Thursday, March 05, 2015

05-Mar-15: Remembering those who stand silently outside

Volunteer security personnel patrolling the perimeter of a Jewish
community building... that could be almost anywhere (Shomrim is the
Hebrew word for
guards) [Image Source]
The killing of a Danish volunteer standing guard outside a Copenhagen synagogue by a terrorist gunman of Palestinian Arab "origin" who, in the opaque language favoured by many news editors, had become "radicalized" while serving prison time for stabbing someone, has thrown some light on the phenomenon of Jewish communities more and more required - and determined - to protect their lives from similar malevolents.

Dan Uzan's murder on the night of February 14-15, 2015 came as he patrolled a Jewish facility in sub-freezing temperatures while a family celebration - a bat mitzvah with dozens of children taking part - was happening inside. Finn Norgaard, a 55-year-old Danish documentary maker, was shot dead and three police officers were wounded in a nearby attack some hours earlier executed by the same perpetrator.

It's striking to us how Denmark's Jewish community, alive to the danger, had asked that the police raise the level of their alertness to attacks like the one that eventuated - but were rebuffed. Associated Press reported a month before the lethal attacks that:
Denmark's Jewish community has asked for a police presence outside the Copenhagen synagogue during services and when students arrive and leave the city's Jewish school following the terror attacks in Paris. Community chairman Dan Rosenberg Asmussen says he made the request Wednesday to Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen who stopped short of making any promises to the country's 7,000-strong Jewish community. She said Denmark's security agency would make reconsider security at Jewish institutions. Frederiksen said the attacks in Paris made "us painfully aware of the importance that our Jewish fellow citizens can feel safe." [NY Times, "Danish Jews Want Police Outside Synagogue, School", January 14, 2015]
Volunteer security people, like Dan Uzan (and like groups in Melbourne, SydneyBrooklyn, Southern California, throughout the United Kingdom and many other places), are part of the answer, and regularly place their lives and well-being at risk in Jewish communities throughout the world today. The reasons why are sadly obvious to anyone alert to the rising threats.

In the Australian parliament earlier today (Thursday), Michael Danby MP paid tribute to the hundreds of volunteer guards who do this in his country, and elsewhere, every day. In an email this morning, he noted that
There is a vast program in our country called the Secure Schools Programme, which I convinced the previous Labor Government to adopt. The programme funds the protection of Australia Jewish institutions, particularly so that events like Copenhagen, the attacks in Brussels and France, as well as the earlier jihadist murders at the Chabad school in Toulouse, might be prevented. The current Government continued this program and, matching a Labor election commitment, has extended this program to funding security guards and I’m relieved that the Government has finally adopted that. 
An audio track of his speech is online here. In an accompanying press release yesterday, he wrote of how Australia had recognized by 2007 that schools, in particular, were "at risk of terrorist or hate-crime attacks" and needed "to build infrastructure to protect themselves." He was instrumental in moving the Labor government of the day to provide $35 million to fund the investment.

One of Michael Danby's key points is that the news media (he focused on Australia's ABC, but the problem extends well beyond Australia's shores) fail to humanize the victims. The lives of the perpetrators, by contrast, routinely get under-the-skin scrutiny amid the regulation search for "root causes" and a deeper understanding of the mysterious factors that turned a quiet law-abiding slob into a gun-toting, religion-spouting killer.

The effects are not hard to divine. In the case of the Danish terror murders, they include the fact that when the Jewish victim of the Copenhagen shooting attack was buried, 
"Security was tight... with police out in force with sniffer dogs and snipers posted on nearby rooftops." [Telegraph UK, February 18, 2015]
That was the Jewish funeral. The murdering gunman, killed by Danish police in an early-morning shoot-out, was given a respectful Islamic funeral. Newsweek reported that
700 to 1,000 mourners attended the funeral of [Omar El-Hussein,] the gunman who shot dead two and injured five others in the Danish capital earlier this month, prompting concern and anger among Danes and Danish Jews... The ceremony took place at the Islamic Society of Denmark in Copenhagen following Friday prayers and was followed by the burial outside the city at a Muslim cemetery in the suburb of Br√łndby... The funeral was open to the public, although witnesses described the attendees to local Danish media as mostly Muslim young men, with many “wearing large black coats, having covered their faces”. The Copenhagen Police sent a press release before the event urging attendees to show due respect.
Flowers had earlier been placed at the spot where the killer was stopped. Here's a photo. Given the clear message they convey, it makes one wonder whether hate-language and incitement to racism and murder ought to include the placing of bouquets.

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