In the wake of the terrible attacks in Paris, my friends all seem to be retreating to the safety and sanctimony of their respective political teams. Team Right, is doing everything in its power to use the tragedy to reinforce its political message: Jews are not really safe in the diaspora. The attacks in Paris are further proof that antisemitism in Europe is worse than it has ever been since the end of WWII. Israel is the only way for Jews to truly be safe. Muslims need to engage in some serious introspection and be more vocal in their condemnations of terrorism. Meanwhile on Team Left, people are urging us not to paint all Muslims with the brush of their fanatics and attempting to remind us that while the attacks on Charlie Hebdo were inexcusable and unequivocally wrong, that doesn’t mean that everything they ever published is retroactively right. Team Left is also arguing that there’s a double-standard when it comes to our expectations of condemnations and that this is rooted in Islamophobia.
The weaknesses of Team Right’s positions are obvious and glaring. While there has indisputably been a rise in antisemitic attacks in Europe over the past ten years, the notion that Jews are no longer safe in Europe is a gross, politically-motivated exaggeration. Netanyahu’s sleazy appearance in Paris, against French President François Hollande’s explicit wishes, along with statements by Israeli officials encouraging French Jews to move to Israel en masse, are disturbing on multiple levels. First, how dare Israeli officials presume to tell French Jews where they ought to live? This in and of itself is condescending and wrong. Second, Netanyahu et al are shamelessly using the community’s tragedy to score political points in the upcoming Israeli election. Third, these statements place Israel and its supporters in that revolting nexus of antisemitism and Zionism, where the safety of European Jews is jettisoned in favor of the antisemite’s desire for them to leave and the Zionist’s desire for them to come. Finally, the language that Team Right uses to talk about Islam is crass, insensitive, and inaccurate. This should come as no surprise. While Team Right is intolerant and largely ignorant of Islam and Muslims, they are exceptionally tolerant and chummy with people who have made careers out of spreading Islamophobia.
But what about my team? What are the weaknesses in Team Left’s position? I think there are two potential weaknesses here worth thinking about. The first is that in an effort to avoid fueling Islamophobia, we might fail to speak loudly enough in defense of freedom of speech. The twelve people who were murdered at Charlie Hebdo died because of the content of their satirical comics. As it happens, I think some of the comics were deeply problematic. Indeed, Charlie Hebdo contributed to an atmosphere of Islamophobia that has made life difficult for millions of Muslims in France and around the world. So je ne suis pas Charlie. But the answer cannot be to outlaw the speech or murder the offensive speakers. The answer has to be more speech and better satire. I am ashamed of the timidity with which my team reacted to the Salman Rushdie situation in the 1980’s and we must learn from that episode and defend the freedoms that we believe in more vigorously going forward.
The second potential weakness comes around the issue of introspection. Team Right has a valid point here. To be clear, I don’t approve of the shallow and ignorant manner in which they have articulated it. Moreover, they tend to always miss the many Muslim voices that have loudly condemned terrorism for so many years. But the people best equipped to fight Islamic fundamentalism are Muslim liberals. And while there may indeed be a double-standard around calls for condemnation, this is still an opportune moment for introspection in those communities. What Team Right doesn’t understand is that the best way to empower Muslim liberals is not to talk down to them like suspicious colonial masters, but to stand with them in solidarity as allies. This is where Bill Maher and the New Atheists get it wrong as well. The real battle is not between religion and secularism. It’s between liberals and fundamentalists of all stripes and persuasions. The time has come to rearrange the teams. I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the liberal Muslim community. I pledge to fight Jewish supremacism, Jewish fundamentalism, and Islamophobia on my side of the street. I support you in your fight against Muslim supremacism, Islamic fundamentalism, and antisemitism on your side of the street. Let’s fix this broken world together.