Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Just wanted to share an interesting article I came across on  I believe that Muslims are currently under the same pressures as Jews and instead of fighting one another it would be better to learn from one another, history, and ally ourselves and form a commitment to rid the world of injustice and oppression.

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia
Lessons From History

By Alexander Gainem**
Freelance Journalist – Canada

Feb. 23, 2006

Alexander Gainem traces the origins of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in European history, drawing an analogy between the two concepts and foreseeing more violence if Islamophobia is not taken more seriously.

Do you think that Islamophobia can be compared to anti-Semitism? Do you think it can lead to similar consequences? Join us with your comments.

With feelings of superiority dominating Nazi Germany, Jews were seen as inferior — untermenschen.


The current European debates on the merits of publishing the cartoons that depict the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist and portray Muslims as bloodthirsty wife-beaters may be rooted to events that took place on the continent in the 1930s.

The similarities between the socio-political conditions that allowed racism against Europe’s Jewish community to flourish and the current cultural ignorance of Islam cannot be dismissed offhand.

By tracing the origins of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in European history, one can better understand the climate in which the cartoons seem to have thrived and been boisterously defended.

In reflecting on the horrific results of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust, one can derive lessons which could positively impact on Islam-west relations.

Medieval Anti-Semitism

Between 1096 and 1150, Jewish communities in Europe were wiped out or forced into accepting Christianity.

The Crusaders depicted the Jews as “demonic murderers of God.”

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Prophet Muhammad and his cousin Ali were cast to the ninth circle of Hell.

The attitudes which prevailed in early 20th century European history and gave rise to the Holocaust are similar in nature to the climate of fear Muslim communities increasingly contend in contemporary Europe.

Today, Muslims in Europe are also seen as outside of a democratic culture. During the controversy surrounding the cartoons, many pundits who defended their depictions on freedom-of-speech grounds also maintained that Muslim culture could not cohabit with liberal freedoms.

This resurgence of social Darwinism as applied to libertarian theory — that democratic ideals are inherently superior to ideals of other cultures — alienated Muslims and created a cultural backlash against cultural integration.

But the disenfranchisement of Muslim communities from those of their hosts in Europe is itself also rooted in history.

A hostile view of Islam began in the 8th century when Muslims expanded into the Iberian Peninsula. Islam as a faith was rejected as a fundamental religion and seen as a direct challenge to Christianity; Muslims were seen as heretics and their prophet a diabolical fraud.

By the time of the Crusades, Muslims were viewed as a geopolitical threat and military means were seen as the only ways to address the danger to the Church.

Ignorance of Islam and abject rejection of Muslim culture reached its peak in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, itself considered the pinnacle of Western literature in the 13th century.

Dante saw fit to cast the Prophet Muhammad and his cousin Ali to the ninth circle of Hell — one created for schismatics and sowers of discord. The discord Dante refers to is a rebellion of the Christian church. Just as Satan was seen as the great rebel, his minion Muhammad was too, according to Dante.

The ideology that Muhammad was hell-bound was further explored in a 1415 painting by Giovanni Da Modena. The Last Judgment, which adorns a cathedral in Bologna, depicts a scantily clad, turbaned, and bearded Muhammad in agony as he is pulled into the pits of hell by demons.

As international trade routes expanded and dialogue between nations increased after the Renaissance, a more concerted effort to understand Islam was exerted by orientalists.

However, with increased migration of Muslims into traditionally Christian countries — Europe, North America, and Australia — fear of a new eastern culture in the midst of Western idiosyncrasies dominated the discourse.

This would also reach its peak in the 20th century.

Rise of Islamophobia

With Muslims’ increased migration to Europe, fear of an Eastern culture in the midst of Western idiosyncrasies dominated the discourse.

1) Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static, and unresponsive to change.

2) Islam is seen as separate and “other.” It does not have values in common with other cultures, it is not affected by them, and does not influence them.

3) Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.

4) Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a “clash of civilizations.”

5) Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.

6) Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.

7) Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

8 ) Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

The findings echo anti-Semitic attitudes prevalent in early 20th century Europe.

Similarities Between Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism

Given the growing distrust of Muslims as the “other” and the conclusion that anti-Muslim hostility is itself found normal, the publication of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in recent weeks can no longer be dismissed as mere experiments in libertarian freedom of speech and censorship.

The cartoons were not borne in a vacuum.

Earlier political cartoons of Jews and Christians had been rejected on the grounds they would be deemed offensive. No such considerations were appropriated to the Jyllands-Posten cartoons.

Furthermore, in April 2005, Danish Queen Margrethe told a biographer, “We are being challenged by Islam these years. Globally as well as locally … We must take this challenge seriously. We have simply left it flapping around for far too long, because we are tolerant and rather lazy.”

The cartoons depicted the “challenge,” if not danger, of a terrorist Muhammad. Could such a depiction have been totally unaffected by social conditions (encouraged by Queen Margrethe) existing in Danish society?

The recent Jyllands-Posten cartoon depicting a bearded Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban is suspiciously similar to the Der Satan cartoon.

Both Muhammad, a Muslim, and the Der Stürmer Jew are bearded. Both wear religious head gear, and both are depicted as icons of evil in contemporary society.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, Muslim communities in non-Islamic countries have come to fear the very pogroms which targeted the Jews in 1930s Europe.

For example, as shown above, Pogromnacht came about when a German diplomat was killed by a Jew. The stage had been set with repeated anti-Jewish commentary in German media.

In the days following the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who directed a film many Muslims found offensive, by an Arab immigrant in 2004, attacks against Muslims soared in the Netherlands. Just as in Nazi Germany, the stage here had also been set by repeated anti-Islamic commentary in the media.

Just as synagogues were burned during Pogromnacht, mosques and Islamic schools in Rotterdam, Breda, Huizen, Utrecht, and Eindhoven were attacked, vandalized, and in some cases set ablaze.

Attacks Against Muslims

Given the growing distrust of Muslims, the Danish cartoons can’t be dismissed as experiments in libertarian freedom of speech.

The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh led to soaring attacks against Muslims in the Netherlands.

While many countries around the world have enacted anti-hate speech laws and legislature to combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia is still leagues away from being internationally recognized as racism.

In fact, Islamophobia is dismissed as a myth.

Kenan Malik, a British writer and broadcaster, wrote in 2005: “In reality, discrimination against Muslims is not as great as is often claimed … For Muslim leaders, inflating the threat of Islamophobia helps consolidate their power base, both within their own communities and wider society.”

Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, believes Muslims should abandon the “discredited term” of Islamophobia and examine the problems that Islamic societies have. “Rather than blame the potential victim for fearing his would-be executioner, they would do better to ponder how Islamists have transformed their faith into an ideology celebrating murder and develop strategies to redeem their religion by combating this morbid totalitarianism,” Pipes wrote in the New York Sun in 2005.

By ignoring the existence of Islamophobia (as much a socio-political phenomenon as anti-Semitism) fear and ignorance of Islam continues to grow.

In its 2004 annual report The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) found “certain groups of persons, notably Arabs, Jews, Muslims, certain asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants, and certain visible minorities have become particularly vulnerable to racism and racial discrimination across many fields of public life.”

ECRI also said that Islamophobia was on the rise in Europe:

Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions. ECRI is worried about the current climate of hostility against persons who are or are believed to be Muslim.

There is, indeed, a cultural divide as ECRI points out: “One of the new faces of racism today is “cultural” racism. According to this notion of racism, cultures are pre-defined entities, largely seen as homogenous, unchangeable and, more importantly, incompatible with each other.”

Islamic Holocaust?

By ignoring the existence of Islamophobia, fear and ignorance of Islam continue to grow.

**Alexander Gainem is a freelance journalist who has written extensively on Middle East issues.


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