Comparing Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The State of the Field

An article by Farid Hafez, University of Salzburg, published in ISLAMOPHOBIA STUDIES JOURNAL VOLUME 3, NO. 2, Spring 2016, PP. 16-34.

ABSTRACT
In the European public discourse on Islamophobia, comparisons of antiSemitism and Islamophobia have provoked heated debates. The academic discourse has also touched on this issue, an example being the works of Edward Said, where he alludes to connections between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Following the 2003 publication of the Islamophobia report produced by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), which discusses the similarities between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, scholars in various fields began a debate that compares and contrasts anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Participants in this debate include Matti Bunzl, Brian Klug, Sabine Schiffer, Nasar Meer, Wolfgang Benz, and many others. To some degree, the academias of the German- and English-speaking worlds have conducted this discourse separately. This paper surveys, to a degree, the state of the field of the comparative approach to studying Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as a pair, and also presents some central topoi and associated questions. It aims to highlight primary insights that have been gained from such a comparison, including how this comparison has been discussed and criticized, and what similarities and differences have been identified on which levels. It questions which epistemological assumptions were made in taking such a comparative approach, and which political discourses—especially regarding the Holocaust and the conflict in Israel/Palestine (which are not part of this discussion)—have shaped this debate in many forums, including academia. Furthermore, this paper discusses which possible aspects of comparative research on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have not yet been explored, and where there could perhaps lay more possibilities for further investigation.

Read more
Hafez, Farid. “Comparing Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The State of the Field.” Islamophobia Studies Journal, Volume 3, No. 2 (Spring 2016): 16-34.

 

How to deal with extremist voices: Inclusion of hard-line Salafi in TV debate causes uproar in Germany

‘My life for Allah’

Recent reports indicate that the flow of German recruits to the jihadist groups on the Syrian battlefields is declining.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/jihad-reisen-101.html )) Nevertheless, among all European countries, Germany comes second in terms of the number of its citizens that have joined ISIS, al-Nusra Front, or related groups. Against this backdrop, the German public broadcaster ARD used its flagship political talk show Anne Will to discuss the reasons behind the foreign fighter phenomenon.((The full show is available at http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Anne-Will/Mein-Leben-f%C3%BCr-Allah-Warum-radikalisie/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=328454&documentId=38785504 ))

Debating under the title “My life for Allah – why do more and more youth radicalise themselves?”, guests included Ahmad Mansour, a Muslim sociologist and anti-radicalisation activist; Mohamed Taha Sabri, a Berlin-based Imam; Sascha Mané, father of a girl who has joined ISIS in Syria; and conservative CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach.((For a portrait of Ahmad Mansour and some of his work, see http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/02/20/ahmad-mansour-on-generation-allah-radicalisation-of-young-muslims-in-germany/ ))

Ties to the Syrian jihad

Yet the most controversial guest proved to be Nora Illi, converted Swiss Muslim woman serving as women’s affairs commissioner at the ‘Islamic Central Council of Switzerland’ (IZRS). In spite of this seemingly inclusive name, the hard-line Salafi IZRS represents only 0.5 per cent of Swiss Muslims.((https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article159313844/Nikab-Nora-liebt-die-Provokation.html ))

The organisation is the target of a criminal investigation in Switzerland for facilitating the travel of foreign fighters to Syria.((http://www.nzz.ch/schweiz/strafverfahren-gegen-izrs-vorstandmitglied-eroeffnet-1.18665759 )) The IZRS has also publicly screened a movie shot by one of its board members while in Syria during the war. Ostentatiously presented as a travel documentary, the movie in fact contains a host of interviews with Syrian jihadists.((http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/schweiz/standard/islamischer-zentralrat-setzt-sich-provokativ-in-szene/story/30538028 ))

Calculated provocation

Against this backdrop, the talk master Anne Will undoubtedly expected Illi to play a certain provocative role during her show; a role which she fulfilled splendidly. Wearing a niqab, she appeared to defend the jihadist fighters joining the Syrian conflict: Illi asserted that breaking free from the constraints of European life was “not at all objectionable from an Islamic perspective”, and that doing so even “needed to be highly lauded as an example of moral courage.”((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/warum-lud-anne-will-die-islamistin-nora-illi-ins-studio-14517143.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Illi went on to assert that wearing the niqab was liberating her as a woman. She claimed that Western societies were consistently oppressing Muslims and preventing them from living in accordance with the fundamental tenets of their faith.

