The Basilica of the Annunciation is one of the most important places in Christendom. It is located in Nazareth (Israel) and was built over an archaeological find, ruins of an ancient home thought to belong to Mary, mother of Christ. According to tradition this is where the Annunciation took place.
Actually there are two Churches “of the Annunciation” in Nazareth. The first, larger one belongs to the Roman-Catholic church but there is also a second smaller church that belongs to the Greek-Orthodox Christians. The Greek-Orthodox Church of the Annunciation is built on the location of underground springs (there is an ancient bathhouse right next door). It is thought that Mary drew water from those springs and that there she was first visited by the angel who told her that she was destined to be the mother of Christ.
The local Christians have settled the contradiction in stories with the explanation that Mary was visited by the angel twice – first by the spring where she got scared by the enormity of her future and ran home where the angel appeared again, explaining that her fate was sealed.
Both churches, like other religious sites in Israel are places of daily worship and pilgrimage for countless tourists each year. They are interesting, special and attractive places and I am sure, for believers, very moving. I however am Jewish, so what does this have to do with me?
It’s really simple. It’s about freedom of religion vs freedom of speech. Where does one end and the other begin?
This picture shows what visitors to the Basilica of the Annunciation see as they approach the church. The grey steeple in the background is the roof of the church. In the foreground there is a tiny mosque (see the green roof with the crescent of Islam on top?). On top of the mosque is a tower of loudspeakers, there for the sole purpose of blasting the Muslim call to prayers five times a day. In the heart of this Christian city, practically on top of this extremely important church, the local Muslims found it necessary to create a Muslim atmosphere. I’m not sure how many Muslims pray at this mosque or even how many of the people in that neighborhood are Muslim. The proximity of the mosque is certainly not due to demographic demands, it is about dominating the area.
The signs posted in English are additional evidence of this. These signs are for tourists to see, not the local Christians who, like the Muslims, are Arabs that speak and read Arabic.
These are the words that stare Christians (and Jews) in the face when they visit the Basilica of the Annunciation
Israel is a democracy, the only true democracy in the Middle East. In the Bible it says that the Nation of Israel was chosen to be a “Light on to the Nations.” Those that hate us interpret this as an arrogant declaration of superiority. Most Israelis consider being a “Light on to the Nations” a very serious, often unpleasant and very difficult job. We believe in freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. A people that has known oppression, we consider it our duty to provide freedom. As custodians of the Holy Land, a land denied us for many years at different times throughout history, we consider it our duty to provide protection to all holy sites and free access to all those who want to worship at those sites.
Our beliefs and ideals are being used against us. Moreover, they are being used against us by people who believe that freedom is an invitation to evil and that the only correct way is submission to the will of Allah.
To them there is only one right way however they have no qualms about using OUR beliefs in order to get their way. The religious battle being waged on the Basilica of the Annunciation is just one example of this. Freedom of religion says it’s ok to have to places of worship, side by side. Freedom of expression says that signs, no matter how provocative (read obnoxious) their content, are allowed. Freedoms provided in our democratic society are being leveraged to encroach on those freedoms and, ultimately, take them away.
As a Jew I have to care about this. As a person who believes in freedom and desires to live in a free world, I have to care about this.
Slowly the entire western world is allowing our freedom to slip away – and all under the guise of providing freedom. How ironic.
Now, while writing this article, I decided to look through my archives to find the picture I took outside the Basilica of the Annunciation in 2011. I know there have been signs there for years now and wanted to see how they have changed since the last picture I took. What I saw amazed me.
Do you think the Islamic State is a new organization? Do you IS and their ideology is confined to Syria, Iraq and a few “lone wolves” scattered around the world?
The writing is on the wall. Literally.
Remember this image is from 2011! The sign here is brown and white, not black and white (perhaps it faded in the sun) but the writing is very clear, even to those who do not read Arabic. In the English sign above you can again see the IS flag and the symbol of the hand holding up one finger in the air, signifying the one God, Allah – the same pose you see over and over with IS fighters.
These symbols are now illegal to display in Israel. The fact that the current signs do not sport IS symbols does not mean the ideology is gone. Nazareth is one of the places in Israel that is known to have IS supporters and it is not the only one…
I hope that the western world will recognize the danger before it is too late. The Basilica of the Annunciation is just one example.
Our freedoms are slipping away. We are allowing them to be taken away. Pretending that the Islamic State isn’t Islamic will not solve the problem. Pretending that bombing some terrorists in Iraq or Syria will eliminate the danger is a very dangerous tactic. It is the ideology that is the problem, not the individuals committing acts of terrorism. Creeping Sharia is a tactic being used against every western country.
Freedom of speech is being used to take away our freedom of religion.
This is not the problem of one country, it is the problem of all countries. This is not the problem of one nation or religion. This is the problem of every individual who wants to live in the free world.
It has to be stopped or we will ALL be silenced.