Only love will heal scars of hatred

October 27, 2000

I AM used to receiving hate mail. Once it arrived in coloured envelopes, addressed in blotted, irregular hand-writing, as easy to spot as the plain brown livery of a tax demand.

Or it was lobbed over the gates, wrapped around a stone and secured with nylon string. Or it was pressed into my hand at a show or a book signing, by someone who would not look me in the eye or give their name.

If the mail was persistent, if I started finding three or four of those coloured envelopes, all in the same handwriting, in my postbox every morning for a week, then I might keep a few and pass them on to the police.

But that has happened only once or twice in my whole career. Usually, a hate letter is a momentary eruption, an irrational response to something way outside my own life.

A TV appearance or a newspaper article has brought me into contact with someone I will never meet, at an instant when their mental health is weak.

Hatred which is boiling wildly in a sick mind becomes aimed at me. A week later, the bout of illness over, the letter-writer will probably not even remember what they sent to me. That’s OK — I paid it no mind either.

But a different kind of hate mail is coming now. It is electronic, arriving in almost every batch of email.

It looks no different to the calmer communiques I am receiving from friends and correspondents around the world — with headings like ‘Attack on student fuels tensions’ or ‘Advice to British Jews’.

I start to read. After a line or two, I am hit by a wave of disgust. One was forwarded to me a couple of hours ago. It masqueraded as a ‘press release’ from Anjem Choudary, who styles himself ‘UK leader of Al-Mahajiroun’ and Chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers.

Al-Muhajiroun — slogan: The Voice, The Eyes, The Ears of The Muslims — were banned from a Birmingham community centre for distributing racist leaflets, as the Jewish Telegraph reported earlier this month.

Choudary wrote: ‘‘We urge Jews in the UK and elsewhere not to show any support for the Israeli regime whether verbal, financial or physical, or they may allow themselves to become targets for Muslims everywhere.’’

Choudary echoes the language of Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who is supposedly the Principal Judge of the Shari’ah Court of the UK: ‘‘I warn and advise the Jewish community in the UK to distance themselves from the State of Israel. If you support Israel financially, verbally or physically you will become part of the conflict.’’

Presumably 20-year-old Mayer David Myers, a student at Gateshead Talmudic College, was ‘supporting Israel financially, verbally or physically’ when he travelled on a north London bus through Stamford Hill wearing a yarmulke.

He was stabbed more than 20 times by a man wielding a six-inch knife. Police have charged a suspect with attempted murder. There are 17,000 Jews in Stamford Hill. These families have lived peacefully alongside a Muslim community for many years. Now they must contend with stabbings, attacks on synagogues and the burning of Sefer Torah scrolls.

Like hate letters, these unprovoked and irrational attacks are the foul overflow of sickness — a collective spiritual illness instead of a solitary mental affliction.

The spirits of ordinary Muslim people are under threat from hate, spouted by some of their own religious leaders.

Listen to this extract from a sermon in Gaza, on the day that two Israeli soldiers were slaughtered by a mob. Dr Ahmad Abu Halabita, a former rector of the Islamic University, ranted: ‘‘None of the Jews refrain from committing any possible evil. Jews do not have any moderates or any advocates of peace. They are all liars. They all want to distort truth, but we are in possession of the truth.

‘‘Jews are the terrorists. They are the ones who must be butchered and killed.’’

His sermon concluded: ‘‘Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them.’’

That bloodthirsty incitement to murder is developed directly from the Qu’ran, as the Al-Muhajiroun ‘press release’ makes clear: Allah says, ‘‘And kill them wherever you meet them and turn them out from where they have turned you out.’’ (EMQ 2: 191)

Hatred is a chronic spiritual sickness which cannot sustain itself. Like a serious physical illness, it either burns itself out or it kills the body it is afflicting. But when it burns out, it leaves scars behind. Love is the opposite of hatred but it is not an instant antidote. Hatred cannot be doused by love, just as a flower in the barrel of a gun will not stop up the bullets. But love can be used as balm on the scars of hatred.

I have feared a conflict between Jews and Muslims in Israel for many weeks. The tension was lethal, weeks before Ariel Sharon made his self-serving visit to the Temple Mount.

With hindsight, it is clear that the hatred has been spilling over all year. On New Year’s Eve, 1999, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamanei greeted the West’s new century with a call for the destruction of Israel.

‘‘The hands of the US are fully stained with the blood of the Palestinians,’’ Khamenei told hundreds of thousands of Muslims who heard his sermon at Teheran University.

There was only one possible solution to unrest in the Middle East, he declared: ‘‘Namely, the annihilation and destruction of the Zionist state.’’

Hatred in an individual is mental illness. Hatred within a religion is a deep spiritual sickness. I pray this hatred will quickly burn out, and that our communities will join together to heal the scars.

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