To End Terrorism In Europe, Muslims And Jews Must Reach Out To Each Other


In the wake of a series of horrific terrorist killings in Europe over the past two weeks in France, Germany and elsewhere -- starting with the horrifying mass murder of 84 people in Nice at Bastille Day celebrations by a petty-criminal-turned-apparent-jihadist-warrior who ran over people with a truck, followed by the shooting of 10 people by an apparently non-ideological German-Iranian outside a McDonalds in Munich and ending with two Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) devotees who invaded a church in Normandy and slit the throat of an 86-year-old priest -- we are hearing plenty of inflammatory but inaccurate charges that European Muslims are infected en masse by ISIS ideology and collectively represent a grave danger to the security of both Europeans and Americans.

While Europeans and Americans alike are understandably fearful in the face of an upsurge in terrorism, the temptation to crack down harshly on Europe's larger Muslim population -- which we hear advocated by rapidly growing right-wing parties -- would be exactly the wrong approach to ending terrorism and the extremism that feeds it. In fact, Muslim leaders across the continent have strongly condemned these ISIS-inspired attacks as abominations antithetical to the core message of Islam, enshrined in the Quran, that if you take one life it is as though you have murdered all of humankind. So while sympathizers of ISIS represent only a tiny percentage of European Muslims, we risk enhancing the appeal of ISIS and its aberrant ideology by indulging in anti-Muslim rhetoric and cracking down indiscriminately on the wider Muslim population. Indeed, provoking such a response is exactly the response ISIS seeks to elicit, eliminating what is known as the "gray zone" of coexistence between European Muslims and the Western societies they inhabit.

In my opinion, what is needed if we are to avoid the long dreaded "war of civilizations" is exactly the opposite: for European governments and public institutions to reach out to the majority of peaceful European Muslims with a message of inclusivity and demonstrate a commitment to improving conditions for the residents of the mainly Muslim neighborhoods that ring Paris, Brussels and other European cities, which will have a positive impact in terms of limiting the appeal of hateful ISIS ideology to Muslim youth.

My own organization, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), a New York-based nonprofit, has been working since 2008 to build ties of communication and cooperation between Muslims and Jews across Europe and worldwide, bringing Muslims and Jews to stand together against terrorism, extremism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry.

FFEU has organized several summits of European imams and rabbis to focus on how to build ties between our communities and work together on issues of common concern, discussions that paid off in 2014 when I led a delegation of European imams and rabbis to protest to the President of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg after that legislative body passed a resolution urging European governments to ban circumcision for boys under what they bizarrely termed the "age of consent." In the same year, FFEU European Director Samia Hathroubi led a delegation to Copenhagen after the Danish Minister of Agriculture promulgated a law banning kosher and halal slaughtering in that country.

One of the emotional high points during the historic peace march in Paris in the wake of the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Casher kosher supermarket, which killed nearly 20 people, came when a delegation of French and British imams and rabbis brought together by Hathroubi marched arm in arm down the boulevards of Paris under the slogan "We Refuse to Be Enemies." Last November, with our European Muslim and Jewish partners, we held public "We Refuse to Be Enemies" events in a number of European locales, including at the European Parliament in Brussels and other locales like Manchester, England, and Berlin.

As a rabbi deeply committed to the well-being of my own people, I am convinced that reaching out to our peaceful Muslim brothers and sisters and bringing Jewish and Muslim leaders together to defend the interests of both communities happens to be the most effective way to secure the safety of European Jews. Mutual outreach is of critical importance for Muslim communities, as well, if they wish to avoid becoming grim ghettoes largely sealed off from the larger community. Obviously, there is a serious problem of enhanced levels of anti-Semitism in European Muslim communities. The question is what to do about it. I am convinced that the best approach is for Jews to reach out to Muslim communities across Europe with a desire to build ties of communication and cooperation for the good of both communities.

This November, FFEU will hold events in many cities in Europe and North America, focused on Muslims and Jews standing up for each other and vowing to work together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.

At a time of increased Islamophobia in both the U.S and across Europe, FFEU is focusing its efforts on a national campaign called #MASO -- Muslims Are Speaking Out. This initiative aimed at showing that American Muslims are speaking out against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism on a sustained basis and are reaching out to Americans of all faiths and ethnicities with a message of peace, unity and mutual acceptance.

I believe that we need to promote the "Standing Up For Each Other" philosophy based on empathy, understanding and cooperation. The fact is that European Muslims and Jews can only ensure a decent future for our respective communities by working together. By embracing each other and working together, we can not only blunt the appeal of ISIS and other extremist groups, but also inspire a majority of Europeans to embrace anew the vision of an inclusive Europe committed to pluralism and freedom of expression for all faiths and ethnic communities. Let us not surrender to fear and hopelessness, but instead to keep our eyes on the prize of building a vibrant Europe on based the mutual embrace of diverse religious and national communities.

Schneier is the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and the co-author of "Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues That Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims."