Actually, I am Jewish. My Jewishness pervades most aspects of my life: the way I eat, pray, think, and socialize, the way I make ethical decisions, and the way I choose to spend my finite time on earth. But yesterday, had I been anywhere near Times Square, I would have participated in a remarkable demonstration, declaring, “Today I am a Muslim Too.”
The demonstration, led by religious leaders of various traditions, including several rabbis, sought to protest the hearings that Congressman Peter King will open later this week in the House Homeland Security Committee. The hearings’ purported purpose is to investigate the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism. I question the wisdom of spending scarce federal dollars on what I suspect is a politically-motivated exercise, sure to strengthen the hands of fear-mongers in our country. But I could concede that the question of domestic terrorism is within the purview of the Homeland Security Committee. (Cong. Keith Ellison made this point on CNN yesterday.) What is inappropriate under any circumstances is that a Congressional committee will soon single out one religious group within our vast and diverse country for investigation and government-sponsored suspicion.
Therefore, I stand with all American Muslims today. Why? Because I am a Jew, and at the very heart of the Jewish religion is the imperative to remember that we were slaves long ago in the Land of Egypt. Just as our national identity was beginning to emerge, we were the downtrodden, the oppressed, the ones who suffered hate, fear, and persecution. Our tradition might have encouraged us to recall that experience in anger or in vengeful memory, but it did not. Rather, the Israelites’ experience in Egypt became the very center of the Jewish collective psyche. Thirty-six times in the Five Books of Moses, we are told to remember the “stranger, the widow and the orphan” – the oppressed minorities of those times, for, as the Torah repeatedly reminds us, “we were slaves in the Land of Egypt.” We know the soul of the stranger, and so we are to love the strangers in our own day, stand with them and champion their cause. We know what it is to be in their place, and so their cause is our own.
Without question, Muslims are among America’s persecuted minorities today, a group regularly defamed with impunity on the airwaves and even in the halls of Congress. Extremists in the blogosphere and respectable journalists and legislators alike systematically paint the American Muslim community with one broad prejudicial brush. Instead of engaging in sober reflection on conflict, rage and violence in the world, far too many Americans have externalized their fear, making of millions of peace-loving American Muslims “the enemy,” as if telling hateful stories about our Muslim neighbors would make us feel safer about our place in the world.
I have the good fortune to know better, for I have come to count many Muslim leaders in Minnesota as close colleagues and friends. But I know better as well because I am a Jew, and my own people’s suffering at the hands of bigots and misguided government officials is all too fresh in my memory.
So today I say with pride that I am a Muslim – one who worships the God of Truth and Mercy – as well as a Jew. I hope that countless Americans of every faith or no faith will say the same.