Some 20 years ago, near the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan, I delivered a talk to students at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. about martyrdom. Among the audience, I could identify a majority of Muslim students – women with hijabs and men with beards.
Left: Baruch Goldstein (Source: Falafel Café). Right: Photos from the Yom Kippur War, known to the Arabs as the Ramadhan War (Source: Wikimedia Commons).
Since my past role as Advisor to Countering Terrorism to two Israeli prime ministers was a publicly known matter, I assumed that the large number of Muslim attendees might not bode well, and that they might be attending more to interfere with my talk than to listen.
I began my presentation as follows:
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"The murderer Baruch Goldstein carried out the [Cave of the Patriarchs] massacre [in Hebron on February 25, 1994] on the Jewish holiday of Purim. Goldstein had chosen that specific day because he believed that on this day, God allows Jews to seek vengeance against those who want to kill them, in accordance with the Purim story narrated in the Book of Esther."
I immediately observed signs of shock and disbelief among the listeners. They did not expect that I, a former Israeli intelligence officer and counterterrorism official, would speak in condemnation of Jewish violence against Palestinians.
I continued: "So for Jews, the Book of Esther describes the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar – and the 15th for walled cities – as a day of vengeance."
The looks of disbelief turned into big smiles of satisfaction.
"In Islam, however," I said, "there is a whole month – the month of Ramadhan, which is the month of jihad and martyrdom" (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10508, Ramadan – The Month Of Jihad And Martyrdom).
The smiles in the audience turned into frowns.
After my talk, one hijab-wearing student approached me and said: "But to me, Ramadhan is about fasting and spiritual elevation!" I responded: "And to me, Purim is about wearing costumes, eating hamantaschen, and playing with noisemakers with my children. But for fanatics, these are times for religiously motivated violence."
Next week, March 7-9, is the Jewish holiday of Purim. Two weeks later, the month of Ramadhan begins.
*Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.