Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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17 Shevat 5766 - February 15, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Not with Physical Might — But with My Spirit

In the streets of Beirut, Damascus, Islamabad and elsewhere, as chanting mobs torched Danish and other Western offices, including embassies of other European countries and representative offices of the European Commission, we think that we heard a clash of civilizations.

Moslems around the world were insulted by the publication of cartoons depicting their religious leader Mohammed. Many regard any depiction of him as forbidden, and in this case he was depicted as advocating violence, for example by wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. So they reacted with fury and violence.

The reaction was not a deed of passion. It was long in building up. The cartoons were published in September, and they did draw a muted reaction from Moslems living in Europe. It was a meeting in Mecca in December of the 57 Moslem nations of the world that seemed to mark a turning point. The closing statement of that conference, according to the New York Times, expressed "concern at rising hatred against Islam and Moslems and condemned the recent incident of desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Mohammed in the media of certain countries." It described the incident as "using the freedom of expression as a pretext to defame religions."

After that meeting the press in Moslem countries began to talk frequently about the European cartoons and governments began to encourage demonstrations. Regimes that are under some Western pressure to become more democratic were able to reply by pointing to these bitter fruits of democracy.

Stanley Fish, a law professor at Florida International University, noted that the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons insisted that they were "not directed at Muslims." Rather, the intention was "to put the issue of self- censorship on the agenda and have a debate about it."

Professor Fish said that the Danes feel that they are neither for nor against religion. However he asserts that they are adherents "of the religion of letting it all hang out, the religion we call liberalism."

The Muslims are against this religion. The believe that there is a right and a wrong in the world, and that they are right — and that they have a right to say that they are right, including publishing cartoons that vilify Christianity and Judaism in less respectful images than were used in reference to Mohammed. They believe that Christians and Jews follow false religions and are thus proper objects of hatred and even disgust. The dominant Muslims in the world believe further that they are justified and even obligated to express their belief in violence directed at those who disagree. Many Muslims do not agree with this interpretation of Islam, but the violent ones are ascendent nowadays.

Our position embraces elements of both sides, but goes beyond them. In practice we are close to the Western side in that we believe that conflict should take place only at the ideological level.

In theory we are in some ways like the Muslims though the differences loom large. We also believe that there is a right and a wrong and that we know what is right. But when we encounter cartoons that vilify us — whether in the Arab countries or in European countries — our reaction is not violent, even in theory. We do not seek to draw blood. Rather we shed tears.

We weep for the exile that we suffer that includes not only our physical persons but the ideas that we stand for. If we are inspired to action, we will sit on the floor and mourn the Destruction and beseech Hashem to end it soon and to bring about the Final Redemption.

If we were to cast it in political terms, we would say that our core belief is not in the power of our arms but in the power of our ideas. We believe that the fundamentals of our Torah are so strong and so right that they eventually will prove themselves overwhelmingly irresistible to the entire world.

"This is the dvar Hashem to Zerubovel as follows: Not with armies and not with physical might — but with My Spirit says Hashem the Lord of Hosts" (Zecharya 4:6).

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