I've been through the museum countless times, and the sight of these scrolls and the thought of so many other such scrolls that were completely destroyed in the violence of Kristallnacht still tears me apart. Sure, the frightening images of the human toll of the Holocaust -- such as the lifeless piles of death camp victims and emaciated survivors -- cut me to the core. But there's something about the desecration of a Torah that leaves me literally weak kneed and overcome with despair.
I suppose there are many reasons I react this way. It is not only because the Torah is the spiritual and intellectual heart of the Jewish historical and theological narrative, which we are duty-bound to read over and over and which has kept the Jewish nation going, even when the odds of our survival were about nil.
The other reason is that the deliberate destruction of something so dear to a people -- there is nothing more precious in a Jewish house of worship -- is really a symbol act of violence against the entire community. In that sense, it is an act of terrorism.
The targets of terrorism are not only those who are immediately harmed by its unthinkable violence. It is also the larger community from which the victims come. The attacks on September 11 were so frightening, for example, not only because thousands of people lost their lives and countless others had their lives upended in the aftermath. Americans -- and I would argue citizens of many others nations -- hundreds or thousands of miles away from the carnage, with no personal connection to the victims were also deeply shaken.
Why? Because the terrorists chose their targets carefully: some of the highest-profile symbols of our nation and they left everyone with the feeling that, but for the grace of God, it could have been them in one of those towers, or in that ring of the Pentagon or on that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. (Remember how that felt?)
That's the way terrorism works and why it wreaked such a tremendous psychological toll on this country. It's also why our society suddenly after September 11, 2001, began transforming itself in a multitude of ways -- most notably with heightened security procedures at airports, public buildings, international borders and critical infrastructure facilities. We were scared -- still are.The plans by Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., to burn Korans next Saturday, September 11, is an act of terrorism. They will create a real state of fear, which is what terrorism strives to do. Especially given surging protests around the U.S. against the presence of mosques, demagogic demonstrations of anti-Islamic bigotry from some high-profile public figures, and rising public opinion against Islam , Muslims in America have cause to be terrified by the sight of a deliberate assault on their sacred book.
There's more than a little irony here that someone would commit terrorism on the very day this nation remembers the most disastrous act of terrorism on our soil. Just to show how bizarre the Dove World Outreach Center is, though, its website features a blog posting that offers "Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran." None of the 10 reasons states it is in remembrance of the tragegy of September 11, which makes you wonder why this organization chose that day to burn Korans. But the reasoning is strange, vile and delusional, suggesting a willful misunderstanding of Islam and its holiest book. "We are using this act to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful," the post declares. What the hell kind of a theology is this?
Right now, less than a week before the Dove World Outreach Center plans to carry out this act of terror, there have been some groups and leaders who have spoken out against the planned burning of Korans (see this and this, for example). But everyone of decency -- and even those who have their own misgivings about Islam -- must speak up, early and often. We must stop treating this another of the bizarre freak shows that our circus-like news media fixate on and more as a threat to well being of our civilization.
Every society has and can withstand its crackpots and bad seeds -- or, more politely, its social deviants. But only when most of the rest of us show that they're truly deviant and that we're committed to the sustenance of what is good and civil.
When this core is quiet -- or, worse yet, when they seem to join in with and endorse the deviants, which was what made the Holocaust possible -- we are, all of us, in for big trouble.