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May 27, 2015 / 9 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘extremism’

US Begins to Use ‘Daesh’ for ISIL, ‘Islamic State’

Monday, February 9th, 2015

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry honored the memory of a Jordanian pilot tortured to death by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in finally calling the group by its Middle Eastern, regional Arabic name: ‘Daesh.’

The radical Islamic terror group that swallowed massive territory in Syria and Iraq and is penetrating into Europe, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, already has had many names.

ISIS, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, as it is called by U.S. President Barack Obama) and “Islamic State.”

But among Arabs and Israelis the group is referred to as “Daesh,” the Arabic language moniker by which it is known to every Middle Eastern nation.

Last year after a particularly vicious attack by the group in France, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on the rest of the world to join the Middle East, contending the group never was and never will be an “Islamic State.”

Most of Europe rallied to that call, especially following its savage execution of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Basaesbeh after which it released a video a month later, showing how it burned him alive in a metal cage.

The main holdouts were English-speaking countries, among them the United States, which clung to the “ISIL” acronym, as did Great Britain.

Yesterday, however, it appears the United States joined the Middle East and Europe. Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the group as “Daesh” during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference.

One of the major tests facing the United States, Europe and “the entire civilized world,” he contended in his address, is “the rise of violent extremism.”

Kerry went on to detail how each week brings new examples of “how far the evil of these extremist groups reaches.

“Daesh’s execution of a captured Jordanian pilot by burning him alive is a new level of depravity. And far from hiding such a despicable act, they posted a video of it for all the world to see.

“And last week, the UN reported the horrifying ways that Daesh treats even its most vulnerable captives – crucifying children; burying children alive; handpicking mentally challenged children to serve as suicide bombers and kill even more innocent people. This is what we’re up against.”

But it’s not just Daesh, Kerry warned. On a visit to Pakistan last month, “extremists viciously attacked a military school, and Pakistani officials showed me the time-stamped photos of the sequence of the school’s assembly hall before and after that December 16th assault.

“At first, there were children, as children would be, lined up in their uniforms, sitting in their chairs in this auditorium, innocent faces attentive, listening, watching, waiting for knowledge. Minutes later, the scene changed – brutally and horribly – from a learning center into a killing chamber. Blood everywhere, broken eyeglasses, scattered textbooks, torn jackets, young kids strewn across the floor, lifeless bodies.”

On that day, Kerry added, the school’s principal was escorted to safety but returned to try to save her students. “When challenged by the assassins, she pointed to the children saying: “I am their mother,” her last words. “When they’d finished their slaughter in the auditorium, they telephoned on cell phones to call back for instructions, and the instructions that came through were, about the soldiers who were closing in, “kill them and then blow yourselves up.

“Let me be clear,” Kerry continued, “there are no grounds of history, religion, ideology, psychology, politics, economic advantage or disadvantage, or personal ambition that justify the murder of children, the kidnapping and rape of teenage girls, or the slaughter of unarmed civilians. These atrocities can never be rationalized; they can never be excused; they must be opposed with every fiber of our being, and they must be stopped.”

He added that the world “cannot and will not cower in the face of this extremism.” Which extremism?

U.S. administration officials led by President Barack Obama cannot even bear to name it. How can America fight an enemy that it fears to even define?

Readers, there was one word missing from that incredibly passionate, graphic account delivered by America’s secretary of state to those participating at the Munich conference. Everyone there knew the word that was missing, and everyone understood its implications. Most of those in the room have used that word because for them it holds no special significance. They may fear it — but they face it.

Radical Islam. Basic radical Islamic extremism which gave birth to murderous hatred of those who do not believe in the same way.

This is an ancient threat in a new package and must be fought — as such things have been before.

But first, let’s call it what it is so at least there’s no confusion on the battlefield.

‘Honorable Imam, You Bear Responsibility Before Allah’

Friday, January 9th, 2015

A bare two weeks before radical Islamist terrorists calmly emptied the clips of their AK-47 assault rifles into the bodies of 12 journalists at the Paris-based Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly magazine, Egypt’s president warned clerics at the Al Azhar Islamic Center of the urgent need to combat extremist ideology.

In his speech delivered at the centuries-old worldwide center for Islamic studies, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on the imams to “revolutionize” Islam.

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Excerpts of the president’s address were translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in Washington, DC.

“I would like to reiterate that we are not doing enough with regard to true religious discourse,” the president stated. “The problem has never been with our faith. Perhaps the problem lies in ideology, and this ideology is sanctified among us. I am talking about religious discourse that is in keeping with its times.

“… I am addressing the religious scholars and clerics. We must take a long, hard look at the current situation. I have talked about this several times in the past. We must take a long, hard look at the situation we are in. It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our entire nation a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction all over the world. It is inconceivable that this ideology…

“I am referring not to “religion,” but to “ideology” – the body of ideas and texts that we have sanctified in the course of centuries, to the point that challenging them has become very difficult. “It has reached the point that [this ideology] is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world’s population of seven billion, so that they could live [on their own]? This is inconceivable.

“I say these things here, at Al-Azhar, before religious clerics and scholars. May Allah bear witness on Judgment Day to the truth of your intentions, regarding what I say to you today.

“You cannot see things clearly when you are locked [in this ideology]. You must emerge from it and look from outside, in order to get closer to a truly enlightened ideology. You must oppose it with resolve. Let me say it again: We need to revolutionize our religion. “Honorable Imam [the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar], you bear responsibility before Allah. The world in its entirety awaits your words, because the Islamic nation is being torn apart, destroyed, and is heading to perdition. We ourselves are bringing it to perdition.”

For the first time ever, Coptic Christians were honored with a visit from the nation’s leader at Christmas mass, as President el-Sisi visited Cairo’s Abbasiya Cathedral on the holy day. El-Sisi congratulated the small Coptic community on the occasion of the holiday earlier this week, and said in a brief address that all Egyptians are as “one hand.”

 

Leaning To Eliyahu: The Lubavitcher Rebbe, NCSY, And The Way Forward In Judaism

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

As I wrote last week in my Jewish Press front-page essay “The Argument Against Zealotry,” we live in a world of kana’ut – zealotry and extremism.

Kana’im fail to understand how demeaning their perspective and behavior is to their fellow Jews. Has their kana’ut enriched our community or our people? Has it added to our understanding of the world God created or the blessings bestowed upon us?

Rather than a zealotry defined by Pinchas, how much wiser to consider a religious fervor more like Eliyahu’s.

We commemorated the twentieth yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the 3rd of Tammuz and it befits us to consider the Rebbe’s example and how we can be uplifted and united by love of God rather than divided by it.

While Eliyahu is just as zealous as Pinchas, his way is neither loud nor insistent. It is gentle and caring, calming the pained baby at a bris, uplifting every family at the Pesach Seder, cheerfully bidding Shabbos farewell and wishing good cheer and fortune for the coming week.

The Rebbe inspired his followers to be like Eliyahu, to go everywhere in the world carrying the message of deracheha darchei noam – of a pleasant, loving, embracing Judaism – to each and every Jew.

So completely did the Rebbe personalize this accepting and loving zealotry that his thousands of shluchim go out into the world with the absolute belief that they have a relationship with him, not just his teachings. Such absolute devotion is astonishing.

Many years ago I worked as hard as I’d ever worked trying to recruit ten scholars to come to Pittsburgh to create a kollel. More often than not, I would be asked, “Pittsburgh? Where is that? What is there to do there?”

How I struggled to get scholars to come. And yet the Rebbe, gone for twenty years, continues to inspire young couples to travel to the farthest ends of the earth, to places where they have no friends, no network, no minyan, no kosher provisions, in order to establish a Chabad House.

There is no word to describe what they do, for their behavior is beyond sacrifice, beyond dedication, beyond commitment. Why do they do it? To fulfill the Rebbe’s desire that they reach out and touch everyJewish soul they can reach.

The Rebbe’s deepest message is clear: Embrace and accept. It is awe-inspiring to sit in a Chabad shul and see how many of those who enter are greeted with hugs and kisses rather than apathetic silence and neglect. To be sure, not every Chabad shita or hashkafa is embraced by other Orthodox Jews. That said, as a non-Chabad Orthodox Jew I cannot help but think there is much of Chabad’s approach we would do well to imitate.

How could it be otherwise? Is there any person who, given the choice, prefers being berated to being embraced? Is there anyone who would prefer to be pushed away and belittled rather than brought in and respected?

From the moment he arrived in America, the Rebbe saw that the way forward could only be the way of Eliyahu: teach, inspire, uplift, and encourage – and always with kindness and love.

