The Shifting Paradigm Within Islam

by Rabbi David Zaslow
December, 2003

1. God Has a Plan

If you accept the idea of Divine Providence then bear with my thesis for a moment even if you disagree with some of my conclusions. G-d spread the Jewish people out throughout Europe during the Middle Ages on a special mission. After the folly of the Crusades Jews witnessed how the Protestant Reformation created diversity and some degree of “people power” that was not being given by the Roman Catholic Church. And we witnessed how the Catholic Church benefited from the Reformation as well.

And then we witnessed a flowering of consciousness in the 16th Century which ultimately led to the great secular antithesis of religion called the Enlightenment. People got the idea that humans could take care of their own problems without the intervention of a divine power. And so, secular humanism was born; the Enlightenment arose; and the Industrial age began.

We Jews didn’t intend to be in the middle of all that social upheaval. We Jews didn’t mean to be influenced by the Reformation or the Enlightenment, but we were. Just as we were influenced by the genius of the outside world during the Babylonian exile twenty-six hundred years ago, so we were influenced by European social evolution in our own time. As a result of both these social upheavals (the Reformation and the Enlightenment) we have today, thank G-d, our own Reform, Conservative, Renewal, and Reconstructionist movements. The 16th. Century kabbalistic revival and the 18th. century Hasidic revolution arose from these European social paradigm shifts as well.

So what did the Ribbono Shel Olam have in mind after the Shoah? Maybe to send Jews back to the Middle East in order to plant the seeds of Reformation and Enlightenment. What the Muslim world has not gone through YET is a process that ultimately led to what is best in the West: pluralism, egalitarianism, and democracy. In the 20th century alone America had a woman’s suffrage movement, union movement, civil rights movement, woman’s movement, gay rights movement, and ecological movement. Six major civil rights struggles and our Constitution was flexible to accommodate them all. Lots of lawsuits, but a judicial system that was eventually able to come to the proper conclusions.

Certainly school desegregation was 100 years late, but our culture survived because p’shat (simple) readings of Constitution were challengable at higher levels. So “all men are created equal” eventually became “all black and white men” and then finally “all men and women,” and soon “all men, women, gay, or straight.”

2. Hatred of Jews Today

Jews are hated in Israel not for anything Israel has done. This foolish Israeli policy or that foolish policy are up for critique. But these policies are not the cause of the current intafada. Arab anti-Semitism today is based on a filtered and flawed view of reality. The Jews have come to the Middle East with the seeds of pluralism and democracy. Hamas knows it. Islamic Jihad knows it. Osama knows it. They are afraid that the union movement, and feminism, and gay rights movements are coming their way. And they are correct.

B’ezrat Hashem (with G-d’s help) these civil rights movements are coming to Saudi Arabia, and Syria, and Libya, and everywhere else. Fear of globalism is a cover for what’s happening under the surface. Sure folks blame McDonalds and Office Depot, but the abuse of corporate power was NOT the cause of the destruction of the World Trade Center. That was the excuse.

The cause that Osama stands for is anti-pluralism. And who is bringing pluralism into the Middle East? Jews and Americans, of course Osama may say that Zionism is a form of colonialism, but this is just an expression of the primitive way his mind is scanning the shifting paradigm.

Scapegoating the Jews is ancient. And it’s happening before our eyes. The desperation within the Arab world is really hatred against their own outdated paradigms of hierarchical, patriarchal, and dictatorial systems of governance. When this kind of hatred of your own “father” (i.e.. your own leaders) goes unconscious the Shadow comes alive. “It’s the fault of the Jews” they cried in Germany as their own economy faltered due to the punishing treaty they were forced to sign after World War I.

“It’s the fault of the Jews” some Arabs are screaming now due to the punishing effects of post colonial regimes established by the British and the French, and the punishing regimes maintained by their own leaders after the colonialists left. But their rage at the primary, core, energetic level is against their own fathers. Like all good unconscious behavior (seen in racists and bigots throughout history) the sick mind ingeniously finds someone else to blame it on. In Palestine and Israel its the Jews who are being blamed for the failure of the Palestinian fathers.

Look at some numbers for a moment. In 1993 about fifty-percent of the Palestinians were willing to finally share the land in the two-state solution that they rejected in 1948. Twenty-percent were uncertain. And between ten to twenty-percent outright rejected any kind of peace or two state-solution. Who were these ten to twenty-percent? Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aksa Bridgade, Hezbollah, and the other various terrorist organizations.

