The Murder of a French Teacher Demonstrates the Limits of Enlightenment Optimism

Oct. 30 2020

France currently finds itself in the midst of a wave of jihadist terrorist attacks, which began with the beheading of a school teacher who, in a discussion of freedom of expression, had shown his students caricatured drawings of the founder of Islam. Having recently read the German Enlightenment thinker Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise—in which a Christian knight, a Muslim prince, and the eponymous wise Jew of the title learn to look past their disagreements over religion—Michael Weiner shares some thoughts on the French situation:

In his play, Lessing offers us an idealistic model of how people of faith might work out their differences by acknowledging our essential equality and shared truths. We have made enormous progress in the last 200 years in easing inter-Christian tensions and granting Jews throughout the West equal rights and respect. But as the world grows more connected, and people of vastly different backgrounds are thrown together, this grand project will become harder to sustain, and demands an infusion of good ideas and constructive action.

Avowedly secular, post-Christian Western Europe was once a bastion of Lessingian tolerance, but a history teacher was just butchered in Paris. I’m not exactly sure how to prevent that, but I’m pretty confident our terrorist wouldn’t have been convinced by [Nathan’s] parable about rings and a rousing speech arguing that deep down, we are all the same.

Unlike Lessing and Enlightenment reformers with big dreams, my instincts tend toward admitting ignorance and setting more attainable goals. It will take a long time before France arrives at the kumbaya moment with which the play finishes. True wisdom would mean acknowledging that this problem is hard and that no matter how enlightened we think our society is, extreme forms of religion will continue to disrupt our hopes for a perfectly peaceful world.

Read more at Forward

More about: Enlightenment, European Islam, France, Radical Islam, Terrorism

How Israel and Its Allies Could Have a Positive Influence on the Biden Administration’s Iran Policy

Nov. 25 2020

While the president-elect has expressed his desire to return the U.S. to the 2015 nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic, this should not in itself cause worry in Jerusalem; it has never been the Israeli government’s position that a deal with Tehran is undesirable, only that the flaws of the deal negotiated by the Obama administration outweighed its benefits. Thus Yaakov Amidror, Efraim Inbar, and Eran Lerman urge Israel to approach Joe Biden’s national-security team—whose senior members were announced this week—to urge them to act prudently:

To the greatest extent possible, such approaches should be made jointly, or in very close coordination with, Israel’s new partners in the Gulf. These countries share Israel’s perspectives on the Iranian regional threat and on the need to block Tehran’s path to nuclear weapons.

For Israel, for Iran-deal skeptics in Washington, and for her partners in the region, the first operational priority is to persuade the incoming U.S. national-security team to maintain full leverage on Iran. Sanctions against Iran should not be lifted as a “gesture” without a verified Iranian return to the status quo ante (at the very least) in terms of low-enriched-uranium stockpiles and ongoing enrichment activities.

In parallel, there may emerge a unique opportunity to close ranks with the French (and with Boris Johnson’s government in London) on the Iranian question. On several issues (above all, the struggle for hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean, against Turkey), Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi, and Paris now see eye-to-eye. On Iran, during the negotiations leading to the [deal] in 2015, the position of France was often the most robust. In 2018, President Macron was willing to reach an operational understanding with Secretary of State Pompeo on [key issues regarding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities].

Last but certainly not least, it should be clear to the incoming U.S. national-security team that any attempt to negotiate must be, can be, and (as far as Israel is concerned) firmly will be backed by a credible military threat.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: France, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, US-Israel relations