The two attacks in New Zealand, at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, were carried out by a self-described racist and immigrant hater, according to New Zealand officials. In the United States, similar thinking ‘white supremacist’ terrorists have murdered innocent people in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina; the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh temple; and the Overland Park Jewish Center in Kansas.
In Asia and Africa most of the terrorists have been Islamist extremists and most of the victims have been Shi’a and Sufi Muslims; but targets also have included a Roman Catholic cathedral bombed in the southern Philippines this year; and Lahore, Pakistan, churches that extremists bombed in 2015 and 2017, and in Egypt both a Coptic church and a Sufi Mosque were attacked. In Asia and Africa most terrorism is by extremists tied to nationalist or religious groups.
According to the Pew Research Center, recent attacks on religious sites are part of a global rise in anti-religious sentiment among religious groups and governments. Pew found that in 2016, 27 percent of the world’s countries had “high” or “very high” levels of social hostility involving religion. That’s a seven-point increase from 2007.
Mohamed Magid, Imam of a Virginia mosque near Washington D.C. that is among the nation’s largest Muslim centers, and a former president of the Islamic Society of North America said: “There is an anti-religious movement specifically targeting black American churches, the Jewish community, the Muslim community.”
And in its most recent report, the FBI logged 7,175 hate crimes in 2017, a 17 percent increase from the previous year that was caused by growing attacks against racial and religious minorities. This was the third consecutive year that hate crimes went up and the biggest year-by-year increase in hate crimes since 2001.
Just as dangerous to western society are anti-religious, non-violent slanders like the cartoon in one of Norway’s largest newspapers that compared circumcision to pedophilia, amid a debate in the press over whether to ban the religious practice of circumcision.
The cartoon depicts a disheveled man talking to Jewish and Muslim protesters holding signs reading “Yes to circumcision” and “Freedom of religion.” The man responds, “I understand exactly how it is with you! I also get messages from invisible men in the sky to play around with small kids’ penises!”
The push to ban circumcision is led by the Norwegian anti-immigrant Progress Party, which is a junior member of the Norway’s governing coalition. The party voted at its 2018 annual convention to support a law banning child circumcision which it claimed was a violation of human rights and caused physical and mental harm to children.
Jews and Muslims need to unite to oppose attacks on their religious freedom from both left and right wing political movements and parties. And both Jews and Muslims need to jointly oppose those elements within their own religious communities who attack their cousins sacred scriptures by interpreting them in the harshest, narrow-minded and exclusivist way.
And all of us need to constantly repeat 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 the subsequent purging of Nazi targets, one group after another group:
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.
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