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Similarities finding friendship under fire




This year on that day, a crazy right-wing fanatic with firearms and a camera calmly walked into a mosque in sleepy Christchurch, New Zealand, and opened fire on anyone he could find. He made sure everyone he could find was dead before he walked out and made his way to the next mosque, where he tried to do the same, killing several people outside. One worshipper stopped the gunman by literally using himself as a human decoy.

The victims in the mosque were so shocked that you hardly heard a sound from them. I know this only because this lunatic filmed his shooting tirade and streamed it on Facebook Live. People have described this video as looking just like a typical video game, with the main character trying to annihilate everything in sight. It appeared as if it was a game to him.

And yet, 50 people who had simply gone to their normal Friday prayers were slaughtered, and 50 others were injured by this white supremacist. And the lives of everyone around them have been altered forever.

This massacre has horrified the world, irrespective of whether one is Muslim, Jewish, or of any other religious persuasion. It is the horror of the warped hatred, the brutality and wholesale murder that has joined people across the world in sadness and shock at this aberration.

It is not lost on anyone just how similar this massacre was to the one that took place across the world at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 27 October last year. In both cases, it was on the holiest day of our week, as Muslims hold a communal prayer service every Friday afternoon.

“The universe cracks. That’s how you feel when a close family member is violently torn from this world while she or he is at prayer… I know because only six months ago, I was in their shoes.” These words were written this week by an American woman whose mother-in-law was murdered in the Tree of Life massacre.

Our shoes are indeed very similar, despite the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

And those who have racist issues, particularly white supremacists and their ilk, tar us with the same hateful brush. They see us as “other” and different. And when there is reason to find fault in a racial group, it is often either the Jews or the Muslims who are targeted.

We are often seen as interchangeable by those who hate us.

In the case of the Christchurch madman, I can bet he wasn’t terribly fond of Jews – no white supremacists are. As for the lunatic who opened fire in the Tree of Life Synagogue, he was unlikely to have Muslim friends.

Being quite simplistic here, consider that religious Muslim women also cover their heads. Jewish and Muslim men both wear a form of kippah, particularly when they pray. These are just two of many similarities.

And, as we know, we are born of the same biblical family, what with the Arab nation being the sons and daughters of Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn. How much closer do we get?

I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if we actually found a way to live side by side in the Middle East?

Nevertheless, earlier this week, a bunch of flowers was dropped off at the mosque in Greenside, Johannesburg. On it was a note that read: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Muslim world internationally. We are all human beings created in the image of the same G-d.” It was signed simply ‘A Greenside family’.

I don’t know for sure who sent it, but I have a suspicion it was a particular Jewish family I know.

A colleague forwarded a series of tweets to me today. The first one was from an imam, who said: “Whenever I make a post about Muslim achievements, such as: Peace initiatives, successful Muslim female pilots, research etc, most of those liking/sharing those kinds of posts are Jewish/Israeli people. They want us to succeed and advance…”

To this, another Muslim person responded: “True. I noticed that a long time ago. And I always say it: Jewish people don’t have problems with us or anyone else, we ‘sadly’ have problems with them. This has to change.” And so the Twitterverse continued.

I have to say that most Jews and Muslims do live side by side in South Africa. There really aren’t serious issues between us, that is, mostly, as long as we don’t discuss the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

But with the rising radical right-wing and crazy white supremacist gunmen going berserk, there appears more reason for those of us in the Diaspora to stand together, rather than apart.

I, for one, am heartbroken for the loved ones of those whose precious lives were stolen from them by a crazy person so filled with hatred that he couldn’t see past it.

I only wish that, like the murder of Caesar did so many centuries ago, this too changes our history. Only, in this case, I hope it makes us realise we are not that different, and enables us to work closer together against racial hatred.

Shabbat Shalom!

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