Protests over anti-Muslim film a reminder to value our freedom

www.bethyam.orgSeptember 22, 2012 

Sometimes, the worst kind of hate speech can bring blessings.

Do not scoff at this statement. I make it in light of a recent visit to Skokie, Ill.

In the mid-1970s, Frank Collin and his followers in the American Nazi Party applied to march in Skokie, a Chicago suburb with a significant number of Holocaust survivors. They were supported by the ACLU in their petition to the federal Courts of Appeal. After an incredible legal battle, the court granted Collin and his disciples permission to parade through the streets with their swastikas. But the march never happened in Skokie, because Chicago granted the Nazis access to march in Marquette Park on July 9, 1978.

As a result of this humiliation against the Jewish people, the Holocaust Museum that I visited in August was built. While the First Amendment allows U.S. citizens to say hateful things and freely assemble even when those actions insult the memory of the 6 million people murdered in Nazi Germany, I understand the law and cherish a society that protects our rights to free speech. Despite the fact that Holocaust survivors have paid a price beyond our imagination, the American Nazi Party still had the right to peacefully march. And while outrageous and despicable, this still was legal.

As Americans, we learn to live with this contradiction. We also learn how to rise above toxic emotions and use intolerance as an opportunity to educate the community. The Holocaust Museum of Illinois proves that education is the strongest weapon we have to combat hatred.

During the past two weeks, Middle East protesters have been rioting in response to an anti-Islam film by Sam Bacile, an Egyptian Coptic Christian. The trailer of the film triggered worldwide Islamic rage, which led to the killing of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues in Libya. The riots and protests are likely to continue.

Many Americans are shaking their heads in disbelief, especially given the amount of the financial and political aid America has provided the Arab nations -- even though these nations condemn us and now are mistakenly holding us responsible for this movie trailer.

The emotion of spewing hatred against America is palpable. If only Arabs living in the Middle East could learn and respect that freedom of speech -- even when it is hateful -- is part of the social contract that exists in American law and culture. Maybe many of those in the streets do not appreciate how important that value is, even when it is sometimes painful for us to tolerate.

I, of course, condemn this trailer because it is an insult to the Prophet Mohammed. It is a perfect example of how to divide religions, rather than bring them together. I respect Muslim's anger and their desire to protest, but to kill people for a video that everyone condemns is counterproductive and represents an act of disrespect for innocent human life.

Frankly, I wonder if the protesters would channel their rage in the streets against Bashar al Assad, the president of Syria, for the crimes he and his henchmen have committed against his own population, which has led to the killing of 20,000 people?

Will there ever be a day when clergy of Abrahamic faiths work as a team to keep the peace in inflammatory religious situations? Our greatest response to this incident is education, and we should make it clear to the protesters that all three of our faiths do not support wanton killings -- no matter how upset or offended we may be.

This is a worthy goal that embodies the highest moral standard for all religions.

Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.

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