Yesterday, I was asked to join with numerous speakers from the interfaith community at a rally and vigil, held at the Islamic Center of Southern California, in honor of the victims of the recent Orlando shootings, and in solidarity with both the LGBTQ Community, and the Islamic Community. I was truly honored to be asked to speak at such a gathering, where a large number of national news sources were in attendance. What follows is an adaptation of the speech I delivered. As the president of the IRTPJ, I would like to offer the following as a statement of our position on the recent violence that has affected our nation, and the need for solidarity among people at this time.
L. Arik Greenberg, Ph.D.
I cannot claim that I represent anyone other than myself, but at least nominally, I am from the Jewish community. In reality, can any one person claim to represent a whole community? I am a secular Jew. A Jew whose conception of Judaism is to stand with the oppressed, to welcome the sojourner and the refugee, and perhaps whose greatest and most emblematic moments were our integral involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
As a Jew, and a scholar of Biblical studies, I am aware that the scriptures of all religions contain passages that are embarrassing, or misleading, when taken out of context. Such as the Bible’s Levitical codes which state that homosexuals should be stoned to death as punishment for their deeds, something that has colored how Christianity and Judaism have traditionally viewed and treated and oppressed gay people. But a religion should not be judged solely upon its most embarrassing and controversial passages, but rather on what we do with them, how we handle them with grace and compassion in the modern and changing world.
A great tragedy has happened in Orlando recently. This happened in the wake of several other tragedies, such as San Bernardino, and these all exist in the shadow of 9/11. As a person of conscience, at this moment, I stand with the LGBTQ community, which has been an extremely vulnerable and highly oppressed community for a very, very long time. My heart goes out to all who have suffered directly and indirectly as a result of this tragedy.
I ALSO stand with the Islamic community, which I believe to be one of the most vulnerable and oppressed religious communities in the US today, due to ignorant people blaming ALL Muslims for the actions of a few radicals claiming to represent Islam.
I am incensed when I hear my bigoted colleagues, associates and countrymen—many of whom identify as Conservative, but some of whom purport to be liberal—insisting that Islam is “the religion of death”, or a “death cult”, or by nature an evil religion, thereby neglecting and ignoring the countless acts of horror and brutality committed by Christians throughout the last 2,000 years, continuing until today, ignoring the fact that these too have been committed by radicals claiming to represent Christianity, claiming to serve the Christian God, and who are in reality no more representative of Christianity than ISIS is of Islam. The double standard, the hypocrisy, is maddening.
During the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1920s and ‘30s, a highly effective and crucial tactic of the Nazi propaganda machine was to convince the average German that not a single decent Jew existed. We know this as the Myth of the One Decent Jew. They focused their efforts on disabusing the average German of the belief that each person knew one decent Jew. Underneath the carefully instilled anti-Semitism that lay within the breast of the average German, European, and even American at that time, there was still a sense of humanity. Many people recognized that their neighbor was a Jew, and was a basically decent person. He was a store owner, a business man, a patriot who fought for his country during WWI, and that he must be a good human being, not like all the rest of the Jews that they keep hearing about. And so it was crucial to the Nazis’ success to convince the average German that if you scratch the surface of any Jew, you will find that they are all the same: money grubbing, dishonest sub humans who were bent on the destruction of Germany, Christendom, and the Aryan race. And that they all deserved to be eradicated.
Right now, I see this tactic being used against Muslims in America by many of our leaders, perhaps for their own ideological and political gain. Trying to convince us that if you scratch the surface of any Muslim, they are all terrorists underneath. That there is no such thing as a “decent Muslim”. I work with thousands of Muslims in my interfaith work. And I see thousands of decent Muslims. They are the norm. And there are millions and billions more that I have yet to meet and work with.
And so I, as a Jew, am standing with my innocent brethren and sisters in the Islamic community, just as they stood with my ancestors many times throughout history, when Jews were mistreated in the lands that they settled in as refugees. While in Muslim lands, they were treated categorically as honored guests and beloved cousins.
Many people forget this, opting to buy into the narrative that Jews and Muslims are, by nature, sworn enemies, a depiction based solely on relatively recent 20th century politics in the Middle East. But I refuse to forget! For the many times in world history when Muslims stood with Jews and protected them when no one else would. I stand with billions of innocent Muslims.
We as a group mourn for those who were lost in this recent shooting, and in all acts of violence that affect our nation and the world. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. We stand with the Islamic community. We stand with all communities that are or have been oppressed, in any country, at any time. Our mission is not merely religious tolerance, but also peace and justice. Such ideals are connected to one another and are not able to be enacted alone. Peace, justice, and tolerance are the keys to the survival of the human race. None of us are free if any of us are enslaved or oppressed.