Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia Surge in Europe
The globalization of the Arab-Israeli conflict has made Muslim-Jewish relations, let us say, very complicated. This was never the case in the past. Muslim anger toward Jews, and Jewish fear of Muslims, is one of the major consequences of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
There is, in some places, a veritable cold war simmering between Muslim and Jewish groups in Europe and the U.S.
But if one could set aside the Arab-Israeli conflict, one would find that the two communities have very strong common interests and common values.
Both communities have strong interests in nourishing liberal democracy and religious pluralism in the West. Neither community would like to be overwhelmed by right-wing Christian politics. Conservative Muslims and Jews have common interests in creating space to fulfill their respective religious obligations to their fullest extent.
Together, they can become a moral force that can only make Europe and America better societies. But unfortunately, they have not learned to transcend the divide and work to pursue common goals. Yes, there are many examples of individual relations (even marriages) and some institutional cooperation here and there but not in a systemic fashion. Is the Arab-Israeli conflict the only meaningful issue that moves them? Surely, neither community is so narrow in its moral vision.
In a curious way, fate is creating circumstances that offer opportunity for joint action by the two communities. There is a frightening surge in prejudice that imperils both Muslims and Jews in Europe.
In the past five years, negative perceptions toward Muslims have increased at an alarming rate across Europe. Pew Global Attitudes survey (2008) reports that the percentage of the population holding these negative views ranges from 32 percent in Great Britain to 52 percent in Spain.
There are many consequences for Muslims as a result of the growing Islamophobia, all of them impinging on the quality of the rights they enjoy. New laws that are being instituted or considered as a consequence of Islamophobia are undermining the liberal democratic culture of Europe and making Muslims second-class citizens.
Anti-Semitism, too, has grown rapidly in the last three years in Europe. The same Pew survey reports that negative views of Jews are now held by more than a third of the population in Germany and France and by by almost half in Spain. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that anti-Semitism has been on the rise. It cites a study by the European Jewish Congress that found that in the first three months of 2009, there were twice as many attacks on Jews as in the previous year. The study pointed to Israel’s war in Gaza and a resurgence of old stereotypes blaming Jews for the current economic crisis as the main causes for the rise in anti-Jewish sentiments in Europe.
Some commentators have tried to link the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe to a growing Muslim population there. But in Hungary, where there is hardly any Muslim presence, anti-Semitism is both more rabid and crude than anywhere else in Europe.
Also important is that the Pew study shows that those who are Islamophobic are also anti-Semitic. Muslims and Jews have a common enemy in Europe.
The recent history of Europe, where Jews experienced the Holocaust and Muslims, more recently, the genocide in Bosnia, suggests that this rise of hate should not be taken lightly. The rise of nationalist sentiment in Europe is a development that neither Muslims nor Jews can overlook.
If Muslims and Jews can find common cause in Europe, perhaps the experience could unite them in — dare I say — resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Muqtedar Khan is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware.
This article was published at Delaware Online on August 4, 2009: