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Religious Terror Is a Problem for All Faiths

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A fourth suspect has been arrested in an ongoing investigation into the murder of several Arabs in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim Neighborhood. The murders, which occurred in the 1990s, appear to have been the work of ultra-nationalist religious Jews who were influenced by the teachings of a racist rabbi, Meir Kahane. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that 25 years ago I, too, considered myself a follower of the charismatic rage-monger, so I know the world about which I write.

The as-yet-unnamed suspect is a friend of Haim Pearlman, who was arrested two weeks ago for a role he played in what is now being called a case of "Jewish terror." If you wonder about my use of quotation marks around the term Jewish terror, I assure you that I do, too. In fact, I used them because that is how the term appears in every story about this case which I have seen, and that's a serious problem.

Placing quotation marks around phrases like Jewish terror or Jewish terrorist is foolish at best and dangerous at worst. If guilty, these men are Jewish terrorists and are guilty of acts of Jewish terror. Religious terror is real, and failing to acknowledge the problem actually makes it worse.

Jewish terror is real, Islamic terror is real, and so is Christian terror. The fact that our own State Department has taken the position that terms like Islamic terrorist and Islamic terror are not to be used is every bit as disturbing as those quotation marks around Jewish terror when describing the investigation into the Mea Shearim murders.

Some will argue that the State Department decision is worse because so many more people die as a result of Islamic terror than as a result of Jewish terror. But if we genuinely believe that every human life is precious -- of infinite value, according to Jewish tradition -- then the numbers issue is irrelevant in this case. The issue is the failure to address a real problem which costs real lives.

When terrorists sit at the feet of religious teachers who goad them into violence, when that violence is experienced by the perpetrators as the fulfillment of a religious obligation, and when they call out the name of God before hitting the plunger or pulling the trigger, that is religious terror, whether those committing it are Muslim, Jewish or Christian. That is how the terrorists see it, and for us to say that we know better than they do about the meaning of their own actions is absurd.

Not only is the current policy of shying away from admitting the truth about religious terror foolish, it is dangerous. One cannot address a challenge that remains unacknowledged. So unless one believes that playing ostrich -- hiding one's head in the sand and assuming that because we ignore the problem it will go away -- is the best course to follow, it's time to switch policies.

We need to admit that faith is like a fire -- it can warm a home or burn it down. We need to simultaneously call out those who use their faiths as destructive fires and also remind people that just because terror is an expression of some people's faith, it is not the only expression of that faith, or even an essential part of it.

Clearly, people who run around explaining that one faith or another is inherently violent, terrorist, or more dangerous that the others don't know much about history. In fact, all three Abrahamic faiths have both shed the blood of others in the name of God, and had their blood shed by others for the exact same reason. But that is all more reason to stop pretending and start addressing the very real problem of religious terror, including Jewish terror when it occurs and Islamic terror when it occurs as well.

We stand at a crossroads and pretending that we do not simply because it is more convenient, simply will not do.

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