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Jihad just means struggle, not holy war – New York City Education Department’s training sessions try to whitewash Jihadi hate crimes

Jewish teachers living in New York City have reported that they experienced antisemitism and bias, underscoring the concerns about their safety. The lack of action from the administration over such behaviour has led to a significant challenges for the Jewish community.

On Tuesday, 27th February, New York City’s Department of Education (DOE)’s training sessions for teachers on understanding and combating anti-Muslim bias sparked controversy as it propagated that jihad means “struggle” and “effort” rather than a synonym for holy war. Jewish Chronicle first reported the sessions that led to a divide among the educators and the broader community. The Jewish teachers who attended the session in question titled “Understanding Muslim Experiences and Combating Anti-Muslim Bias” criticised the portrayal of concepts such as jihad and the interpretation of Sharia law.

The DOE’s training sessions are part of a more extensive anti-discrimination program where educators learn about different concepts. In these sessions, the educators were informed that jihad primarily signified “struggle” or “effort” rather than being a synonym for holy war. The examples that were used to explain jihad included personal struggles for fitness or building friendships, which practically detached the term from its violent associations with extremist groups. “Jihad is the Muslim concept of striving in the path of God,” the host reportedly said.

As per the New York Post’s report, some of the examples of explaining jihad during the sessions included “My jihad is to never settle short of my best effort”, “My jihad is to not judge people by their cover”, and “My jihad is to build friendship across the aisle”. The portrayal of jihad neglected the complexity of the issue and the historical use of the term to promote violence.

Another educator told the New York Post, “Jihad may mean struggle, but it’s disingenuous to omit that it is commonly used to mean holy war and then to say that the media outlets who use it that way just control the narrative.”

Jewish educators and critics voiced concerns over the interpretation. One of the Jewish teachers remarked that such re-definitions have potential danger to society and said, “They are trying to normalise jihad, but we have to address the elephant in the room; that for many radical Muslims, it means violence. It’s like genocide doesn’t mean genocide anymore, and terrorist means freedom fighter. When someone hears a word like jihad, they now associate it with a struggle to go to the gym rather than violence. How will they be able to spot dangerous and violent ideologies?”

Their sentiments reflected a broader apprehension that DOE might want to inadvertently obscure the understanding of the radical ideology in the classrooms. Moreover, discussion on Sharia law during the sessions also faced criticism as it overlooked the stringent applications in specific regimes. For example, there are documented incidents of brutal punishments and human rights violations where Sharia law is in place. The moderators who conducted the sessions focused on personal religious observance of Sharia. However, educators attending the sessions felt they failed to address the complex realities and criticisms of Sharia law and its broader implications on society.

These sessions are being held in the aftermath of the Palestinian Islamic terrorist organisation Hamas’s terrorist attack in Israel in October 2023, killing over 1,300 people, including women, children, elderly and foreigners. DOE has also planned workshops on antisemitism, but that does not mean that the department should be allowed to water down the real-world implications of jihad and Sharia law.

Jewish teachers living in New York City have reported that they experienced antisemitism and bias, underscoring the concerns about their safety. The lack of action from the administration over such behaviour has led to a significant challenges for the Jewish community.

MyJihad campaign to ‘reclaim jihad’

The “MyJihad” campaign was conceptualised in 2012 by Ahmed Rehad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago. Reportedly, the aim was to reclaim the term from “extremists”. The campaign encouraged Muslims and non-Muslims alike to use the hashtag “MyJihad to reflect the “spiritual struggle” within. One of the phrases used during the campaign was “#MyJihad: modesty is not a weakness. What’s yours?” It featured a Muslim woman wearing a hijab and carrying a dumbbell.

MyJihad’s Facebook page has been running a “Free Palestine” campaign. Interestingly, CAIR is a Hamas-linked organisation that has extensively worked on whitewashing crimes done in the name of jihad. In January 2023, the organisation asked the USA to stop using the term “terrorist watchlist” as it contained primarily Muslim names. In December 2022, CAIR‘s Ibrahim Hooper blamed “Hindutva” and “Islamophobia” in India after a mob of Muslims beat a Muslim couple for watching the Kannada film Kantara. It was propagated that Hindus beat up the couple, but in reality, it was a Muslim mob that attacked them.

CAIR and its anti-India propaganda

Notably, CAIR identifies itself as a Muslim civil rights organisation in the United States that claims to protect ‘civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims’, The fact, however, is that CAIR is an Islamist group that has spoken against India and Hindus on several occasions. The organisation has been vehemently pushing Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu propaganda in India.

In 2022, CAIR released a report titled “Still Suspect: The Impact of Structural Islamophobia”, in which it said that there has been a rise in discrimination against Muslims living in the United States.

In its report, CAIR claimed that it had received 6,720 complaints nationwide last year involving a range of issues, including immigration, travel discrimination, law enforcement, government overreach, hate and bias incidents, custody rights, school incidents, and free speech incidents.

The CAIR claimed that government discrimination and bias continue to have a disproportionate effect on American Muslims and further demonstrate that Islamic communities continue to be viewed with suspicion. The report also listed the impacts of severe structural and interpersonal Islamophobia in the United States.

Ironically, CAIR, which always complains about alleged Islamophobia in the United States, has been aggressively promoting Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu propaganda in India. We are aware of how CAIR had extended support for the extremely Hinduphobic ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva‘ conference.

Not only this, but in December last year, CAIR had reportedly taken offence at the display of the names of the LeT terrorists and scenes from the deadly 26/11 terror attack that were displayed on a mobile billboard truck in New Jersey. While calling the movement of the vehicle ‘deliberate and well co-ordinated’, CAIR criticised the broadcast of 26/11 footage as ‘messages of hate.’ This was despite the fact that the mobile billboard truck did not display anything contentious but the truth.

In January 2022, CAIR launched Hinduphobic propaganda based on a report by alleged journalist Rana Ayyub. In a press release, CAIR demanded the movie theatres not to release Sooryavanshi, a Hindi movie. In the press release, CAIR alleged the movie spreads “disgusting and dangerous” anti-Muslim propaganda inspired by the fascist Hindutva movement.

The organisation has also called for the release of 49-year-old Pakistani terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently serving 86 years in prison for attacking US Army and FBI personnel in Afghanistan.

The Islamist organisation and its link with terror outfit Hamas

It is noteworthy that CAIR has links with the Palestinian Islamist fundamentalist terror organisation Hamas. Hamas has a long history of violating human rights. Hamas is designated as a terrorist organisation by several countries, including The European Union, the United States, Canada, Israel, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom etc. 

7th October terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel

On 7th October, Hamas terrorists launched an all-out attack on Israel from sea, land, and air. At least 5,000 rockets were launched into Israel from Gaza, and tunnels were used to breach the Israeli territory and butcher Israeli civilians, particularly in the border villages. A music festival hosting more than 200 people was turned into a slaughter ground with many women raped, mutilated and abducted to Gaza. At least 1,300 people, including some foreign nationals, babies, women and senior citizens, died in the attacks. More than 200 were abducted and taken to Gaza. Following the attack, Israel launched a counterattack to eliminate Hamas. The Israel-Hamas war entered its 144th day on 29th February 2024.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Searched termsJihad holy war
B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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