Tariq Ramadan: Muslims and Anti-Semitism
- Muslims and Anti-Semitism
Jul 30, 2007
The responsibility of the Muslims and the Jews in the West is
tremendous: living together, both citizens of the same countries, they
should raise their voices in the name of justice and mutual respect.
In France, for example, one finds a unique situation; namely, the
largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe living together. In
America, we find the same situation with two important religious
communities sharing the same citizenship. That itself should be an
ideal opportunity for people to learn to live in harmony. However, the
reality is that problems are on the rise. While tensions have been
incidental in the past, the situation has been exacerbated during the
second intifada, and more recently, during the upsurge of violence in
the Middle East. The trend appears to be that the Muslim immigrants as
well as native European and American Muslims are becoming extremely
sensitive to the events occurring in Palestine and are demonstrating
their frustration quite overtly.
Malicious words, cries of "down with the Jews" shouted during protest
demonstrations, and in a few cities in France, reports of synagogues
being vandalized. One also hears ambiguous statements about Jews,
their "occult-like" power, their insidious role within the media and
their nefarious plans. After September 11th, the false rumor that
4,000 Jews did not show up for work the morning of the terrorist
attacks against the World Trade center, was relayed throughout
predominantly Muslim areas.
It is very rare to hear Muslim voices that set themselves apart from
this kind of discourse and attitude. Often, one will try to explain
away this phenomena being a result of extreme frustration and
humiliation. That may be true, but one must be honest and analyze the
situation deeply. Much like the situation across the Muslim world,
there exists in the West today a discourse which is anti-Semitic,
seeking legitimacy in certain Islamic texts and support in the present
situation in Palestine. This is the attitude of not only marginalized
youth, but also of intellectuals and Imams, who see the manipulative
hand of the "Jewish lobby" at each turn or every political setback,
The situation is far too serious for one to be satisfied by simple
explanations based on current frustrations. In the name of their faith
and their conscience, Muslims must take a clear position so that a
pernicious atmosphere does not take hold in the Western countries.
Nothing in Islam can legitimize xenophobia or the rejection of a human
being due to his/her religious creed or ethnicity. One must say
unequivocally, with force, that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and
indefensible. The message of Islam requires respect of Jewish faith
and spirituality as noble expressions of "The People of the Book".
During the initial phase of the Prophet's settlement in Medina, prior
to the conflicts of Alliances, the Prophet Muhammad sternly
admonished: "He who is unjust with a contractor (Christians and Jews
of Medina), I shall bear witness against him on the Day of Judgment".
Later, during a period of extreme conflict [between Jews and Muslims],
eight Qur'anic verses were revealed to absolve a Jew who had falsely
been accused of a crime by a Muslim. Muhammad constantly taught
respect for all human beings, with all their differences. One day,
he stood up out of respect when he saw a funeral procession nearby.
When told it was that of a Jew, he replied "Is it not human soul?"
One cannot simultaneously neglect these teachings and continue to feed
a tainted portrayal concerning Jews. It is the responsibility of
Islamic organizations and Imams to send an unambiguous message about
the profound link between Islam and Judaism; the recognition of Moses
and the Torah as part of Islamic teachings; on the necessary
contextualisation of certain equivocal texts within the Qu'ran; on
mutual respect and the rejection of all forms of explicit or implicit
anti-Semitism. This also means to acknowledge the horrors of the
holocaust, by studying its ramifications, and respecting the pain and
suffering which have shaped the Jewish conscience in the 20th century.
In order for all Muslim citizens to understand this teaching, there
must be a corresponding set of actions. One has to fight feelings of
victimization which colonize the spirit of many Muslim citizens in the
West, especially those who are the most marginalized. The frustration
within these communities leads to blaming of the other, the state, the
police, and, "the Jew who does not like us and who manipulates us..."
It is here that Muslim intellectuals and the public authority should
share the responsibility. The first step is to disseminate an Islamic
awareness that is coherent and non-literal. It should emphasize
personal responsibility and respect of others. As for public
authorities, it is important that they encourage concrete actions
which break the cycle of economic ghettos and encourage reform of
social and urban politics at a local level. Whether we like it or
not, unemployment and discrimination are one of the major roots of
At another level, there is urgency for Jewish and Muslim
representatives to start communicating and establish an honest
dialogue in order to avoid knee-jerk, reflexive community responses
that may undermine the principle of living together in harmony.
Self-criticism must become a mutual exercise.
If it is necessary to condemn anti-Semitic language of some Muslims,
it is also the responsibility of Jewish intellectuals, religious or
secular, not to confuse the different spheres. An extreme right-wing
Prime Minister, Jewish or otherwise, supports an ideology that must be
denounced precisely for what it is. Criticism of Sharon for his
atrocious past crimes and his policies while prime minister of Israel
is not a sign of disrespect for Judaism, in the same way that
criticism of dictators of some Muslim countries, one by one, is
not an attack on Islam.
The respect that we have towards Judaism should not be subject to
suspicion once we denounce the unjust policies of the state of Israel.
To foster this type of amalgams, we will end up creating chasms
between communities and that is certainly to empty the ethical content
of our common Western citizenship based on the values of justice and
Muslims and Jews alike should stop feeding sentiments of
victimization, and reconsider the discourse that one is creating
towards the other. In the name of a common ethics of citizenship, our
dignity will be based upon our ability to know how to be critical,
transcending one's creed, a state, or an organization without
considering that it "clearly" a manifestation of anti Semitism
or Islamophobia. It is exactly this type of intellectual requirement
which one must teach and which will help all Jews and Musl_ims to
offer to their faith, and to their respective belonging, the magnitude
of a self-conscience based on universal principals, and not a
closed-minded ghetto identity. In Europe and in America, the
conditions are right to bring these challenges to light. What remains
is the mutual commitment to a constructive self-analysis and to refuse
the destructive temptation of selective condemnations.
Translation by _MPACUK_
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