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There was an interesting article in the Tablet, “an American Jewish general interest online magazine.” Liel Leibowitz gives examples of terrorist attacks on Jews by individuals connected to groups that later perpetrated attacks on others who were not Jewish. There is a possibility, he asserts, that had the individuals been investigated more thoroughly, the later attacks might have been prevented.

The first example he gives is the 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels perpetrated by Mehdi Nemmouche. Nemmouche was part of the network that included Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is “suspected of having organized multiple terror attacks in Belgium and France, and is known to have participated in the November 2015 Paris attacks.”

Would a more aggressive investigation of Nemmouche have led to his operator and saved the lives of all those slain in the 11th arrondisement? It’s hard to tell for certain without access to the investigation’s files, but if you’re pondering the mindset of the Belgian authorities, consider the following statement by the country’s Justice Minister Koen Geens. The Paris attacks, Geens said a few days after the massacre there, proved that terrorists were now after different targets: “It’s no longer synagogues or the Jewish museums,” he said, “it’s mass gatherings and public places.”

You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to realize that a justice system headed by a man who doesn’t consider synagogue attendance as a gathering or Jewish museums as public places isn’t going to try especially hard to pursue justice when the victims are Jews.

As it happens, on my first trip to Europe, I visited the Jewish Museum Vienna. During my last trip, I went to an exhibit at the Institut du Monde Arabe. My very last museum visit was to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History. Most museums are public places meant for a wide variety of visitors, not only people with a genetic connection to the primary subject. Still, although I might see an attack on the Jewish museum as an attack on the general public, I’m afraid Leibowitz does have a point.

The next example he gives is the murder of Meir Kahane. Kahane was a hateful individual. He was convicted of domestic terrorism in incidents from the early seventies. He later moved to Israel and ran for office there. “Kahane was thus the first candidate in Israel to be barred from election for racism.” In 1990, he was in New York City to give a speech. After the speech, he was assassinated by El Sayyid Nosair.

Nosair, authorities soon learned, wasn’t working alone. He was part of a network run by Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the Blind Sheik. So great was the jury’s contempt for Kahane, that they acquitted Nosair of murder and convicted him only of assault and possession of an illegal firearm, a decision that the trial’s judge, Justice Alvin Schlesinger, lamented went “against the overwhelming weight of evidence and was devoid of common sense and logic.” Nosair’s legal defense was paid by a wealthy supporter of Abdel-Rahman, one Osama Bin Laden. Three years later, several of Abdel-Rahman’s other disciples were arrested for attempting to blow up the World Trade Center.

The case for antisemitism is harder to make in this incident because Kahane himself was so widely hated. However, there is a good argument to be made that murder and assassination should not be treated lightly simply because its target is someone you don’t like, or perhaps even hate. The perpetrator’s willingness to solve political arguments through violence may be far more indicative of his orientation than his choice of opponent.

Leibowitz then quotes current Secretary of State John Kerry regarding a highly disturbing statement he made after last month’s attacks in Paris. The longer quote, which I’ve taken from the Washington Post, is:

There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for. That’s not an exaggeration. It was to assault all sense of nationhood and nation-state and rule of law and decency, dignity, and just put fear into the community and say, “Here we are.”

Leibowitz describes Kerry’s logic as being that of “deluded men and women who are trying to organize a chaotic world into rational patterns.”

To that crowd, the murder of a Jew is deplorable but rarely surprising; real shock is expressed only when the very same terrorists, literally speaking, who have orchestrated the killing of Jews turn their guns on other Belgians or Parisians or New Yorkers.

To the many—in government, in the media, in academia—who still hold this morally repugnant worldview, to those who endanger the well-being of us all by failing to seriously investigate and prosecute attacks on Jews because these can somehow be explained away by some imaginary rationale, it’s time to say no more. Understand this: The very same people who are coming for the Jews will soon come for you, too.

Although, I agree with Leibowitz that we ignore the murders of Jews at our own peril, I don’t agree with his implication that the problem is random, “chaotic” or contains no “rational patterns.”

Going back to the Washington Post opinion piece in which I found the Kerry quote, Sonny Bunch

Even if you leave that aside, however, his comments reside somewhere between inane and idiotic. First off, the idea that these attacks were “absolutely indiscriminate” is foolishness: As Alyssa Rosenberg has noted, the targets — a sporting event, a concert, a series of restaurants — and the comments released by the Islamic State in the aftermath of the attack make it quite clear that the attack was very “discriminate.” It was an assault on culture, a stab at the heart of Western “prostitution and obscenity.”

