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A Yom Kippur Reflection: The Conflict Between Coexistence and the Destruction of Human Life

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By Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier

On the eve of Yom Kippur, a day of prayer, fasting and self-examination, each of us needs to shatter our complacency and narrow the gap between our conscience and our conduct as it relates to American Muslims. Let us acknowledge that ever since the Ground Zero Mosque controversy of 2010 and continuing until today, it has been open season on Muslims in this country. There is no conflict between Islam and the West. There is only conflict between those who embrace coexistence and those who seek to destroy human life. As we write, ads will be going up in New York City subway cars -- which, sadly enough, have been placed there by a Jewish woman named Pamela Geller with a fanatical hatred of Muslims, featuring the slogan; "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

Let us be clear that if someone was to put up billboards on the subway referring to Jews or African-Americans or gay people as savages, there would be an enormous uproar. With all the talk about Ms. Geller's right to free expression, it is inconceivable to me that a judge would rule or that the MTA would accede to a ruling that it is OK to put up ads smearing Jews in such a way. Our community would simply not stand for it. Are we going to sit silently while another relatively defenseless community, is smeared in such a vile way?

Yes, there is a serious problem with Islamist extremism and terrorism and we must be vigilant in fighting those who follow that twisted ideology. But as we have learned firsthand in our work building ties of communication and cooperation with the American Muslim community over the past six years, the vast majority of American Muslims are decent, loyal and law-abiding citizens who want the same things for themselves and their children that the Jews want; to be able to practice their faith freely while simultaneously being proud and productive Americans who contribute to the well-being of the larger society.

When anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, we expect non-Jews of good-will to speak out against it. On this day of reflection and introspection, are we really OK to turn our heads and look the other way when our Muslim brothers and sisters are held up for contempt in such a public way? We believe it is incumbent on each of us to speak out loudly and say it is morally unacceptable to falsely libel all American Muslims or any Muslim as savages and to hold a great religion in contempt.

In that light, we are proud that The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is taking an active role in Shoulder to Shoulder, a coalition of 28 national Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups, who are standing up for American Muslims and upholding basic American values of tolerance, openness, fair play and celebration of diversity. Let us make it clear that the vast majority of Jews do not share Ms. Geller's bigotry, nor accept her equation that support for Israel means hatred of Muslims. The time to raise our voices is now.

Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier are the chairman and president, respectively, of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an organization dedicated to fighting intolerance and promoting understanding between ethnic communities.