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.

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Read more at Forward

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

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship