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Antisemitism, Islamophobia and the need to fight together

“We have symbols, beliefs and religious commonalities that make us allies in many ways. Ensuring the safety of Jewish communities is a duty that we as Muslims must reinforce. If you are safe, then we are.” 

For a part of the Muslim community in the UK, the struggle to end antisemitism in all its shapes, guises and forms is a fight for all, including their very own group. The oldest form of hatred (aka antisemitism), the xenophobic attitudes and the scourge of intolerance prompted them to establish Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS), a not for profit organization, to bridge gap between Jews and Muslims and make the latter allies in the fight against antisemitism. The aforementioned quote is also taken from the MAAS. 

The initiative as such is laudable, given how there are not many dedicated, consistently advocating avenues bringing both communities together for a cause like this and it shows that Muslims too can be at the forefront in fighting this kind of bigotry. And they have many reasons to be. 

The Muslims in today’s day and age, especially those subjected to Islamophobic attitudes in and by the West, are more inclined to understanding the treatment meted out to other minorities, including Jews, when discriminated and alienated, in the past and even now. Both Jews and Muslims have been the victims of racist White supremacists and considered internal and external enemies. President of the European Conference of Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt, also said at the Council of Europe that “much of the anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe today is actually also antisemitic; the Jews are the collateral damage,” as quoted in this DW article. 

Muslims and predominantly immigrants from a brown, Arab background are, time and again, reminded of their “otherness” in Europe, from Denmark to Central and Eastern European countries, more specifically in the Visegrad Four (V4) states. Most recent example of this comes from Hungary.

In December 2021, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a speech said it would be a challenge to integrate Bosnia into the European Union because of its 2 million Muslim population, drawing condemnation from Sarajevo. Orban was talking about the prospects of EU enlargement, claiming that Hungary supports Bosnia’s effort to join the European Union, but how they manage the security of a state in which 2 million Muslims live is a key issue for the security of EU member states.

A continuation of a xenophobic tirade, Orban’s ethno-populism is well-known and well documented. The leader has often presented himself as a defender of traditional, Christian values while opposing any sort of multiculturalism and being particularly racist towards Muslims. 

Similar parochial rhetoric stemming from a fear of “Muslim invasion” are echoed in other parts of Central Eastern European countries frequently by nationalist leaders. Czech Republic’s Milos Zeman in the past has called  the movement of Muslim refugees into Europe “an organized invasion” and has uttered Islamophobic remarks. Leaders in Poland and Slovakia have shared similar anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiments, a lot of which have also been backed by public polls and achieved through inducing fear and exploiting misconceptions. The communist past of these countries also plays a role in not fostering heterogeneity. 

To say that antisemitism prevails in Islamic countries is an understatement and Jews remain soft targets and main antagonists for conservative and extremist groups. Regrettably, citizens also fall for antisemitic narratives. The Muslim world needs to tackle that, there is no denying.  A greater camaraderie, however, seems conceivable in the diaspora groups – thanks to multiculturalism, openness and cosmopolitanism, also found in Europe (credit where it is due), and more so in the Western part of the continent. A shared experience of being made to feel as some “unwanted others” at some point in time binds Jews and Muslims together in their fight against antisemitism and Islamophobia respectively.

The initiatives where Muslims unabashedly come forward to fight antisemitism are a rare sight and, at the same time, a ray of hope and more such considerate, reciprocated efforts are imperative for a peaceful and harmonious co-existence. 

About the Author
The writer is a journalist from Pakistan, mostly covering social issues and women's rights, and an Erasmus Mundus scholar currently based in Prague.
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