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“Your Hate for Everything I am Brings Darkness to My World”

Dear Mahmoud (if I may), I thought of you recently. I was at my cousin’s house for a Hanukkah celebration (you know, the Jewish holiday celebrating freedom and liberation from oppression, a topic I know is important to you) in … Read More

By / January 25, 2007

Dear Mahmoud (if I may),

I thought of you recently. I was at my cousin’s house for a Hanukkah celebration (you know, the Jewish holiday celebrating freedom and liberation from oppression, a topic I know is important to you) in Los Angeles, California, a place that you must also know well given that it’s the largest Persian community outside Iran. My cousin, who is Jewish, is married to an Iranian Muslim.

You must find that difficult to imagine, but in my world of cosmopolitan California, it’s the beautiful standard. Our huge family celebrates Passover and Hanukkah as well as Eid together—although to be honest, my Muslim relatives are not very observant, and they sometimes forget exactly when Eid falls. Jews in America who don’t practice the religion often call themselves, half-jokingly, “bad Jews,” so we call my cousins “the bad Muslims.” And they like to drink. A lot. So that really does make them bad Muslims.

I was there with my husband (sic—this is not a translation error, Mahmoud. I am a man married to a man) and daughter (also not a translation error, although no, neither of us has a womb) and the house was packed. The Hanukkah party was catered by the best Persian caterer in all of Los Angeles. Food and drink overflowed.

I’m the most religious one in my family. Had it been my celebration, we might have sat down to tell the story of Hanukkah and spent a little more time doing the rituals that Jews have been doing on the holiday for about 1800 years. We did, however, light the Hanukkah candles, illuminating the physical darkness that comes early in winter time. But mostly we just talked, exchanged presents, learned a little bit about the holiday, and celebrated.

It was about 10 pm and the din rose to a feverish and exhausting peak, so I stepped into another room and sat down for a moment of quiet reflection. And there, as I was looking at their bookshelf, I thought of you. Yes, Mahmoud, an American gay Jewish intellectual celebrating Hanukkah with his husband, daughter, and Jewish-Muslim family in Los Angeles thought of you.

On the top shelf, next to the trashy novels and other popular fiction, sat a Torah, the first five books of Moses, the prophet near and dear to both you and me. Next to the Torah sat a Koran. There they were, the holiest books in Judaism and Islam sitting perched on a bookshelf in my cousin’s house beneath the mountains of gift wrap from the recently wrapped presents.

I’m pretty sure that neither my birth cousin, the Jewish one, nor my in-law, the Muslim one, has cracked open those books in a while (I could see a little dust on the jackets). But as I sat there staring at the Torah and Koran nuzzled up together on that bookshelf, my eyes actually welled up at the transcendent experience that was taking place in that house, 8,000 miles and worlds of vision away from the image of the world you have been projecting to me since you became president.

Mahmoud, my eyes teared up because I discovered something as I stared at that Torah and Koran and listened to the sounds of our Hannukah party. I realized that the life being celebrated in that house illuminated the darkness that so many leaders have brought into the world. I’m sorry to say in such a personal letter, Mahmoud, that I count you among those leaders. Your anger and hate for everything I am and do brings darkness to my world.

But at the party of my family of Jews married to Muslims, men married to men, with all of them drinking, stuffing their faces, and finding joy in one another's company, I had a taste of gan eden, of the way the world will look when it finds peace.

I’d invite you over to my cousin’s house to see for yourself what gan eden can look like, but I don’t think the meat is hallal.

Wishing you light in this darkest time of year,

Dr. David Shneer

Next: Remember to keep the fun in fundamentalism! 

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