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Many years ago I was spending my junior year of college at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  During that year I took a course on ancient Near East cultures.  I had grown up studying about the Jewish people.  But it never occurred to me that there were scholars who were devoting their academic lives to the study of other ancient Near Eastern cultures, such as the Sumerians and the Akkadians.  I was fascinated.  It was a whole new world.  Required reading for the course was a book called, “The Ancient Near East,” by James Pritchard.  In this book was a collection of pictures of statues built by the Sumerians and the Akkadians.  Archaeologists have determined that these statues predate the Jewish people.  The statues were that old!  I was also amazed that the statues could have survived for so many centuries.  It was there in Pritchard’s, “The Ancient Near East.”              

By the way, Pritchard’s textbook was written in 1958 and to give you an idea about the cost of textbooks, it cost me the hefty sum of $2.95.  As I write this article I am holding that textbook in my hand.  I had not seen this book for years and years until today.  Why? This morning I was watching a video clip of members of Isis wielding sledgehammers.  To the sound of traditional Islamic chanting, these members of Isis pulverized dozens of priceless statues.  For Isis, such statues are pagan examples of worship and must therefore be destroyed.  To Isis members, it is their responsibility to wipe out anyone who does not conform to their religious standards.  Why would anyone take beautiful ancient artifacts and pulverize them to dust and then turn around and say – this is what God needs for me to do!  Well that is Isis.              

When it comes to Isis we can talk about beheadings and crucifixions and the slave trade.  We can talk about the merciless murders of Christians simply because they were Christian.  And while Isis atrocities pile up we call them names and bomb them just enough to give the impression that we are taking them on.  But you know and I know that we are doing no such thing.              

We know better.  History has taught us what happens when evil is permitted to flourish.  According to the author Graeme Wood – this past September Sheikh Abu Mohammed Al Adnani, the Islamic state’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to “find an infidel and smash his head with a rock.”  He implored Muslims to “poison infidels and run them over with a car and destroy his crops.”  The speech was laced with theological points.  Why? Because the Islamic state is Islamic.  If you name your organization – the Islamic state – it would be logical to believe that the followers of the Islamic state follow their interpretation of Islam.              

Watching a video clip of Isis members destroying priceless ancient artifacts reminded me of that old textbook from my college days.  I pulled it off my bookshelf and opened up to the back and saw almost the exact statues being gleefully destroyed by Isis.  I found the sadness of that to be overwhelming.  It isn’t only the brutality and the senselessness of Isis.  It’s the silence of the west that so profoundly disturbs me.              

Whether it is the growing nuclear Iranian threat or the poison of Isis – the west is at a loss.  No one has stepped forward to lead.  No one has become the moral voice of the west.  Are we waiting for Canada or France or England?  Are we waiting for Egypt or Jordan?  When are we going to wake up and realize that for the mullahs of Iran, a nuclear bomb is a religious obligation?   When are we going to wake up and realize that for Isis, the command to smash in the head of an infidel is a religious obligation?  When are we going to wake up and realize that for Isis, the smashing of the statues of other cultures is a religious obligation?              

It may be politically incorrect for me to say it, but when so many Islamic terrorists spread so much destruction in the name of their religion, then that means we are in the midst of a religious war against Islamic extremism.  Our stubborn unwillingness to call it what it is and to confront who we need to confront, is dereliction of duty and a failure of responsibility.              

Why does the story of Purim end with the defeat of the evil Haman? It’s because Esther and Mordechai are willing to call out Haman for the hater that he is.  At the moment of truth Esther looked into the eyes of the king and said, “The enemy is this evil Haman.  And Haman cringed in terror before the king and queen.” (Ch7V6)  Mordechai and Esther had the courage to call Haman a hater of the Jewish people and in that moment they turned the tables against him.  In order to defeat the Hamans of the world we need a strong and clear voice of conscience and courage.  We need a voice that will wake up the world.  So far that voice is absent.  If Esther and Mordechai had only called Haman a “violent extremist,” who knows if Haman would have ever been stopped.  Political correctness and silence are our two greatest enemies.  In the meantime I am sadly thumbing through my college textbook on the ancient Near East, painfully aware that our silence and inaction is not only painful but dangerous.   Winston Churchill once said that the price of greatness is responsibility.  Perhaps it’s time for us to be great.  Perhaps it’s time for us to take responsibility for what we see going on around us. .


Rabbi Ira Rothstein