Persecutors and persecuted

Why anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are not equal forms of discrimination.

muslim woman 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
muslim woman 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the Western world Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are often falsely presented as equal forms of discrimination. French President Nicolas Sarkozy referred to this recently during his visit to Algeria, when he said that nothing is more similar to an anti-Semite than an Islamophobe. Indeed anti-Semitism and Islamophobia share a common element in the rejection by many Westerners of the "other." Yet the difference between these two types of fear and stereotyped discrimination is much greater than their similarity. Anti-Semitism has its origins in many centuries of religious and ethnic hate propaganda. Islamophobia derives not only from perceived aggression but also from actual violence supported by many in the world of Islam. Another major difference between them is that Islam is a proselytizing religion and Judaism is not. There is reason therefore to view with apprehension those Muslims who, by various means including intimidation, try to convert others. Yet another related major dissimilarity concerns the respective attitudes toward world dominance. One can hear many Muslim leaders saying that Islam aspires to take over non-Islamic lands. This is not only the aim of al-Qaida, but also for instance of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual head of the large Muslim Brotherhood, who wrote that while Islam was twice evicted from Europe, from al-Andalus (Spain) and from Greece - it is now in the process of returning. This attitude of jihad has deep roots in Islam texts and throughout Muslim history. This attitude is not limited to religious extremists. Another well known example was when Algerian president Houari Boumedienne stated at the UN in 1974: "One day millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends. Because they will go there to conquer it." This would be less of a problem if more moderate Muslims were to clearly distance themselves from such declarations, but this happens far too infrequently. JUDAISM has no such ambitions. To the contrary Jews have been falsely accused for more than a century of conspiring to dominate the world, on the basis of a fabricated text, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism also have very different root causes. Paul Scheffer, a Dutch Labor Party intellectual, has pointed out that a comparison between prewar Dutch anti-Semitism and current Islamophobia "blurs the fact that September 11 happened." Scheffer adds that while one cannot blame Muslim communities for the violence taking place in the name of Islam, "terrorism has given the societal discomfort about Islam a major impetus." The European police agency, Europol, has mentioned that half the terror suspects arrested in the EU in 2006 had a radical-Islamist background. Contrary to nationalist terrorists such as the Basques or Corsicans, those with a Muslim background typically seek to murder large numbers of civilians. They usually state that the acts they intended to commit derive from their religious convictions. The same goes for many suicide attacks by radical Muslims elsewhere. This terrorism is supported theologically by Muslim religious leaders, though others oppose such actions. This attitude toward violence puts a great distance between Islam and Judaism. Jews who have committed murderous acts have hardly ever attributed them to religious convictions. Furthermore Muslims are responsible for a disproportionately large number of violent anti-Semitic incidents in Europe in the new century compared to their share in the population. A leading promoter of Jewish-Muslim dialogue in France is Rabbi Michel Serfaty of Ris Orange, a Paris suburb. In October 2003 he had been the victim of physical aggression by a North African. Later he explicitly exposed North African minority racism, writing: "One cannot deny that, during these three years of anti-Semitic outbursts, there have been persecutors and persecuted. The North African Muslims were among these persecutors, the Jews among those who were persecuted." CONSIDERING Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as equal is part of a much broader effort to confuse the reality about contemporary Jews and Muslims. Sarkozy, who sometimes makes very positive remarks about Israel, increasingly shows himself to be a master at speaking from both sides of his mouth. He gave yet another example of this during his visit to Algeria. In the town of Constantine, when lecturing to students, he said "I appeal to progressive Islam to recognize the right of the people of Israel who have suffered so much to live freely. I appeal to the people of Israel not to inflict on the Palestinian people the same injustice that they have suffered for so many centuries." The juxtaposition of these two statements creates an additional fallacy. The Palestinian Arabs could have had a state in 1948 but, together with the Arab states, they refused and tried instead to commit mass murder of the Jews. The Palestinians could have had a state once again in 2000. If they are victims, this is largely so because of their many attempts to be perpetrators. Also, in view of the current reality of power in the Middle East, if Israelis had inflicted on the Palestinians the same injustice done to them over the centuries by others, there would be very few Palestinians alive today in what was formerly the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine. Letting third parties lump Jews and Muslims or Israelis and their persecutors together can only bring further trouble to both Israel and the Jewish people. That is why such statements should not go unchallenged. The writer has authored 12 books, among them the recent Academics against Israel and the Jews.