Can you change the mind of a jihadist?

Of all the things I’ve read about the latest jihadist terror attack from London, one line in particular from Prime Minister Theresa May stood out.

Terrorism will only be defeated, she said, when we make young people “understand that our values, pluralistic British values, are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate.”

But at the same time, May spoke about the need to crack down harder on those “young people” and the extremism that feeds them.

So, on the one hand, May wants to get tougher with the killers, while, on the other, convince them that British values are superior.

Maybe that represents, in a nutshell, the dilemma of fighting jihadist terrorism. To really win the war, you have to fight them physically and psychologically, but when you’re so busy with the physical, who’s got time for the psychological?

The focus in England right now clearly is on security, on preventing the next attack. Is there anyone on May’s team working on her goal of influencing values? I doubt it. The mood in the country is to stop the bad guys from killing — not to change their values.

But let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that, simultaneous to the crackdown, May would hire a marketing agency to create a campaign that might positively influence the bad guys. What would that look like?

One of the first things you learn in the advertising business is never to use the word “impossible.” There’s always the “best possible” answer to a problem, however unlikely it is that you can solve it. It’s about moving things forward — will the campaign make things a little better? Will it improve the odds of success?

Something else advertising teaches is to boil everything down to its essence — a few words, an image, a single thought. The goal is to light sparks, plant seeds, break the ice.

In our case, a key question is: How would you plant seeds of doubt in the mind of a jihadist who believes he’s doing God’s work when he slices the neck of a woman enjoying a beer in a British bar, or runs over pedestrians strolling happily on a Saturday night?

The easy thing to do would be to throw our hands up and give up. If someone thinks killing is holy, how do you counter that? But, like I said, this is a thought experiment. If the prime minister of England wants an ad campaign to influence the minds of religious extremists, what do you recommend?

In my mind, I see only one thing: We must fight holy with holy. They say killing is holy? We say life is holy.

The idea would be to rally leaders across all cultures and religions — especially Muslim leaders and preachers — to launch a “Life is Holy” campaign. The advertising would provide the sparks, but community leaders would preach the message on the ground.

A pervasive “Life is Holy” movement will, at the very least, put killers on notice that they no longer own holiness.

The campaign would reclaim holiness on behalf of life. We would promote the holiness of life with the same passion religious killers promote the holiness of killing. Instead of playing defense, life would play offense.

A “Life is Holy” message has some clear benefits: It’s true, believable, simple and passionate.

Of course, no marketing campaign can solve the problem of jihadist terrorism. There are too many jihadists who are moved by verses in the Quran that speak of killing the infidels, and too many preachers who feed this violence.

What marketing can do, however, is provide an aspirational vision. It can tell future generations of potential jihadists that real holiness lies in life, not killing. If enough Muslim preachers throughout the world reinforce this message in their sermons, we might begin to make a dent.

In her remarks, Prime Minister May spoke of cracking down on “safe spaces” online and in self-segregated Muslim communities that can harbor extremism.

If she is serious about doing this, she must infiltrate these extremist “safe spaces” with messages that promote the holiness of life — with billboards and memes, for example, that show the faces of people of all colors and religions as being worthy of holiness. Most critically, she must enlist local Muslim preachers to lead the way.

In sum, a “Life is Holy” campaign, if done right, can ignite an in-your-face pushback to the culture of death that infects the minds of jihadist killers. The “Life is Holy” message must be ubiquitous — it must be on T-shirts, street corners and social media. It must be loud enough to marginalize anyone who doesn’t support it.

In combination with a serious security crackdown, a pervasive “Life is Holy” movement will, at the very least, put killers on notice that they no longer own holiness.

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

Shaming the murderers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sultan’s new Sharia laws prompt Jewish groups to shun Beverly Hills Hotel

Some of Southern California’s largest Jewish organizations plan to stay away from the Beverly Hills Hotel, suspending future events at the landmark venue owned by the state-run Brunei Investment Agency.

Their boycott was spurred by recent Sharia additions to the tiny Muslim country’s penal code, including the threat of execution of homosexuals, adulterers and anyone who insults the Quran or Muhammad.

The pink stucco luxury hotel is owned by the Dorchester Collection, a luxury hotel operator that belongs to Brunei’s government, and is therefore an asset of Hassanai Bolkiah, the sultan and absolute ruler of the tiny, oil-rich, South Asian country. Dorchester also owns the Hotel Bel-Air, a smaller luxury hotel in nearby Bel-Air.

At the same time, one Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, announced that it will continue its relationship with the hotel. The Orthodox synagogue has held Shabbat and holiday services in the hotel for the past 15 years.