Reacting to the radical challenge

Subsequently, the entire rest of the round rallied against Illi. All other Muslim participants denounced her as propagating a hateful ideology and of condoning or actively fostering the atrocities in Syria. The father of the ‘jihadi bride’ provided an insight into what he believed were his daughter’s thought processes when travelling to Syria – most notably her fervent belief to contribute to the making of a better world by joining the Islamic State.((For an excerpt on this, see http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Anne-Will/Die-Jugendlichen-m%C3%B6chten-gern-die-Welt-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=328454&documentId=38785454 ))

However, among Muslim discussants further fault-lines opened up quite quickly. Most notably, Ahmad Mansour criticised Imam Sabri for his defensive attitude and for his somewhat hapless attempts to dissociate Islam from the Islamic State by simply asserting that ISIS and its actions are ‘un-Islamic’. Mansour accused the mainstream Sunni Muslim clergy of having failed to “offer youth an understanding of Islam that is reconcilable with democracy and human rights without ifs and buts”. This failure, according to Mansour, coupled with the conservatism of much of established theology, provides fertile soil for subsequent radicalisation.((http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/fernsehen/anne-will-tv-kritik-welcher-islam-passt-zu-deutschland-aid-1.6379034 ))

Islamists and populists

Beyond demonstrating the very strained nature of the entente between different Muslim voices standing against radicalisation, however, the discussion round also cast into sharp relief the difficulty of reining in hateful fringe discourses. Critics noted that without the concerted help of her other guests, host Anne Will not have been able to deconstruct Illi’s blunt yet powerful rhetoric. At times, the crude logic of Illi’s argument threatened to overwhelm the host.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/tv-kritik/tv-kritik-anne-will-nora-illi-macht-offen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-14516141.html ))

This highlights the fact that offering a public forum to voices like Nora Illi is challenging, because she is not willing to abide by the rules upon which discussion in such a forum is based – notably a willingness to build an argument based on hard facts, or a minimum requirement of civility. Unfazed by facts and conventions, Illi proceeded to offer her own concoction of theological rigidity, conspiracy theories, and distorted truths.

In this respect, the predicament faced by Anne Will in relation to the Swiss radical propagandist is not altogether different from the challenges encountered by media across Western democracies in their dealings with ‘populists’. Donald Trump’s victory has been widely hailed as signifying the triumph of anti-establishment post-truth politics. Similarly, in Germany the established parties struggle to unravel the elaborate edifice of anxieties, fears, and half-truths exploited by the rising Alternative für Deutschland party.((Another recent TV debate provides a perfect instantiation of this point: In the episode of Maischberger broadcast on September 22, AfD leader Frauke Petry gleefully manipulated the discussion. Exasperated by the populists’ ability to blur the line between facts and fictions, SPD Secretary General Katharina Barley at some point noted with bewilderment that the AfD had managed to make the burka ban a central topic of the electoral contest in regional elections in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in spite of the fact that no burka-wearing women had been spotted on the state’s streets. http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Maischberger/Das-schwarz-rote-Debakel-Volksparteien-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=311210&documentId=37887778 ))

Enlarging the discussion or providing a forum for hate speech

Consequently, like in the case of populists, the media are faced with the difficult question of whether to engage with voices like Nora Illi. Anne Will’s decision to invite Illi was heavily criticised, with some accusing Will of unnecessarily providing a platform for the spread of hateful propaganda. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked whether Anne Will wanted to invite neo-Nazis to her next debate.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/warum-lud-anne-will-die-islamistin-nora-illi-ins-studio-14517143.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Will herself reacted by asserting that “the editorial team has carefully considered the invitation of Mrs. Illi”, especially given Illi’s “controversial position” regarding foreign fighters travelling to Syria. Will argued that by including Illi “the discussion offered many insights […] in the field of the tension between religion and liberal pluralistic values that preoccupies our society.”((http://www.zeit.de/2016/47/anne-will-ard-talkshow-islamismus-verschleierung-frauenrechte/komplettansicht ))

