Antisemitism Cannot Be Conflated with Islamophobia
With the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, there is a growing trend in conflating Islamophobia with antisemitism. After the New Zealand mosque attack, the journalist Mehdi Hassan claimed that antisemitism has been stigmatized in a way that Islamophobia has not. Hassan also muses:
‘Imagine if a BBC presenter asked a Jewish guest after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, ‘Do you thank your community does enough to condemn Israel’s occupation?’
Unwittingly, Mehdi Hassan is revealing an antisemitic line of thought which he assumes will get a free pass because it is dressed up in antizionist or anti-Israel garb; Jews are to the Israeli occupation what Muslims are to extremist Islam. Many Muslims claim to be anti-Zionist but not antisemitic. In truth, this is little more than a deceptive ruse designed to garner support in the Western world under the guise of human rights, where calling for the destruction of Israel (as is common in Muslim countries) would not be tolerated.
The conflation of antisemitism with Islamophobia can be vigorously challenged on a number of counts:
1. The logical conflation would be to compare Jews to extremist Judaism. But of course, Judaism is not seen as a threat in the West the way Islam is. Even the far-left antisemitism popularised under Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in Britain is rooted in the Marxist belief that Jews are rich capitalists.
2. Muslims, like Christians, are a religious group, whereas Jews define themselves as an ethno-religious group: Jewishness is matrilineal. Islamophobia is a hatred directed at the religion of Islam. Hatred towards Muslims should perhaps be called Muslim-phobia so that violence towards Muslims can be fought without stifling criticism of Islam. Islam should not to be shielded from the same level of criticism that other religions endure under freedom of speech laws.
3. Islamophobia is often used as a tool by Muslims to prevent legitimate discourse about Islam. Shariah law as endorsed by the mainstream branches of Islam is incompatible with western democracies, not least because Islam has not had a reformation. Witness the failed attempts by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to get blasphemy laws implemented in the West.
4. Muslims themselves are one of the biggest purveyors of antisemitism. Muslim opposition to Israel is rooted in Islamic supremacist teachings, a replacement theology which itself is a is a form of antisemitism. Few Muslims will assert that Pakistan is a British colonial endeavour the way they falsely claim that Israel is. I grew up hearing how one day Islam would defeat Israel in the same way the Crusaders were centuries earlier. It is hypocritical for Muslims to oppose Zionism then lump themselves with Jews and claim they face the same enemy and pretend that Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism. For if that were true, over 700,000 Middle Eastern Jews would not have been expelled or forced to leave behind their property and wealth when they fled Arab violence and persecution prior to and after the creation of Israel in 1948. This pretense is a ruse to mobilise the more established Jewish organisations to fight Islamophobia on behalf of Muslims.
5. A lot of the anti-Muslim sentiment in the West is due the illiberal and extremist beliefs and practices of Muslims. As an example, the New Zealand mosque attacker claimed that he was taking revenge for the Rotherham sex grooming gang rapes committed by men of mainly Muslim Pakistani Mirpur descent in England. By comparison, the Orthodox strands of Judaism are liberal and well-integrated and compatible with western democracies. In Britain, the strictly Orthodox actually have the lowest crime rates in the country, whereas prison statistics show that demographically the Muslims have a higher crime rate per capita than the general population.
6. The far-right white nationalist ideology is a racist one, but that does not necessarily mean that every opponent of Islam is a racist. Many who view Shariah to be incompatible with liberal Western values equally reject the far-right ideology. Other minorities who are often from the same countries as Muslim immigrants do not face the same level of hostility. Why do we not hear of Buddhist-phobia? Hindu-phobia? Sikh-phobia?
7. The growth of Islamophobia in the West is a response to the type of Islamic extremism unleashed by Al Qaeda and ISIS. Cultural practices found in some Muslim communities like female genital mutilation and honor killings are another driving factor. Yet another reason is the disproportionate number of Muslim men involved in child sex grooming scandals in England. It does not help that the politically correct culture prevents an honest discussion of religious and cultural practices common in many parts of the Islamic world. There are Muslim men who believe that women who do not veil and who believe in sexual liberation have no grounds of complaint if men rape them. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the onus of controlling sexuality is on the man, but in the Islamic culture a woman has to take care not to arouse a man. In Muslim countries, a woman who is raped is often blamed for the crime for inciting the man. Social norms dictate that issues like sexual abuse (whether of women or children) is swept under the carpet to preserve family honor. When men from such cultures move to West and bring these practices with them, they can expect to face a backlash.
For Muslims, it would perhaps be more productive to challenge or reform these views and practices and not pretend that Islamophobia and antisemitism are two sides of the same coin. The ISIS caliphate's practices of sexual slavery and rape of Yazidi women are sanctioned in the Quran. Historically, one can see that the Ottoman caliphate practice of enslaving Christian women for sex slavery was rooted in these same teachings.
Not all Muslims support such views of course, and many others think they are outdated. But unfortunately, there has not the been the same zeal by Muslim leaders and clerics to agitate for reform as there has been to causes such as seeking the destruction of Israel. On the contrary, one can see concerted efforts to deflect attention away from traditional Islamic teachings and instead play the race card to claim victimhood. Muslim rights groups like the Hamas -- linked CAIR in the USA and the Muslim Council of Britain in the UK -- will expend an inordinate amount of energy undermining liberal Muslims and promoting Islamism whilst claiming to be victims of racism and Islamophobia.
Islamophobia and antisemitism are two different issues which should not be conflated.
Image credit: Beny Schlevich
Zeyba Nur writes about issues concerning Muslim antisemitism. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org