Ideally a neighborhood is a small family, a community of people who are kind and sympathetic to one another, who share the common interests of their locality even if they differ in other ways. But just as the vision of the family in Islamic law is that of a community of a man and his slaves rather than a community of love between a man and a woman, so also the ideal neighborhood that Islamic supremacists envision is not exactly the kind of place where you might lean over the fence and have a friendly chat with your neighbor.
We have seen illustrated anew in Syria recently, as Robert Fisk (of all people!) reported last week in the Independent: “The Diab family,” Fisk wrote, “can never return to Maaloula. Not since the Christians of this beautiful and sacred town saw their Muslim neighbours leading the armed Nusrah Islamists to their homes.”
“We knew our Muslim neighbours all our lives,” says one Christian whose home was destroyed. “Yes, we knew the Diab family were quite radical, but we thought they would never betray us. We ate with them. We are one people.”
The Christians, he said, had even looked after the wives and children of local jihad fighters while they were away:
A few of the Diab family had left months ago and we guessed they were with the Nusra. But their wives and children were still here. We looked after them. Then, two days before the Nusra attacked, the families suddenly left the town. We didn’t know why. And then our neighbours led our enemies in among us.
This was an ugly shock, because previously “there was a kind of coexistence between us. We had excellent relations. It never occurred to us that Muslim neighbours would betray us. We all said ‘please let this town live in peace – we don’t have to kill each other’. But now there is bad blood. They brought in the Nusra to throw out the Christians and get rid of us forever. Some of the Muslims who lived with us are good people but I will never trust 90 percent of them again.”
Their Muslim friends and neighbors turned on the unbelievers and killed them – and this was not a singular occurrence. The June 19, 2013 edition of the New York Times carried a photo of a woman named Ibtisam Ali Aboud, with the caption saying that “her husband, a Syrian Alawite, was killed by his Sunni friend.” This also illustrated how the call to jihad can override all existing loyalties – even a longstanding friendship between an Alawite and a Sunni. There are innumerable other examples, such as Boston Marathon jihad bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s apparent throat-slitting murder of his Jewish “best friend” on September 11, 2011.
Similarly, on August 6, 2003, in Houston, a Muslim named Mohammed Ali Alayed slashed the throat of his friend Ariel Sellouk, who was Jewish. Alayed had broken off his friendship with Sellouk when he began to become more devout in his Islam. On the night of the murder, Alayed called Sellouk, and they went out to a bar together before going back to Alayed’s apartment, where Alayed slit Sellouk’s throat, nearly beheading him. The two were not seen arguing at the bar. Although Alayed killed Sellouk after the fashion of jihadist murders in Iraq and went to a mosque after committing the murder, authorities said that they “could not find any evidence that Sellouk…was killed because of his race or religion.”
But there wasn’t anything else that explained why he was killed, and in light of Alayed’s religious awakening, it could not be discounted. However, authorities most likely simply weren’t aware of this phenomenon of Muslims suddenly turning on longtime non-Muslim friends and killing them. Yet it was nothing new. Fisk notes that “twenty years ago, identical tragedies destroyed the villages of Bosnia. Now they are being re-enacted in Syria.”
And it goes back longer than that as well. An anecdote from the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century:
Then one night, my husband came home and told me that the padisha had sent word that we were to kill all the Christians in our village, and that we would have to kill our neighbours. I was very angry, and told him that I did not care who gave such orders, they were wrong. These neighbours had always been kind to us, and if he dared to kill them Allah would pay us out. I tried all I could to stop him, but he killed them — killed them with his own hand. (Sir Edwin Pears, Turkey and Its People, London: Methuen and Co., 1911, p. 39)
To speak about instances when Muslims betrayed their non-Muslim friends and neighbors in today’s environment is to commit the cardinal sin of “Islamophobia,” and to imply that all Muslims will someday turn on their non-Muslim friends and neighbors – just as Islamic spokesmen in the U.S. constantly level the false charge that anyone who opposes jihad terror is attacking all Muslims.
However, to remain silent about it would be to double the betrayal of the Christians of Maaloula. They found out to their sorrow recently that the phenomenon of Muslims suddenly turning on and attacking their Christian friends and neighbors was not “bigotry,” but all too real. They deserve support, and an honest discussion of what happened in Maaloula — and of what can be done by both Muslims and non-Muslims to prevent it from happening in the future. But if anything is in short supply in the public discourse these days, it is honesty.