Although it has generally not been my policy to respond to the many facile and outrageous slurs directed against Arab and Islamic peoples in the American news media, the serious racial implications of Rabbi Abraham Cooper's essay (Editorial Pages, Sept. 12), "Arabs' Hatred of Jews: Can the Carnage Be a Surprise?" compels me, as an elected board member of a Los Angeles area Islamic Center, to present a reply.
One of the most basic tenets of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, as any religious leader in this country ought to be aware, is an uncompromising moral duty to adhere to the truth--wherever it may lead. An awareness of this point, indeed, should be the fundamental difference between religious figures and politicians; to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, it is their job to "Read not the times, but read the eternities." In such a vein, I ask Rabbi Cooper, the members of the Los Angeles Jewish community, and any others affected by his article, to step back a moment from their sorrow and anger and look realistically at the double-sided and universal nature of human injustice.
As a believing Muslim, attempting to be true to God before anything else, I must admit that one of the most disturbing aspects of Rabbi Cooper's essay is that it has at least a germ of truth. Clearly, the individuals who so tragically destroyed the sanctity of the synagogue in Istanbul were striking specifically at the Jewish people and religion, not at Israel or Zionism per se. This fact does not mean, however, that a majority of either Arabs or Muslims have an abiding hatred for the Hebrew race. Both the government and Islamic leaders of Turkey condemned this brutal attack and participated in the funeral for its victims, even going so far as to provide hearses normally reserved for Muslim dead.
The Islamic community of Los Angeles, through the Islamic Center of Southern California, also condemned the attack and clearly stated the sincere desire of area Muslims for religious and ethnic tolerance. I cannot comment on what book may or may not have been found on their premises. I can only remind Rabbi Cooper that the Islamic Center has for years been a prominent participant in local interreligious activities, and I have heard at least one member of their congregation extol the praises of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Hardly much of a track record for bigots, is it?
What disturbs me about articles like that of Rabbi Cooper is not that the anger provoked by attacks like the one in Istanbul exists, but that it is so hypocritically one-sided. Where, for example, was the outcry of Los Angeles religious leaders when the Jewish Defense League swore, "One Muslim life for one Jew," during last year's hijacking of a TWA flight in Beirut? Where were the outraged articles when a bomb ripped through a mosque of Muslim worshipers one Friday in Beirut, killing scores of people? Who stood up locally when Jewish fanatics raided the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam and original focus of the Prophet Muhammad's prayers? Who bothered to stress that many of those who were killed in the carnage at Karachi were Muslims themselves?
Does anyone report the harassment and threats suffered by Muslims in the United States whenever some crazed or politically cynical revolutionary kills or captures an American?
The reality of the situation, as we all realize when we stop to think about it, is that the hands of both sides in the Middle East conflict are bloody, and that no culture, no matter how technologically advanced it may be, is totally free of injustice. Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the Soviet Union are cases in point.
Why is it, then, that the dean of a Center for Holocaust Studies, who should be acutely aware of the dangers of demagoguery and ethnic prejudice, stokes the fires of ignorance and brands the entire 150 million people of the Arab race with the "Mark of Cain?"
Does he not realize the dangers inherent in fostering racism and bigotry? Has he forgotten the true meaning of anti-Semitism? How short his memory must be! Largely because of rhetoric such as his, Arabs and Muslims have recently become the latest in a long string of minorities in America who have had to suffer from taunts on the streets, physical assaults, and the vicious stereotyping of film makers and cartoonists.
Does Rabbi Cooper not realize that the same mentality that ridicules the hook-nosed Arab oil sheik of today ridiculed the hook-nosed Jewish banker of 30 years ago? Does he not understand that the "Arab joke" of today is the child of the "Polish joke" of our youth and the "Jewish joke" of our fathers' generation? I should think that I hardly need to remind him that "those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them."