Similar to the Rebbe’s approach, the Orthodox Union’s NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) engages and embraces. Celebrating its 60th birthday, NCSY was born at a time when many predicted Orthodoxy was on its deathbed. But people like Rabbi Pinchas Stolper and a cadre of visionary lay leaders recognized the Jewish future rested with our youth. They created exciting, motivational, inspiring, loving and embracing Shabbatonim in Orthodox synagogues throughout the country.

NCSY was successful in attracting Jewish kids to come to these non-threatening, joyous Shabbatonim. And now, some sixty years and tens of thousands of NCSY graduates later, we can see that the Eliyahu approach can and will continueto turn the tide of Jewish assimilation and ignorance in this country.

Extremism in Defense of Tznius

Friday, June 6th, 2014

People often ask me what I consider extreme Charedism. The answer is not really that simple. I’m tempted to use Supreme Court  Justice Potter Stewart’s response to a similar question about pornography:  I know it when I see it.

The reason I find it difficult to define is because extremism is sometimes defined by context. In one environment a certain activity might be considered normal while in another it would be considered extreme.  So when I use the term extremist or extremism, it has to be taken in the context of the post.

But as the retort by Potter Stewart indicates, there are times when extreme behavior is such in any context.

One of the things I constantly advocate here is normalcy. I am a firm believer in leading one’s life in ways that are considered normal by two measures. One is Halacha. And the other is by societal standards. Obviously Halacha comes first. But often Halacha has broad interpretation. And it is sometimes interpreted by societal standards. One Halacha that is a prime example of this is Tznius. Or more precisely modesty in dress.

I believe that modern psychology accepts the notion that there are generally (there are always exceptions) differences in how men and women are sexually aroused. Without getting into long detail, men are aroused by the visual.  Women… not so much. Halacha recognizes this. So men are commanded not to gaze at women for purposes of enjoyment. Women are asked to dress in ways that will not initiate thoughts of arousal in men. That is what the laws of Tznius are based upon. One can see expressions of this not only in Judaism, but in the 3 major faiths. The most extreme example of this is Islam. The more religious sects ask their women to wear face covering Burkas that are basically tents that cover the entire body.

Where does Judaism come in on this? Well that’s where local custom comes in. There are basic laws that require certain parts of the body to be covered up called Erva (nakedness). The rest depends on the culture in which one lives. For practical purposes, then,  Iran or Saudia Arabia might require a Jewish woman that lives there to wear a Burka in accordance with the modesty customs of those countries. In the United States, I think it is safe to say that the modesty standards do not go beyond the minimum standards of Erva.

I should add that there is a requirement for a married woman to cover her hair because  ‘Erva’. But the Erva in the case of hair is a horse of an entirely different color. The reasons for which are beyond the scope of this post. But the accepted Halacha is that the uncovered hair of a married woman is considered Erva. And most if not all of it must be covered.

So how should Jewish women in this country dress in order to fulfill the laws of Tznius? One would think that no matter what faction of Judaism one is from, the customs should be the same. But that is far from the case. If one travels to Williamsburg, one will see one style of dress for Orthodox women. And if one travels to Teaneck, one will see another.  But I think it is safe to say that in the vast majority of cases there is a lot of overlap. Most Orthodox women in America dress by covering just below the neck line, covering their arms at least 3/4s of their length and wear skirts that cover the knees .  And most cover their hair.  Those are the basics. There are of course variations of this theme

Israel-Palestinian ‘Peace’ Would Destabilize Middle East

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry has every what-should-be-discredited cliché about the Middle East firmly ensconced in his head. Of course, he is not alone. I recently briefed a European diplomat who came up with the exact formulation I’m going to deal with in a moment. What is disconcerting—though long familiar—is that Western policymakers hold so many ideas that are totally out of touch with reality.

They do not allow these assumptions to be questioned. On the contrary, it is astonishing to find how often individuals in elite positions have never heard counter-arguments to these beliefs. It is easy to prove that many of these ideas simply don’t make sense, but it is nearly impossible to get elite intellectuals, officials, and politicians to open their minds to these explanations.

Yet we can’t just believe what we want to believe, what we’d like to see happen, what we hope for. Reality must be faced or things will be worse. Having unexamined utopian ideas dominate this topic does not serve anyone’s interests.

Let me give a single example. Here are Kerry’s observations after touring the Middle East:

I am intensely focused on this issue and the region because it is vital really to American interests and regional interests to try and advance the peace process and because this festering absence of peace is used by groups everywhere to recruit and encourage extremism.

Supposedly, then, the reason that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so important and urgent to solve is that otherwise it is a powerful force in encouraging extremism. Of course, steps toward easing Israel-Palestinian tensions and stabilizing the situation are good but have no positive effect on the region.

