You Can Stand Firmly Against Antisemitism & for Palestinian Human Rights says Rabbil Sikdar

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Society today is notable for its inconsistency over racism. Some are less affronted by racism and more aware of an opportunity, seeing it either as a weapon for them or against them. Within Britain, both the Conservatives and Labour are increasingly specialists in selective outrage. Labour were once seen as the party that opposed racists and fascists but increasingly has become suffocated by the stench of its unwillingness to address anti-Semitism. The Tories happily point this out whilst allying with anti-Semites in Europe and dismissing Islamophobia.

Unfortunately, treating racism as something requiring moments of outrage depending on whether the wind is blowing against you or your opponent is no stranger to the rest of society. Anti-Semitism remains a scourge in our country, with British Jews visibly abused and assaulted, though the receding mention of this in the newspapers suggests how normalised it has become.
The Community Security Trust (CST) warned that over a 100 anti-Semitic incidents were being recorded on a monthly basis in Britain, stating that bigots were becoming increasingly emboldened to express their views. Children had been physically assaulted while graffiti had stained homes and synagogues, while MPs had been targeted with abuse for speaking out.

Chief executive David Delew said the findings “continue a trend that has now lasted for over two years. This anti-Semitism is not a random event, it reflects the state of British politics and wider society.”

The hostile environment towards British Jews is encapsulated by Labour’s implosion on this matter. But what about amongst British Muslims? How rife, or non-existent, is the issue of anti-Semitism amongst Muslims?

A study by CST found that British Muslims as a demographic were significantly more anti-Semitic than the general population, measured by their agreements or disagreements with a series of statements. When presented with the statement that a British Jew was as British as any other person, 61% of British Muslims agreed compared to 78% of the general population. And while 61% of Britons viewing Jews as making a positive contribution to society is a depressingly low number for one of Europe’s more tolerant societies, amongst Muslims it polls as low as 37%. Other statements which display prejudice towards Jews amongst many British Muslims include ‘Jews think they are better than other people’ and ‘Jews get rich at the expense of others’. The most harrowing statistic is that 27% of British Muslims believe Jews have too much power compared to 8% of wider society.

These numbers represent an unavoidable problem that must be addressed. But a reassuring takeaway, or perhaps simply an indicator of low standards, is that there are plenty of Muslims who reject prejudice towards Jews. Often when confronting issues amongst British Muslims, many commentators, tempted by their own internal biases and prejudices, resort to blanket statements regarding British Muslims. But likewise, silence serves no-one, least of all British Jews.

As Labour lurches from crisis to crisis on this issue it’s not uncommon to find the post of a prominent British Muslim activist on social media labelling accusations at Jeremy Corbyn as simply smears concocted by the establishment. Increasingly people associated, presently or formerly, with notable British Muslim organisations have been firmly insistent that anti-Semitism is just a conspiracy conjured to derail a Labour Party wedded to Palestinian liberation.

Understanding why British Muslims are relatively muted on anti-Semitism compared to other forms of racism requires understanding of how much of a burning issue the Palestine-Israel conflict is amongst British Muslims. As a community (plural more than singular) we are not the most politically active, and our energies are limited to issues that directly affect those of Muslim identities. Foreign affairs is a big talking point amongst British Muslims, and it’s common to find someone outraged (and rightly) over the Iraq War and Assad’s butchery in Syria.

But it is Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians which sparks the most anger and activism. Yet as seen in the numbers mentioned earlier, it has resulted in many British Muslims regurgitating old anti-Semitic tropes. They see Israel behind everything, blame them for trying to undermine the fabrics of the Islamic identity in the Middle-East. Jews are seen as the rich, invisible puppet masters of the world. And because Jews are seen as powerful, sympathy for those abused in Britain becomes low. Anti-Semitism is regarded as a distraction from focusing on Palestine, a form of racism that isn’t a real racism. It’s as though anti-Semitism died with Hitler and since then it’s been cosy for Jews. Combine that with Jeremy Corbyn’s impassioned stance on Palestine and racism, any criticisms of him regarding anti-Semitism is often decried by leading British Muslim activists.

