In February of this year, Asher Maoz, dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School, was invited to speak at a workshop on Religion and Human Rights organized by the Al-Mahdi Institute in Birmingham, England.
There’s nothing unusual in this; as an expert in this field, Professor Maoz is invited to many such events, and has to decline more invitations than he accepts. But he did accept this one, not least because it came from a well-respected Muslim institution, and represented a chance to engage at a scholarly level with people of other faiths.
Then, in May of this year the institute sent Maoz a carefully worded e-mail, retracting the invitation. The reason given was that Professor Maoz’s participation would “jeopardize the non-political commitments of the institute.”
The truth is that Professor Maoz’s invitation had provoked threats to both the institute and anyone taking part in the conference, and so the invitation was hurriedly withdrawn. His name was not removed, however, from the call for papers, with the effect of misrepresenting his continued participation.
The loss of the Jewish voice no doubt impoverishes this event. In fact, willfully excluding the Jewish perspective impoverishes any conversation about the law.
The rule of law is one of the greatest of Jewish gifts to the world. It represents the application of settled legal principle to judge an issue, rather than the arbitrary application of the law according to the personal predilection of a judge.
The rule of law is basis of both civilized society and of prosperity. It represents order, equity and restraint; the fair application of legal principles provides freedom and justice for all people, regardless of wealth and background.
It’s these same principles that are cherished in the Bible, but despised by those with a totalitarian agenda.
There is something of the Divine in the act of people of good intent coming together to debate the hard issues. The prophet Isaiah speaks to this when he says the words: “Come now, let us reason together.” And by contrast there is darkness in the act of threatening and intimidating people who wish to engage with each other. Everyone is left poorer by the resultant silence.
The inability of even Islamic academic circles in Britain to hear an Israeli Jew without accommodating or succumbing to threats tells us of the closed and perilous spirit dominating this community.
Reasoned debate is becoming very difficult with some elements of the Islamic community. Pope Benedict XVI discovered this at Regensburg in 2006 when a quote he cited, which did not represent his own views, was taken out of context and sparked unprecedented fury. Of course, we’ve seen this before. European history has its own share of totalitarian takeovers, which typically tend to start with giving way to intimidation.
Rather than bemoan the renewed growth of anti-Semitism in Europe under the guise of hostility to the Jewish state, we could look at a possible explanation.
Our governments have spent a generation eroding the Judeo-Christian foundations of European culture, in favor of a brave new world of secular liberalism. I’ve seen the injustice of this strategy first-hand in the British and European courts.
The situation has accelerated since 1997 at an alarming rate, so that today the United Kingdom operates by an inverted human rights agenda and has lost its moral compass. Israel is not the only party in the eye of the storm, but also Christians and generally those who adhere to Judeo-Christian values, and the result is a vacancy which is aiding the growth of Islamist groups throughout Europe.
Courts in the United Kingdom have effectively prevented the wearing of the Christian crucifix, held that the Sunday Sabbath is not a core part of the Christian faith, and have that the belief in marriage (between a man and a woman) and of sexual purity are discriminatory against sexual minorities.
In Europe, even the Christians feel they are discriminated against. And Jews should be concerned at any violation of religious freedom and the rule of reason.
For example, the Law Society of England canceled a Christian conference on marriage as contrary to its Diversity Policy – while advising solicitors on how to draft legacies based on Sharia law that discriminate against women, non-Muslims and Jewish solicitors (who cannot draft such instruments).
Meanwhile, in a misguided attempt at “multiculturalism” too many European governmental bodies have adopted a non-judgmental position toward many Islamic groupings. We saw an example of this in the UK with Operation Trojan Horse, where for a long time an Islamist attempt to take over publicly funded schools in Birmingham was indulged by the local government. Incidentally Birmingham is the very city where the conference from which Professor Maoz was excluded took place.
Professor Maoz’s story is not just another academic spat. It’s one of many examples of a flourishing anti-Semitism, and the spread of an arrogant belief that no other opinion or point of view is worth listening to. The professor is simply another innocent victim of the madness, and I fear there will be many victims, Jewish or otherwise, in future.
The Al-Mahdi Institute should be confronted by those in the UK who oppose anti-Semitism. If the Muslim college has any belief in academic freedom and non-discrimination, it should immediately re-invite Professor Maoz. The conference was in co-operation with a United Nations NGO called the International Association for Religious Freedom; their silence was deafening.
And so the so-called free West should take note. History has taught us that what happens to the Jewish people tends to be a warning for the rest of the world. To paraphrase the words of the German Pastor Martin Niemöller: when they come for the Jews, if we do not speak out – European freedoms could be next.The author is a British barrister specializing in the law of religious liberty.