Friday, October 15, 2010

The Jews who join the Islamic revolution

Over the past decade, there has been quite a lot of publicity for Adam Gadahn (born Pearlman), the grandson of a Jewish doctor from Orange County who converted to Islam and is now the English-language spokesman for al Qaida.

Well, turns out he's not the only Islamic radical with Jewish roots. NPR is profiling the founder of an American group called Revolution Islam, which has numerous links to terrorists and men accused of terrorism.
The group's goals include establishing Islamic law in the U.S., destroying Israel and taking al-Qaida's messages to the masses.... Of the two-dozen homegrown plots in the United States in the past year, Revolution Muslim was linked to one-third of them.
The founder is one Yousef al-Khattab, born Joseph (Joey) Leonard Cohen.
He grew up in Brooklyn, the son of secular Jews... Khattab says that, for him, there was something missing in the Jewish religion. He liked the idea of completely submitting to God, so he became a Muslim. "My parents aren't religious Jews, and they don't agree with Islam at all, but they believe it is my choice to do what I want," Khattab says.
Do they really believe it is his choice to help encourage terrorists? Unclear.

What annoys me about these kinds of stories -- and stories trying to "prove" men such as Ahmadinejad are really Jewish or that the Taliban are descended from Jews -- is the unstated implication: that the Jews are even to blame for Muslim extremism. So let's get that out of the way straight off. Two Jews (or men with Jewish roots) who dabble in Islamism and terror are not proof that the elders of Zion are now running the Jihad. Jeez, let us off the hook for something.

Beyond that, I'm not sure there is too much that the Jewish community can learn from these examples. Could Judaism have offered them more, somehow channelled their energies into somewhere positive? I'm not sure, when you are talking about men who are willing to be tied to terrorists. They are clearly attracted to serious radicalism and frankly, must have "issues".

It is a completely different question when it comes to Jews who convert to Islam (as opposed to Islamism). And, just as there are thousands of Christians currently finding meaning in Islam, there are examples of Jews making the switch - including journalist Abdallah Schleifer (born Marc Schleifer in Long Island), advocate for moderate Islam Stephen Schwartz (Jewish father), and so many more we have never even heard of (I strongly suggest you watch the opening minutes of the video of the girl whose face is covered.)

What does Islam offer them that they could not have found in Judaism? Of course, this question is impossible to answer without proper research - and is not even clear how many of those who converted "out" of Judaism (to any religion) properly investigated the possibilities inherent in their own faith first. Perhaps they never found because they never seriously looked.

I will just note, however, that diaspora Judaism is nowadays a pretty Establishment religion, with all that entails. We are not particularly good with spiritual seekers - people who want to talk about God, people with difficult questions, people interested in developing their meditative or mystical side. You have to be fairly wealthy in order to afford a "Jewish" neighbourhood and lifestyle. We are certainly not the first port-of-call for those who want to escape their middle-class existence and shallow Western values; all too often, our communities are tied up in both. I am quite sure we lose some of our own people to other religions as a result.

Incidentally, the Khattab story has a semi-happy ending. He has severed all ties with Revolution Muslim:
"In Islam, we have a principle of loving and hating for the sake of Allah. They focus on the hating all the time. When you see the youth only talking about the hate, that's a warning sign"...

"I guess I came to say that I believe what I said before was wrong," he says.

When asked if he thinks he outgrew Revolution Muslim, he replies: "It is hard to outgrow something that is bigger than you are." And he's quiet for a minute. "I don't know, yeah, I guess that would be the word — I guess I would say I outgrew it."

Unfortunately in the meanwhile he opened the door for all too many people to find radical Islam, people who haven't yet, and probably never will, "outgrow" it.

(Via Allison Kaplan Sommer)

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