Let’s stipulate that it would be a very good thing if this conflict would be resolved in a stable compromise. Let’s further stipulate that this isn’t going to happen.

But there is another point which sounds counter-intuitive and yet makes perfect sense: Resolving the conflict in some way will encourage even more extremism and regional instability. How can I say that? Very simple.

Islamist groups and governments, along with radical Arab nationalists, Iran, and others, are determined to prevent any resolution of the issue. Anything other than Israel’s extinction they hold to be treason. If—and this isn’t going to happen—Israel and the Palestinian Authority made a comprehensive peace treaty those forces would double and triple their efforts to subvert it.

The government of Palestine would face determined domestic opposition, including assassination attempts on the “traitors” who made peace. Palestinian factions would claim to be more militant than their rivals and would seek to use the new state as a basis for attacking Israel in order to prove their credentials and advance their political fortunes.

What would the government of Palestine do once cross-border attacks inevitably began against Israel? It is highly likely it would disclaim responsibility and say they cannot find those responsible or even proclaim that these people are heroes.

Of course, the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip would not accept the deal, thus ensuring that it could not be implemented. That last factor, which is a huge and impassable barrier is simply ignored by the “peacemakers.” Israel would have to make major territorial concessions and take heightened risks in advance that would bring zero benefits from a Hamas government that would increase its attacks on Israel. Hamas forces in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria], perhaps in partnership with Fatah radicals, would seek to overthrow Palestine’s government.

There would be attempts to carry out atrocities against Israeli civilians to break the deal, just as happened by Hamas alone during the 1993-2000 “Oslo peace process” period. Hizballah from Lebanon would also increase attacks on Israel to prove that the treasonous peace could not hold.

The ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria would do everything possible to help Hamas. There would be outrage in large sectors of public opinion and especially among the armed Islamist militias who would try to lever their countries into war, stage cross-border attacks against Israel and back Palestinian insurgents.

Of course, the fact that they understand all of the points made above is one of the main reasons why the Palestinian Authority’s leadership isn’t interested in making a peace deal with Israel and not even negotiating seriously toward that end.

Arab Moderation Murdered in Tunisia

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men do nothing.” –Edmund Burke

And if the good men are murdered by the forces of political evil than they certainly cannot do anything. Hence, the outcome is assured.

Thus, the “Arab Spring” has just been murdered with bullets and hijacked amid bloodstains. Here is the list of countries in the Middle East area currently ruled by Islamists: Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon, and Turkey. Syria will probably join them soon. Qatar has a pro-Islamist policy. Morocco technically has an Islamist government though the king neutralizes it in practice. Saudi Arabia is ruled by a strict Islamic regime but opposes the revolutionary Islamists though its money often spreads their doctrines elsewhere. Everyone is being forced into Sunni or Shia Islamist camps, backing radical forces in other countries so that their religious allegiance can conquer.

In this situation, only in Tunisia could the non-Islamists win fairly conducted elections. But an election isn’t fair if one side uses violence to ensure its victory and its ability to transform the country into a social-political dictatorship afterward.

I know that whenever I write an article on Tunisia it will have fewer readers than other topics. That’s understandable from the standpoint that Tunisia is a small country with little international impact and limited U.S. interests.

Yet Tunisia was the country where the “Arab Spring” began. And Tunisia is going to be the place where the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Spanish Civil War will be fought. In other words, it is the only place where moderate and “secularist” forces are going to fight and the only country where the moderates have a majority of the population–though not a majority of the guns–behind them.

Given that bellwether factor, they have just suffered a massive defeat which is simultaneously a major victory for the Islamist forces.

Briefly, what people who believe the Arabic-speaking world is heading toward democracy don’t understand is that they have helped unleash forces quite willing to engage in violence and that will not stop until they’ve achieve a total triumph. It’s sort of like Pandora who opened the box to unleash its spiritual whirlwinds and said, “This ought to be interesting!”

That’s why the assassination of Choukri Belaid is so important. He was leader of the Democratic Patriot party and a leader of the Popular Front opposition coalition. While the story will be obscure in the West it is devastating for Tunisia, the Arab liberals, and the future of the region. Belaid was the single most outspoken and determined anti-Islamist leader in the country, and indeed the most important openly anti-Islamist politician in the entire Arabic-speaking world. He wasn’t the only moderate politician in Tunisia but he was the main one who rejected Islamist rule and warned against Islamist intentions.

