Historically Muslims and Jews have protected and stood for one another. During the Second World War, Albanian Muslims sheltered Jews, notoriously risking their own lives in the process. One such man was Ali Sheqer Pashkaj, who invited a group of Nazis into his store and plied them with food and wine whilepassing on a note to a young Jew to flee into the woods to a designated place.
The Nazis were furious about the escape, but Ali claimed innocence. Four times they put a gun to his head and threatened to burn down the village, but Ali persevered and ultimately saved Yeoshua Baruchowic, later sheltering him for two years.
Ali’s story is one of many that appears in a short film celebrating such heroes, and celebrating solidarity between Jews and Muslims. The film had been due to be shown in a Golders Green mosque, but the event was cancelled.
Tenuous and irrelevant connections between Yad Vashem, which created the film, and the state of Israel, where the museum is based, were used to apply pressure on the mosque to cancel the event.
Yad Vashem is a world-leader in Holocaust education that, as a part of its exhibition in Jerusalem, commemorates the Albanian-Muslims who heroically sheltered Jews during the war.
Concerns were raised by Roshan Salih, editor of 5Pilllars, a news site that regularly platforms controversial speakers, such as Haitham al-Haddad, considers homosexuality “evil” and has backed some forms of female genital mutilation.
Salih responded to the cancellation of the event by commending the mosque for responding to community concerns.
It would appear, then, that pressure from an individual who publishes extreme views successfully prevented an interfaith event from taking place.
A sobering notion that extremism in the UK has such a power over our liberal, tolerant, multifaith community.
It is not only this significant interfaith event that has been prevented in the face of a new trend in kowtowing to extremists.
Last November, persecuted Christian Asia Bibi, fleeing from Pakistani blasphemy laws, was refused asylum in the UK amid concerns of community unrest and attacks.
We are entering a time where our liberal, tolerant values truly are being fundamentally and effectively challenged.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. The new year has seen a renewed commitment to tackling the rise in hate. Prime Minister Theresa May, responding to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, had this to say: “2019 will be the year where we stand up and say there is no place for antisemitism and racial hatred.”
Dedicated third sector organisations continue to promote solidarity. Muslims Against Antisemitism entered the new year with this message: “In 2018, we felt we had to draw a line and stand with Jewish communities, who were suffering antisemitism and feeling that politics was allowing antisemitic discourse to run through it on the left.
“In 2019, we will redouble our efforts to get more Muslims to stand in solidarity.”
And in response to the refusal of asylum to Asia Bibi, three imams wrote to the Home Secretary, Sajid David, asking him “to make a clear and proactive statement that Britain would welcome a request for sanctuary…
if there are intolerant fringe voices who would object, they must be robustly challenged, not indulged”.