The first surprise is that there are 150,000-200,000 Muslims in ice-cold, Lutheran Norway. The second surprise is that somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 Muslims circled around Oslo’s sole Synagogue, thus marking a symbolic protection of Norwegian Jews. The trigger was murders in close-by Denmark. A Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants killed two people at a synagogue in Copenhagen last weekend. The enormous gathering was a rejection of anti-Semitism; it also protested Islamophobia – the visceral assumption that to be Muslim is to support cold-blooded murder. By turning out in great numbers, the Muslims of Oslo not only showed that followers of Islam could be courageously humane, but also created a humane alliance between Muslim and Jew whose very possibility seemed to have been written off the face of current discussions and ideological debate.
As it happened, I read of this striking show of Muslim-Jewish affiliation on the day after flying back to Israel from Cordoba. On my visit I was reminded that this Moorish city was home to Maimonides, and the center of learning for the West roughly from the 6th through the 11th century. Islam preserved Aristotle and algebra and guitars from barbarian, book-burning Christianity, and the rich and civilized citizens of Cordoba gave asylum to bedraggled Christians fleeing hordes of radical and bloodthirsty Christian sects intolerant of differences among Christian.
It’s meaningless to ask whether Christianity is more or less humane than Islam. It’s urgent, not at all meaningless, to challenge those hardened images by which one religion judges another, by which one people condemn another, if only because having hardened, these adversarial images prevent humane accommodation among peoples or religions, whether in thought or practice. Only keeping the memory of Cordoba or Oslo alive – and there should be a commemorative monument at Oslo’s synagogue – is there hope for anything better than continuing blood feuds.