Sunday, September 26, 2004

One of the traditional Jewish prayers for Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, is an alphabetical confession of sin, using the Hebrew alphabet -- in effect, "we have committed every sin in the book from aleph to tav". Some prayerbooks translate the list not literally, but by an equivalent list in English, which has the congregation confessing to, among other things, xenophobia and excessive zeal.

In past years, my main thought on this was, "my, they were straining for an 'x'". This year, though, at a friend's break-the-fast party, I found myself talking to someone who was taking, in effect, the Little Green Footballs line on Islam -- that the radical Salafi teachings of the Saudi clergy, and of folks like the Taliban, who want to put women in shrouds and ban them from having any professional careers, are mainstream Islam, which has to be stamped out everywhere it appears. I replied that Indonesia -- a major Muslim country by any reasonable standard -- recently elected a female President (which is not a ceremonial post there), and that the best known advocates of what he was describing as "mainstream Islam" there are terrorist groups which are trying to overthrow the elected government. He didn't exactly concede, but he abandoned the argument.

In fact, it's eliminationism, not tolerance, that's new in the Muslim world -- the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides had a day job as Saladin's personal physician, and wrote in Arabic, at a time when the Jews of Europe were being slandered with blood libels, herded into ghettos, and subject to massacres and expulsions. But it has somehow become acceptable in America to tar all Muslims by their worst extremists, and to flatly defy the existence of the more moderate elements which still comprise the bulk of worldwide Islam -- and which we desperately need as allies to contain the lunatics. That's xenophobia writ large. It's a serious sin. And if we keep it up, we're going to pay for it.


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