ISSN 2330-717X

Can Interfaith Ties Defeat COVID-19 Scapegoating – OpEd

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Ten days before Christmas and over 800,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, the highest recorded national death toll from the global pandemic. And unvaccinated Americans made up the vast majority of deaths over the past few months.

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One in five Americans (19%) say disagreements over COVID-19 vaccinations have caused “major conflict” in their families. And earlier this fall, PRRI found that 22% of Americans reported their extended family relationships have been “strained to the breaking point” over the issue of getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

Similarly, earlier this fall, PRRI found that 22% of Americans reported their extended family relationships have been “strained to the breaking point” over the issue of getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

Research for British estrangement charity Stand Alone suggests estrangement affects one in five UK families, and a recent UK study found that one in 10 people had a hot falling out with a relative over Brexit.

Covid-19 and no compromise politics has caused widespread doubt about the future in America, Great Britain, Europe and the Muslim World; and has lead to “scapegoating” politics and worldwide extremist political/religious sects. Anxiety has split Americans in half  — 49 percent to 49 percent — on whether “America’s best days are ahead of us or behind us.” 

With the Delta variant wreaking havoc on unvaccinated populations and COVID-19 cases going up around the world, the pandemic is far from over. This anxiety had  produced three major scapegoats; immigrants, Jews, and the religion of Islam, as can been seen in a major rise in Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the United States and Great Britain

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 One poll [2/18/19] reported that 35 percent of British people think Islam is a threat to the British way of life in the wake of 2017 terrorist attacks; and that anti-Semitism on the political left is an increasing issue in the United Kingdom.

And the anti-fascist group, Hope Not Hate, produced their annual “The State of Hate” report, based on a survey of 10,383 Brits and conducted in July 2018; it found that anti-Muslim prejudice has hardened in the past eight years and, among far-right groups, supplanted fears of increasing immigration. Things have not gotten better in the last two years of Covid-19 anxiety.

The British report cited conspiracy theories and tropes about undue levels of Jewish power, as well as dismissing allegations of liberal anti-Semitism as a right-wing or Zionist plot. 

Thirteen percent of the British agreed that Jewish people have an unhealthy control over the world’s banking system. Almost half of people surveyed said this was a false statement, and about 41 percent said they did not know.

All this teaches us that everyone should be constantly reminded that religious political extremism is ultimately self-destructive to both its self and its supporters. In the words of the poet W. B. Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” 

The time has come for all the best of religious conviction, to denounce and denigrate the activities and beliefs of those who are filled with the worst of religious convictions, before they desecrate and diminish all believers in the one God of Abraham. 

Our religious and political leaders could help improve interfaith relations by constantly repeating the important lesson taught by the German Protestant theologian Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power; and their subsequent purging of their chosen targets, one group after another:             

“First they arrested Socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Socialist.
Then they arrested Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they arrested Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Our religious and political leaders could also help improve interfaith relations by constantly repeating the important lesson taught by an eleventh century Spanish Muslim theologian: 

“Declare your jihad on thirteen enemies you cannot see – Egoism, Arrogance, Conceit, Selfishness, Greed, Lust, Intolerance, Anger, Lying, Cheating, Gossiping and Slandering [scapegoating]. If you can master and destroy them, then will you be ready to fight the enemy you can see.” – Imam Al-Ghazali

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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