(image from abouddandachi.com)
On Jan. 27, commemorations were held worldwide in remembrance of the Holocaust. Seventy years after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, these remembrances are as necessary as ever, as evidenced by the past year’s rising tide of antisemitic attacks the world over. And while it may be impossible to stop every terrorist attack everywhere in the world, the manner in which societies and individuals react to such atrocities is just as important as “killing the bad guys.”
A case in point would be the terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in early January. In the aftermath, a massive two million-strong march was held in the heart of Paris in support of freedom of expression. The phrase #JeSuisCharlie became the most widely used hashtag in Twitter’s history. To meet the increased demand from multitudes of first-time readers seemingly eager on making a statement against extremism, the publication run for the magazine’s Jan. 12 issue was increased from 60,000 copies to three million, and increased again to five million, and, again, to seven million copies.
Marches, Twitter campaigns and a massive surge in readership. Yet, largely relegated to the background was the fact that Jews were specifically targeted during those three terrible days in Paris. Indeed, for months before the Paris terrorist atrocities, Jews in much of Europe had been subjected to a relentless wave of vicious antisemitic attacks. An atmosphere of raw, unchallenged hatred for all things Jewish preceded the events in Paris, and the warning signs were there for anyone who cared to pay attention. When Jews in Denmark trying to hold an event calling for religious coexistence are chased off the streets by “Allahu akbar”-screaming, black-banner-waving thugs, then very soon someone will get it into their head to try to kill Jews in Paris.
Marches, Twitter campaigns and millions of new readers. Momentary, short-term reactions to a very long-term problem, one that has been building up for years. In the wake of such atrocities, it is natural for individuals to feel a strong need to act. And nothing reputes terrorism as effectively as making a stand with its intended targets and victims: by making a stand with the Jewish communities of Europe and the world over.
One effective, long-term method of displaying solidarity with Jewish communities worldwide is to show the same enthusiasm for their publications as the world has displayed for scooping up issues of Charlie Hebdo. To repudiate global extremism, one only needs to act on a very local level.
Salom, the Turkish Jewish weekly tabloid, isn’t exactly an easy publication to find in Istanbul unless you know where to look. But with a circulation of just a few thousand, it has for almost seven decades managed to put out a highly professional and relevant newspaper (far more substantial and better produced than the hopeless Syrian regime mouthpieces Al-Baath or Al-Thawra, even with the resources of the state), and over the years some of Turkey’s most prominent writers and journalists have written for it. Over the years: over the span of no less than 68 years.
A community, any community’s, newspaper is a chronology and journal of the times and events of that community’s history and its place in the world, the events that they were affected by or had an effect on, the opinions, hopes, dreams and fears of that community’s individuals. As a source for a history of the times, websites don’t come close.
And few things strike at the heart of a community’s sense of safety or belonging as attacking or intimidating its publications. For a community to lose its publication would be a devastating blow to its sense of identity, history and continuity within the larger society it inhabits.
And so, when a community is under sustained attack from fringe extremist elements, one of the best long-term demonstrations of solidarity is to adopt that community’s publications. And it was in this spirit that millions of people around the world suddenly felt a compulsion to own a copy of Charlie Hebdo, regardless of their opinions on the merits (or lack thereof) of the paper’s contents over the years. In the aftermath of a terrorist event, ordinary people are driven to respond with an act that loudly and clearly expresses their rejection of and revulsion at the attack.
Marches are all very well and good, but it is highly unlikely that the scale of the January Paris march will ever be repeated for years to come. Twitter hashtags? Very fleeting and very much of the moment. A long-term response is necessary to support a community under long-term threat.
And, while Jews in one’s local community may not face the same level of violence and intimidation as Jews in other parts of the world, the nature of global antisemitism is such that Jews anywhere can, at anytime, become targets from any source, no matter how distant or remote the threat may seem, as evidenced, to take a recent example, by the Hezbollah terrorist organization’s threats to strike Jews anywhere in the world in retaliation for its recent high-level losses in Syria.
Not everyone can be a Lassana Bathily, the Mali-born employee of the Hyper Cacher, the targeted Paris kosher supermarket, who saved countless lives by hiding customers during the attack. Individuals can still achieve a great deal by standing with those whom extremists would target, however. Heaven forbid that anyone should ever suffer a terrorist attack ever again, but let’s not wait until after an atrocity to express “Je suis (insert latest victims here).” Society’s embrace and acceptance of its minorities are the surest shield and protection against opportunistic acts of hate against those minorities. Terrorism thrives in an atmosphere and environment of unchallenged and unchecked hatred.
Holocaust commemorations are held just once a year, and by the time a society feels compelled to respond to atrocities in its midst with million-person marches, it is probably too late, extremism has already dug its roots deep into that society. Extremism is more effectively fought on the individual level, with small, daily acts of kindness towards those that may be vulnerable, and the ostracizing of those groups and individuals who are hateful in their speech and behavior (I’m looking at you George Galloway, you shameful carpetbagger). Global extremism is most effectively fought by very local acts of consideration.
In this day and age, fighting extremism can be as simple as buying a newspaper. Salom.
Aboud Dandachi is a Syrian blogger based in Turkey. He has been cited on issues relating to the Syrian conflict on the BBC, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Al-Arabiya and Turkiye Gazetesi. This article originally appeared on his blog From Homs to Istanbul, which can be found at abouddandachi.com. It is reprinted with permission.