Islamism is rooted in anti-Semitic beliefs but this is not the cause of its prevalence. Most British Muslims are happy to live in a secular state like Britain and are not agents for Islamist reform in the country. Anti-Semitism doesn’t owe itself necessarily to Islamism but a mutation of activism for Palestinian justice. Tackling it requires an acceptance that Jews are also ethnic minorities in Britain, something many on the left don’t consider when discussing BAME communities. Many Jews might be wealthy but that doesn’t mean they have any significant level of power and influence in British society. British Indians after all are a prosperous minority in the country, yet few would consider them to be immune to racism.

Many Muslims can sympathise with the notion that Israel was created as a refugee state for a group of people persecuted and hounded by white supremacists. They can see the powerful concept of a Jewish homeland and separate it from Israel’s awful treatment of the Palestinian people. Campaigning for a dismantlement of the illegal settlements in West Bank is a basic humanitarian obligation. But it doesn’t contradict the need to talk up more about anti-Semitism. This is basic solidarity that victims of racism should show each other.

Look to Pittsburgh in America where a white supremacist gunned down Jewish worshippers in a synagogue and the local Muslims responded with acts of compassion and kindness. That is the Islam that is preached in the Quran. Not one that advocates silence when Jews are facing bigotry on the streets of our home.

Rabbil Sikkdar is a British Muslim writer and has previously published in the New Statesman, Independent, I and Left Foot Forward.

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We Muslims Need to Talk About Muslim anti-Semitism

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This article was first published in Ha’aretz

Political polarization, Islamist infiltration and a helping hand from the Corbynite far left is leading more and more young, disaffected Muslims to demonize Jews. We must find the courage to speak out.

In France recently, 300 French dignitaries and celebrities wrote an open letter about the “quiet ethnic purging” of Jewish communities in the country – and they cited Islamist extremism as being the root cause of this racial and demographic purge.

They also lamented the fact that 11 members of local Jewish communities had been killed by Islamists since 2006 with the most recent murder being that of Mireille Knoll, an 85 year old woman who had survived the Nazi round up of Jews in Vel d’Hiv in 1942, from where families, men and women were transported to concentration and death camps.

Only about 100 of the 13,000 Jews who were detained at Vel d’Hiv survived, and Mireille Knoll was one of them. She was to end up being murdered in Paris, stabbed 11 times in an anti-Semitic murder and frenzy, which led to the arrest of two  people, including a man of North African heritage.

The Community Security Trust monitors anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom and their 2017 annual report makes for stark reading. Out of 1,382 anti-Semitic incidents logged last year, they managed to obtain descriptors of the ethnic appearance of perpetrators in about 30% of cases. Of these cases, 107 involved perpetrators of ‘South Asian’ or ‘North African’ appearance – around 25% of those cases. There is a high probability that many of these individuals were of Muslim heritage.

The CST goes out of its way not to stress this fact: that a significant proportion of the perpetrators of street-based hate crimes involved people who were probably Muslims.

Compounding the picture: in the online hate reported to the CST, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian sentiment cross into anti-Semitic tropes. Tweets that combine blood libel imagery and the Palestinian flag, or with dead children with a star of David emblazoned on their bodies and with organs missing, all play to age-old and insidious anti-Semitic tropes.

Yet, troublingly, much of this rhetoric online was also circulated by British Muslims during the Gaza – Israel wars of 2014 and 2016. The tropes, images and language still cycle through social media and through three different sets of activists, if we can call them that.

The first of these sets of activists  are some British Muslims themselves. They can be further subdivided into active Islamists; into those who are not aware or do not consciously recognize that the material is anti-Semitic; and into those British Muslims who simply aren’t bothered if the messages are anti-Semitic. The latter often seem to believe that defending the Palestinian cause is a license to open anti-Semitism.

The second strand where this rhetoric finds recirculation and a home is amongst the far left, many of whom have attempted to rejoin and enter the Corbynite Labour Party.

The final element where it finds a home is within far right sympathizers and those who hate Jews because of “old-school” far right anti-Semitism.

Sadly, all three stick onto social and foreign policy issues such as Israel- Palestine like limpets, sucking on the lifeblood of the Palestinian cause, dirtying and muddying the cause of the Palestinians with their hatred of Jews.

That has consequences. I remember, the campaigns for a free and viable Palestinian state in the 1980’s, which were mainly held by British liberals  who genuinely demonstrated for a space where Palestinian culture and life could flourish. Some of these demonstrators rallied in the belief that two states could mean a real solution for the region, and few had anti-Semitism at their core.