A popular location for high-end dinners, fundraisers and galas, the Sunset Boulevard hotel last week faced protests and announcements that it will be shunned by many local nonprofits and associations as well as celebrities.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los 

Angeles, told the Journal on May 7 that the Federation will not plan any events there.

“The values of the owner of that hotel and the country in which he has power goes against everything we believe in as Jews and as Americans,” Sanderson said, adding, though, that he is not calling for a general boycott. “It’s one of these situations where, right now, given the public stand, I think it would be very difficult for any community organization to do an event there.”

Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist Pacific Palisades synagogue, has relocated a large May 20 event that would have been at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire. Mike Lurey, Kehillat Israel’s president, wrote in an email to the congregation that the event had to be moved “if we are to be true to the values upon which our synagogue was founded,” even at the risk of losing the synagogue’s nearly $100,000 deposit. 

Protesters outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

“That is a small price to pay for the importance of taking a firm stand against such atrocities,” Lurey wrote.

Aviva Family and Children’s Services already has announced that it also will change  the venue of its May 31 gala from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire, posting on its website that it made the decision “in light of recent reports concerning the decision to adopt Sharia Law by the property’s owner.” 

The Jewish Free Loan Association announced that its June 11 gala will move from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Luxe Hotel, just a few miles west on Sunset Boulevard.

Dorchester CEO Christopher Cowdray said in a statement that widespread event cancellations would hurt the Beverly Hills Hotel’s 650 employees, saying that the hotel has already lost $2 million in canceled events and alleging its employees could lose about $8 million in gratuities from functions held at the hotel.

“We question why the Beverly Hills Hotel is being singled out,” Cowdray’s statement said, pointing out that many Muslim governments that impose Sharia have interests in American brands.

Although the sultan announced the new legislation in October 2013, its first stage was implemented on May 1, introducing fines and jail terms for offenses such as pregnancy outside marriage and failure to attend Friday prayers. The second phase, which will be rolled out in one year, will impose whipping and amputations for theft and alcohol consumption by Brunei’s Muslim citizens.

By 2016, Brunei’s citizens could be subject to execution for adultery and for insulting the Quran or Muhammad. Although 80 percent of Brunei’s 400,000 citizens are Muslim, many of the sultan’s decrees will also apply to the country’s substantial Christian and Buddhist minorities, in particular a prohibition against proselytization.

In the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, strict Islamic law also governs many elements of society, but Brunei is the only South Asian country to have adopted the criminal element of Sharia.

Beverly Hills Hotel employees during a public hearing where the Beverly Hills City Council voted on a resolution to pressure the government of Brunei to divest the hotel in Beverly Hills on May 6. Photo by David McNew/Reuters

Bolkiah, 67, has been Brunei’s absolute ruler since 1967. Head of an oil-rich country that is also the world’s fourth-largest exporter of natural gas, he was named by Forbes in 2007 the world’s wealthiest royal, worth $22 billion. He is, all at once, Brunei’s prime minister, defense minister, finance minister and head of religion.

A British protectorate until 1984, Brunei joins a long list of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, that impose brutal punishments such as amputations for theft and execution for adultery and homosexuality. 

Brunei’s embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.

Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno was among recent protesters in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, and his presence helped the issue go viral. Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Osbourne had previously announced on Twitter that they would not stay at either of the sultan’s local properties until his new laws are repealed. Then, last weekend, the Feminist Majority Foundation canceled its planned May 5 annual event at the hotel, instead leading a protest across the street, holding the event later that evening at the Hammer Museum.

Leno’s wife, Mavis, chairs that foundation’s campaign for Afghan women, who have suffered for years at the hands of the Taliban. Appearing alongside protesters on May 12, Jay Leno said, according to the Los Angeles Times, “We get so upset when a team owner says something inappropriate,” referring to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. “Here are people being killed, stoned to death … it’s just a matter of priorities.”

Activist Dolores Huerta, left, protesting Brunei's new strict Sharia law penal code outside the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Feminist Majority Foundation Executive Vice President Katherine Spillar told the Journal in an interview on May 8 that she does not support a general boycott of the hotel, and said the sultan’s Los Angeles properties are just the current target in the group’s broader fight against anti-female laws in nations such as Brunei, Afghanistan and Iran. She termed the new laws in Brunei as “Taliban-like,” rather than as Sharia.

“We don’t have an issue with the hotel,” Spillar said. “We have an issue with the Sultan of Brunei.” Although the Feminist Majority Foundation won’t be holding any events at the hotel in the foreseeable future, Spillar expressed her gratitude to the hotel for refunding the group’s $70,000 non-refundable deposit for the event.

