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
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.