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What Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher Grocery Store Have in Common

As the media speaks of Islamist terrorist attacks killing 17 people in France last week, we clearly, and correctly, forge a connection between the two actual events -- the murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the murders at the kosher grocery.

The two incidents, however, one could argue, could also be seen as separate and distinct, connected indeed in what happened but unconnected in their essence, motivation and theory. After all, one was against a left-leaning magazine which satirized a religion; the other was against a Jewish store. One was an attack against freedom of speech and similar Western values; the other most likely was a statement, in regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict, in condemnation of Israel. How easy to argue that the two incidents must have different roots. Yet inherently linked they are -- as they were in the minds of the terrorists themselves.

For many people, it is easier to define the Israel-Palestine conflict in a vacuum without any connection to the greater issues within the Moslem world. It allows the conflict to be understood within certain parameters and a solution perceivably easier to propose. The problem, though, is that this conflict does not exist within its own vacuum but is part of the greater issue associated with radical Islam. Last week's events in France clearly demonstrate this. In their wake, one must ask: what does Charlie Hebdo have to do with a kosher grocery store? The further challenge is that, without an answer to that question, one is also limited in his/her ability to comment on Israel-Palestine.

This is not to say, of course, that every Palestinian is a supporter of radical Islam. That is as ridiculous as saying that every Moslem is such a supporter -- an assertion that is easily contested by the many courageous Moslems (including Lassana Bathily, a Moslem, who saved many hostages in the Paris kosher grocery) who have defied such oppressors. The complication is, though, that radical Islam is also involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict and the difficulty for Israel is that it must include in its battle plans combatting these forces as well. This is why it is important to understand radical Islam generically. What these terrorists want from Charlie Hebdo is what they want from Israel - and the fight not to succumb to these demands regarding Charlie Hebdo must be included in Israel's fight. But what does Charlie Hebdo have to do with Israel? Again, what does Charlie Hebdo have to do with a kosher grocery store?

Freedom is usually thought of in terms of one's rights. We generally define freedom in terms of limiting the parameters on the restrictions of our being, on our actions, thoughts and expressions. In reality, though, freedom is not actually only about the single self, but really is a function of the one allowing the other to stand apart. Great proponents of freedom of speech, for example, have often proclaimed that the essence of supporting this freedom is found in defending another's right to say that with which you may personally and vehemently disagree. It is the right of the other in opposition to my own views which really defines freedom -- and it is the co-existence of such individuals with opposing views which delineates a free, civil and peaceful society. Does freedom mean a complete absence of restrictions on an individual's behaviour? The answer, of course, is no; there are demands of law and order. At the core, though, of what makes a free society function is the honest balancing of the views of dissimilar others.

Within Jewish thought, there is an understanding of the Golden Rule which demands of an individual that, in the same way you are respectful of your own wishes and desires, you should be respectful of another's wishes and desires. Does that mean that you have to be in agreement with such wishes? Does that mean that you have to necessarily assist the other in meeting such desires even, in fact, as you may disagree with them? The answer to both these questions is no.

The call is to respect the other as an independent human being even as you may disagree. The further call is then to work out such disagreements in a civil manner that respects the differing individuality of all parties. Radical Islam rejects such a value. It declares itself correct and the wishes of all others to be irrelevant, even inherently, corruptly flawed. It is in this way that Charlie Hebdo and the kosher grocery become connected. To the terrorists who attacked them, they are both others that need not be respected.

This idea is actually so powerfully reflected in how this terrorist attack brought together the kosher grocery and Charlie Hebdo. Do patrons of a kosher grocery necessarily share the same perspective as the staff of Charlie Hebdo? Especially given that this magazine has also published powerful cartoons mocking Judaism, it is safe to say that many customers of the kosher grocery may not be fans of Charlie Hebdo. The difference is that these individuals still would maintain that the value of freedom of speech gives Charlie Hebdo the right to publish such cartoons and that has to be respected.

Alternatively, if they felt Charlie Hebdo did overstep the line -- that is, in the furtherance of their own (the magazine's) wishes, it improperly constrained the desires of others - they would accept that there are ways within a civil society by which to address such concerns. This would be the option to pursue, not the arbitrary, and deadly, denial of the other's rights (as was the goal of the terrorists). The bond of Charlie Hebdo and the kosher grocery is in the mutual respect of the other. This is contrary to radical Islam. It is in this terrorist attack actually bringing together Charlie Hebdo and the kosher grocery that we truly see this inherent nature of radical Islam.

In distancing oneself from radical Islam, the key is not actually in the advancement of one's rights. The key is actually in how you see the rights of the other and then in how the other sees your rights. The call of our values of freedom is to understand where the other is coming from even as you may disagree and to expect the same from the other.

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