These groups represent Islamic fundamentalism that CANNOT ever have Jews owning a nation in the Middle East. It’s impossible because on a p’shat level the Koran says so. ALL of Palestine is Dar el Islam. Jews were and are to the fundamentalist in the realm of Dar el-Harb, the House of War.

When I met with the spiritual leader of Hamas in 1998, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, he was not a duplicitious character like Arafat. He was clear, honest, and straight-forward: ISRAEL CANNOT REMAIN A NATION. Who’s doing the suicide bombings? Not the fifty-percent of Palestinians who want a peaceful, two-state solution! Not the twenty-percent who are uncertain! But this huge minority of 10-20% represented by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.

Just think of America. We have a one-half of one-percent fringe between our extreme Left and Right. This tiny minority represents Ruby Ridge, Waco, the folks who bomb abortion clinics, the eco-terrorists who spike trees and burn the homes of rich people, animal rights terrorists who set fires in research labs, etc.

One-half of one-percent and America can barely keep track of them. Imagine if America’s fringe represented fifteen-percent. With this kind of huge minority it would probably be impossible for us to keep the peace. Even if a Palestinian moderate wanted to keep the peace, I think it would be nearly impossible at this stage in their social evolution. Socially they are at the level of Europe during the Crusades: pre-Reformation, pre-Enlightenment, pre-democratic, and pre-pluralistic.

The real martyrs among the Palestinians will be those willing to give their lives for peace by COMING OUT WITH THE TRUTH in public: that the murder of civilians by terrorists is a crime against Allah; that Palestinians are destined to live side-by-side with Israel; and that democratic and pluralistic institutions are the road to freedom for the Arab peoples. Arafat has already quietly killed hundreds of so-called collaborators since 1993 as an appeasement to Hamas in order for him to stay in power. Just before Passover he killed eight more “collaborators,” and who really knows what they were doing?

I DO JUST A LITTLE. I know a Sheikh from the West Bank. He came to the United States recently and offered prayers and teachings in several synagogues. When he returned to Israel he was warned that he couldn’t go home to his West Bank village. Why? Because Fatah had him on the collaborator list. You can read all about this courageous Sheikh in Yossi Klein Halevi’s book “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden.” Halevi was forced to change the name of the Sheikh in the book to Ibrahim in order to protect his anonymity. Today, baruch Hashem, he is being protected in an Israeli city by Orthodox rabbis. What an irony, but I think G-d’s fingerprints are all over this.

3. The Religious Factor

Rabbi Menachem Froman works from the premise that beneath the politics this is essentially a religious war, a battle between two fundementalisms: the Jewish notion of eretz Yisrael, that all the land is ours. The other is that of Dar el-Islam, the Islamic notion that all the land is Muslim. The solution according to the rebbe? To lock fundamentalist Jews and Muslims in a room until they come to a solution based on Koran and Torah.

Rabbi Froman suggests that the problems with Oslo stem from the fact the religious factor was disregarded. The fundamentalists on both sides were not brought to the table. The result has been treaties made by secular pragmatists like Arafat and Rabin. But the solution, according to Froman, must include the idealists—the fundamentalist. Afterall, the ones doing the terrorism are not the pragmatists, but the religious idealists who CANNOT have a two-state solution.

I, personally, have come to believe that their is merit in his argument. The religious extremists might drive you crazy at the bargaining table with their rigid readings of Torah and Koran on land issues. But they are the ones that destroy the peace treaties when one is signed without their consent. Bring them to the table! Let us support Rabbi Froman’s yeshiva that he has been collecting funds for – one where the idealistic eretz Yisrael kids and the idealistic Dar el-Islam kids can fight it out over texts.

4. The Hope

As hopeless as things seem when hearing the horrific reports of suicide bombings every day, I am very hopeful for the long-term future. I get my comfort for the words of our prophets. Isaiah 19:21 reads, “In that day there shall be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come to Egypt, and the Egyptian to Assyria, and the Egyptians shall worship with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land; Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.’”

Blessed be Egypt? Egyptians are G-d’s people? Blessed be Syria? Syria, the work of G-d’s hands? These are radical words, and profoundly reshapes the notion of the ultimate relationships that are being forged in fire today in the Middle East. It is not easy to recognize the blessing within a curse, but we have no other choice. We are Jews, and that’s part of our job.

On a practical level I will continue to call for the democratization of the nations that surround Israel. I will help in any way I can to encourage free elections, the right to dissent, the right of a free and critical press, the rights of workers to unionize, and the rights of women to organize in Arab nations. I humbly submit that only with democracy will the citizens of these nations be allowed to make a lasting peace with Israel and have economic prosperity for themselves.

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