Jewish groups that have canceled their events told the Journal they are still in discussion with Beverly Hills Hotel about refunds.

Unite Here Local 11, a hospitality workers union that has butted heads for years with the formerly unionized Beverly Hills Hotel, also participated in the picketing. Shortly after its purchase by the sultan in the late 1980s, the hotel closed down and renovated, reopening in 1995, with a non-unionized staff.

Charlie Carnow, a research analyst with the union, said that, in addition to raising awareness about laws forbidding homosexuality and condoning marital rape, Local 11 has previously raised red flags surrounding the sultan’s relationship with Iran, his refusal to recognize Israel and his support of Iran’s nuclear program.

“We are calling for a boycott of both properties,” Carnow said of the Dorchester Collection’s two local hotels. “The best way forward is for these hotels to be sold so they can be returned to be properties that people feel comfortable going to.”

The Beverly Hills Hotel is owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

On May 6, the Beverly Hills City Council passed a legally non-binding resolution urging Brunei’s government to “divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and any other properties it may own in Beverly Hills.” Hotel staff attended the meeting in uniform and opposed the council’s resolution, highlighting how a boycott of the hotel could hurt their livelihoods.

One local Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, a congregation led by Rabbi Yossi Cunin, a Chabad rabbi, plans to continue its weekly Shabbat services inside the hotel, which they have held there for more than a decade.

“Never will you feel uncomfortable in that hotel as a practicing Jew,” Cunin said. “They do a terrific job for travelers all over the world who come to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel who are shomer Shabbos

“We have had our shul there for more than 10 years,” Cunin continued, “and have had nothing but respect and cooperation from the hotel.”

Federation’s Sanderson also conceded that the situation is not simple when considering the local impact.

“It’s not so black-and-white when you have our neighbors who work in the hotel,” Sanderson said. “It’s a business in Beverly Hills, and it employs people. It’s a very complicated problem.”

An accidental theologist tackles Muhammad bio

In 2010, Lesley Hazleton was asked to give a brief talk about the Quran. 

“As far as I was concerned, I was talking to those several hundred people in the hall,” Hazleton said in a recent phone interview. “I certainly had no idea that a nine-minute video about reading the Quran would go viral. … I mean, I’m in my 60s, so the words ‘Lesley’ and ‘viral’ don’t even belong in the same sentence.”

Hazleton said that if you total up all the places where her lecture about the Quran subsequently appeared — TED, YouTube, etc. — it’s gotten about a million hits.

The main reason for the wide dissemination of Hazleton’s lively and informative lecture is that it raised alarm bells: She mentioned that her delving deeply into the Quran was prep work for a book she was working on: a biography of Muhammad. 

That’s right: the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. 

A decade earlier, Hazleton had written a historical exploration of Mary, mother of Jesus, based on what life would have been like for a Jewish peasant woman in the Galilee 2,000 years ago, so she’s used to writing about a revered figure who — like Muhammad — has a billion people deeply concerned about the portrayal. 

But nothing prepared her for the barrage of messages she received after it became known that an agnostic Jewish woman was now writing about Muhammad.

“Suddenly, it’s as if there were a million Muslims looking over my shoulder wanting to make sure I got it right,” Hazleton said. 

“Every morning I’d get messages — through e-mail, Facebook, on my blog — and I’d answer back: ‘Thank you for your concern. It will probably not be the biography you want — it will be a historical one, not a devotional one, so all I can do is ask you to trust me to find my own way.’ ”

Writing an accurate, credible biography of Muhammad is a tricky challenge for anyone, but the difficulties are compounded if you’re a woman, Jewish, and have lived in Israel for many years. 

Hazleton is used to taking on tough challenges and facing them with a quick wit and self-deprecating humor: she named her blog — which deals with the interface of religion, society and politics — “The Accidental Theologist.”

In her early 20s, she left her native England and moved to Jerusalem, where she lived for 13 years, studying psychology and later becoming a Middle East correspondent for Time magazine. While living there, she wrote books about Israeli women, about the Negev and the Sinai, and about Jerusalem.  

From 1979 to 1992, she lived in New York and wrote on a variety of subjects, including cars and race-driving, which led to a book with the captivating title “Confessions of a Fast Woman.” Then she moved to Seattle, got her pilot’s license — her “hardest-earned possession” — and has remained there, living on a houseboat.

Psychologist by training, journalist by experience, for more than a decade Hazleton has been writing about figures and events important to the world’s monotheisms.

After her biography of Mary, Hazleton wrote a book about the biblical character Jezebel, digging into the struggle between the “harlot queen” and the prophet Elijah. After that, she delved into the origins of the Shi’a-Sunni split in early Islam.

