Millions of people around the world, including myself, spent much of our Saturday with our thoughts and prayers focused on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. As the events were unfolding, my thoughts went towards the anti-Semitic mass shooting that took place on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh. The perpetrator killed 11 Jewish worshippers and wounded six others, including several Holocaust survivors. It was the deadliest attack to date on the Jewish community in the United States.
One of the differences between this recent siege in Texas and Pittsburgh was that the jihadist terrorist that was carrying out the siege had not yet killed anyone; rather, he had taken members of the congregation, including the rabbi, as hostages and he had political demands. He was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui (dubbed “Lady Al-Qaeda”), who is being held at a nearby federal prison and serving an 86-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2010 of attempting to attack U.S. soldiers and having ties to Al-Qaeda.
As the siege unfolded and after intense hostage negotiations, the victims were rescued, and it was clear that the terrorist had no intention of being taken alive. He was shot and killed by law enforcement.
The BBC reported “Terrorist Hostage Stand-Off Not Related to the Jewish Community-FBI,” and as I read this, I just sat there in dismay, and then my shock turned to anger. The attack took place in a synagogue during Shabbat services, and a rabbi and members of his congregation had been taken hostage. How could the siege not have anything to do with Jews? And why did this person choose a synagogue as his target and not somewhere else?
The answer to that may lie in the following points:
Aafia Siddiqui, the terrorist who is incarcerated, herself was a rampant anti-Semite who claimed that the case against her was a Jewish conspiracy. She told her judge she didn’t want Jews in the jury “if they have a Zionist or Israeli background.” She demanded that all prospective jurors be DNA-tested and excluded from the jury at her trial “if they have a Zionist or Israeli background.” The starting point for this conspiracy theory is that it is the fault of Jews that she is in prison.
The second point is that it is open season to be anti-Semitic these days and call Jews the enemy for causes around the world, especially those that affect people who may happen to be Muslim. An example of this is a recent speech by Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), at an event hosted by the American Muslims for Palestine. She openly called for Muslims to oppose “Zionist Jews” and included synagogues in her rant claiming that “they are not your friends.” Her speech was laden with textbook anti-Semitic tropes. CAIR is regarded by some as the largest Muslim civil-rights organization in the United States, and if their directors can spew this kind of bile. then is it any wonder that ordinary Muslims follow on from their views and take matters into their own hands?
The third point is that anti-Semitism is rife among politicians amongst Muslim majority countries, and they are quite happy to sprout the topes on mainstream media. Take the example of a top Pakistani diplomat, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who on CNN claimed that Jews have “deep pockets” and “control the media,” and that is the reason that Israel are supposedly winning the PR war when it comes to Israel and Palestine.
There are numerous further points that I could cite, but the reality is that the synagogue in Texas was selected by the terrorist because it is Jewish. When directors of large “civil rights” organizations and leading Muslim politicians lay the blames for all of society’s ills at the feet of Jews, radicalized Islamist terrorists are going to select Jewish institutions as what they call “legitimate targets.”
It transpired that the terrorist was from my home country, the United Kingdom, and traveled thousands of miles to carry out this attack against Jews in a synagogue. Why did he do this, and what inspired him to do so?
These questions will be answered in due course, but when the FBI and the BBC (among others) make claims that the incident has nothing to do with the Jewish community, they are being offensive, insensitive and just plain wrong. The person that the terrorist wanted to be released is anti-Semitic; the target was a synagogue; leading civil-rights organizations claim that synagogues are the enemy and should be opposed; and leading Muslim diplomats are openly anti-Semitic on mainstream media. How much more needs to happen before the media and others acknowledge that it has something to do with the Jewish community?
Haras Rafiq is the interim managing director of ISGAP (Institute for Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy) and a trustee of the UK Charity Muslims Against Antisemitism. He has been a counter-extremism and counter-terrorism expert since 2004.