Last Saturday, on 79th Street in Queens, a compassionate and beloved Imam, Maulama Akonjee, was walking home from Saturday prayers with his friend Thara Uddin. Both were respected members of their community in Queens. Imam Akonjee was to leave in ten days for the wedding of his son in Bangladesh. At 1:55PM, a lone gunman came up and shot the two friends point-blank in the back of the head, killing them both
Yesterday, Jews marked the holiday of Tisha b’Av, a day of reflection and mourning for countless times throughout history that Jews were the targets of hatred and violence. So many horrible events are marked by this day, the destruction of the Second Temple all the way up through Krystallnacht, the “night of broken glass” in which Nazi-orchestrated mobs of Germans beat up Jews, dragged them from their homes and businesses, broke windows and set Jewish buildings on fire.
When the Holocaust ended in 1945, we declared as a people and as a world, “never again.” The world has broken this promise many times: in the Sudan, in Yugoslavia, in the USSR and in China, just to name the most prominent examples. Politicians in those countries sought power by scapegoating ethnic and religious minorities. They incited violence, which turned into mass slaughter.
Too often, the inciters got off scot-free. Slobodan Milosevic never admitted wrongdoing for the soldiers and civilians killed on his watch; he died awaiting trial. His accomplices mostly survived, and several of them recently endorsed Donald Trump for president. It sounds like a sick joke. But these are the times we live in.
In our city last Saturday, two lives were taken by a political force that feeds off these same dark angels of human nature. Who pulled the trigger is, of course, important. But when politicians incite violence, when hatred is approved and encouraged at the top, the violence becomes inevitable.
As we remember Tisha b’Av, I urgently call on my fellow Jews, all Christians, Hindus, Muslims and those of other faiths and no faith, to recognize that in the threat we now face, the particulars of who is targeted do not matter. When we forget that we said never again, it happens again. What happens to our neighbor today happens to us tomorrow.
Humanity is under direct, immediate attack. It is on all of us to push back hard when our elected officials forget the lessons of the times we’ve seen this before.
The killing of two of our brothers last night is a loud alarm that we all need to hear and respond to. To all of my Muslims neighbors in Lower Manhattan, and throughout NYC and this country: please know that we are with you, and we stand ready to offer whatever support and assistance you need. We see where this is going and, while we cannot feel your personal pain and loss, we know it too well.