Earlier this year, the world was abuzz with news of the “Arab Spring.” As protesters took to the streets in great numbers, and as one oppressive Arab regime after another fell, it seemed to many that a new branch of liberty was flowering in this troubled part of the world.
There were others, however, who sounded a note of skepticism. Since there is no longstanding tradition of democracy in Arab countries, they cautioned, there was little reason to believe that the removal of oppressive dictators would result in the establishment of democratic forms of government.
Sadly, it seems the skeptics were right. Power vacuums that have been created in Arab countries where regimes have changed in recent months have not been filled by those seeking greater democracy and pluralism. They have been filled — or are in the process of being filled — by adherents of the intolerant, hateful ideology of radical Islam. It happened again earlier this week, when the interim leader in Libya, which recently lost its tyrannical ruler with the death of the murderous Muammar Gaddafi, promised that post-Gaddafi Libya will be ruled by the dictates of strict Islamic law.
Christians in the Middle East have been among the first to suffer. In Egypt, the ouster of President Mubarak unleashed long-simmering tensions between Muslim radicals and Egypt’s minority Christian population. Attacks by Muslim mobs on churches have become more and more common. Recently, Christians protesting the Egyptian government’s failure to protect churches were fired on by government forces. Dozens were killed in the massacre — some of them crushed by tanks.
Another story, this one from Libya, is also telling. David Gerbi, an exiled Libyan Jew, returned to his country after the fall of the murderous dictator Muammar Gaddafi with dreams of reopening a long-shuttered synagogue in the capital of Tripoli. His efforts, however, met with angry protests calling for his deportation. One sign carried by a demonstrator read, “There is no place for the Jews in Libya.” Ultimately, Gerbi gave up his dream and returned to his adopted country of Italy. One writer commented, “It is just another sign that the Arab Spring is turning into an autumn of Muslim religious persecution.”
Islamists’ intolerance is all-encompassing. Their hatred extends not just to Jews and Christians, but to all who do not share their twisted world view — including their fellow Muslims. Israel, the U.S., and indeed all countries and people of goodwill, must of course extend their hand to the many Muslims who value democracy, tolerance, and pluralism. But we must not — we cannot — ignore the very real and deadly threat that radical Islam poses to our way of life and the values we hold dear. Tolerance is certainly a hard-won and precious gift. History and experience, however, show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that tolerance of evil leads only to more evil.
Muslim fundamentalist terrorists seek to pervert justice and enforce their will through fear, threats, and violence. But the Bible admonishes us to “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15). These are our marching orders. Even as the Islamists seek to do their worst, let us show the world our best by continuing to extend our hands to those in need and peril, working tirelessly for justice, and opposing evil with all our might. By doing so, we will not only be making the world a better place — we will be honoring the God we serve, Who is the source of all goodness.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.