Remembering victims of all genocides can unite all communities

Candle lighting during the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorative Ceremony at Central Hall in Westminster, London. (Photo credit: Chris Jackson/PA Wire via Jewish News)
Candle lighting during the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorative Ceremony at Central Hall in Westminster, London. (Photo credit: Chris Jackson/PA Wire via Jewish News)

Yesterday I was called a Jewish agent.

What! Why? I hear you exclaiming.

The reason was simple. I had dared to extend an invitation to the local Holocaust Memorial Day event, being held in our parish church, to local Muslims.

It is reassuring to report that no one supported the views of this misguided individual and there was robust support for the event from others on the group.

But the comment was a wakeup call. Whilst we have a lot of work that needs to be done in challenging antisemitism across the country, we have not taken up the challenge of addressing antisemitism robustly enough amongst Muslims. The reasons for this are many and varied. For one, there is a lack of understanding amongst Muslims surrounding the definition of antisemitism. There is a propensity to conflate political  issues concerning Israel and Palestine with Jews and Jewish organisations in this country. There is a feeling that by commemorating the Shoah, we are ignoring the injustices and suffering of others (Muslims) across the world. And lastly and sadly, some Muslims have been indoctrinated with antisemitic views.

The working definition developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance clearly defines antisemitism and the definition does not include criticism of the state or government of Israel.  The full definition can be seen here . But when you start accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoings, for example, or deny the facts of the holocaust or even the holocaust itself, you are being antisemitic.

This commemoration is about remembering a period in our world history that we really should be ashamed of. A point in history that saw the systematic extermination, of millions. Six million Jews, and countless others targeted because of their racial and political ideologies – the Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, dissidents, communists, social democrats as well as those with disabilities and homosexuals. The Nazi trademark of antisemitism that began long before Hitler came into power, blamed Jews for the defeat of Germany in 1918, it “predicted” the annihilation of the Jewish race from Germany and propagated the idea of the dominance of the pure white or Aryan race. The demonisation came many years before state-sponsored extermination, by creating a division in society – a ‘them’ and ‘us’ culture, where ‘they’ were the root cause of all societal problems. Stigmatisation and persecution became the norm and whilst sometimes we make it sound like it happened overnight, it didn’t. Our own divisions in society sometimes seem overwhelming, with antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred, racism, gender-based violence, homophobia and other forms of prejudice growing on the streets of Britain. Today is an opportunity for us to listen, and show compassion. Evil acts by states and the slaughter of innocents should never be forgotten. This is a universal and humanitarian obligation, to ensure the world never sees it’s like again. Every year we say ‘never again’. Yet three days ago The International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Myanmar to prevent a genocide of the country’s remaining Rohingya Muslims — the target of a brutal army crackdown that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent men women and children. Every year we commemorate the Shoah and the subsequent genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It is not ‘just about the Jews’.  But how long before we add Myanmar, Kashmir and Xinjiang to that list? We must not be amongst those “that shook their heads or turned away or watched the deeds of others but did nothing”.

For Muslims, there will always be sympathy for the injustices suffered by their Palestinian brothers and sisters but this should never prevent us from developing friendships and working relationships with Jews. We must stop blaming all Jews for the actions of the Israeli state or the actions of individuals. This is synonymous with blaming all Muslims for terrorist attacks, British Indians for what the Indian government of Modi is doing to Muslims in India and Kashmir or blaming all Arabs for what’s happening in Yemen.

I have spent over half my life working with people of all faiths and none. Most recently as Chair of Nisa-Nashim, a Jewish and Muslim women’s network, that strives to develop friendships, respect and understanding between our faiths. I have seen Jewish women be the first to call out anti-Muslim hatred and have the utmost regard for أهلالكتاب‎ Ahl al-Kitāb ‘People of the Book’. I take guidance from my religion, most especially on how to treat others and I wish others, in particular our keyboard warriors who feel they are defending Muslims and Islam by attacking Jews, would do the same.  Let us all ‘hope and pray that all those who are suffering, all those who are oppressed, all those who are facing injustice, persecution and division find freedom, justice and equality” (HRH Prince Charles)

 

“For every man there is a purpose which he sets up for his life and which he pursues. Let yours be the doing of all good deeds’ (Al-Baqarah)

{The full blog, along with the reflections delivered at St Mary’s Church in Stafford, can be read here: https://hifsaharooniqbal.com/2020/01/28/reflections-for-holocaust-memorial-day-2020/ }

 

About the Author
Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal is National Chair of Nisa-Nashim. She has been active in the world inter-faith working for over 25 years and was awarded an MBE for service to community cohesion in Her Majesty’s New Years Honours 2012. She was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant in Staffordshire in 2011. Hifsa is married with three children, two daughter in laws, 2 grandchildren and 4 cats”
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