Best Way to Stop Islamic Terrorism?

by Deborah Lipstadt, Forward, 15 November 2015. Comment by ProMosaik e.V.: The voice of an orthodox Jewish historian about how to stop Islamic terrorism. By struggling together with Muslims, the majority of them, who are against terrorism.

When the editor of this paper asked me whether I wanted to share my
thoughts about the tremendous tragedy in Paris, I responded by saying,
“What is there to say except,
Oy lanu, woe is unto us.” In the
hours since then I have decided to modestly add my thoughts. I say
modestly because so many people seem to know exactly what must be done
to halt such attacks in the future. Many of the suggestions are simply
impossible — close the borders to all immigrants from a certain area of
the world — or vindictive and counterproductive, such as the call to
close the mosques and limit Muslims’ rights.

Even now, less than 48 hours since the assault, there are certain things that are obvious. As I wrote in these pages
after the February Copenhagen attacks on a conference about the
Muhammad cartoons and on the synagogue where a bat mitzvah was underway:
The most important lesson is that unless you name something you cannot
address it or resolve it.

This is Islamic terrorism or, as some call it, jihadism. It does not
represent all or even the majority of Muslims. In fact, although no one
knows for sure, it probably represents a very tiny proportion of
Muslims. Yet there is no question that it grows out of a particular
perspective or interpretation of Islam. Those who attribute these
attacks to “extremism” or just plain “terrorism,” rejecting any
connection to Islam, will never be able to address or resolve the

Its roots are in the interpretation of Islam adopted by ISIS and
other terrorists. But in directly describing this deadly phenomenon, we
have to be careful of “explaining” it as the result of the social and
economic situation experienced by some Muslims in various countries,
including France. There are, of course, Muslims, particularly in
countries such as France, who suffer from social and economic
discrimination. Some have pointed to that as a “source” of this
extremism. That borders on a justification and a blaming of the victim.
While to be unemployed is difficult and to be discriminated against is
completely unjustified, these are never reasons for terrorism. Linking
the two is misguided and wrong and offers the perpetrators a
rationalization for their action.

However, if we label all Muslims and their religion as extremist and
murderous and ostracize them, we will drive an unknown number into
ISIS’s arms. ISIS’s best recruiting tool is convincing Muslims in other
countries that they are victims.

If this threat is going to be addressed, the most important source of
help will come from within the Muslim community, from those who totally
reject and are repulsed by the interpretation of Islam adopted by ISIS,
Al Qaeda and the like.

These people will be more likely to speak out if they feel supported,
not just from within their community, but from outside of it as well.
ISIS’s modus operandi had been to find local recruits. However angry
non-Muslims may feel about these attacks, they must not fall into ISIS’s
trap by lashing out at all the Muslims in their community and making
them feel marginalized.

It is hard to resist engaging in vast generalizations, especially
when our hearts are filled with grief and anger, but we must. We Jews
should know how unjust these generalizations are. After all, we worry
that if a small group of Jews does wrong we will all be branded.

During this anguished time, I’m reminded of a viral video
from the University of Missouri recorded during a rally after the
university president resigned under pressure. A photojournalism student
who was harassed by other protesting students bravely stood his ground.
The photographer reminded the students that the Constitution that gave
them the right to march gave him the right to record their march. At one
point, a student tried to restrain a fellow protestor who was getting
aggressive and seemed about to physically harass the photographer. He
kept pulling at the protester’s sleeve and repeating: “Don’t change the
story. Don’t change the story.”

This student intuited, correctly, that the story was on the verge of
becoming about the treatment of the photographer and not about their
grievances. And this is what is occupying the national conversation
right now.

We cannot afford to “change the story” from Islamic terrorism and
extremism by unjustly lashing out collectively at Muslims, most of whom
do not share these extremist views. We must not engage in vast
generalizations about Muslims, not just for moral reasons — which should
be sufficient in and of themselves — but for strategic reasons as well.

Let us call this terror what it is, Islamic violent extremism. But in
doing so, let us engage the vast majority of Muslims who are the key to
arresting this deadly scourge.