British Prime Minister David Cameron gave an enormously important speech in Munich last week. He began by stating a basic fact, which is nevertheless seldom mentioned in polite Western company: the overwhelming majority of terrorism around the world is committed in the name of Islam. To which he added another uncomfortable truth: Much of that terrorism in Western countries is homegrown.
None of the familiar explanations for that terrorism, said Cameron, can explain Islamic terrorism – not poverty, not grievances about Western armies in Moslem lands. Many of Britain's homegrown terrorists, he noted, have been solidly middle-class and university graduates. Indeed the university campuses are where much of the radicalization process takes place.
At least with respect to Britain's homegrown terrorists, Cameron laid the blame on the doctrine of state multiculturalism, which has "encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream." Multiculturalists view the state as little more than an amalgam of the various separate communities living within its borders. In the multiculturalist model, national culture, shared ideals, even a common language have no place.
Multiculturalism has resulted, Cameron charged, in "tolerance" being shown to minority cultures that would never be shown to deviants of Anglo-Saxon stock. "When a white person holds objectionable views," said Cameron, "we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn't white, we've become too cautious – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them." He gave forced marriage in Muslim communities as an example of a practice to which authorities had too long turned a blind eye. He also called for a ban on public monies and access to public-funded institutions to those who question democracy and those who encourage separation over integration into the larger society. To the charge that such actions stifle freedom speech, Cameron responded, "Would you advocate inaction if Christian fundamentalists who believed that Muslims are the enemy were leading prayer groups in our prisons?"
Cameron also rejected the distinction between those who seek the imposition of Sharia law, but do not advocate violence to achieve that goal, and those who openly justify terrorism against the infidels. The former are the fellow travelers of the latter he argued, as he called for a cut-off of funding for "organizations that seek to present themselves as the gateway to the Muslim community [and] are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism." He noted that the radicalization process usually proceeds by stages so that those initially involved with fellow-traveling organizations, which do not specifically advocate violence, often move on to the second category.
On the positive side, Cameron advocated a number of practical steps. The first was ensuring that immigrants speak the language of their new home and are educated in elements of a common culture and curriculum. And he spoke of a two-month program of National Citizen Service for 16-year-olds, as another means of forging a common national identity.
In a European context, there can be little question that Cameron's speech was a highly positive development, heralding a stiffening of the collective European resolve and a determination to preserve European culture built up over centuries from assault by Islamic extremism. In response to Cameron's speech, Daniel Pipes, one of those most engaged in awakening the West to the dangers of Islamic extremism, announced his optimism that Europeans are finally awakening to the Islamist threat at the gates, and in many cases within. Pipes noted that even before Cameron's speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also pronounced multiculturalism to have "utterly failed," and pointed to the dramatic growth of major political parties in Western Europe whose primary focus is on immigration and the Islamic threat.
But it as has so often been the case in recent years, policies and attitudes that develop in reaction to the threat of radical Islam have potentially large consequences for Torah Jews as well. The Swiss ban on minarets, and laws forbidding or restricting the wearing of the jihab in a number of Western European countries, including France and Belgium, reflect, for instance, a general decline in sympathy for claims for accommodation to religious belief.
A reaction against multiculturalism would not have too many immediate implications for Torah Jews in America. Multiculturalism is less engrained in America than Europe. And American Torah Jews are, in general, well integrated into American life. They fit well into the mosaic of diverse faith communities in America, which has a long tradition of accommodation to religious liberty claims based on the Constitution's Free Exercise Clause. American Torah Jews seek no privileges not granted to other religious communities, and generally accept the minimal curricular requirements established by the various states.
The situation is far less clear-cut in Israel, however, where the chareidi community has long claimed for itself a large measure of cultural autonomy – for instance, freedom from any state interference in chareidi education. To the extent that the chareidi community has tried to make its case l'ta'amam, i.e., according to the assumptions of the secular community, it has often done so in quasi-multicultural terms. And indeed it has, on occasion, found allies on the Left who are sympathetic to multiculturalism.
