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Huff Post blog: Anti-Semitism? Not at our dinner table

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You can read this on my Huff Post blog here

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 ‎recognise that his, like mine, is just one experience amongst many. More reliable indicators of ‎Muslim-Jewish relations are the sheer number of cooperative 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 tares ‎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 we can all move beyond ‎notions of ‘the other’, in order to find ways to work towards the common good.‎

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Written by Myriam Francois

March 23, 2013 at 14:20

Sky News interview, Mohamed Merah Shooting, March 2012

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An interview with Adam Boulton on Sky News on the political fall-out of the Mohamed Merah shooting and its implications for diversity in France.

Written by Myriam Francois

March 22, 2012 at 21:12