Finding Hope for International Religious Freedom Amidst More Acts of Violence

February 19, 2015
The news from around the world has recently been filled with visible and violent instances of religiously-targeted violence. Just last week, as many as 250 gravestones were vandalized in a cemetery in Eastern France, an area that used to have a large Jewish population. The Jewish community in France has seen this as a reminder of the increasingly visible and vocal anti-Semitic sentiment that lingers in the country. Though French government leaders have quickly spoken out in condemnation of these attacks and in reassurance to French Jews that they are integral to France, the attacks are upsetting, unsettling and sadly no longer unimaginable acts of hate. The cemetery incident is only one of many that we have seen already this year. Over the weekend, two terrorist attacks took place in Copenhagen, leaving three people dead and five police officers wounded. The first shooting targeted a café hosting a free speech event, and the second targeted a synagogue and Jewish cultural center. The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) condemned these “cold-blooded acts of terrorism” and President of the WUPJ Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander stated that: "The attacks in Copenhagen are an assault on our values and on all free and democratic societies that embrace human dignity. While today is a grim reminder that no one and nowhere is immune from such acts of barbarism, we will together remain vigilant against those who wish to strike at our most cherished freedoms." Rabbi Freelander’s words ring true, especially as we think about the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks last month and recent news of persecution of Coptic Christians by ISIS in Libya. We know that the persecution of any minority group puts the freedom and safety of all minority groups at risk. Muslims in Norway have acknowledged this link and plan to form a “peace ring” around a synagogue in Oslo to show solidarity with the Jewish community in the wake of the Copenhagen attack. The effort is being led by a group of Muslims seeking to distance themselves from the harassment of Jews. This show of unity is truly inspiring and heartwarming, and sets a blueprint for interfaith dialogue and coordinated actions. President Obama echoed this sentiment today at the closing of the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism when he said “And part of what gives me… confidence is the overwhelming response of the world community to the savagery of these terrorists -- not just revulsion, but a concrete commitment to work together to vanquish these organizations.” As we continue to see religiously motivated extremism and people being targeted because of their religion, we must remain vigilant advocates by promoting dialogues of respect and understanding. Instead of simply withdrawing into our own institutions, we must find ways to turn our communities into “peace rings” so that we can all protect each other. After all, at the end of the day, we are all praying for peace and freedom.

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