The members of my synagogue are worried. What if the attack had not been in Paris but in London? Not on Charlie Hebdo, but on Private Eye? Not on a kosher supermarket over there, but one over here? Is it still safe to go to synagogue and to send our children to the Religion School, or is it better to stay away and keep our heads down?
How do I help them understand the dreadful events over the last few days, and what should be our response. This is my open letter to them:
First - to carry on as normal - not to suddenly become neurotic - not to turn from being carefree to suspicious - to keep our everyday lifestyle - because adopting a bunker mentality will destroy our lives and relationships much more than any isolated attack.
Second - not to blame Islam for the deranged members among it...nor hold all Muslims responsible for the disturbed Muslims that exist.
Third - not to blame religion in general as the source of all evil - of course there are those who do terrible things in its name - but there are plenty of murderous atheists, with Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Poll Pot leading the way - while we also know that religion can lead to great good in society and many individuals acts of kindess.
Fourth - not to stop the ability of cartoonists and writers to satirise religion... because freedom of speech is one of our key values...and it is not just healthy to have that openness, but it is a vital safeguard and nothing should be immune from criticism, otherwise it would allow abuses to go unchecked.
There are even examples of religious satire in the Bible: as when Elijah tells the prophets of Baal that the reason Baal is not answering their prayers is that he's fallen asleep or gone to the loo and they should shout louder to get his attention (I Kings 18.27).
What marks us as civilised is how we react to offence, and a good example is how the Mormons were not at all pleased with the musical shown in the West End of London 'The Book of Mormon', which poked fun at it - but rather than protest outside or terrorise the actors, they saw it as an opportunity to publicise their faith, took out a full page advert in the programme and invited theatre-goers to come to a Mormon service themselves and make their own mind up. What a mature response!
But if there is no right not to be offended, there is a right not to be physically attacked, and so a piece that incites violence should be banned.
Fifth - carrying on as normal does not mean being complacent, and we have long had a trained security team made up of members who offer both practical security and a visual deterrent. If anyone would like to join the team or find out more, please do contact me.
Sixth - appreciating that we live in a different society from France and with different social trends; although we are not immune from terrible acts (witness the 7/7 London bombings), life in our particular area has been remarkably tolerant and trouble-free....long may it remain so. Working hard at good inter-faith relations is part of that process
None of the above is new, but it's precisely when one's assumptions are challenged by a shocking event, that one needs to not go into panic mode but simply restate the values we hold and from which we will not be deflected.