Save Dushanbe's synagogue

Free nations must show that anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and anti-Western acts will provoke outrage.

conservative synagogue88 (photo credit: )
conservative synagogue88
(photo credit: )
As the government of Tajikistan was busy demolishing the only synagogue in Dushanbe, UNESCO, the international body designated with preventing such atrocities, told this newspaper that it would make another appeal in the near future. It had better hurry. As far as we know, the government has already destroyed some structures in the complex surrounding the synagogue, but not yet the synagogue itself. It may not be too late to save the synagogue, which is not only a historic structure, but the only communal building of Dushanbe's small Jewish community. The Dushanbe synagogue is over a century old, about as old as the gold-domed Shi'ite mosque recently destroyed by terrorists in Iraq. The attack in Iraq was rightly condemned by leaders around the globe. That was a terrorist attack that took Iraqi lives, not to mention possibly heralding a civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis in Iraq. In Tajikistan it is the government itself, in a premeditated fashion and in defiance of international protests, that has embarked on the destruction of a religious site - to create gardens for a new presidential palace. The government offered the impoverished Jewish community some empty land on the outskirts of the city, but did not offer any compensation that would allow the community to rebuild the synagogue. In any case, the location suggested is not within walking distance from where the Jewish community lives. Even if a more appropriate location were found, "the Jewish community in Dushanbe is very small and very old. They are very, very poor and therefore do not have the ability to invest money and build a new synagogue." a Jewish Agency official explained. Why, however, should they have to? A government that can afford a lavish presidential palace, with flowing gardens, should be able to preserve or, at worst, sensibly relocate a historic landmark so that the Jewish community in the city is not harmed. Judging by its actions, the Tajikistan government does not fully understand what UNESCO wrote in its protest on this matter in 2004: destroying the synagogue would be "in contradiction with international standards for the protection of cultural heritage." The World Jewish Congress also wrote at that time, stating that this act "will effectively put an end to Jewish life in Tajikistan and will strike a severe blow to the cause of Muslim-Jewish mutual respect and coexistence." UNESCO spokesman Gadi Mgomezulu told The Jerusalem Post that his agency "would be following up very closely," though it had never received a reply to its first appeal. The government of Israel should protest directly to Tajikistan and request that the synagogue be protected, not destroyed. Our UN ambassador and foreign minister should approach UNESCO and urge that organization to take this case more seriously than sending one letter and doing nothing when there was no response. It would also be helpful if other nations that care about the preservation of cultural heritage, religious freedom, and respect for minority communities were to weigh in through their embassies and foreign ministries. As we have seen recently in the case of the cartoon jihad, Muslims take slights against their religion seriously. There are, of course, other ways to express opposition than burning down the embassies of the Danish government, which had nothing to do with the publication of cartoons in an independent newspaper, which in any case hardly warranted a violent response. But just as it is possible to overreact to religious slights, it is possible to underreact as well. This is particularly true in light of the hypocritical Muslim response to cartoons that offend Muslims, while vicious anti-Semitic (and anti-American) cartoons are common in the Muslim world. Free nations must demonstrate that anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and anti-Western acts will provoke outrage, not soul searching on the part of the West. Acts filled with hate, or simply disdain, for non-Muslim sensibilities should have diplomatic consequences that reverberate widely in the West, as offenses to Muslims spread in the Muslim world. Stopping the destruction of the Dushanbe synagogue would be a good place to begin.