The Lesson in the Death of Yoav Fogel

Quite often, criticism of the Quran is accused of being contextually incorrect, its detractors charged with cherry-picking quotes in efforts to demonize Muslims.  Below is one of those oft-quoted blurbs that Islamic apologists insist is just another of the Quran's messages where the "peaceful" meaning escapes Western critics. 

Observe the Quran, Sura 9, verse 123:

O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.

If there is a message of "peace" in the passage, I certainly cannot discern it, and find it completely understandable that such a conclusion might also elude other Western critics.  While it may be true that millions of Westernized or more civilized practitioners of Islam are able to extraordinarily find the meaning of this passage to be something other than what it clearly states, and though some translations imbue the verse with a more defensive tone, it would be dangerous and foolish to discount or ignore the fact that the Islamic fundamentalist interprets this verse quite literally.  The Islamic fundamentalist believes the infallible words on the pages of the Quran: no more, no less. 

The death of eleven year-old Yoav Fogel and his family illuminates just how literally some Muslim neighbors of Israel take the above passage. As a Jew living in the West Bank, poor Yoav belonged to the ill-fated category of "adjacent disbelievers."  In strict observance to the instruction of the Islamic holy book, "one or two" terrorists infiltrated the settlement of Itamar, entered his home, and brutally butchered Yoav, along with his mother, father, four year old brother, and three month old baby sister. 

The responders to the scene were the first to see the profound context of Yoav's death. They entered the "blood-drenched" room and gazed upon the wall to see a symbol of both his innocence and the love he was brought to believe by his Jewish faith, which so painfully contrasts with the murderous fiends whose faith in Islam could lead them to slaughter an innocent young boy and his family.  A wooden plaque on Yoav's wall reads:

May it be Your will, Lord God and God of our forefathers,
That I love every one of Israel as myself, and
To graciously perform the positive commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself.
May it also be Your will, Lord God and God of my forefathers,
That you cause the hearts of my friends and neighbors to love me fervently, and
That I be accepted and desirable to everyone, and
That I be loving and pleasant, and
That I be gracious and merciful in the eyes of all who see me.

I have no doubt that we Westerners, bound by our unclaimed sensibilities suspiciously similar to those of Christianity, are universally aghast by this horrible tragedy.  But in setting Yoav Fogel's message of tolerance and love against the hateful doctrine his murderers follow, those of us unfettered by the chains of political correctness cannot help but wonder: how can Islamic apologists in the West not see the distinction of right and wrong in the current Middle Eastern conflict surrounding Israel?

In towns and cities across the Middle East, Muslim children are ceremoniously dressed in military garb by their parents, adorned with weapons and fake suicide bombs, in celebration that one day they will destroy the "apes" (7:166) and "pigs" (5:59-60) of Israel, and achieve the "supreme triumph" (9:111) of killing infidels and martyrdom, which is yet more "peaceful" Quranic instruction fundamentalist Muslims teach their children to literally believe as divine law.  Contrast this activity to the prayer that Yoav Fogel was taught by his parents to keep as a constant reminder in his room.  Does this not perfectly encapsulate Golda Meir's message that peace can only be attainable when their Islamic neighbors "love their children more than they hate" the Jews in Israel?

Yoav Fogel was yet another Israeli with the noble desire for peace and love in spite of a deeply rooted, religious hatred that afflicts many of the Muslims that surrounded him.  It is important that we always remain aware that simply being a Muslim does not make one violent, evil, or beyond the hope of coexistence, as our young Yoav has shown us in exemplary fashion.  But it is equally important that we remain vigilant to the unmitigated fact that the literal interpretation and fundamentalist practice of Islam can and often does result in violence and evil.  Because though this heartrending incident is unique in the revelation and contrast it provides, the slaughter of non-Muslims in the name of Islam is only too common, evident in the thousands of acts of Islamic terrorism carried out within the last decade alone. 

And sadly, these crimes far too often go unheralded by our criers in the mainstream media, as I fear may be the fate of young Yoav's tale.

William Sullivan blogs at