By the Ledger Editorial Advisory Board
Earlier this month, the Hartford Jewish community suffered an anxiety attack after two unfamiliar women in caftans and headscarves appeared at Shabbat services at The Emanuel Synagogue and then at the Chabad menorah lighting in Blueback Square. Rumors about burqa-wearing jihadis began flying around. West Hartford police investigated and in due course found that the women, though somewhat odd in look, speech, and behavior, had no criminal intent and posed no risk to the Jewish community.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that in the wake of the massacres in Paris and San Bernardino the entire country is suffering an anxiety attack. Not since 9/11 has concern about acts of terrorism been so high, or hostility to America’s Muslim community been so great. Over the past two months, attacks on mosques and Muslim individuals have spiked alarmingly.
The situation has been exacerbated by the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. Donald Trump, of course, has turned in the most egregious performance. The real estate mogul has advocated closing mosques, entertained the idea of a database for all Muslims in the U.S., and called for a ban on all Muslims seeking entry to the country. Distressingly, these views have not caused his support in the polls to drop. And while most of his GOP rivals have distanced themselves from him, they themselves have hardly been models of restraint.
Their attacks on the Obama administration for failing to protect the country have been as disingenuous as they have been unremitting. The most common meme has been that the president has failed to identify terroristic threats as coming from “Muslim extremists” or “radical Islam” – without indicating why the use of such expressions would make a difference.
In fact, in addressing the nation on domestic terrorism this month, the president said that “an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities” and called on Muslim leaders in the U.S. and around the world to “speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.” That was hardly a refusal to identify the source of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.
Since 9/11, the Bush and Obama administrations have been at pains to distinguish Muslims as a whole from the small minority who would commit acts of terror – for pragmatic as well as nobler reasons. In the difficult job of preventing isolated individuals as well as organized groups from doing us harm in the name of jihad, the last thing we need is to alienate the American Muslim population from the community at large.
And that includes the Jewish community in particular. Even as we maintain our vigilance – and maintain it we must, even if our concerns turn out to be unwarranted – we must continue to make clear to our Muslim neighbors that we do not consider them our enemies.