Forcing extremist views to justify themselves

Irrespective of whether the host’s intentions were as noble as that – or whether she was more concerned with increasing the market share of her show – simply blanking out positions like Illi’s does not appear to be a viable option. It is only when they are forced out into the open that such views can be engaged with. It is also only in such a public context that we can hope to demystify them and showcase their flaws.

By the end of Anne Will’s show, the participants had been more or less successful in this regard. Yet wrestling down Illi and her blunt argumentation had proved to be a formidable undertaking; an undertaking that on multiple occasions teetered on the verge of failure.

How the Orlando attack could mark a shift for gay Muslims

Like their counterparts worldwide, many gay Muslims in the United States have long felt doubly ostracized – both by the wider national culture and by their co-religionists. But in the days since the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., there have been some signs of acceptance by Islamic organizations and religious institutions more often known for shying away from LGBT issues than for speaking forcefully in defense of gay people.
To the surprise of many Muslims, some of the largest U.S. Islamic organizations, accustomed over the 14 years since 9/11 to quickly cobbling together news conferences and messaging against terrorism, decided to loudly, even eloquently, stand up in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“Homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia” are “interconnected systems of oppression,” Council of American-Islamic Relations national Executive Director Nihad Awad said Sunday at a Washington, D.C., news conference. Later, the organization delayed a report it planned to release on Islamophobia, saying in an email that “discussion should focus on anti-LGBT hate.”
LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-gay-muslim-20160614-20160612-snap-story.html

Dutch children apologize for terrorism [VIDEO]

Still from film depicting Dutch children apologizing for terrorism. (YouTube)
Still from film depicting Dutch children apologizing for terrorism. (YouTube)

Journalist and filmmaker Abdelkarim El-Fassi directed a Dutch commercial in which various children are seen renouncing and apologizing for terrorism. A Moroccan kid, for example, is asked to apologize for the gruesome deeds in Syria and the attack in Paris “because that where also Muslims and Moroccans.” The director hopes that the commercial, that has sparked quite some controversy in the Netherlands, will lead to new insights and discussion.

El-Fassi said “I have never felt this uncomfortable with directing a video.” I find it extremely painful if it is asked of a certain group, or rather demanded, to distance oneself from horrible events. While they have absolutely nothing to do with these events.” “Please understand me correctly,” the directer said, “There is nothing wrong with distancing oneself from these horrible acts but it has to be one’s own choice, and must not be imposed by politicians, media, or fellow human beings.”

Critics of the video suggest that the director would have misused the children for his goal. El-Fassi disagrees. “Yes, the video is pedagogically irresponsible. Off course it is unethical. But we have explained to the kids that this was not real. That we would never ask such a thing from them. Sometimes a means such as this one is necessary to convey a message.”

[Watch the video here.]

At the Great Mosque of Paris, future imams “unload their baggage”

The Grand Mosque of Paris
The Grand Mosque of Paris

“The best thing I heard this week, it’s what the Pope said. The press can’t say anything it wants, there are things we can’t talk about.” Students at the Institute of Theology at the Great Mosque of Paris cited Pope Francois when discussing the recent attacks at Charlie Hebdo. While flying to the Philippines the Pope said, “one shouldn’t provoke or insult the faith of others, or make a game of it.”

Every Saturday and Sunday at the Institute from 9 am to 7 pm adults take classes in order to become imams, or, for only two years in order to become a chaplain. Courses were suspended on January 10 and 11 due to recent “events” and restarted January 17.