It should not escape our notice that two of the concrete steps outlined by Cameron involve two of the most contentious issues in Israel: a common curriculum and some form of universal national service.
Have you ever been to an event that left you with a smile on your face and generally more optimistic about the future of the world? I was this week. The occasion was the first face-to-face meeting between close to 100 pairs of telephone chavrusos under the auspicies of the Kesher Yehudi organization. Each chavrusah pairs a university student or recent graduate with a chareidi woman.
The excitement of the pairs who were meeting for the first time was palpable. Inevitably that meeting was accompanied by big smiles, hugs, and, in not a few cases, tears. Long after they met, many of the chavrusos sat together holding hands or with their arms around one another's shoulders.
A number of the chavrusos took the stage to talk about one another. In almost every case, both confessed that they had been filled with misgivings before the first talk. The secular women worried that they would find nothing in common with their chareidi partner, or that their questions would be ill-received; the chareidi women feared that they would not know what to say. Yet, in almost every case, the weekly learning sessions, had turned into long discussions about anything and everything. One young woman said, "Within minutes all my doubts about what I had gotten into vanished."
What struck me most was the way the chavrusos talked about one another with such admiration and respect – not just the students about their mentors, but the chareidi women about their partners and all the special qualities they had discovered in them.
Mrs. Tzila Schneider, the head of Kesher Yehudi, related how when a fire recently gutted her home on the day of her son's bar mitzvah, and resulted in both she and her husband being briefly hospitalized, the first person to appear on the scene to help was her chavrusah, Julia, a medical student from Beersheba.
I cannot say much about the religious development of the secular students, except to note that most dressed in modest fashion for the occasion. One young woman who works for the police, described her efforts, with the encouragement of her chavrusah, to strengthen herself in a very rough environment. But almost every secular participant described her discovery of a entire world she previously knew nothing about.
What put the tears in my eyes (along with the smile) was the discovery that we – Torah Jews and not yet Torah Jews – can talk to one another, can discover one another's positive qualities, and can form deep bonds of affection. Last Sunday night, a united Klal Yisrael seemed for a moment not just a slogan, but a real possibility.
One result of the recent mass demonstrations in both Tunisia and Egypt has been to call the world's attention to the fact that these are very poor countries, in which a rise in the price of bread is sufficient to leave much of the population on the brink of starvation. Until the bread riots, however, their crushing poverty was never considered worthy of international attention.
Amira Hass, Ha'aretz's reporter on Palestinian affairs, who scarcely ever has a kind word to say about Israel, relates that she was in a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, when one of the employees asked her whether she had just heard what a Tunisian protester said: "The Palestinians' situation is better than the Tunisians – they, at least, have food." Hass replied that an Egyptian solidarity mission to Gaza after Operation Cast Lead had the same reaction: They were astounded by the abundance of food in Gaza, especially fruits and vegetables.
Yet, as Amnon Rubinstein, a former justice and education minister from Meretz, pointed out in the Jerusalem Post, the world is obsessed with the so-called humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but ignores far more serious crises all around the globe. The U.N. has run a humanitarian appeal for Gaza since 2003, and this year seeks $567 million in "emergency" relief. No such campaigns exist for Egypt or Tunisia.
The riots in both countries also called attention to the fact that both pre-revolution Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak's Egypt were brutal autocracies, in which criticism of the government could land one in jail or worse. Yet, as Rubinstein noted, the U.N. Human Rights Council actually praised the human-rights situation in both Tunisia and Egypt last year, even as it passed 27 resolutions condemning Israel.
Yet Arab citizens of "apartheid Israel" have far greater freedom of speech and the press, not to mention the right to vote for parties of their choice, than those of any Arab country. And while the world bleats on about the Palestinian right of "self-determination," it ignores the fact that no Arab in any Arab majority country enjoys self-determination in Western terms.
Could all those who profess to be so moved by the "suffering" of the residents of Gaza and concerned about Palestinian self-determination really have another agenda altogether?