“The First Muslim” is full of great, accessible stories. And it introduces non-Muslims to an extraordinary life with which they’re probably unfamiliar.

“Here’s a man [Muhammad] who carved a huge profile in history,” Hazleton said, “a man who radically changed his world and, in a sense, is still changing ours — and the question to me was: Who was this person, really? This is what drives me, this intense curiosity, the need to know who was really there.”

Hazleton writes about how, at 40, Muhammad had a revelation on Mount Hira near Mecca. Based on what was revealed to him, he preached monotheism as well as a radical program of social and economic justice.

“It was correctly seen by the powers-that-be in Mecca as a challenge to them,” Hazleton said, “as radical and subversive.” As a result, Muhammad was forced to flee Mecca. 

“But it was with that exile,” Hazleton said, “when he was thrown out of Mecca and took refuge 200 miles to the north in Medina and set up this extraordinary idealistic community which included Jewish tribes, that he realizes he’s become a political leader, not just a spiritual leader, not just a preacher. 

“And along with that comes what’s expected of a political governing authority of the time: How do you establish your power? Do we fight? What happens when we fight?”

In her book, Hazleton describes how, in Muhammad’s struggle to gain both political and religious power while in Medina, some Jewish tribes paid the price.

“Muhammad’s relationship with the Jews was extremely fraught,” Hazleton said. “Medina, where Mohammed sought refuge, had been, until a few generations before, largely controlled by Jewish tribes. By the year 600, however, Jewish tribes were the minority and therefore vulnerable. …

“[Muhammad] confronted three Jewish tribes, all relatively powerless. One tribe was exiled from Medina, then a second one [was exiled], and the third was massacred.”

Hazleton said that the massacre was a “ruthless” decision, but — given the time and place in which Muhammad lived and the obstacles he faced — a “pragmatic” and “effective” one. 

“I think it was a way for Muhammad to establish his political authority. I don’t really think it had to do with anti-Jewish animus. … It had to do with the dynamics of power, and it’s the only time something like that happened.”

Hazleton pointed out that two of Muhammad’s wives were Jewish and added that “Muhammad clearly saw himself as part of the Jewish tradition. … Islam was a radical call back to the basic values of the Torah and even talmudic stories. Many people are amazed when they actually do read the Quran that one-third is devoted to reprising biblical stories, that so many prophets of Islam are Hebrew prophets.”

“The First Muslim” is Hazleton’s seventh book about the Middle East, a place she left 34 years ago. Or did she?

“In some ways, I’ve never actually left [the Middle East]. It never lets go of you, not if you’ve spent any time there. By writing about it, I lead a double life: On the one hand, I’m here in 21st century Seattle; on the other, I spend my days in the ancient Middle East.

“This sense of place for me, the Middle East, is very vivid. You’re talking with someone who has an olive tree in her floating garden here in Seattle. The olive tree is my little piece of the Middle East in this misty outpost in the Northwest.”

A scholar reveals the Qur’an

No book is regarded with more fear and loathing in the West than the Qur’an, the fundamental religious text of Islam, and yet I am confident that most people who are anxious about what is written in the Qur’an have never actually held a copy in their hands, much less opened it and read it.

That’s exactly why “How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide, With Select Translations” by Carl W. Ernst (University of North Carolina Press: $30) is such a unique, timely and important book. His self-appointed mission is to break through “the blank slate of sheer unfamiliarity with the Qur’an among Americans and Europeans.” But Ernst, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a leading American expert on Islam, is fully aware of the political and theological minefield that he treads in his scholarship.

“The Qur’an is the source of enormous anxiety in Europe and America,” where it is treated not as a text to be studied and explained but “a very dangerous problem,” Ernst reminds us.  With the characteristic understatement of a scholar, he proposes that “such an attitude of suspicion is hardly conducive to a fair-minded understanding of the text.”  Indeed, he insists that we are obliged to approach the Qur’an with the same open-mindedness that we employ when considered the Bible: “[R]eading the Qur’an from a literary and historical perspective is a humanistic exploration of the text that treats it like any other writing.”

To be sure, Ernst acknowledges that “a small minority of extremists” in the Islamic world “quote the Qur’an in support of terrorist violence,” but he refuses to allow them to hijack what is, after all, an ancient text that is organically linked to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  Indeed, he condemns the “conspiracy theory” that has come to be attached to Islam in general and the Qur’an in particular in the minds of many Westerners.

“It is irrational, it is paranoid, and it is out of touch with the realities of the lives of most Muslims around the world today,” he writes. “In part because of these contemporary anxieties, it is difficult for most Europeans and Americans to read the Qur’an.”

