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Sense & Sensitivity

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Many months ago, I attended a program on Islamaphobia sponsored by a local Interfaith Fellowship.  The panel discussion was moderated by well-trained, well-spoken volunteers from the Islamic Speakers Bureau.  During the Q&A portion, an older Christian “gentleman” stood up to ask a question out-of-turn. He abruptly concluded his impromptu remarks—which were not really a question at all—with the familiar, anti-Jewish canard, “and we all know who controls the media.”  The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention as I waited for someone, anyone, to tell him that he had violated the safe space of the Fellowship. The moderator moved the Q&A along without comment; the program organizer was silent.

Was I being oversensitive? A Christian woman at my table confirmed that I was not. She heard it, too, and whispered that she would address it later—at dinner, perhaps to avoid giving any more air-time to hate speech.  The irony was not lost on me: My sense of belonging to this fellowship was shattered by hateful words toward Jews at a session on hatred toward Muslims.

Recently, I found myself in the Roswell Community Masjid participating in an open, informal discussion between Muslims and Jews. One of the panel members from the Islamaphobia program—an attorney who is articulate and approachable—revisited the occasion with me.  He acknowledged that the remark was clearly pejorative and that he could completely understand my feeling hurt and uncomfortable.

Then he invited me to look through his lens.

He told me that, at the time, he thought the man must have been old and senile.  In Islam, he told me, “we look for 100 excuses, and if none of those is satisfying, then we look for one more.”  Indeed, the early rabbis counseled a similar method in Mishnah Avot: “Judge every person with the scales tipped toward innocence.” This is not meant to excuse or even explain the man’s offensive speech; only to deflate his power to offend.

I still believe that this man was insensitive and he may have intended to be hurtful. However, I now realize that by judging him as an anti-Semite and censoring my response, I not only allowed him to hurt my feelings; I also denied him the opportunity to be more sensitive in the future.

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Comments (1)

Jewphobia comes from The Protocols , a fabricated document claiming to be factual. It was originally produced in Russia between 1897 and 1903. This document was deliberately written to make the reader think that what is written is truthful when in fact it is not. It is to this day most-discussed literary forgery, with proof that it is a forgery going back to 1921. The forgery is also an early example of “conspiracy theory” literature.
It was the duty of the moderator not to ignore the older Christian “gentleman” and his anti-Jewish statement “and we all know who controls the media.” There are many who hold this view today, putt blame for something that is totally made up on an entire ethnic culture. By letting him make this statement without anyone counter, and in fact with silence from the members, I think it gave validation to the “gentleman’s” bogus beliefs.

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