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Jews stand up for Muslims, as Muslims once stood up for them

Muslims once protected Jews from Nazi persecution. Today, American Jews are standing up for Muslims in the face of President Trump’s draconian ban. These are everyday stories of resistance — even if they are hardly reported. 

Young Muslim women stand hand-in-hand in front of the Oslo Synagogue during the "Ring of Peace" vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe. Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Activestills.org

Young Muslim women stand hand-in-hand in front of the Oslo Synagogue during the “Ring of Peace” vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.
Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Activestills.org

Over one million dollars were collected by Americans who were disgusted by the recent arson attack on a mosque in Victoria, Texas. The only synagogue in town shared its building with the Muslim congregants who had just lost their place of worship. Inspirational stories of people standing up for each other like these are common, even if rarely reported.

Last week I joined tens of thousands of people protesting President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning refugees and nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. I was amazed to see many Jews — people who heard stories from their families about how they were protected during the Holocaust — join the protest. These are young Jews whose grandparents were allowed in America as they fled the mass murder of the Third Reich — whose personal stories caused them to stand up for others who are in need today. These stories lie at the heart of every community that stands up and defends civil liberties.

But stories can also be used to dehumanize the other. A week ago the world commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s a day when we remember that the human race is capable of committing unimaginable crimes against each other. The Nazi regime was able to alter reality and use isolated, threatening stories of the Jewish “other” to create a security-based narrative that demonized Jews, portrayed them as a threat, and ultimately bred hatred against them. However, even many of the countries that opposed Nazism refused to accept Jewish refugees, leading to the death of countless Jews.

Muslim scholar Abdelhamid Ben Badis (left) regularly denounced French anti-Semitism during France's occupation of Algeria. His successor, Taieb El-Okbi (right) issued a fatwa against the killing of Jews or taking over their possessions. (I Am Your Protector)

Muslim scholar Abdelhamid Ben Badis (left) regularly denounced French anti-Semitism during France’s occupation of Algeria. His successor, Taieb El-Okbi (right) issued a fatwa against the killing of Jews or taking over their possessions. (I Am Your Protector)

However, as we remember these dark moments in our history, we must also remember that when people rise up together, they can create a new reality. Albania, a Muslim majority country is guided by a cultural precept called “Besa,” an Albanian term that loosely translates to “keeping the promise.” It is a moral code that instructs Albanians to protect the stranger among them as much as their own. Albania was the only country in Europe that had more Jews at the end of the war than at the beginning. King Zog I and his people organized to save the Jews by opening their borders, hiding, feeding, sheltering them until the end of the war.

This is not a story about the past. Today we see many examples of individuals and communities who stand up for the other. Jews in the United Kingdom organized a patrol around a mosque to protect Muslims worshippers from attacks; Muslims formed a human chain around a synagogue to protect Jewish worshippers in Copenhagen; Germans opened their homes to refugees; Syrian refugees rushed to rescue Italians after the recent earthquake. We see tens of thousands of Americans protesting in airports to allow refugees to enter the country despite the ban. Even in extreme environments and places of conflict, people have always stood up for each other across division lines.

Khaled Abdul Wahab protected Jewish Tunisians after Nazi troops occupied his hometown of Mahdia. (I Am Your Protector)

Khaled Abdul Wahab protected Jewish Tunisians after Nazi troops occupied his hometown of Mahdia. (I Am Your Protector)

These personal stories are the best way to fight efforts of spreading hatred between ethnic, religious, and political groups. Indiscriminate hatred becomes possible when we are convinced that a whole group or community is a monolithic bloc that constitutes a threat. Because hatred is emotional, the response to hatred must also engage the heart. Therefore it is important that we highlight the stories that debunk this idea. One campaign that is actively pursuing this goal is ‘I Am Your Protector,’ made up of people who speak up and stand up for each other across perceived religious, racial, and gender divides, highlighting the stories of individuals — regardless of their group affiliation — who stand up for each other in conflict zones.

We are not divided into binaries of Arabs vs. Jews, or Muslims vs. Christians. We are often divided by those who remain silent in face of injustice. I personally have found inspiration in the stories of Muslim protectors, from Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, France, and Albania who stepped in to protect their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust — knowing full well that they would be executed for defiance against the Nazis.  I believe there is no better way to counter hatred than telling a story.

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    COMMENTS

    1. i_like_ike52

      Yes, those Muslims who protected Jews are true heroes. The problem is that this is being presented as some sort of “man bites dog” story. After all, almost all of the Jews were driven out of the Arab Middle East in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. we keep hearing how Arabs/Muslims ‘love and respect Jews and Judaism and only have a problem with Zionism’ which does not explain why there was so much persecution of Jews who were not necessarily Zionists and were not living in Israel at the time. One would have thought that their Arab/Muslims neighbors would have said “we love you Jews and you know how well we treated you through the various dhimmi regulations and we want you to stay here with us and so you have no reason to join those Zionists in Palestine”. Why didn’t this happen?

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        I like ike 52: It did not happen because most (although not all) muslims are fanatics who believe in Sharia Law and its barbaric regulations against Gays, Apostates, Women and Minorities.

        Reply to Comment
        • carmen

          “There were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as of 2010 – roughly 23% of the global population – according to a Pew Research Center estimate. But while Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest-growing major religion.”

          Lewis says ‘most (although not all)’ Muslims ‘are fanatics who believe in Sharia Law and its barbaric regulations against Gays, Apostates, Women and Minorities’? What would that magic number be Lewis? Open mouth, insert foot and to save yourself further embarrassment, keep it there.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Bullshit. Fake history. Propaganda.

        One would have thought that their Jewish neighbors would have said “we love you Palestinian Arabs and you know how well we treated you and we want you to stay here with us and so we will stop the ethnic cleansers among our troops and you have no reason to join other Palestinian refugees in Palestine”. Why didn’t this happen?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Iris Dan

      Thank you for this article. As an Israeli Jew whose family endured the racist laws implemented in Europe to the harshest, whose grandfather and other family members did not survive the camps, I am in awe of the courage and of the true humanity of the Muslims who saved Jews, putting all their authority in balance and their lives at risk. They are the true human beings.
      May I be allowed, however, to object to the word “Protector”. I am sure the intention was good, but the word sounds patronizing. “Defender” or “saver” would have been more appropriated, in my opinion.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Susan

      You are right about individual Muslims, but their governments often had different ideas.

      Reply to Comment
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