So he leads us, gently and patiently, through the intricacies of the Qur’an, starting with the fact that it is no longer fashionable to use the familiar spelling, “Koran.” He puts aside the troubling theological issues that arise whenever a scholar encounters a work that is presented by its human author as divine revelation, and instead approaches the Qur’an “as a literary work that exists in history.” This is the key with which Ernst unlocks a door and allows us to enter the text.

“[O]nce this barrier is removed it becomes wonderfully apparent that the Qur’an was aimed at an audience that was quite aware of a wide range of ancient religious literature that was also claimed by the West,” he explains. “Moreover, like other prophetic writings, the Qur’an engages in critical rewriting of those previous texts as a way of establishing its own voice.”

He explains how the Qur’an came into existence as oral recitations by the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca and Medina in the early seventh century, how the text was conveyed, memorized and written down on bone, wood, leather and other materials, and “how the Qur’an itself testifies to history.”  He discusses the so-called “satanic verses” that Salman Rushdie made famous, to his own misfortune. Although Ernst acknowledges the tradition that the Qur’an cannot and should not be translated, he asserts both the right and the rightness of his own enterprise.

“From a strictly literary perspective,” writes Ernst, “there does not seem to be any good reason why the Qur’an should be privileged among all other texts in the world as being only accessible in the original language.”

Along the way, he points out some of the striking commonalities between the Qur’an and the Tanakh.  Like the Jews, whose liturgy is rooted in biblical Hebrew, “all observant Muslims need to know at least portions of the Qur’an by heart in the original language, to recite in their daily prayers.”  Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Joseph are invoked in some of the suras, as the basic literary unit of the Qur’an is called, and Ernst focuses on a passage in which a notably clueless Moses is instructed in the divine mysteries by an emissary known as al-Khidr: “Don’t blame my forgetfulness, or ask something difficult,” implores Moses, and al-Khidr scolds him: “Didn’t I tell you? You won’t have patience to bear with me.”

Of course, despite Ernst’s best intentions, it is impossible to avoid all controversy.  Merely to entertain the notion that the Qur’an is a work of human authorship, written by a flesh-and-blood human being in a particular time and place, is itself an affront to pious Muslims. But here, too, is a commonality; scholars make the same assumption about the Torah and the New Testament, and they manage to offend pious Jews and Christians when they do. 

To Ernst’s credit, he is applying to the Qur’an the same tools of scholarship that have long been used in studying the religious texts of Judaism and Christianity, and he thereby seeks to open a conversation in which all Jews, Christians and Muslims of good will can and should participate.

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, 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.

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.


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


Rabbi Wolpe fights cancer battle; Terror victim becomes advocate for others

Rabbi Wolpe Fights Cancer Battle
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple informed his congregation by letter this week that he was recently diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Although his doctors “have every expectation that the cancer will be put into extended remission or cured,” Wolpe wrote, “nonetheless, this is a shock and it has begun a new journey for me and my family.”
Wolpe told The Journal that he plans to maintain his regular work schedule “as best I can,” taking a day or so off, if needed, during chemotherapy treatment.Since assuming the pulpit of the large Conservative congregation in Westwood in 1997, Wolpe has earned a reputation as one of the city’s most visible and innovative rabbis.
In addition, he is a prolific writer and frequent commentator on television. He is the author of six books, including the 2000 national bestseller, “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times.”
In November 2003, Wolpe underwent surgery to remove a brain lesion after he suffered a seiziure at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was speaking at the dedication of a new Hillel house. He returned to the pulpit two months later.
In his letter to congregants, sent out on his 48th birthday, Wolpe wrote, “Throughout my life, I have believed that God promises us not ease but meaning, not perfect health but reverence, connection and love.”
As the rabbi himself noted, “This has been an eventful year.” Last month, he led a large mission to northern Israel, which disbursed $1 million in aid. During the spring, he was considered a lead candidate for the chancellorship of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, but opted to stay in Los Angeles.
Wolpe and his wife Eliana are the parents of a 9-year-old daughter.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Terror Victim Becomes Advocate for Others
Anna Krakovich is the victim of a suicide bomber, but a lucky one. She survived the terror attack to become a response team leader for SELAH — The Israel Crisis Management Center, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance for new immigrants in Israel who are faced with crises. Krakovich spent the latter part of her summer touring Southern California.
Krakovich immigrated to Israel from Ukraine with her 9-year-old daughter in 1992, and now lives in Haifa. On April 6, 1994, she was seriously wounded and 70 percent of her body was burned in a terrorist car bombing. She spent 11 months in hospitals, underwent corrective surgeries and continues today to follow a rigorous course of physical therapy.
A SELAH volunteer visited her every day while she was in the hospital and provided her and her young daughter with extensive support throughout her recovery. Now Krakovich — a former English teacher — has become a devotee of SELAH’s cause, which she describes as providing the kind of family that vulnerable immigrants lack and long for in times of crisis.
“Loss and pain are not a bit easier when tragedy happens to the Israeli-born,” she said, “but those cases have means to cope with tragedy, including immediate family and friends. On top of the fact that the immigrant doesn’t have any social or cultural know-how, he is in no situation to refer to help.”
In addition to facilitating immediate financial, medical and personal relief in a variety of forms, from help with costs for care to visits at home or in the hospital and psychological support. It has reached out to those victimized by the summer’s violence in northern Israel even as it continues to provide long-term support for survivors of past turbulence.
“Tragedy doesn’t end when the spotlight goes away,” Krakovich said. “Crisis stays, and neither the efforts of our wonderful volunteers and the rest of the country nor the donations of our friends here would ever fill the gap for people who lost a loved one. What we can do with our efforts and money is relieve some pain in terms of organization, to make this kind of situation a bit easier to cope with.”
— Ali Austerlitz, Contributing Writer
Rushdie Speaks Out as Pro-Israel Muslim
The evening’s speeches were punctuated with harsh denunciations of Islam as “the religion of the permanently outraged,” as a “collapsed culture,” as murderous and fascistic — all voiced by Muslim speakers.
Author Salman Rushdie, once under sentence of death by Iran’s religious leaders, criticized the Quran as illogical and disjointed, and probed the motivations of suicide bombers in surprising ways.
The occasion was Sunday’s dinner organized by the Western region of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), which honored five Muslims for their courage and friendship toward the Jewish people.
“At a time when Israel is at war and the Jewish people are under attack, we must honor our friends in the Muslim community who give us hope for a better future,” said Gary P. Ratner, executive director of the host organization.
Recalling his pleasant childhood as an Indian Muslim, Rushdie lamented the “deformation” of Islam over the past 50 years, blaming “a culture that will not question itself” and the failure to subject the Quran to scholarly analysis.
Peppering his talk with anecdotes, Rushdie said he was still trying to understand the phenomenon of well-educated and middle-class Muslims in Europe who choose to become suicide bombers.
He blamed partially the radicalization of young Muslim men in their schools and mosques, and the attraction to terrorist groups by people “who are thuggish by nature,” but also cited a psychological basis.
“We live in an age that spotlights glamour,” he said. “Al Qaeda attracts boys who will never be ‘stars,’ but who are seduced into viewing their insane acts as glamorous.”
The four other recipients of the Stephen S. Wise Humanitarian Award, and their quotes, were:

‘Yeah, But:’ 2 Words Lead to Dark Side

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in London, I can’t help but despair at the ever-spiraling violence in our world today. And it pains me even more deeply that a significant portion of that violence occurs at the hands of Muslims in the name of Islam.

Of course, we have all condemned this latest attack in London. We have all stated that Islam is a religion of peace. We have all stated Islamic terror is neither sacred nor Islamic.

Yet, inevitably, I get a question from one — or more than one — reader which goes something like this: “Yeah, but what about the suffering of Muslims in Iraq? Isn’t that also wrong? Why don’t you condemn that?”

You can replace Iraq with a number of other hot spots in the Muslim world: Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and so on. Right then and there — with those two words of “yeah, but” — the questioner begins down a path of moral failure.

The “yeah, but” indicates that the loss of innocent life in London can somehow be justified; that if innocent Muslims are dying at the hands of the British, then the death of innocent Britons (perhaps at the hands of Muslims) is somehow acceptable. Utter moral failure.

Admittedly, that may not be the intention of the questioner, but — to me, at least — that is the impression that comes through; that is the connotation of the “yeah, but.” Our faith has absolutely no room for any “yeah, buts.” The sanctity of human life in the Quran is absolute, without condition or qualification: “Nor take life — which God has made sacred — except for just cause….” (17:33)

“And the servants of the Most Gracious are those who … invoke not, with God, any other god, nor slay such life as God has made sacred except for just cause….” (25:63-68)

By no stretch of the imagination could killing someone in London or Baghdad, or Kirkuk, or Beslan or Tel Aviv fall under the denotation of “just cause.” Yet, there is an even more profound statement in the Quran, one that solidifies the moral failure of “yeah, but.” In fact, I believe this statement to be one of the most — if not the most — profound statements in the entire Quran:

“Believers, stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: That is next to piety, and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (5:8)

Earlier in the same chapter, God says: “…. Let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the sacred mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancor: Fear God, for God is strict in punishment.” (5:2)

These two verses leave absolutely no wiggle room. They choke the air out of any argument that would begin with “yeah, but.”

