Friday, June 17, 2016

Some Thoughts After Orlando

This has been a very difficult week for our country.

The murder of 49 people in an LGBT nightclub in Orlando has brought out some of the best and some of the worst in people and in our national character.

The gunman was an American-born Muslim, the son of immigrants from Afghanistan. In the midst of the massacre he called 911 and reported that he was acting out of loyalty to ISIS. But he also claimed loyalty to both An-Nusra and Hezbollah. This is kind of like someone claiming simultaneous loyalty to the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, and Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. ISIS and An-Nusra both stem from an extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam, but they split in 2014 and have been actively fighting each other in Syria. Hezbollah is Shiite and not even considered to be Islamic by the other two -- and most likely, vice-versa. While the killer may well have been motivated by a perversion of Islamic teachings, he was also reportedly a regular at the nightclub and on gay dating sites. Since he is now dead, we will never know what motivated him to do what he did.

What we do know is that people were murdered because of who they loved and who they were. We also know that, too sadly, some Americans are singling out other Americans of one religion because of the actions of one adherent of that same religion. As Jews, we know from our own history what happens when all of us are blamed for the actions of one or a few of us.

Europe has had a problem in assimilating Muslims into the larger society. There are all kinds of reasons for this, beyond the scope of this brief message, but the result is that there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Muslims in Europe who are deeply alienated from the countries in which they were born, reside, and have citizenship. The same is not true in the United States. American Muslims are a lot like their Jewish neighbors. They are professionals, doctors, scientists, engineers. They enjoy higher than average incomes and higher than average levels of education. They think that their neighborhoods are pretty good places to live, they are not particularly religious, and they wish that their leaders were doing more to combat extremism in the religion. Commentary Magazine, which is certainly right-of-center and hawkish on Israel and the Middle East, just published an excellent article on this topic and I encourage you to read it.

On Monday evening I attended an interfaith Iftar (Ramadan break-fast) where the local Muslim community reached out to the LGBT community. It was very moving to see our Muslim neighbors coming to grips with the anti-gay attitudes in their community and wondering how to move forward. We Jews have our own mess to clean up in this regard, and while we have certainly made progress there is still quite a ways to go.

Rabbi Shai Held of Machon Hadar and the Jewish Theological Seminary wrote this week: “One of the biggest problems with religion is that people stubbornly, insistently reduce God to their own size; they imagine that God loves the same people they love, and that God hates the people they hate. This is not just insidious theology; it’s actually idolatry, because people are just worshiping a blown up version of themselves. So let me say it simply: God’s love transcends all of that.”

A lot of people in America are hurting today: LGBT folks, Muslims, others who feel put upon or marginalized for all kinds of reasons. Our task is to be the hands of God in this world, and reach out to those who are hurting and say “God loves you and so do I.”