Has the American Dream a better ambassador than Syed Farook? The father of suspected San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook arrived from Pakistan in 1973, determined to make a better life for himself and his family. He earned a degree in engineering, worked hard, and raised his children; one of them, Syed Raheel Farook, joined the Navy and, for his dedicated service, was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. All the evidence we have right now, then, suggests that Farook, Sr. is the embodiment of the genus decent people everywhere so desperately seek, the moderate Muslim. In a recent interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Farook played the part well, declaring himself in complete despair and disbelief over his son’s alleged massacre.
How, then, did Farook soothe his son when junior ranted about Israel?
“I told him he had to stay calm and be patient,” Farook, Sr. told his interviewer, “because in two years Israel will not exist any more. Geopolitics is changing: Russia, China and America don’t want Jews there any more. They are going to bring the Jews back to Ukraine. What is the point of fighting? We have already done it and we lost. Israel is not to be fought with weapons, but with politics. But he did not listen to me, he was obsessed.”
It’s hardly appealing to judge a bereaved father—even the father of an alleged homicidal maniac—in his time of grief, but Farook’s comments are telling. They reveal a fundamental flaw in the convenient dichotomy we’ve set up for ourselves, insisting that Muslims came in two shades—good and moderate, bad and murderous—and that it was our duty as enlightened and gentle folk to sort the two out lest some drooling bigot jump to the wrong conclusion.
To better understand this predicament, contemplate the following scenario: imagine hearing someone described as a moderate Christian conservative, except that he looks forward to all the homosexuals being rounded up in the near future and shipped off to Monaco. Or imagine a so-called moderate white guy saying that while white Americans have tried and failed to keep blacks down by means of violence, there’s nothing to worry about because sooner or later the blacks will all be stacked into boats and shipped back to Africa. If you heard this, you would likely be appalled, and then declare that while you can think of quite a few adjectives to describe the person in question, “moderate” is certainly not one of them.
And yet, when it comes to moderate Muslims, we view Jew-hating as understandable, even acceptable. In Bedfordshire, England, for example, the local police launched a social media campaign to promote tolerance and diversity, featuring an officer standing side by side in solidarity with Qadeer Baskh, the chairman of the local Luton Islamic Centre. Jews, that institution’s website makes clear, are the “brethren of swine and pigs,” who “strive their utmost to corrupt the beliefs, morals, and manners of Muslims” and must therefore be vanquished. You can hear similar opinions from celebrated moderates in Amman, Cairo, Brooklyn, and elsewhere.
These vile statements, usually, are explained away by mumbling something about the occupation or Gaza or the lasting effect of a strange religious conflict over some faraway land none of us well-heeled westerners have any business trying to understand. That’s a travesty. A tiny religious minority group with its own independent national existence, Jews are the Middle East’s essential others. A failure to think of them in any other way but yearning for their destruction, and you could neither call yourself a moderate nor hope to ever strike roots in a democratic society that still believes in the bounties of peace, pluralism, and liberty.
It’s time, then, for a new litmus test. It’s this: No moderate Muslim should ever reject the state of Israel’s right to exist. Criticism, even of the vociferous kind, is fair and welcome; fantasies about huddled Jewish masses banished to the Ukraine aren’t. if you fail to pass this simple test, it’s only a matter of time before you or someone you love picks up a gun and goes gunning for the Jews, the Jews-for-Jesus, the Christians, and all the others who do not share your hateful worldview.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.