Shabbat-morning services took an unexpected turn on Jan. 15 when four Jews were taken hostage for 11 hours in their Texas synagogue. While the FBI initially announced that the attack by armed assailant Malik Faisal Akram “was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” Jews worldwide instantly knew otherwise. It was indeed motivated by Jew hate, specifically by Islamist anti-Semitism.
American media and the political class have no problem recognizing and condemning anti-Semitism from the far-right. Yet too many elite journalists and government officials either don’t recognize or prefer to ignore, downplay or justify anti-Semitism when it originates from leftists or Islamists. And as Colleyville’s hostage situation underscored, Jew-hatred has multiple origins. Pretending otherwise endangers lives.
Two major questions remain about this incident. First, if Akram had a criminal record and was investigated by MI-5 as recently as 2020, why could he board an international flight? Second, why was Akram allowed entry into the United States? Perhaps in time, we’ll learn those answers.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told me: “The publicly reported details regarding how this terrorist carried out his vile anti-Semitic attack are highly concerning. A full investigation must be completed, and anyone else found to have been involved in this attack or otherwise engaged in illegal activity should be brought to justice.”
Justice is undoubtedly an important end goal. Already, though, American Jews have begun debating how to strengthen security at Jewish institutions. Some American and British Muslims have called for more intra-communal discussion about anti-Semitism. And all Americans should learn more about the type of extremist Islamism that inspired Akram.
Hussein Aboubakr Mansour, director of EMET’s Program for Emerging Democratic Voices From the Middle East, explained radical Islamism as “either an ideology of Islamic supremacy or a political behavior of using Islam as a political platform. Islamist anti-Semitism is a mixture of traditional Islamic anti-Jewish doctrines and modern anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which make it potent.”
He continued, “Islamism uses anti-Semitism successfully exactly because anti-Semitic beliefs are real and powerful, not the other way around.”
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, shared: “Islamism, in and by itself, is a radical interpretation of Islam, in which anti-Semitism becomes a given, regardless of European anti-Semitism or white supremacy.”
He added that “Americans are not mentioned in the Koran. Israelites are. Thus, using the two interchangeably allows Islamists to instigate their rank and file against America.”
Islamism also affects domestic politics. As examples, Mansour pointed to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which defended its San Francisco Bay area executive director’s calling “Zionist synagogues” the enemy, in addition to philosopher Judith Butler, who labeled Hamas and Hezbollah “part of the global left.” Mansour noted that “as America becomes more left, Islamism becomes more solid in America,” as part of the progressive coalition Democrats rely on to win. In the big picture, “this is now a global coalition of the resentful … who are on a crusade against capitalism, the West, Zionism, etc.”
Anti-Semitism bonds Islamists and leftists. Yasmine Mohammed, the author of Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam and president of the nonprofit corporation Free Hearts Free Minds, observed that Akram was active in the British Labour Party: “Both his religious and political communities were united in their hate for Jewish people. He was probably bombarded with messages of hate daily.” In Akram’s case, that incendiary speech fueled dangerous actions.
With some distance from that perilous Shabbat, it’s worth considering Colleyville’s numerous lessons.
First, the federal government should improve security coordination with American allies.
Second, the federal government should review prevention plans. That could include appointing a federal domestic anti-Semitism czar and ensuring that local law enforcement has the training and resources necessary to foil future attacks.
Third, there should be more discussion about the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that motivated Akram. These lies are deeply embedded in global cultures and flood the Internet. They must be debunked repeatedly by credible voices in traditional media and on social media, in many languages, in every relevant community.
Fourth, Abdul-Hussain advised, “What Americans should insist on is freedom of expression anywhere and anytime, lest Islamists use ‘respect’ and the imagined ‘Islamophobia’ to censor those who try to confront anti-Semitism within Islamism.”
Fifth, Mansour said this problem must be fought “with truth and light. We must not play along in any of these games. The Jewish community needs to insist that it will not foot the bill for the new Jerusalem or utopia. The Jewish community also needs to continue looking for real … Muslim voices to help with this and to start taking this seriously.”
Finally, Mohammed observed: “You can’t only put out one fire and let the others rage because they share your politic[s] … or because they are a religious group. Because in the end, fires like the one that happened at Beth Israel in Dallas will be inevitable, and you will be complicit.”
While those four Texan Jews, including the congregation’s rabbi, are now safe, their well-being wasn’t a given. It’s imperative to implement changes to prevent future Colleyvilles because as Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City and Monsey remind us, not all attacks have upbeat endings.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former U.S. State Department speechwriter, is now an independent writer in metro Washington.
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