However, I find the idea that this sort of attack is worse than the Charlie Hebdo attack on anything other than a numerical scale to be totally baffling. The Paris attack is, sadly, not that out of the ordinary as far as these things go: It strikes me as no more indiscriminate than the Madrid attacks or the London bombings. The Charlie Hebdo attack, on the other hand, was a rather chilling exercise in political power. It was an attack that was explicitly aimed at our freedoms: the freedom to express ourselves, the freedom of press, the freedom from the tyranny of medieval theocracy. It was an attack designed to silence, to intimidate.

I think here we get to the heart of the matter. We don’t want to acknowledge that the terrorists are opposed to Western liberal values and culture. We don’t want to face the fact that we may be targets. We think we can somehow buy our safety by selling out our neighbors.

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I can remember the first time a teacher said, “I don’t know,” in response to a student’s question. It was a wonderful moment. Suddenly, learning and knowledge was a process. Something we arrive at only with effort and which always exists in a state of flux. While certitude is useful in an argument, it has no place in real knowledge.

Right now, I’m still trying to intellectually process the political assassinations and near massacre that occurred in Paris last week. There are so many threads that go into it, attitudes towards immigrants, racism directed at second and third generation French people, economic stagnation, freedom of speech, whether or not satire should be a form of protected speech, hate speech laws, whether religion should be open to criticism, the low social status of cartooning, the Islamist goal of creating a world-wide caliphate, the encouragement by Islamist groups in Muslim majority countries of “lone wolf” attacks in Muslim minority countries, the role of Saudi Arabia in spreading Salafist Islam, the growth of anti-Semitic attacks and I can go on.

It’s been hard to think with all the cacophony. Everyone is yelling and it’s hard to think.

Yet a minute ago, I saw yet another comment warning against “painting all Muslims with the same brush.” I don’t know what corners of the internet other people go to, but I haven’t seen this. I don’t doubt that it happens, but it doesn’t happen in places I frequent.

I don’t believe in collective guilt. Considering people as individuals first and foremost is a core part of liberalism. It should go without saying blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few is against liberal beliefs. At the same time, I can’t help noticing that in all this hand wringing about the possible backlash against Muslims, no one seems to be talking about the Jews. Where is all your hand wringing for the increasing anti-Semitic attacks against European Jews?

Saying that we can’t talk about Islamic terrorism because it might create a backlash against Muslims is like saying we can’t talk about the current conservative, hawkish government in Israel and its policies towards settlement, the blockade of Gaza and the treatment of non-Jewish citizens because it might create a backlash against Jews. Of course we talk about it. If someone blames all Jews for the actions of the current Israeli government, they are in the wrong because collective guilt is wrong. We don’t stop the conversation, nor should we.

There’s something happening and we don’t know what it is. We’re not going to figure out what it is and how to respond to it by remaining silent. We don’t start every conversation about Israel by saying, “I hope no one blames all Jews.” We don’t start every conversation about racism by saying, “I hope no one blames all whites.” Despite what some people might like, we don’t start every conversation about sexism by saying, “I hope no one blames all men.” So, I am not going to start every conversation about people who kill in the name of Islam by saying, “I hope no one blames all Muslims.”

One interesting thing about writing down my memories slowly and online, is that I am confronted by the assumptions people make based on their own experiences and some of the assumptions I make based on mine. For instance, I didn’t realize how “white bread” many people assume the United States to be. Meanwhile, I assume it is a “nation of immigrants” and that, if I say that I grew up in an ordinary suburban town in New Jersey, everyone will assume that there was an ethnic and religious mix. To me, that is ordinary.

However, the towns around New York are occasionally associated with one group or another. This doesn’t negate what I said about pluralism. For instance, Bergenfield, New Jersey, is sometimes known as “Little Manila” due to the concentration of Filipinos. According to Wikipedia, about seventeen percent of the population is of Filipino descent. So, in this area, a concentration doesn’t mean any sort of exclusivity. The town where I lived when I was in grammar school and junior high school was known for having a concentration of Jews. This means that many of my childhood friends were Jewish, including my best friend, the first boy I kissed, and so on. It’s hard to describe without making it sound more interesting to me than it was. When you’re a child, you just accept things as a matter of course. This, to me, is just the way the world is. There are people of different backgrounds in it, and they’re your neighbors. So, when I was in seventh grade and the local synagogue was vandalized, it wasn’t just an attack on Jews, but an attack on my friends and an attack on our town. It drove home the point, in a profound, emotional way, that antisemitism exists and is real.