During the 1990’s, a steady array of Islamists joined the demonstrators, walking in ultra conservative clothing characteristic of Muslim ultra-conservatism, with placards that caricatured Jews as puppet masters of the West.

That Islamist extremist bandwagon turned up and expropriated the Palestinian cause from Quakers, liberals and those disarmament activists colloquially known as ‘Greenpeacers’ who formed the backbone of the political left at the time.

It was to be a matter of time before this Islamist extremism was to find a natural synergy and partner in the extreme left in Britain, something that is patently visible and obvious today, as they smell the backdoors to power through a Corbynite government.

That natural synergy was based on an ideological convergence between Islamist extremists and the far left around the necessity to “counter colonialism” and on disrupt “Western decadence” and its “materialism.” These twin aims have been the glue which holds them together up to today.

But it’s a two-way street: it’s not only extremist British Muslims seeking friends in the hard left, there are also those on the left who are seeking to build a bridge based on anti-Semitism with the Muslim community.

I have to admit, that I myself have been taken in and duped by those who have tried to associate themselves with causes that are of interest to Muslim communities. Only later did I find out that their real motivation was anti-Semitism, and their “bridge-building” with Muslims was part of their determined, wily and twisted logic.

As the Founder of Tell MAMA, the Muslim equivalent of the CST, individuals have tried to be helpful in reporting anti-Muslim hate and some have postured as though they were anti-racist campaigners.

Taken at face value, they seemed reasonable and decent people, offering voluntary assistance that we were disposed to welcome, not least when hate crimes had been spiking and when we were stretched for resources to cover anti-Muslim incident reports coming in from across the country.

It also means that anti-Semitism is a complex and much wider problem that many of us previously thought, and sadly, depressingly, it comes from a wide range of areas, including within some sections of Muslim communities where it is entrenched and mixed up with 9/11, 7/7 and other geopolitical conspiracy theories.

It also means that anti-Semites will make approaches to organizations that work on issues of significance to Muslim communities, just as anti-Muslim haters may make the reverse approaches – to organisations working on anti-Semitism.

Sadly, everyone working against bigotry in the U.K. now have to be on our guard as to potential ulterior motives from many who approach us as “friends.”

As a British Muslim, I can honestly say that I have never seen the U.K. as fractured and polarized as now, and where anti-Semitism has become so deeply rooted in some parts of the British Muslim community.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been called a “Zionist” for working with groups like the CST and those Jewish groups at the frontline of tackling hatred and prejudice. It’s a convenient, but transparent, smear for some of my co-religionists to bypass the anti-Semitism charge by throwing out the term “Zionist.”

Many who throw this term out have hardly crossed their twenties and were not even born when the first Intifada even took place, yet their world view is binary to the extreme. Whatever’s Jewish is Israeli is Zionist – and hence bad; everything that they deem is Islamic, is good.

Just don’t ask them about minorities in Islam, since the Muslim minorities they don’t like are also deemed to be a threat to Islam. Ahmadis and Shias are examples of Muslim minorities targeted by Islamist campaigns in Pakistan; the poisonous accusation that they are “heretics” has been carried to the U.K. by imams who have adopted those views. This intra-Muslim sectarian hate is growing.

Unsurprisingly, progressive Muslims who call for an end to sectarianism and for diversity and pluralism within Islam have also been the target of U.K. Islamists’ online campaigns. Strangling Islam’s intrinsic pluralism is a classic tactic by Islamist groups to “take control” of the faith.

In their mind of the perpetrators of such hate, the world is bipolar, with Muslims and Jews at opposite ends; and it is people like this who are winning the hearts and minds of many young disaffected people in the U.K.

On the other side, anti-Muslim hatred is growing within white working class neighborhoods who see Muslims as the existential threat and where the appropriation of the Israeli flag and Jewish symbols are a means to bait Muslims.

We are truly at a dangerous juncture and it will take people of courage to speak out. At the very least, more Muslims can speak out and challenge the anti-Semitism within.

If we fail to do so, we can forget ever talking about equality, justice and tackling racists. It is those who speak at times where things seem overwhelming, who can lead the way. God knows, we need them more than ever.

Fiyaz Mughal OBE is the Director of Faith Matters and the Founder of Tell MAMA. He is also a trustee of the U.K’s National Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

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