967, its officials tried to raze all traces of the Jewish quarter, including the medieval synagogue. For that matter, over hundreds of years, the Muslims in charge had denied Jews and Christians access to Cave of Machpelah site.

So after Israelis overran the area during the 1967 War, there was plenty of pent up Jewish aspiration. The result was the nearby Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, which began at an old army installation and now houses some 6,500 souls. And, later, Jewish settlers pushed into Hebron itself, where they now occupy four, ever-at-risk neighborhoods, with about 1,000 residents in all.

Everything about Hebron speaks of a separateness dividing Israelis and Palestinians. A no-man’s land has developed between where Israelis live and where Palestinians live. And this dead zone is patrolled by young Israeli soldiers who make the Jewish quarter livable for Israelis outnumbered somewhere between 80-to-1 and 300-to-1, depending on who’s doing the counting. Those are bad odds even for Jews rough-and-ready enough to stage an Alamo-like stand.

This fundamental, almost unquestioned hostility and separateness is discomfiting to me, the child of Jews active in the civil rights movement. But here, in Wollins’ world, it’s a given. And in truth, it’s getting to be a given even for Israelis actively working for peaceful coexistence.

Wollins points to a hill opposite the Jewish quarter, from where Arab snipers used to fire, until the army finally cleared them out. He walks us through the school’s play yard, onto which Arab neighbors on the other side of the divide would toss rocks at grade-schoolers. Up an incline we approach the house where an Arab intruder stabbed to death a rabbi. And in the flats, a monument marks where a sniper shot a 10-month-old girl in a stroller through the head.

Hebron is no place for these Jews to live, except that they consider this site so holy. Besides the patriarchs, it’s also the traditional burial site of Ruth (the biblical grandmother of King David) and Jesse (David’s father). The trail to these tombs snakes between quaint vineyards and Arab homes along a path blocked from open access by razor wire and from view by corrugated metal and opaque plastic. The shielding isn’t bulletproof — and plenty of bullet holes attest to this — but it effectively obscures a clear shot at passing Jews.

But Wollins’ tour is as much about Jewish victory as victimization. He shows off a new apartment building that now stands like a defiant sentinel over land the rabbi’s knife-wielding assailant had once crossed. Next to this new building lies a former Arab parcel that Hebron’s Jews recently purchased over the fury of local Arab officials.

The Jewish quarter is fully rebuilt, sparkling with ancient stones and modern conveniences. So is the medieval synagogue, which a few years ago had been purposefully desecrated through its use as a trash pit and animal pen.

And Jews can once again enter the mosque that sits over the Cave of Machpelah.

Here, alas, there’s still a problem, says Wollins. Jews can only enter half the mosque, except for a few days a year. So some of the ancestors remain out of reach, because of the Muslims who control the grounds. Muslims, he adds, can visit the entire site, but it doesn’t work the other way around. One more example, he says, of Muslim injustice and the Israeli government’s tolerance of inequality when it comes to Jewish settlers.

But that’s not exactly right, as it turns out. After 1967, when Israeli troops took control of the region, Muslims and Jews had access to all parts of the mosque. Then, in 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a radical American doctor who’d immigrated to adjacent Kiryat Arba, entered the mosque armed with a Glil rifle. He opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing 29 and wounding 125 before being overcome and beaten to death.

After that attack, which was almost exactly 12 years ago, the mosque was divided in half. Jews and Muslims no longer mingle. A few days per year, the whole site is open only to Jews or only to Muslims.

What about that? I ask Wollins, after hearing an Israeli guide explain the actual arrangement and its history to a group of tourists.

How does Goldstein figure into Wollins’ narrative? Wollins, after all, chose not to mention Goldstein on his own, let alone acknowledge that it was Goldstein’s actions, not Muslim perfidy, that precipitated the division of the holy site.

Wollins tries to explain: “I can’t say for sure, because I really don’t know. Maybe he snapped. But I can tell you story after story that I’ve heard of what a good man this doctor was. And I’ve heard from people here — and they say they have good reason to believe it — that Goldstein had advance knowledge of an Arab massacre that was about to happen. And that’s what he was trying to prevent.”

I learn later that Goldstein’s grave has become something of shrine for the radical right wing. And that the graveside inscription reads, in part: “Here lies the saint, Dr. Baruch Kappel Goldstein…. His hands are innocent and his heart is pure. He was killed as a martyr of God.”

To me, it sounds a lot like the posters lionizing the Muslim suicide bombers. I can’t resist thinking that the only thing missing is the 70 virgins waiting to greet Goldstein in heaven.

For his part, Wollins prefers to change the subject, like to a discussion of the peace process, which he regards as a disaster.

What is the better option? I ask.

He says he likes the way it was before then, before Palestinians had any pledge from Israel to turn over land to form a Palestinian state. Sure, he concedes, they would attack us, and we would attack them. And some people would die violently on a regular basis. But overall, that status quo was acceptable compared to the present. He could have lived that way forever — on the presumption that Israel would keep the lands it won in battle and continue to settle them.

