The time to act is now
Temple Sholom Rabbi Dan Moskovitz addresses a Concerned Canadian Clergy for Refugees multi-faith clergy press conference at Jack Poole Plaza in Downtown Vancouver on Jan. 29. (screenshot)
The murders at a Quebec City-area mosque Sunday night shattered our sense of Canadian safety and multiculturalism. Six worshippers were killed and at least a score more injured in the shooting rampage inside a Ste.-Foy Islamic centre during evening prayers.
We are confident we reflect the intent of every reader and the broader community we serve when we offer condolences to and solidarity with the victims, their families and the entire Muslim community in Canada, each member of which must be feeling a sense of grief and fear.
We will not, however, state, as some inevitably do in such situations, that “We are all Muslims now.” After this tragedy, only members of the targeted group can fully appreciate the sense of isolation and anxiety such a tragic act instils. We cannot all understand the variety, depth and breadth of feelings of those affected, so, while we should acknowledge our common humanity and grief, we should offer special comforts to our Muslim friends and ensure that they know that Jewish Canadians and all Canadians sympathize with the uniqueness of a hate-motivated attack.
The grief that enveloped us late Sunday should not eclipse the light we witnessed on Sunday morning, when local clergy, led by Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, other rabbis and clergy from different faith traditions, gathered to stand in solidarity against the executive orders signed by U.S. President Donald Trump last Friday.
The president decreed that all refugees would be immediately banned from entering the United States for at least 120 days. A parallel announcement declared that citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen would be banned from entering the country for at least 90 days.
The presidential orders came as a stunning blow to those who didn’t take Trump at his word. Even many who count themselves as among his fiercest opponents seemed to believe Trump would stop short of his most extreme promises. But there he was: doing exactly what he said he would do – banning Muslims from entering the United States (as well as taking preliminary steps to construct a wall along the border with Mexico).
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” the president obfuscated in a written statement Sunday. “This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
Despite this contention, one of the stomach-churning aspects of this seemingly random list of Muslim-majority countries is what they share in common: as the New York Times has reported, these are countries where the Trump organization has few business interests. If one subscribed to the idea that banning people based on nationality was a wise move, certainly Saudi Arabia, which produced almost all of the 9/11 terrorists, and Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which have not insignificant records of radicalization, would logically (if that is the correct term) be on such a list. So might Turkey. But residents of those countries can, for now, continue to enter the United States.
Trump’s orders were additionally jarring for Jews and others who were solemnly marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the very time Trump was turning America’s back on refugees. The history of the United States – and Canada, and almost every other country – in turning their backs on Jewish refugees is the reason the Holocaust was able to occur in the magnitude that it did. The callousness Trump exhibited in taking actions against refugees on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is abominable, even worse than his intentional omission of Jews in his Holocaust statement that day.
Syrian refugees are not, at present, finding every door in the world closed to them, as Jews did in the 1930s. They are, however, having the door to the golden medina – the great land of liberty whose preeminent symbol openhandedly welcomes the homeless, tempest-tost, huddled masses yearning to breathe free to a place of permanent refuge – slammed in their faces. In Trump’s America, Lady Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door only so that refugees can read the sign: “Keep out.”
The move by Canadian clergy is admirable. They deserve our thanks and support as they provide a model for individuals to take a stand at an important time.
Likewise, we were proud to see the remarks of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the thousands of Canadians who have shared his sentiments, that Canada will step up where America is faltering and take in some of those refused entry to the United States. We invite readers to contact members of Parliament to let them know that plenty of Canadians – including Canadian Jews – understand that Canada is in a unique position to act at a time when the United States is betraying our erstwhile shared values.
By press time, it remained unclear what specific animosities drove the perpetrator of the Ste.-Foy attack. And, while it is premature to blame the murderer’s actions on ambient anti-Muslim agitation stoked by a swath of demagogues leading all the way up to the president of the United States, the rhetoric in which Trump and many of his supporters are engaging is certain to have negative consequences.
Consequences, too, will be felt from the actions of well-intentioned people. The rabbis and other clergy who step forward and condemn bigotry are the best antidote to the negativity and hatred we see. They are whom we should emulate. We must step forward with them.