Reclaiming 'radical:' A response to Woolwich


By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
May 26, 2013
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“Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community…(Num 10:2).”

This week a trumpet blast was sounded to wake the whole country from its slumber. It was blown by a 48-year old, female cub scout leader from Helston, Cornwall. Ingrid Loyau-Kennett did not use an instrument, still less a machete or butcher’s tools. She used her voice and words that gently challenged the perpetrators of a hideous, horrific, and heinous act, the slaughter of Drummer Lee Rigby on a street, in broad daylight in Woolwich.

This woman who went out of her way to seek the welfare of a young man attacked for representing all of us in society; and to disarm an assailant with words. She embodied all that is right in our society and in that moment became a role model for us all. Drummer Lee Rigby might have been wearing a uniform and Ingrid Loyau-Kennett was not; but they represented the same ideal.

What has become known as ‘radical Islam’ is a serious challenge to our society. I was struck by the account of Ali Miraj writing a thought piece on the Independent website for their content and locality. He cited two incidents, one when bringing to the attention of the MP for Ruislip and Northwood in 1993, literature being distributed by “a radical Muslim group” on university campuses and the second in Watford in 2005, encountering the same group who stated that “homosexuals should be killed.”

In fact this atrocity does suggest that the security forces have been successful in tackling what might be large-scale, extremist attacks in this country and that those who still seek destruction are now focussed on single, hard-hitting and media propelled acts. Subtly worded in its apology to women and children, one fears its appeal to other extremists as ‘honourable.’ These ‘low level’ acts are far more difficult for security forces to detect, especially in a liberal society.

The atrocity also points as Ali Miraj suggests, to the failures of leadership in Muslim communities. He says, “There have been too many cases of Muslims wanting to kill their fellow citizens in cold blood to be palmed off as isolated incidents… the ineptitude and utter failure of self-proclaimed Muslim leaders to tackle these extremists…with intellectual argument... It is simply not good enough to hide behind the argument that there will always be extremists as an excuse for failing to confront these people head-on.”
The Muslim Council of Britain in a statement echoed by the vast majority of Muslim organisations in the UK stated only a few hours after the attack: “ This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family." Included in their statement was the fact that British Muslims had long served in the Armed forces and that "this attack on a member of the Armed Forces is dishonourable, and no cause justifies this murder."

This is a remarkable change in tone from the responses to the 7th July bombings in which they sought to avoid condemnation of the acts of terror with the justification of international acts of oppression, with a particular focus on Palestinians. Let us hope that these organisations will heed the trumpet blast and act to confront the real issues that drive too many young Muslims to heed extremist calls; supported by the Government acting on those Imams who preach hatred.

Yet Ingrid Loyau-Kennett’s voice and words must also be a summons to all of us. She was the true ‘radical,’ a term misappropriated in its usage to describe those elements within Islam who simply are ‘terrorists,’ regardless of the methods they choose disseminate their hate and terror.

Contained in this morning’s sidra are a group of people onomatopoetically named as ha’asafsuf, the riffraff, a mixed bunch of people who had no ties to societal structures. They craved more food than was on offer and provoked the Israelites to yearn for an illusion, for they state: ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic (Num 11:4-6).’ True, manna might have seemed a bit boring if that was all they had to consume for 40 years but any notion that they ate the finest, flavoured foods in Egypt contains little to commend it as reality. They merely yearned for a status quo that was simple, a life of certainty even if that meant being enslaved.

Ha’asafsuf, the riffraff, were not ‘radical’ people who challenged traditional forms of society for the betterment of all; they were troublemakers whose yearning was regressive, idealizing a past that probably never existed and if it did, was less efficacious than the possibilities for a future.

I have often described Liberal Judaism as the ‘radical’ branch of Judaism in this country: heralding gender equality before national suffrage was attained, championing the rights of the disadvantaged and most recently, performing same-gender commitment ceremonies, one of the actions together with Quakers and Unitarians that has championed marriage equality. Whilst we have not always lived up to this title, it is time for us all to be ‘radical Liberal Jews:’ seeking the betterment of society driven by a belief that only good for all is good in God’s eyes.

Words are our tools. We may not be able to directly confront a terrorist on the street and disarm them with our words, yet we can help root out hate and terror. As a social media analyst stated last night, we need to activate the 99% on social media to challenge and ultimately filter out the 1% who breed, celebrate and ultimately act on hate.

Increasing numbers of schools in areas with high Muslim populations have invited me to come to speak with their children about Judaism. In West Watford Muslim children run up to me and greet, ‘Rabbi Aaron,’ to the bewilderment of their parents – but it opens a conversation we would otherwise not have. This morning I have begun to write to local authorities to offer my services to listen and speak as a Jewish leader with Muslim groups. Please do not hesitate to create invitations for me and also consider speaking yourself, on-line, in schools, with the people you encounter in your home and work environments.

Being a ‘radical’ may sometimes be uncomfortable yet if it leads to a better society that is not paralysed by terror, surely this is what we would want for our children.

Ben, it is in fact you and your peers, our children, who are often our best exemplars, more ‘radical’ than those of us who become comfortable in our lives, for you have your whole futures ahead. Already you have shown true leadership by your actions and also your words. May you be a ‘radical leader’ in LJY-NETZER, our youth movement and in your school and local community, always seeking the betterment of society, a place of equal good and opportunity for all.

You chose the parashah for your Bar Mitzvah that spoke of making two silver trumpets to summon the community. In your life may you embody these tools. Whenever we hear its blast, may we as a community be ready to heed its call to subtly or radically move forward, never back.

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