Jews, of all people, know the danger of being stereotyped. And just as we stand ready to react and respond when people try to tag us with unfair labels, we bristle when other groups are unjustly “categorized.”
We also look for reasons, for explanations. For example, if Jews have historically been accused of being overly concerned with money, we explain that for many years we were closed out of other professions and were forced to turn to money-lending.
For some things, however – murder, for example – we do not proffer reasons. When right-wing extremist Baruch Goldstein, an Orthodox Jew born in Brooklyn and a member of the Jewish Defense League, brutally killed and wounded scores of Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin described the attack as a “loathsome, criminal act of murder.” Members of the JDL were subsequently disarmed.
Contrast that with Monday’s Website posting by a radical American imam living in Yemen, praising alleged Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan as a hero.
According to an AP report, Anwar said the only way a Muslim can justify serving in the U.S. military is if he intends to “follow in the footsteps of men like Nidal.”
An op-ed column by David Brooks in Tuesday’s New York Times raises an interesting question.
Brooks says that among all the things we don’t control, “we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.”
He points out the danger inherent in the narrative embraced by extremist Muslims, and notes that in coverage of the Fort Hood shooting spree, the possible eruption of Islamic extremism in this country was played down so that it wouldn’t become “a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry.”
Playing it down is not fair. Nor is it just.
Hasan made a choice, and, as Brooks suggests, it is both patronizing and wrong to absolve him of that responsibility. He chose a narrative, as did Goldstein, that called for murder.
Jewish teachings are all about responsibility – to God, to our fellow man, to the environment, to our families. Sometimes our choices are wrong. We ignore the wrongdoers at our own peril.