No matter what evil has been committed against us, that does not give us license to commit injustice. And what worse injustice could there be besides taking the life of an innocent human being?

This idea permeates Islam, as it does Judaism, Christianity and other great religions. All have their fanatics willing to justify needless violence based on their own real or imagined persecution, but all must confront texts and traditions which clearly forbid it.

I am frequently criticized for my harsh criticisms of the sins of Muslims, especially when it comes to violence and terror, and the implication is that I don’t care about the countless loss of Muslim life. That is not true. The suffering of Muslims around the world pains me very deeply, and the way to end that suffering is to work to end injustice across the globe.

But, I have to take us back to the word of God: “Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.” Our faith does not allow us to ever say, “Yeah, but.” It is the path to the dark side; once we start down that path, forever will it dominate our destiny.

Once we let “yeah, but” guide our morality, then we risk becoming completely amoral. We cannot take that risk — ever.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a pulmonary and critical care physician practicing in the greater Chicago area. He is also a columnist for the Religion News Service and Beliefnet, and co-author of the forthcoming book, “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” to be published by Doubleday in 2006.


Bowers Explores the Mystery of Sheba

She arrived in the Jerusalem court of King Solomon with camels weighted by gifts of gold, incense and precious stones. She was armed with questions to test the king’s legendary wisdom. She eventually was thought to be his consort.

But who was the Queen of Sheba?

Using the fanciful myths about the Queen of Sheba as a starting point, Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum opens “Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality … Treasures From the British Museum,” an exhibit of 100 rarely seen Arabian treasures that attempt to give some context to a woman who figures in Jewish, Muslim and Christian texts.

The exhibit, which runs Oct. 17 through March 13, attempts to unravel the mythology surrounding the legendary ruler and the reality of a thriving ancient civilization at the southern end of the Arabian peninsula, now present-day Yemen.

In an essay included in the exhibit catalogue by one of the curators, he concludes “there is more evidence for Sheba than Solomon,” according to Peter C. Keller, the Bowers’ president.

The Torah describes her arrival with the gold. In her entry in the Christian Bible, in the books of Matthew and Luke, she is known as “Queen of the South” and her voyage to Jerusalem is for salvation. She is also mentioned in the Quran. (In the Hollywood version, starring bejeweled Gina Lollobrigida in 1959’s “Solomon and Sheba,” the queen gets an erotic makeover.)

The mystery surrounding the Queen of Sheba, the legendary ruler of Saba, is bred by nine countries that claim her, including Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, said Nicholas Clapp, a curatorial consultant to the Bowers and author of “Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen” (Mariner Books, 2002). Her ancient kingdom prospered at the crossroads of ancient incense routes to Jerusalem and the Roman Empire.

Even 10 years ago, scholars maintained Sheba was little more than biblical nonsense, Clapp said, as Saban writing was then thought to have originated from Greek, around 800 B.C.E. Trading demanded a written language, but Solomon’s era predates the Greeks. More recent carbon dating of Saba finds are older, closer to 1200-1400 B.C.E., which would coincide with Solomon’s era.

“It’s not proved, but the biblical account fits the time and the trading,” Clapp said. “My question is whether Greek is derived from this.”

In keeping with the kingdom’s economic foundation, incense will scent the Bowers’ exhibit halls.

Half the exhibit is devoted to how artisans from the Renaissance to modern times reinterpreted Sheba. Included among the exhibit prints, drawings and film stills are works from the 1500s. In one, the queen is depicted falling to her knees before King Solomon, who is portrayed with the likeness of Henry VIII. Did the British empire span time, too? The depiction is attributed to a Dutch painter who coveted a court position, Clapp said. He apparently got the job.

The exhibit’s second half explores the ancient kingdom’s history and culture through archeological discoveries from the Bronze Age.

The British Museum and the National Museum of Yemen created the original Queen of Sheba exhibit 10 years ago. But a year ago when Keller returned to Britain to finalize the deal, Yemen was dissembling its portion. Instead, Keller had the rare opportunity of scouring the world’s largest and oldest museum for comparable replacements. He had no trouble.

Among the items common to both exhibitions is a bronze head, estimated to be from the second century, borrowed from Queen Elizabeth II. The bronze was a coronation gift from a Yemeni ruler to her father, King George VI, crowned in 1936.

