When news broke that Lord Ahmed had allegedly blamed Jews for his 12-week stint behind bars for killing a man through reckless driving, I tweeted my disgust with his blatant expression of prejudice. Many Muslims echoed my sentiments.
That's why Mehdi Hasan latest blog "The Sorry Truth Is That the Virus of Anti-Semitism Has Infected the British Muslim Community" has left me feeling uncomfortable.
A critical factor in Lord Ahmed's statement was his audience. Speaking in Pakistan where radical groups regularly peddle anti-Semitic libel, he thought his words would find resonance. Do I think he would have made that same statement to a British Muslim audience, even if he thought the cameras weren't watching? No I don't. Because regardless of the anti-Semitism of certain elements among British Muslims, anti-Semitic discourse is not considered acceptable and does not routinely go unchallenged.
On one hand, Mehdi is absolutely right to point out that anti-Semitic attitudes are not uncommon in Muslim circles and have become somewhat normalised, concealing the ugly face of hate behind objections to Israeli policies and spurious claims of Jewish conspiracies. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the stumbling block in much Jewish-Muslim dialogue. As one interfaith activist told me, "we're fine as long as we steer away from Middle East politics". The single biggest issue which fosters animosity towards Jews, whom some erroneously fail to distinguish from expansionist Israelis, is the Israel-Palestine conflict. This doesn't make the intolerance any less inexcusable of course. The other significant factor fostering anti-Semitism is conspiracy theories, an unfortunate import from many Muslim majority countries, where opaque and autocratic governing structures lend themselves to an unhealthy fixation with the machinations of "dark forces". Both tensions over the Middle East conflict, as well as conspiracy theories go some way towards explaining the existence of anti-Semitic attitudes. They certainly don't excuse them.
On the other hand, I do not see such views as being tolerated, considered acceptable or even being ignored - on the few occasions I have witnessed anti-Jewish sentiment, I have seen it robustly challenged usually by the "mild-mannered and well-integrated British Muslims" Mehdi refers to. That said, I've also witnessed an elderly Muslim man remonstrating an over-zealous youth by reminding him that our forefather Prophet Abraham, whom we praise alongside Prophet Mohamed in all five of our daily prayers, was the patriarch of the Jewish people. So while I support Mehdi for taking a stand against anti-Semitism and urging Muslims to be as diligent in denouncing it as they are Islamophobia, I reject the presumed community complicity implied by his reference to "our dirty little secret".
It's disheartening to hear Mehdi's been witness to so much anti-Semitism, but it is important to recall that his, like mine, is just one experience amongst many. More reliable indicators of Muslim-Jewish relations are the sheer number of co-operative initiatives and evidence of mutual solidarity. In 2009, following the Israeli onslaught against Gaza, British Muslims rallied together to denounce anti-Semitic attacks amid fears of a backlash against Jewish communities in Britain. In March last year when Mohamed Merah opened fire on a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing seven, Jews and Muslims marched together in a show of solidarity against hate. The Gathering of European Muslim and Jewish Leaders regularly brings together over 70 religious leaders as part of an effort to develop good Muslim-Jewish relations across Europe. Such displays of camaraderie are not anomalous.
Mehdi's presumption of group guilt undermines the valuable work being done by many interfaith groups - the MUJU Comedy Crew, the Joseph Interfaith Foundation and the Three Faiths Foundation, among others - in recognition of our shared heritage. It also unfairly tarrs the vast majority of Muslims who do in fact reject anti-Semitism and who risk henceforth being viewed with suspicion.
Commenting on a Gallup poll which showed that in the US, the single most powerful predictor of "a great deal" of prejudice toward Muslims is equivalent negative bias toward Jews, James Carroll wrote: "Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are halves of the same walnut. That is surprising because Jews and Muslims are widely perceived-and often perceive themselves-as antagonists occupying opposite poles in the great contemporary clash of cultures". The reality is that Jews and Muslims share the same struggle against intolerance and prejudice and many are united in opposing regressive legislation which affects the practice of rituals central to both faiths.
When Baroness Warsi stated that Islamophobia had "passed the dinner-table test" in Britain, she referred to the way in which anti-Muslim sentiment is increasingly perceived as normal. It is a misnomer to argue that anti-Semitism has passed the same threshold in the British Muslim community. Any intolerance is too much intolerance and so I applaud Mehdi for highlighting the critical importance of standing against bigotry in all its forms. I just hope his somewhat rash generalisations won't be used to validate anti-Muslim prejudice, and that we can all move away from notions of 'the other' in order to find ways to work towards the common good.
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