Sunday, June 27, 2010

Open House, Open Hearts

I attended the open house at the Murfreesboro mosque last evening. There was, as so many in this town have been saying, a level of intolerance that I had not anticipated. But, unlike what so many are saying, it was gluten intolerance rather than religious intolerance. And it was my intolerance, not theirs. They served this fabulous buffet and everything had flour in it! As the only yarmulke wearing visitor I took this as an act of anti-Jewish feeling, but I suspect I was being a bit over sensitive.

The room was filled--crammed really--with members of the Muslim community and nonMuslim well-wishers. There was no talk of terrorism, though I was personally terrorized by this little old man from Syria who singled me out as The Jew, and who had to come over, grab my arm, and regale me with stories of his youth in Syria and his Jewish mentors. He would not let go. And he insisted I eat something. The bastard! I tried to explain I had celiac disease, but he didn't care (or maybe he didn't have a clue what I was saying). He just insisted that I eat with him. He was going to be personally insulted if I refused. Damn these Arabs and their hospitality! I lied and told him I had already eaten, but it didn't matter. So I ate. Just a spoonful of hummus. He must have thought that a strange choice with all the other fabulous items on the table, but he was satisfied. He let me go.

There are old men like this in every group. Last week I was speaking about the conflict over the mosque in Murfreesboro at a Unitarian Church in Nashville. After the service an equally old man came over to talk to me. He wanted me to understand that all the problems in Murfreesboro, indeed all the problems in the world, were the fault of Zionists. He had read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he told me, and knew what was what with Jews. I told him he sounded like a Nazi, and he proudly told me that Hitler was right. He was serious. I'd met this man at this church before. A died in the swastika Nazi anti-Semite at a Unitarian Church. Talk about odd. But at least he didn't try to feed me. He likes his Jews starved and gassed.

The reporter from our local newspaper was at the mosque last night as well. He informed me that I had misquoted him. You might remember my suggestion that he visit area churches, mosques, etc. to see what is being preached vis-a-vis hate and fear. I said he declined. My bad. What he said was it isn't up to him what he covers. He is assigned stories. So I want to apologize to him. (I am deliberately not naming him, so as to not get him into trouble. Though we only have one daily paper and one religion editor. So, sorry, Doug.)

I spoke with the imam for a short while. I had met him before. I lovely Egyptian man who was himself terrorized. No, not by the Muslim Brotherhood, but by his little daughter who desperately wanted to help but wasn't tall enough to see over the top of the buffet table.

Look, I'm not naive. There are evil people in the world, and many if not most of them mask their evil in the name of God and religion. I am certain that there were people in that room last night who wanted me and all Jews dead or converted. Some of them Muslim, some of them Christian. I understand that there are Islamic movements that are evil, just as there are Jewish and Christian movements that are evil. My position is simply this: if you want to know what your neighbor believes, talk with her/him, don't defame and yell at her/him. If people are truly spreading lies and evil, oppose them. But if they aren't, leave them alone. So far all I am hearing is generic anti-Muslim half truths and hate speech. We need open dialogue. Let those who fear Islam speak openly, respectfully, and in a public forum with leaders of the Islamic community so that we the people can decide for ourselves. Let's hear the facts not the slander.

You can catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar. Unless of course that honey is in baklava and the other person is gluten intolerant.


Raksha said...

Rabbi Rami,

Wonderful post!

Re "If people are truly spreading lies and evil, oppose them. But if they aren't, leave them alone."

Why are common sense and sanity in such short supply these days, especially when it comes to Islam?

I was recently involved in a similar brouhaha on a discussion board I frequent. The resident Islamophobic wingnuts on that board were trying to peddle a disinformation campaign centered around Cordoba House, which they didn't name for a very good reason. The name of any Andalusian city (southern Spain) has long-standing connotations of religious tolerance to anyone with a basic knowledge of Jewish history.

These folks were trying to make out that the "Islamists" wanted to build a "mosque at Ground Zero" in New York. Turns out it isn't a mosque at all but a cultural center, and it isn't "at Ground Zero" but two blocks away, with 15 other houses of worship in the vicinity, either the same distance or even closer to Ground Zero than Cordoba House. The proposed 13-story cultural center will include a mosque along with many other amenities and resources, which are intended for the community as a whole, not just the Muslim community.

It took a bit of sleuthing by a few of the more intelligent members of that forum to separate fact from fiction (or malicious propaganda), but eventually we laid the terrorist/radical Islam fantasies to rest.

An aside on the subject of hummus: I put way too much garlic in the last batch of mine, which isn't too terrible because I like garlic. Admittedly, though--there can be too much of a good thing, and this batch of hummus is a case in point. It means I have to finish it all by myself and can't share it with anyone. Normally that wouldn't be a problem considering how much I love hummus. Unfortunately, there is so much garlic in this stuff it's actually giving ME gas--and that takes a lot of garlic!

There has to be some kind of nefarious Islamist plot behind the whole thing--even if I haven't figured out what it is yet.


. said...

Yashar Koach HaRav Ram. U telling it like it is...