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Anti-Semitism? Not at Our Dinner Table

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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.