Interfaith and hate crime

During interfaith week 2016 hundreds of interfaith events took place, all emphasising commonalities between people of faith and none; promoting the positive significance of interfaith interactions. Yet the soaring numbers of hate crime is disconcerting. It must be so threatening our community cohesion, that the Department of Communities and Local Government has launched a special project for tackling hate crime.

The greatest number of religiously motivated hate crime incidents are against the Jewish (anti-Semitic) and Muslim (Islamophobic) communities. Neither of these two forms of racial/religious hatred is new.

The fact that members of both communities are the most easily recognisable individuals in public due to their dress code gives the racists easy targets to pick on. Sophism and fallacious soundbites by demagogues gives succour to racist bigots. Jewish and Muslim communities do their best to prevent such attacks and protect their members; through it is a truism that the Muslim community is nowhere near as professionally organised and effective as the Jewish community.

It is evident that certain “uncommon and unusual” Jewish-Muslim interfaith cooperation, such as members of a mosque or synagogue visibly working together to protect each other’s place of worship -as happened in Bradford- does have a positive effect on repelling a noticeable degree of hate crime. Therefore, the question arises: to what degree is Jewish-Muslim interfaith relations effective against hate crim? And if the results are significant, are we perhaps concentrating too much on the superficial, feel-good Jewish-Muslim interfaith projects?

As someone who has worked in Jewish-Muslim interfaith relations since the mid-eighties, focusing on its more challenging aspects, I have at times, very critical views on the subject.

While I acknowledge that starting to meet and talk with each other is important as the first step in starting interfaith relations, too often these “meeting and greeting” events as I have always called them, come to be considered the ultimate panacea of interfaith relations. This means that interfaith relations remain at their lowest common denominator and become anodyne, repetitive and ineffective. Faith is challenging, how much more so interfaith!

It seems to me that in order to jolt Jewish-Muslim interfaith relations out of its interfaith plateau, it is necessary to initiate much more challenging projects. I would like to see many more secondary Jewish faith schools participating in our project “Auschwitz and Srebrenica: Lessons of Our Common Humanity”. Another example might be joint J-M social action events. As an example, to see the two communities jointly protesting against hate crime

The Joseph Interfaith Foundation United in a Vision for Truth

sends a powerful message to the extremists who revel at creating divisions between us. Imagine if Jewish and Muslim Student Societies at universities stood together united against hate crime. One such image in the social media is worth a thousand words! One such meeting is more effective than a hundred “meeting and greeting” ones. This is why the topic of the Foundation’s Annual University Seminars 2016-17 is “Hate Crime: How to Combat its Causes and Effects” organized in partnership with university Islamic and Jewish societies.

I know what I am suggesting is a challenging and disturbing idea to contemplate, but Jacob became Israel only after he struggled with the “unknown”. We, the Jewish people, are his descendants. “If not now when?”

About the Author
Mehri Niknam is Executive Director of The Joseph Interfaith Foundation
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