And what about now? How can Israel hold onto all this territory and retain its Jewish identity — if that means that most residents of this greater Israel would, in fact, be Arab Muslims?

Wollins has an answer for that, too. Inevitably, he says, there will be a war, and the Muslims must, in the end, leave the land.

That is Wollins’ world — and that of many Israelis, though still a minority. Take that last paragraph and replace the word Muslim with Jew and that’s the world of Hamas, which has now assumed control of the Palestinian Authority. The leaders of Hamas seem equally certain that it is the Jews who ultimately must exit.

And did I mention that these visionaries of conflict confidently proclaim God to be on their side?

On this week after President’s Day, I am reminded that Abraham Lincoln once admonished the Holy Rollers of his day by saying that he never presumed that God was on his side. He could only pray that he was on God’s side.

With all due respect, the world of my friend Wollins is not my world. And I shudder to think that the best that so many can hope for is a bloody time when opposing worlds are fated to collide.

 

Vigil Points to Interfaith Inroads


With Chanukah bracketed by major Christian and Muslim celebrations, last month might have been a propitious time to find common ground between the Abrahamic faiths.

Instead, a pair of incidents occurring within days of each other reveals the breadth of the cultural divide.

Prompted by recent car bombings of two synagogues in Turkey and a mosque in India, local leaders of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths came together for a vigil on Dec. 7 to publicly condemn such acts of violence as "nothing less than vicious murders."

"The Muslim community unequivocally condemns such discriminate and indiscriminate acts of violence against any innocent human being," said Mohannad Molos, a director of the Orange County Islamic Foundation, known as the Mission Viejo mosque, reading a statement that represented 70 Islamic centers in Southern California.

"This is truly a breakthrough moment in local interfaith relations, for to condemn terrorists who kill Jews in synagogues is perceived by Muslim militants as being comparable to treason," said Rabbi Allen Krause, of Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El in a message to congregants. "It’s not an easy thing to do."

Even so, the courageous clerics were all but eclipsed by the controversy over an Irvine flag football tournament for young Islamic men with team names such as Intifada, Soldiers of Allah and Mujahideen.

The 29-year-old organizer, Tarek Shawky, conceded the names were chosen without "much forethought" to serve "as a positive source of team pride." Organizers maintain that "intifada," for example, means the universal struggle against oppression, despite its use by various Palestinian groups that promote suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.

Jewish leaders said the names showed cultural insensitivity that risked inciting harmful activity.

"This is taking a political situation that’s explosive and bringing it to the parks of Irvine," said Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Costa Mesa.

Legally, the city lacks the authority to bar the tournament, Greenspan said. She likened the situation to professional and college teams that dropped names such as Warriors and Crusaders without a threat of legal action but under heightened pressure over cultural awareness.

A similar explanation came from Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, who fielded a call from an angry resident decrying the team names as "hate speech" on public lands.

"There is a moral issue here, not a legal one," said the constituent, who asked not to be identified. "He’s hiding behind political correctness."

Whether the intent was provocative or an instance of jock bravado, "I suspect that many local Muslims are embarrassed by the situation and wish they could exert more influence on the young people involved," Krause said.

The team names are a vivid reminder of the cultural blinders that keep faiths isolated despite their similarities.

The public condemnation against recent bombings of religious centers by leaders of Orange County’s Islamic community grew out of interfaith work begun in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We perceive ourselves as serving the community and doing humanitarian efforts," said Molos, of the Mission Viejo mosque, which has about 2,000 members. Last spring, congregants from the mosque, Beth El and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Beach raised a house together in Mexico. The priest and the rabbi recently urged the imam to be more visible opposing acts of violence by Islamic radicals.

"We never viewed our function as doing that," Molos said, leaving public statements about world events to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which maintains a local office in Anaheim. "We felt that was enough."

There is a growing recognition now of the importance of public advocacy, Molos said, noting that the young Muslim community made up of immigrants has been preoccupied with achieving economic certainty. "This is like the Mexican community, focused on putting food on the table," he said.

The Rev. Will Crist, of St. Mary’s, said "Sept. 11 not only knocked down some buildings." It also revealed "our ignorance of people who live around the corner from each other."

He described a conversation between the religious leaders about a scriptural passage that took place at a Laguna Beach restaurant. In the passage, Jesus replies to a question about the most important commandment, saying "to love thy neighbor." "That is as good as a summation of the Quran," said one of the Muslims present.

"We knew we had found a common mountain top," Crist said.

"We’re here to mourn a tragic loss," he continued, "but the greatest leverage we have is here with each other; we become a community.

"We can do this in Southern California," Crist said, "to turn swords into plowshares and live in peace."

Perhaps the next interfaith dialog should take place on the gridiron.

The American-Muslim Experience, a panel discussion featuring five leaders from the local Muslim community, in a panel discussion with Rabbi Arnold Rachlis and the Rev. Fred Plumer of Irvine United Church of Christ, will take place Jan. 20, 7:30 p.m. at University Synagogue in Irvine.