As we learn more about the attack on a Colleyville synagogue, a renewed call to clarity seems in order: We must identify antisemitism, and we must remain vigilant in the face of terrorism.
Once the hostages were freed from Congregation Beth Israel late Saturday, the FBI said the “hostage taker’s demands were specifically focused on issues not connected to the Jewish community,” The Associated Press reported. It seemed to downplay an attack that targeted a Jewish congregation.
By Monday, the FBI shifted to specifically identifying the attack as “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
There can be no mistake that Malik Faisal Akram’s act was driven by antisemitism. While holding four Jewish people hostage, he demanded the release of a convicted terrorist, Aafia Siddiqui, who is being held in a federal prison in Fort Worth.
Akram made his demands in a synagogue, a holy place of worship to the Jewish community, on their Shabbat. He also made one of the hostages, the congregation’s rabbi, call Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, senior rabbi at New York’s Central Synagogue and a leading figure in Reform Judaism, because “he wanted to use her influence to secure release of convicted terrorist.”
And he may not have been acting alone. Police in Britain have arrested two teenagers in connection with the attack, raising the specter of organized antisemitic terrorism.
Even if Akram’s demand was not specifically related to Jewish issues, this was an attack on the Jewish community nonetheless. Antisemitic attacks continue, and we must identify them to combat them.
The fact that synagogues, mosques, churches, and other similar institutions are increasingly, commonly seen as “soft targets” underscores the ongoing need for them — and all of us — to remain vigilant about our safety with as much personal responsibility as we can muster. Congregants at Beth Israel had undergone security training, which did eventually aid in their escape.
“In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” “Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said in a written statement. ‘Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself.’”
Speaking out against violence is important. But there will always be evil people in the world, bent on hurting others, particularly religious people. In the Bible, even King David, a man after God’s own heart, had slain more enemies than his great predecessor, King Saul. Likewise, where there is evil, the rest of us must be prepared to fight it.
Religious organizations and other soft targets should consider security personnel, allowing concealed weapons (as allowed by state law) and complete training for situations just like this.
We must stand with the Jewish community and all faiths who have the right to unabashedly worship in this country. And we must resolve to protect ourselves until evil is thwarted.