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We Say They’re Anti-Semitic. They Say We’re Islamophobic. We’re Both Right.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been sitting in class and someone has said an Islamophobic comment. They make me grind my teeth, but I don’t say anything because I’m surrounded by people who would never understand the point I want to make; they’d attack me for even opening my mouth about it. So, I’m writing it here, instead, and I hope you’ll be a more willing audience than my peers.

I love Judaism, and there are so many amazing things that come along with it, but one undesirable thing is the “anti-Muslim” environment that is inherent in a religion that is regularly assaulted by people of the Islamic faith.

Yes, it’s true that some Muslims harass, criticize and attack Jews, but not all Muslims are terrorists; in fact, a small minority of them are, and American Muslims are more likely to be worried about terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims than non-Muslim Americans (http://www.pewforum.org/2017/07/26/terrorism-and-concerns-about-extremism/). Around a quarter of the world is Muslim, which amounts to almost two billion people, and many of these are people exactly like you and me—people who go to work, have parents, spouses, families. Girlfriends and boyfriends, sons and daughters, students and teachers—productive members of society who have no thoughts to spare towards Jews.

And yes, some Muslims may be anti-Semitic—but people in your own community probably pick up their briefcases in the morning and then proceed to hold an interview with a black person, only to reject their application because of their skin color. Similarly, I’d be shocked if you haven’t heard anyone in your community make an Islamophobic comment. Sure, [some] Muslims may be anti-Semitic, but we’re not angels, either. Both sides need to work towards peace and acceptance.

Of course, I am in no way marginalizing the agony we’ve suffered at the hands of Muslims. My own cousin, Ezra Schwartz, was 18 when he was murdered in a terrorist attack along with two other people. His attacker, a Palestinian by the name of Mohammed Abdel Basset al-Kharoub, had been planning the attack for months and had chosen the date to celebrate his 24th birthday—November 19, 2015. I have paid close attention to the terrorist attacks occuring in Israel ever since and I have no words to describe how shockingly reprehensible and numerous they are, nor the extent to which I have suffered because of them.

To catch a glimpse of what this feels like, close your eyes and imagine your mother or father, your sister or brother. Just for a moment, imagine what would happen if they died. That sense of loss and horror, crying with your relatives—parents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, cousins— attending their funeral, visiting their grave, sitting at their shiva. Then open your eyes, and understand that you’ve experienced just a sliver of what I’ve seen and experienced. I am in no way downgrading my loss.

It is for this reason, and many others, that I don’t expect Jews to hold hands with Muslims and sing Kumbaya. However, making derogatory comments towards one fourth of the world’s population is hardly keeping the peace. In fact, I think it contributes to the huge rift between the two religions. Yes, there are radical Muslims, and yes, some Muslims attack Jews, but these are a small portion of them compared to the majority. Not even all Palestinians support the violence against Jews and Israelis—though it is true that a disturbingly large percentage does (http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Poll-60-percent-of-Palestinians-support-attacks-447814).

So, you might question why you can’t just say, “Palestinians are terrorists.” The answer lies in what I just mentioned in the last paragraph: You are including all Palestinians in that statement—along with the actual terrorists, you are including the people who abhor the bloodshed and just want to escape, the people who would never dream of being violent against anyone else and the people who are trapped in a war zone and born into a life they never wanted.

Making generalizations is dangerous. It’s unfair. And it does not bolster peace. The key to making peace with the other side is understanding them and their issues, realizing that they’re having a hard time, too, and acknowledging that they can’t just go away any more than we can. We need to really listen to them and their struggles and try to help them, because many of them, like us, are people who just want the best for themselves and their loved ones. Rather than wasting away within our hatred, we need to embrace the best parts of ourselves, our ability to love and respect our fellow human beings, and use this to promote peace.

I would like to say all of this as I sit in my classroom and hear discriminatory remarks fly, but I just say nothing—because no one understands what it’s like to casually bid your teenage cousin farewell and then never, ever see him again. No one understands what it’s like to watch your relative struggle with Harry Potter trivia questions and then be standing in front of his coffin, dumbfounded, several months later. And, most importantly, no one understands those moments afterwards, reasoning yourself through your grief and slowly coming to understand that, just because a Muslim murdered your cousin, that doesn’t mean all Muslims would.

Brooke Schwartz

Junior, The Frisch School

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