When you grow up in a pluralistic town, accommodating other people becomes second nature. My mother would get two sets of cards, one that said “Merry Christmas” and another that said “Happy Holidays.” Our school would have a “seasonal” music recital around mid-December. Typically, we’d have one obviously Christian song, one obviously Jewish song, and the rest would be songs about winter or “holidays.” Going easy on the obviously Christian iconography in public places like the school was not meant to accommodate atheists, but to be inclusive to Jews. This also helped relations among Protestants, Catholics, other Christian sects, as well as the small number of Buddhists and Taoists. I’m tempted to say that we had no Muslims or Hindus in our town, but part of the point of having a secular society that downplays religion in the public sphere is that I can’t even tell you for certain. Again, it’s hard to communicate how uninteresting this was to me. There was no sense of making an effort to do this. You had friends who were different religions and you wouldn’t want them to feel uncomfortable, just like you wouldn’t say rude things on other topics that might make them uncomfortable. I wouldn’t think it was even worth mentioning, except it seems that other people didn’t grow up this way.

When I first heard about Bill O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas,” I actually was shocked that someone on television would be promoting something so obviously antisemitic. You see, I didn’t hear this as an attack on “secularists,” and I still think it’s mainly antisemitic. Greedy merchants who want to take your money but won’t say “Merry Christmas,” what is that if it’s not a nasty stereotype of Jews?

Many atheists who come from Christian families still celebrate some version of Christmas. After all, my mother was a non-believer sending cards that said “Merry Christmas” to her friends. She wouldn’t send any of the deeply religious one with bible verses, but a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, even an angel were all fine with her. We put up a tree. We exchange presents. We used to eat a big ham until my sister and mother became vegetarians. (Yes, yes, Sis. I know. You’re not really a vegetarian; you just don’t eat meat.) We don’t have a problem with Christmas; it’s people from ethnic groups that were never Christian to begin with that have a problem with Christmas.

A while back, Hemant Mehta put up a post about a woman getting an anonymous note telling her that her Christmas display was tacky. Mehta wrote:

We don’t know if the letter-writer (and I’m assuming there really was a letter-writer here) was an atheist, but it looks that way.

However, the incident reminded me of something that happened to my sister. Shortly after she moved into her current home, one of her neighbors stopped by. Now, my sister is frequently taken for Jewish. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the New Jersey accent. Her neighbor said to her, “Whenever someone new moves in and they put up Christmas lights, we say, ‘There goes the neighborhood.'” Although it was unspoken, in the context it was obvious that she was referring to the Jewish character of the neighborhood and has mistaken my sister for Jewish.*

I guess I’m a goy who’s a bit too steeped in Jewish subculture, because when I read Mehta’s post, some things stuck out to me that Mehta seemed to miss. First of all, the tenor of the criticism, “cheap”, “tacky”, “bad taste,” said to me that there was a cultural aspect beyond religion to this. The other thing that leaped out at me was the location, Newton, Massachusetts. Upper West Side, Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Englewood, the aforementioned Bergenfield, Short Hills, Pikesville, Brookline, and, you guessed it, Newton, Massachusetts. According to Wikipedia:

Newton, along with neighboring Brookline, is known for its considerable Jewish and Asian populations. The Jewish population is estimated at roughly 28,000, about one-third of the total population.

We need to stop giving into the framing of the Christianists. We all know that there’s no “War on Christmas.” There’s a war on pluralism that was started by the Christianists. Let’s call it what it is.

This long rant was originally meant to be a short introduction to the following video. Since many of my internet friends acquaintances are non-believers, I thought you’d all get a kick out of this. If you like it, stop by the original post and give Michael Luciano some love. (Warning: The Daily Banter is now metered, so if you go to that page you won’t be able to look at anything else on that site until tomorrow.)

Another code for “Jewish”: Hollywood.

* I’m always a bit hesitant to repeat this incident. As I said before, I’m very aware of real antisemitism and I’d hate to write anything that feeds into it, even unintentionally. Therefore, I’d like to add that this incident, like that anonymous letter in Newton, is rare.