Monday, November 09, 2009

Kristallnacht remembered

Tonight is the night in 1938 when the German high command convinced itself that it could do anything to Jews and other minorities in its midst, and the world would do nothing to stop it. Tonight is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the euphemism for the state-sponsored pogrom against German and Austrian Jews on Nov. 9 and 10 of 1938.

On Nov. 9, 2001 I led a city-wide commemoration of Kristallnacht in Victoria, BC, Canada. The following were my opening remarks. Although eight years have passed, my concerns are precisely the same today as they were then.

Tonight is the 63rd anniversary of Kristallnacht. In the past I have tried, in these opening moments, to welcome you, and thank you for understanding why it’s so important to remember Kristallnacht, and the Shoah. In previous years that might have been necessary, since the reality of Kristallnacht seemed so removed from our lives here in Victoria.

But this year, unexpectedly, shockingly, the differences between Kristallnacht and this moment are not so different. Once again we see hatred becoming the dominant ideology of a people. I am forced to conclude that, having failed to see and address the rising tide of hatred in the Muslim world, I/we have failed to truly learn the lessons of Kristallnacht. In 1932 the signs were plain to see and the world ignored them, and good Germans ignored them or made excuses for them. We have done the same, and good Muslims have done the same. And throughout the 30's the free world tried to appease and make concessions to the rising tide of nazism. It made good economic sense, and of course one had to be politically realistic.

And the same is true in this era. We have not wanted to believe the depth and the extent of the envy and hatred that has deeply damaged the Muslim world. We have become used to, and desensitized to the accusations, and curses, and tirades, made by ideologues. We have watched, mute or unconcerned, as the gorgeous melody and poetry of the call to prayer has become a call to hatred and to war. We have somehow come to sympathize with, or at least accept as a valid side to the argument, the claim that the Muslim people are victims, and the problem is Israel.

The problem is not Israel, and the problem is not the United States. The problem is the ideology of envy and hatred that has been carefully nurtured in the Muslim world for most of this century.

And so we looked on the events of Sept. 11, much as the world looked upon Kristallnacht in 1938, wondering, how could this happen. And in that cold November in 1938, the dangerous slope into world war turned icy and inevitable. I do not know if we are on an equally icy slope into world war right now, but if there is still a way to turn back, it must begin now. It must begin by helping moderate Muslims, who love and value democracy and multi-cultural respect, to reassert their primacy in the world-wide Muslim community.

Jews and Christians cannot go into the mosques to redirect the nature and quality of the dialog. We don’t have that authority. Only Muslims can do that. Christians and Jews cannot speak for Islam in the Muslim media. Moderate Muslims must do that. And it is not enough if they simply make their voices heard; they must take control of the debate.

If there is a Muslim in this congregation, hear me. You are not only our last hope; more importantly, you are your own people’s last hope. Germany’s name has been forever besmirched because of it’s ideology of hatred. Don’t let that happen to your faith. In the name of God, defend your honor not with hatred and violence, but through an ideology of peace and mutual respect. And may it be God’s will.

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