To respond or not to respond — that was the dilemma Jackie Lieberman faced when she received an e-mail recently with a long tirade against Muslims.
Initially, Lieberman told NJ Jewish News, she thought the e-mail was about anti-Semitism in Europe, this time suggesting that Muslims are now facing the kind of prejudice long aimed at Jews. But the Scotch Plains writer and mother of two was horrified when she realized this wasn’t a warning about bigotry; it was actually promoting it.
Other members of her congregation, Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains/Fanwood, also reported receiving the e-mail, a chain letter that has been bouncing around the Internet since at least 2004.
The e-mail was forwarded by a close relative of Lieberman’s, “someone older than me whom I really respect,” she said. It opened with the words: “If this offends your political views, simply delete and move along. Unless you’re completely blind, you will see this is happening in America right now.”
It goes on to quote an article, attributed to “Spanish writer Sebastian Vilar Rodrigez,” which says that six million Jews, “the truly chosen,” were killed in Europe and were replaced by 20 million Muslims “who have blown up our trains and turned our beautiful Spanish cities into the third world, drowning in filth and crime.”
It then lists terrorist acts by Muslims — though none by Christians or Jews — and compares the number of Jews and Muslims who have won Nobel prizes. It ends with the words: “This e-mail is intended to reach 400 million people. Be a link in the memorial chain and help distribute this around the world.”
The e-mail has been cited in hundreds of blogs over the past six years, sometimes approvingly, sometimes not; none provides an original source for the article by “Rodrigez.” The earliest source cited is the Spanish-language website “Gentiuno,” where the article’s author is named Sebastián Vivar Rodríguez, who, it appears, has written only this one article.
Lieberman said, “As I read on, I realized that the author (or authors) agreed with the essay at the beginning — that they think Muslims are ruining Europe and that they are trying to ruin America, too. It just made me sick, knowing that this person I care about sent this to me and all of their friends to ‘warn’ us, and possibly expected me to agree with it. I found it especially upsetting that this e-mail was going around among Jews.”
Fellow congregant Leslie Klieger of Fanwood said she also received e-mails like this a few times, generally from older relatives or friends of her mother.
“I always reply that I find the e-mails offensive and ask them not to send them to me in the future,” she said.
Lieberman said, “I didn’t want to pretend that I had never received it, but I didn’t know how to respond.”
She turned for advice to her rabbi at Temple Sholom, Rabbi Joel Abraham.
Abraham told NJJN he believes such e-mails are sent out of “fear, quite simply, some of it reasonable, some of it excessive.” Asked whether he thinks recipients should respond, he said, “Absolutely — and even if not, we are commanded not to stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds — especially if the stones that are thrown to cause the bleeding come from our own friends and family.”
Abraham suggested two approaches (see sidebar) as ways one might “gently convey what one feels about people spreading such dangerous and hateful communication,” pointing out that not all Muslims are bad and asking to be left out of such mailings, or going into more detail by listing some achievements by Muslims and citing the dangers of judging any group by the behavior of its fanatical members.
Lieberman said, “I ended up sending them the second response he recommended, because I figure that maybe if we point out the flaws in the arguments the e-mail presents, maybe I can change that person’s mind. But I’m not sure they even read it. They never brought it up again, and neither have I.”
Etzion Neuer, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey region, said that e-mails of this kind have increased significantly since 9/11. Part of the problem, he said, was that the Internet makes it so easy to pass on such material with no “editorial discrimination.”
“It’s perfectly appropriate for Jews to express pride about our achievements, but not at the expense of others,” he said. As for the warnings about the impact of Muslim immigration, Neuer added, “There’s nothing wrong with a discussion about legitimate concerns, so long as it’s conducted in a way that is balanced and considered.”
He said recipients could simply delete those they find offensive, or — to discourage the sender from doing it again — he suggested they “send a polite note explaining why you find such e-mails offensive.”