Missoum Chaoui, a tutor and prison chaplain in Ile-de-France decided to facilitate discussion among his students, the “future leaders” of Islam. Men sit in one corner, women in the other. “Go ahead, unload your baggage,” encourages Chaoui in front of his first-year class.

The discussion is a reminder that Muslims “don’t have to excuse these crimes,” because the terrorists aren’t one of them. Or to clarify that “the Muslim community, it mourns these men but not the freedom of expression.” Another said, “It’s been said that there weren’t many Muslims who participated in the demonstration. They forget that ‘Muslim,’ isn’t written on our foreheads.” Some preferred to write “anger” on social media rather than “Je suis Charlie.” “Open your Facebook page, go on the Internet,” recommends Chaoui, “They took out their poison pens, take out pens of peace to show who the Prophet really was.”

Some expressed their frustration with “double standards,” such as the fact that “anti-Semitism is prohibited,” while Islamophobia is not. “It will come. We just have to work for it,” assured their teacher. “There will always be those who speak badly of the Prophet. He has already been called a sorcerer, a liar and he always pardoned them.”

“Caricatures, it’s just the beginning,” says one student. Examining the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo he says, “The turban isn’t holy, it speaks volumes. For those who look hard, we see male genitalia, on the turban. And on the face…it’s like a woman’s private parts. It’s going around Facebook.” Chaoui interrupts and reframes: “Attention to what is open to interpretation.” Another older man doesn’t believe the media’s version. “The scenario, it was constructed in advance,” by others, he says. “It’s not what’s said, we didn’t see their faces,” he grumbles four or five times. “They’re at the forensic institute,” retorts the professor, “Then who is it?” he asks. No response. Another woman responds, “This newspaper was on the brink of bankruptcy, there are a lot of Muslims in France, we provoke an event…Now they have a lot of money.” Certain people nod their head, others don’t, but the whole room falls silent, even the professor. Two or three questions later the class is over.

Dutch cabinet presents plan to combat forced marriage, honor killings, and homophobia

The Dutch cabinet recently presented an Action Plan for Self-determination. The cabinet will provide a yearly one million euros until 2017 to combat forced marriages, homophobia and violence related to honor. More than 150 specially trained volunteers will be supported to bring these taboo themes up for discussion among their own communities. Additionally a social media campaign will be initiated with stories related by people who support a change of mentality on these themes. This was written to the Dutch Lower House by Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Lodewijk Asscher.

New Book: The Oxford Handbook of European Islam (Jocelyne Cesari, Editor)

European Islam CoverThe Oxford Handbook of European Islam is the first collection to present a comprehensive approach to the multiple and changing ways Islam has been studied across European countries. Parts one to three address the state of knowledge of Islam and Muslims within a selection of European countries, while presenting a critical view of the most up-to-date data specific to each country. These chapters analyse the immigration cycles and policies related to the presence of Muslims, tackling issues such as discrimination, post-colonial identity, adaptation, and assimilation. The thematic chapters, in parts four and five, examine secularism, radicalization, Shari’a, Hijab, and Islamophobia with the goal of synthesizing different national discussion into a more comparative theoretical framework. The Handbook attempts to balance cutting edge assessment with the knowledge that the content itself will eventually be superseded by events. Featuring eighteen newly-commissioned essays by noted scholars in the field, this volume will provide an excellent resource for students and scholars interested in European Studies, immigration, Islamic studies, and the sociology of religion.

Prominent Dutch academic critiques minister’s plans to ban “sharia parties”

A majority of parties in the Dutch House of Representatives have agreed on the desirability of a ban for political parties based on the Islamic sharia law. A bill that suggested so was put forward by the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and supported by the two parties currently in the government, the Labour Party (PvdA) and the Peoples Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). It was also supported by the Christian Union (CU) and the Political Reformed Party (SGP). The Minister of Social Affairs Lodewijk Asscher has expressed his willingness to investigate possibilities within Dutch law that would support such a ban.

