Terrorism and Temptation

Jewish Light Editorial

Within hours of one another, two news events with apparent connections to terrorism created headlines last week. They brought with them the temptation to immediately place blame and responsibility for the too-frequent disruptions of our daily lives, but as if so often the case, the rush to judgment was not necessarily warranted.

The incidents — the horrific attack near the Parliament building in London, and the arrest of a Jewish man with dual Israeli and American citizenship in Israel in connection with at least 100 false bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers — alarmed the world. 

In London, the alleged assailant was a man whose given name was Adrian Russell Ajao, who had converted to Islam and adopted the name Khalid Masood. He was identified by authorities as the perpetrator who drove a car into pedestrians, killing at least five and leaving many wounded. He then stabbed to death an unarmed London police officer in what The New York Times described as “Britain’s worst act of terrorism since 2005.”

Many acts of terrorism since the attacks on 9/11 by al-Qaida terrorists have been committed by Muslims belonging to or inspired by al-Qaida or the Islamic State (ISIS), so it may not be altogether surprising that the suspect — who was killed as he continued his rampage — was Muslim.Predictably, ISIS claimed

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responsibility for inspiring the suspect, but a British counterterrorism official told CNN that a direct hand in the attack by ISIS is unlikely.

The London violence led to the typical back-and-forth arguments as to whether the suspect was indeed a member of ISIS, or was inspired by its hateful rhetoric, or was a “lone wolf” acting entirely on his own.  In the same extensive story in Saturday’s New York Times, a Muslim member of Parliament, Khalid Mahmood,

 said, “There is no such thing as a lone wolf.  Maybe he was a single attacker, but he must have had a mentor or a guide,” first to inspire him and then to make him follow through.

The second news story prompted similar speculation. Members of the Jewish community whose lives had been disrupted by months of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in more than 100 cities, including St. Louis, were doubly surprised when the two suspects arrested in connection with the case were not anti-Semites with connection to neo-Nazi groups or the Ku Klux Klan. 

One suspect is Juan Thompson, a former journalist based in St. Louis, who was arrested on charges he threatened Jewish organizations as part of a campaign to frame his ex-girlfriend. Even more stunning was the arrest of Michael Kaydar, a 19-year-old living in Ashkelon in southern Israel who has dual American citizenship. He was being held in connection with a majority of the bomb threats to JCCs in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

The Israeli suspect is said to suffer from a brain tumor that has affected his judgment and caused him to act irrationally in previous incidents. The case is still unfolding as this is written.

Needless to say, the arrest of a Jewish-Israeli suspect in connection with the false bomb threats at JCCs in the United States, including two in St. Louis, has sent shock waves through the Jewish community. Statements by outraged Jewish leaders lumped together the JCC incidents with the desecration of the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City and others in three more communities.

There were those who blamed a “climate of anti-Semitism” stoked by the “alt-right” members of the Donald Trump White House team.  As it turned out, neither of the prime suspects appears to be an anti-Semitic racist, although their actions caused much stress in the global Jewish community.

An Associated Press story notes the similarity of this case to a 1999 incident at Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn., in which medical waste marked with swastikas was left in the synagogue parking lot. That synagogue’s rabbi recalls that the incident prompted an outpouring of support from religious leaders and others. But then, police charged a member of the synagogue, a situation that Rabbi Joshua Hammerman described as “somewhat embarrassing” and “difficult.”

“Difficult” indeed.  In the immediate aftermath of the deadly bombing of an Oklahoma City federal office building in 1995, there was a widespread assumption that the attacker would be a Muslim extremist. The culprit turned out to be Timothy McVeigh, a U.S. citizen and a veteran of the Iraq War who had become an extreme anti-government “survivalist.” 

Rushing to judgment was unwise then, and it is unwise now. These incidents are difficult enough in themselves. Jumping to conclusions before all the facts are known only makes a bad situation worse. In times of stress like the world is experiencing now, getting the facts right is more important than ever.

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