The Kershaw Museum, located in Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El, plans a companion Sheba show. Its exhibition will include some objects from the Bowers’ Ethiopian collection and a reproduction of a chess set recovered by Clapp, who in the 1990s discovered and excavated the “lost city” of Ubar, in the present day Sultan of Oman. The king is topped by a six-pointed star.

The Kershaw exhibit, “Queen of Sheba’s Children: Jews of Ethiopia and Yemen,” includes a free dessert reception and lecture on Thurs., Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Semu M. Kebede, an Ethiopian now living in Los Angeles, will share his personal experiences as a Jewish outcast living in Ethiopia and his arduous walking trek across his country to freedom.

Norma Kershaw, a Bowers’ board member, has filled out her exhibit with Yemeni and Ethiopian art lent from the shelves of local residents.

The author of the Bowers’ exhibition catalogue, “Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality,” is curator St John Simpson of the British Museum’s Ancient Near East department. He will talk about the exhibition highlights at 1:30 p.m. on opening day.

In subsequent weeks, programs featuring scholars will look at Sheba’s relationship with Solomon, rival scenarios about her origin, the riddle of Sheba in the world’s three monotheistic traditions, Yemeni portrayals, her henna adornment, and the importance of aromatics in ancient Arabia.

The exhibit runs through March 13, 2005 at the Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Tuesday-Sunday). $14. For information, call (714) 567-3600. l

Community Briefs

Opera Collaboration Continues to2005

The New Israeli Opera of Tel Aviv and the Los Angeles Opera will extend their ongoing collaboration with a production of Camille Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Dalila” during the 2005 season.

Academy Award-winning film director William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”) will direct the opera, which will premiere at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center in June, and in Los Angeles in October.

Placido Domingo, general director of the L.A. Opera, will sing the role of Samson in Los Angeles for one night only, to mark the company’s 20th anniversary season.

Another well-known movie figure, actor Maximilian Schell, will direct the production of Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier,” due in Los Angeles in May 2005 and in Tel Aviv the following year. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Muslims Ally With Christians in Ads

The large advertisement in five California weekly newspapers has a photo of Jerusalem’s Old City, showing a Christian cross in the foreground, fronting a nearby mosque.

Its headline is, “More in Common Than You Think,” and the text proclaims Islam’s reverence of Jesus, ending in the paragraph: “Like Christians, every day, over 1.3 billion Muslims strive to live by his [Jesus’] teachings of love, peace, and forgiveness. Those teachings, which have become universal values, remind us that all of us, Christians, Muslims, Jews and all others have more in common than we think.”

The ad is part of a long-term campaign, launched after Sept. 11 by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to correct “misconceptions” about Islam and present a kinder, gentler image of American Muslims.

Future ads may well cite the Quran’s respect and reverence for Abraham and Moses, to show Islam’s kinship to Jews, said Sabiha Khan, communications director for CAIR’s Southern California chapter, which initiated the current Jesus ad.

CAIR, which describes itself as “America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group,” is headquartered in Washington and has 25 regional chapters in the United States and Canada.

Its national spokeswoman, Rabiah Ahmed, speaks of CAIR as a “Muslim NAACP,” referring to the African American civil rights organization.

Founded in 1994, CAIR’s declared purpose is “to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America and to empower the Muslim community through political and social activism.” Critics have charged that this benign mission statement hides more militant attitudes and policies.

But according to Ahmed, “the American media now generally presents a negative picture of Muslims and we are trying hard to correct the misconceptions.”

CAIR’s ad campaign, which up to now has appeared mainly in the New York Times, runs under the overall motto, “We are Americans and we are Muslims.”

Its skillfully produced ads generally feature attractive young Muslims, of different ethnic backgrounds, contributing to American society as Girl Scouts, nurses, teachers and parents.

“We have received very positive feedback, but we still have much work ahead of us,” Ahmed said.

The current ad, appealing directly to Christians, owes some of its inspiration to the popularity of Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” and has been limited so far to five small weeklies in Burbank, Claremont, Anaheim, Irvine and Sunnyvale.

Amanda Susskind, Southern California director of the Anti-Defamation League, said she had not received any comments about the ad so far.

CAIR enjoys a generally respectable reputation and its leaders have been invited to the Bush White House and have testified before Congress.

However, CAIR’s aura of moderation has been sharply questioned by critics, who say that the organization has consistently defended Islamic terrorists, including Osama bin Laden.

CAIR’s particular bete noire is Dr. Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and author of four books on Islam.

In numerous articles and lectures, Pipes has charged that CAIR has regularly promoted anti-Semitism, intimidated moderate Muslims and served as apologist for extremists.

In return, CAIR bitterly fought Pipes’ appointment by President Bush to the federally funded U.S. Institute of Peace, but lost its battle. — TT