They seem as unlikely as flowers growing among the rubble of a barren, burned-out war zone.
Groups of Muslims protecting Jews, Christians protecting Muslims, Jews protecting Muslims, Muslims protecting Christians. People of one religion forming a protective barrier around people of another religion—who happen to be a traditional enemy.
Sometimes they form human chains in symbolic demonstrations. Other times, they provide real protection in highly dangerous areas.
Events involving great numbers of people get the most publicity, but there are many more acts on a smaller scale by people who are no less courageous. Our report—which is by no means comprehensive—is meant to be a reminder that humanity can bloom where you least expect it.
Warm Feelings on a Cold Night in Norway
On February 21, Reuters reported that more than 1,000 Muslims formed a symbolic human shield around a synagogue in Norway, chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia.” A group of young Muslims had organized the demonstration, which took place in subzero weather, in response to the recent killing of two people at a synagogue in neighboring Denmark. It was an inspiring spectacle.
Who could not be pleased or inspired by such a thing? The American Hard Right, that’s who. From Breitbart.com:
The weekend’s feel-good story about a Muslim ‘ring of peace’ formed to ‘protect’ Jews at an Oslo synagogue turned out to be a complete fabrication by the mainstream media according to an eyewitness report, local officials, and attendees’ photos.
According to a local eyewitness, only about 20 or so Muslims formed the ‘ring of peace’ around the Oslo synagogue. In fact, pictures from multiple angles show that there wasn’t [sic] enough people to form a ring, so the locals instead formed a horizontal line in front of the synagogue.
“The vast majority were Muslim”
Was Breitbart right? Not according to two leaders of the synagogue, who attended the rally. One, Cantor Eli Zylberman, told a third conservative publication, The Blaze: “The vast majority were Muslim there.” Jewish community board member Michael Gritzman called Breitbart’s claim “nonsense.” He also explained why the demonstrators did not encircle the synagogue: the police did not give them a permit to demonstrate behind the building.
But Breitbart wasn’t finished: “In even worse news, it appears as if the organizer of the Muslim ‘peace ring’ is a virulent anti-Semite, 9/11 truther, a gay-basher, and an Israel-hater… Ali Chishti. ”
This would be true except for one thing: the word “is” should have been “was.” Ali Chishti, who was just one of the organizers, was certainly all the above—back in 2008. Now he says he is ashamed of his comments. He not only has long since apologized, but also established the Facebook group “Urett Avsløres,” or “Injustice Revealed,” which organized the solidarity demonstration.
We applaud these demonstrators, whatever their number, whatever their past, whatever their ethnicity. Here are more inspiring examples:
A Noble Attempt in Denmark
Young Muslims in Copenhagen caught the spark of humanity from the Norwegians. They tried to organize a similar event, but the police would not allow it because of “a specific security assessment of the situation.” But the effort was the thing.
London’s Jews Defend Muslims
In London’s Stamford Hill, home to about 20,000 Jews as well as many Muslims, a neighborhood watch group—the “Shomrim” (Hebrew for guards)—have begun protecting Muslims against hate crimes. The 25 Shomrim patrol the streets in stab-proof vests, armed with advice from local police and a vigilance bred by years of suffering hate crimes themselves.
Now, the victims are Muslim instead of Jews. ”Revenge” crimes, mostly fire bombings of mosques, have increased dramatically since the gruesome murder of a British soldier by Islamic extremists on a London street in 2013. And, because of ISIS’ equally gruesome murders of British citizens in the Middle East, the Shomrim are on high alert.
Dawood Akhoon, a local Muslim Councilor, said the Muslim response to help from the Jewish community was “really good and positive. It’s part and parcel of each of our faiths, we have to take care of our environment and our neighbors.”
I’ll Ride With You
When a jihadi was holding hostages in a Sydney café, fears of reprisals against Muslims grew. One woman noticed a small but distinct sign of that fear. Rachael Jacobs posted a Facebook message saying she’d seen a woman she presumed was Muslim silently removing her hijab. She went on to say:
“I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone’.
Tessa Kum saw the story and tweeted a message that soon resulted in an enormous explosion of good will:
If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule.
— Sir Tessa (@sirtessa) December 15, 2014
Maybe start a hashtag? What’s in #illridewithyou?
— Sir Tessa (@sirtessa) December 15, 2014
The idea was contagious. One after another such offer appeared, giving birth to the I’ll-Ride-With-You movement. Now more than 150,000 tweets have been posted by people announcing their travel plans and offering to accompany anyone who feels uncomfortable traveling alone.
In Egypt, Christians Protect Muslims, Muslims Protect Christians
One Friday in February back in 2011, when Tahrir Square was exploding with protests, counter-protests, gunfire, flames, and confusion, photographers found a few images of sanity: hundreds of Muslims knelt in prayer, surrounded by a ring of Christians protecting them during this vulnerable moment.
On the following Sunday, Muslims returned the favor, protecting Christians as they prayed in a Coptic church.
Pakistanis Say Egyptian Muslims Inspired Them to Protect Christians
On Sept. 22, 2013, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a church in Peshawar, killing more than 80 people and injuring 130 others. A group known as Jundullah claimed responsibility, saying the attack was a protest against American drone strikes.
One week later, in Karachi, hundreds of mostly Muslim Pakistanis formed a human chain in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during mass.
Two weeks later, in Lahore, the same thing happened in front of St. Anthony’s church. Demonstrators carried signs reading “Many faiths, one God” and “One Nation, One Blood.”
These human chains—which consisted of Muslims (Sunni and Shia), Hindus, and even atheists—were organized by Pakistan For All. Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a Karachi lawyer and a member of the group, explained the genesis of the demonstrations:
“We were inspired to do this after seeing Muslims form human chains to protect Coptic Christians in Egypt, when they were being attacked. We wanted to allow our Christian brothers and sisters here in Pakistan to have a moment of peace in church….And of course, we also wanted to send a message to the Taliban and to the Pakistani government. To the Taliban: We disagree with you; to the government: If you don’t take effective measures to protect houses of God, we’ll have to do it ourselves.
The participants were afraid for their own safety, Nasir said. That’s a normal reaction to violence and hatred.
Yet, out of fear grew something unlikely: hope.