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I am learning more than just a language as I study Arabic.

As I had hoped, it is allowing me a peek into a culture and mentality.

For example, the other day I was riding my bike and stopped to say hello to a young Arab man employed by the city as a gardener.

Turns out he is a neighbor of mine. He lives in Jebel Mukabar, which is in ear shot of where I live. I hear clearly (whether I want to or not) the call to prayer each morning from the powerful mosque loudspeakers.

I knew enough Arabic to comment that his village has a bad reputation. Over the years a number of terrorists have come from his village.

He smiled sheepishly and nodded that, yes, they have a bad reputation —but its only a small number compared to the many thousands in the village.

Yes, I acknowledged that fact but went on to ask him, why they are treated as celebrities and their faces adorn the walls of the village?

For example, I said, those of the two killers of my cousin Rabbbi Aryeh Kupinsky, may Hashem avenge his blood.

His answer was interesting.

I thought that there could be no other reason other than that they were simply expressing the feelings of admiration for the deeds. He said that I must understand that if someone speaks badly about another’s relative, it can lead to an endless blood feud. Therefore no one is tainted in public and all must acknowledge their worth—especially after death.

Interesting (warped) idea, but I am not convinced that the “martyrs” are not just simply heroes that in their village.

He further told me that when we see the mothers of the terrorists praise their son and his actions on TV, it is only in order to prevent further bloodshed within the community. He could be making this whole thing up but how do I know?

These are very sensitive people it turns out.

Sensitive to their idea of honor, not to life in it’s own right.

What else can I conclude?

I quizzed him about this idea of honor. I asked if this is the same honor that is responsible for the “honor killings” of so many women by family members.

They have not yet been able to escape this curse.

I asked him, is this what Islam teaches?

He emphatically said, no! However, he said “true Islam” has been taken over by usurpers who speak in the name of Islam to do things that are clearly “against religion.”

I have heard this claim many times before and yet I have not met the Muslim who will do anything about it.

All I see and hear are the “usurpers” in every corner of the Muslim world.

I asked him (and now his friend who joined us) what has the Muslim world, from Morocco to Pakistan and beyond, given the world besides strife and backward government and societies? They both, embarrassingly agreed—nothing.

In contrast, tiny Israel, constantly embattled, offers the world endless contributions. Again, they agreed.

I observed that they are the only Muslims in the entire Muslim world who lives with dignity and freedom. Again, they agreed.

I did not mean to make life hard for them but I wanted to know if we could have an honest exchange.

We parted, as they returned to work. I wondered if anything that was discussed would make a difference in how they might teach their own children or would they find it easier and safer to go with the flow, to stand by as the current Muslim narrative speaks for them. I wondered if when they returned to their homes today they would look at the faded photos of the “shahids”(martyrs/terrorists) who butcherd cousin Aryeh while praying in his synagogue, in perhaps a different light.

Perhaps I am expecting of them what would seem logical and right to me but I will never know.

Shalom Pollack leads Shalom Pollack Tours in Jerusalem. He can be reached for comment at Shalompollack613@gmail.com.


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