by Yehezkel Landau
The anti-Muslim rhetoric used by various candidates for political office in recent months has done far more than pollute our public discourse with ugly bigotry and hatred. That would be alarming enough to justify an all-out campaign to discredit the message along with the messengers. Sadly, the impact of this toxic language, amplified by sensationalist media, is even more dangerous than the reinforcement of negative stereotypes or the scapegoating of an entire faith community.
The malicious appeals to fear, resentment, and hatred are a profound threat to the moral values that undergird American society. Those values include tolerance for legitimate differences of opinion, mutual respect, and the constitutionally enshrined right to practice one’s faith without harassment. Beyond that, Islamophobic rhetoric is an attack on religion itself. It is a sacrilege that cannot be tolerated by people who believe in the One God who has created each and every one of us in the Divine Image.
As a Jew, I am aware of the anti-Semitic parallels from the last century in this country—including Father Coughlin’s inflammatory radio broadcasts in the 1930’s—as well as in Europe. I know that a verbal assault on any single group or community is an assault on us all. What starts as a denigration of one religion and its followers inevitably becomes extended to others who do not fit the declared norm, including “heretics” or “infidels” in the rabble-rouser’s own faith community.
The United States remains an unprecedented experiment in collective self-government. Its lofty goals and principles are a beacon of hope to people the world over. They convey the highest ideals of the human spirit and inspire us to share responsibility for maintaining freedom and building a society based on inclusive justice. There have been times, like the McCarthy era, when those democratic ideals were trampled under by fear mongers. If we let those darker forces prevail through the demonization of Muslims, we risk losing everything earlier generations of Americans fought and sacrificed for.
Our Muslim neighbors are now observing the holy month of Ramadan, fasting each day from sunrise to sunset. Near the end of this spiritually uplifting period they, together with other Americans, will mark the 240th anniversary of our country. How fitting it will be when we join with our Muslim sisters and brothers to celebrate the Fourth of July and then the feast of ‘Eid al-Fitr which follows Ramadan. May this sacred season, with its trials and challenges, inspire us to come together in mutual solidarity so that our spiritual festivals will radiate holiness and our political holidays will reflect the shared values on which our common life and flourishing rest.