And how did the Islamist-dominated coalition react? The moment the leading opposition figure—the man around whom an anti-Islamist coalition might have been built following the next elections–was murdered, it called for new elections.

Get it? The Brotherhood’s moderate coalition partners didn’t want elections now. And if you eliminate the tough moderate, those remaining may be more pliable about caving in. It was quite conceivable that the non-Islamists would get a majority in the next elections–as they did in the previous one. But a majority divided among four parties isn’t enough. Last time, the moderate parties got 60 percent but their disunity allowed the largest single party, the Brotherhood, to take control of the government coalition with only 40 percent of the vote.

But a man like Belaid might have forged a moderate coalition government that would keep the Brotherhood out of power. In other words, though he led only the fourth largest party, Belaid was the key to forcing the Brotherhood out of power by convincing the four moderate parties to work together against the Islamist threat. His elimination isn’t just a crime, but a political strategy.

As I predicted a few days ago, destroying the left is going to be the Islamists’ priority and Tunisia is the only country where the political left poses a danger to them. Elsewhere it is too weak, confined to isolated individuals and publications.

Religious Pluralism Within Orthodoxy

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Gil Student’s recent review of a book about Orthodox pluralism (R. Yisroel Miller’s In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi) got me thinking about my own view on this subject.

Pluralism begets unity or Achdus.

There are different kinds of Achdus. We can be bonded by a wide variety of commonalities. We can all be united as human beings. There is also a sense of unity that we should feel as a people regardless of our ideology.

It is also legitimate to speak of unity within a defined segment of Judaism. Indeed even within segments there is a sense of unity that is often eluded. There can for example be a right and left even within Religious Zionism.

I have always sought to unite all of Orthodoxy. This includes even Satmar Chasidim, and the right wing Yeshiva world on the right – all the way to Left Wing Modern Orthodox (LWMO) movements represented by people like Rabbi Avi Wiess and his Yeshiva, YCT. The common bond being belief in the Torah and adherence to Halacha.

One may wonder about this considering my recent very harsh criticism of Satmar. Or my occasional strong criticism of some of innovations of the left – like the attempt to ordain women. Or my strong criticism of price tag raids by settler movements (consisting of extremist Religious Zionists) in Israel. The fact is that my criticism remains but it does not contradict my belief in a pluralistic Orthodoxy.

I disagree with the ideology of those to my right and my left. But I respect them all in the sense of Elu V’Elu. For example, I understand the Satmar objection to the existence of the State of Israel. It is based on the how Satmar interprets passages in the Gemarah. I have no problem with those who have this Hashkafa.

Nor do I have a problem with the belief of those religious Zionists who believe that we must settle all the land of Israel; that it is Halachically forbidden to cede an inch of the holy land that is now in our hands; and that we must risk our very lives to retain it. That is based on interpretations of Halacha.

Even though I disagree with both of those positions, I respect them. My only problem is when they act on them in ways that impinge on the rights of others or create a Chilul HaShem. It is trying to impose one’s religious values upon others that upsets me. Not the ideologies themselves. Ideologies, yes. Bad behavior, no.

Achdus, unity, or pluralism is not about agreement. It is about tolerance and acceptance… and the humility to understand and accept that we might just be wrong and someone else might be right.

This does not mean that one has to be apologetic about one’s strongly held views. One can argue his views with those of different Hashkafos and try and convince them of the rectitude of their own. Perfectly legitimate. I would even go a step further that if one has strongly held beliefs one ought to be able to make the case for them to a friend with different ideologies. At the same time, one must respect he views of others even if you think they are wrong. They too have thought things through and have arrived at a different conclusion that you have. In other words it is all about respecting the wisdom of others even when disagreeing with them.

On this level I respect the Hashkafos of Haredi thinkers. And I respect the Hashkafos of LWMO thinkers even though I disagree with them and agree with Centrist thinkers. Elu V’Elu is what it’s all about for me. My harsh criticism is reserved for extremist behavior that is a result of those Hashkafos – even if it is from my own.

Many in the Satmar community’s behavior with respect to sex abuse or right wing Religious Zionist settler behavior that results in a Chilul HaShem will raise my hackles every single time. Not the beliefs that generate them. One can be a principled pluralist – to use Gil’s expression – without rejecting the Hashkafos of others. There is no need to try and reconcile such wildly disparate views.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/religious-pluralism-within-orthodoxy/2012/12/24/

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