By Perry Fein
On February 14th ,2015 a Danish café and cultural center called the Krudttønden hosted a lecture and discussion titled “Art, Blasphemy, and Freedom of Expression”. One of the speakers was Lars Vilks who had previously been targeted for assassination by Islamic extremists in 2009and was placed on an Al- Qaeda hit list in .2010The offense he committed: illustrating the Prophet Muhammad.
At approximately 3:30pm during the event, the mood shifted dramatically. Gunshots rang out as a man opened fire on the speaker and attendees. Although Vilks survived the attack, one man was killed and three police officers were injured.
Unfortunately, the violence didn’t end there. The following day, the shooter reappeared outside Copenhagen’s largest synagogue while a Bar Mitzvah was taking place. He shot a 37-year-old Jewish security guard who had been protecting the congregation. Although the guard died as the shooter escaped the scene, had it not been for his bravery, many more innocent people would likely have been killed that morning.
If this succession of events sounds familiar, it’s because it occurred less than six weeks after the shooting at the office of Charlie Hebdo, and the subsequent assault on a kosher supermarket in Paris, France. In the cases of Charlie Hebdo and Lars Vilks, blasphemous cartoonists were the primary targets. Additionally, in both instances the gunmen escaped, and, only hours later, indiscriminately targeted members of the local Jewish communities.
To understand the motives of the shooters in both Paris and Copenhagen, one must analyze the ideology that dictates the attitudes and behaviors of Islamic extremists. The public charters and proclaimed mission statements of terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Al- Qaeda, and Hamas all identify their enemies as the West. This includes not only the United States and Europe but also Israel. In regards to freedom of speech and religion, there are irreconcilable differences between the secular West and fundamentalist Islam.
Arab politicians, media outlets, and educational curricula often conflate the world’s Jewish population with the state of Israel— dishonestly using the term “Zionist” to refer to both. When public discourse makes no distinction between Judaism and Zionism, neither will the terrorists. These extremists feel justified in killing Jews in reaction to Israel’s foreign policy decisions.
The recent attacks in France and Denmark prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare, “Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe.”
His statement sparked controversy because it implied that the governments of Europe were, once again, failing to protect their Jewish citizens. This threat is hardly new; various polls illustrate that anti-Semitism in various parts of Europe has, indeed, been on the rise for many years.
Despite these facts, Netanyahu’s invitation garnered criticism from the Danish Prime Minister as well as Denmark’s Chief Rabbi Jay Melchior. Melchior was “disappointed” by Netanyahu’s decree, saying, “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel”. Both the rabbi and Prime Minister echoed sentiments affirmed by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls—namely that Jews still have a secure, safe place in Europe.
Netanyahu’s controversial plea for mass Jewish immigration to Israel has been discounted as crude electioneering. Furthermore, his statement should be considered in conjunction with his recent contentious decision to address the United States Congress without the approval of President Barack Obama. Netanyahu also purports that he will speak for all Jews when he addresses Congress.
Regardless of the mounting anti-Semitism in Europe, for Netenyahu to put forth the idea that Jews to leave their native countries. Secondly, the state of Israel experiences more violent acts of terrorism than any country in Europe.
Jewish citizens and cartoonists like Lars Vilks and those at Charlie Hebdo should not stop exercising their freedom of speech and expression. As a survivor of the Copenhagen attack so eloquently asked, “If we should stop drawing cartoons, should we also stop having synagogues?”
Unfortunately, recent acts of anti-Semitism are not limited to Europe. Just weeks before the attacks, swastikas were spray- painted on the Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis. Additionally, more than thirty Madison, Wisconsin homes were also vandalized with swastikas as well asothervariousslursagainstJews. While this is all very alarming, no one is suggesting that Jews in California or Wisconsin should consider immigration to Israel.
It is often difficult to find the silver lining when horrific acts of violence occur. However, in response to the Copenhagen tragedy, more than one thousand Norwegian Muslims formed a human chain to symbolically and physically protect the biggest synagogue in Oslo.
One of the organizers of the gathering, Zeeshan Abdullah, expressed, “Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that.” He continued, “There are many more peace mongers than warmongers… there’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”