Jews, Muslims and the Meaning of Religious Freedom

Efforts to bring Muslims and Jews together in the wake of Donald Trump's victory in the presidential race seem to be gaining some traction.

Lauren Markoe of Religion News Service reported shortly after the election that two major groups, the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America, had formed an alliance "to combat bigotry against Muslims and Jews in the U.S., to highlight each group’s contributions to American society and to protect the rights of other religious minorities."

Now Laurie Goodstein reports in The New York Times that "Jolted into action by a wave of hate crimes that followed the election victory of Donald J. Trump, American Muslims and Jews are banding together in a surprising new alliance." She noted work being done by the Anti-Defamation League, among others:

Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a recent interview: “Jews know what it means to be identified and tagged, to be registered and pulled aside. It evokes very deep emotions in the Jewish community.”

Mr. Greenblatt received a standing ovation when he declared at his organization’s conference in Manhattan last month that if Muslims were ever forced to register, “that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.”

Such efforts need support because, as is often the case when barriers are crossed, extremists on both sides are trying to undo the alliance by harshly criticizing those who participate, as the Boston Globe notes. It takes courage to attempt what these Jewish and Muslim organizations are doing. And as Goodstein writes, there are still plenty of obstacles to this Jewish-Muslim alliance.

But looking at it as the son of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, this unlikely alliance seems natural. The singling out of a religious minority; the smearing of foreigners as criminal; the outpouring of white nationalism at huge, violence-tinged rallies: How can such things be forgotten?

As a Catholic, I have to ask: Where are the American Catholic Church and its related institutions on this?  What do we mean when we talk about religious freedom?

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, gives an answer by omission in a recent Catholic News Service column on the Trump administration and religious liberty:  American Muslims don't figure at all. Given his position as a committee chairman, Lori's remarks reflect on the conference as a whole. 

Compare this  to the way major American Jewish organizations are reacting. 

 

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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