Last week’s Jewish News reported on a poll from a Channel 4 programme called ‘What British Muslims Really Think,’ which can only be described as dispiriting and very worrying.
The survey found more than a quarter of British Muslims felt Jews were “responsible for most wars” compared to a six percent average across the UK – with more than a third agreeing Jews “talk too much about the Holocaust”, “have too much control over global affairs” and “don’t care about what happens to anyone but their own kind”. Generally the survey found a much lower level of integration and higher level of antipathy towards Jews than we would have hoped for.
However, as we have seen many times, including at the last General Election, polls are often flawed. And this one – by ICM, which interviewed 1,081 adults between April and May last year – certainly has some serious problems.
Primarily, the survey took place in areas with a high density of Muslims, which also happen to be the poorer areas of the country. As you would expect, and as is true for any race or religion, these are areas where you get the highest levels of inward looking dissatisfaction.
The results were then compared with a telephone survey of people generally in the UK, so did not compare like with like.
That said, even if flawed, these findings are still very disturbing and not to be ignored.
The big question for me, is what can and should the Jewish community do about it? Should we turn inwards or out?
As Jews, we often tend to face inwards and hope to be safe in our own sheltered world. We may express our upset and demand change, but if all we have are words then how will improvement actually come about?
Over the past week I presented at an interfaith session at the European Union for Progressive Judaism’s Biennial Conference and at a Muslim interfaith conference in honour of the memory of Syeda Fatima. At both I asked how many people had a friend from another faith group. Few hands went up. This is even though both conference halls were full of activists, with people on stage actively arguing for the need for interfaith work.
This will start to explain some of the attitudes Muslims have towards us. After all, if you have Jewish neighbours, colleagues and friends, it’s difficult to continue to believe that they are the secret rulers of the world.
And, in all the outrage in the Jewish community over the findings, there is an elephant in the room. Imagine a similar survey in a densely populated Jewish area, where the respondents have little or no contact with any Muslim people. I wonder if we’d find similar percentages to those agreeing with negative statements about Muslims.
Again, where there is more integration, these numbers must surely fall. It’s hard to believe that all Muslims are potential terrorists when you’ve just had your Muslim friends round for Friday night dinner or organised a collection for a local foodbank with them.
Nisa-Nashim, Mitzvah Day and similar projects – including the Muslim’s brand new Sadaqa Day – are all about building local communities from the bottom up, one person at a time.
At last year’s Mitzvah Day a project involving Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Imam Ibrahim Mogra – the Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain – made the headlines.
But it is the grassroots projects around the country, between Jews and Muslims that I am really proud of. Whether giving blood, tidying local communal areas or collecting for refugees – the fact that Jewish and Muslim people of all ages are starting to engage, side-by-side, is what will ultimately make a difference.
People mainly see Mitzvah Day for the good deeds done and the charities helped. But there is a much deeper long-term benefit of building relationships between communities and bringing together people who otherwise may not have met. Not just Jews and Muslims, but Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and those of all faiths and none.
Of course, we can choose to believe all Muslims hate Jews. But for me doing nothing is not an option. Let’s reach out and try to build friendships and understanding. It’s clearly time to do more, not less.
- Laura Marks is founder of Mitzvah Day and co-founder of Nisa-Nashim, the Jewish-Muslim women’s network