The bill has been criticized by emeritus professor of integration and migration studies Han Entzinger. He posed that it is unclear what Muslims mean by sharia and that many diverse interpretations of it exist. He suggested that some interpretations of sharia might contain aspects that are in conflict with democracy. Alluding to the ban on extreme right parties such as the Centre Party ‘ 86 (CP ’86) in the nineties he suggested that it might in fact be possible to ban parties with an undemocratic character.

Entzinger suggested however that it remains questionable if such a threat is really at hand. He maintains that the majority of Dutch Muslims are not proponents of the implementation of Islamic sharia law in the Netherlands. He fears that the current discussion on a ban will unnecessarily enhance the already existing polarization in Dutch society, thus enhancing stigmatization of Muslims and xenophobia amongst Dutch natives. Entzinger also suggested that since such political parties are currently not in existence in the Netherlands the whole discussion could be seen as an example of “symboolpolitiek” (politics based on symbolism) as a prelude to the Dutch elections.

Lorraine opens new Muslim burial plot

Between 150 and 200 people assisted at the inauguration of the Barthou cemetery, the new cemetery of Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy. The new cemetery contains a section of plots for Muslims that is over 2,000 m². The new burial plot is the result of “a long process,” according to Saïd Derbani, President of the Association of Muslims of Lorraine (AML), that, for ten years, has supported the project. While the city’s primary cemetery has a section of plots for Muslims, it has been full for many years.

The cemetery is responding to a “real need,” stated Derbani. He explained that in recent years there has been a shift from believers wanting to be buried in their home countries, to a new generation that wishes to be buried in France. “A 90 year-old woman who converted [to Islam] would ask me every time she saw me where she would be buried,” he said. As a result the new section is a source of “relief” for many.

“Integration takes place during active life. But also in the ground,” Derbani contended. “According to the Ministry of the Interior’s statistics, between 75% and 80% of Muslims who died in France are repatriated to their home countries to be buried. But it is clear that the number of those wishing to be buried in France has not stopped growing, notably within the new generations.

“It is more normal for citizens who have spent the majority of their life on French soil and for their children who have only known the homeland of France,” declared Amine Nedji, president of the Lorraine Regional Council of the Muslim Faith.

There are more than 200 Muslim plots in France. However, “This number is less than the growing need. It’s often due to the lack of political willingness that the memorandum is not found in certain towns. This is due to two reasons: certain politicians have a truncated and biased reading of the principle of secularism…Others simply prefer simply to close the discussion on the subject,” said Nedji.

The need is growing as there are estimated to be over five million Muslims living in France.

Mosque leader compares being gay to paedophilia and murder

March 20, 2014

 

The chairman of a mosque at the centre of a BBC censorship row over the issue of being both Muslim and gay has compared homosexuality to being “a compulsive murderer, gambler, or paedophile”.

Free Speech, the BBC 3 debate show, deliberately dropped the question “When will it be right to be Muslim and gay?” on its March 12 episode at the request of the Birmingham Central Mosque where it was being filmed. The live programme, which featured a panel including government minister and Lib Dem peer Susan Kramer, broadcast a pre-recorded question by Asifa Lahore, who bills himself as Britain’s “first and only gay Muslim drag queen”.

A week later Dr Mohammad Naseem, the mosque’s long-time chairman, defended his decision in a letter sent to Huffington Post UK.

He wrote: “There are people with homosexual tendency in Muslim countries but they respect the law and control their desire as others do.” Human beings do have weaknesses and tendencies which are not socially acceptable and so they try to have a control over them and do not give in. “A compulsive murderer, gambler, paedophile etc. could present the same logic and ask for accommodation by the society. Are we going to accept on the basis of freedom of action?”

Dr Naseem said Lahore “does not know his religion and has not got much links with it. He would have, otherwise, known that it is prohibited in Islam. If he wants to pursue [sic] his inclination then he is free to leave Islam and follow any ideology that suits him.”

Dr Naseem said the subject of homosexuality was not the topic for a TV discussion show but something that should be investigated by specialists and added that “Not being able to accept them in religion should not be confused with denying them their human rights such as their right to have education, employment, housing and respect.”

Free Speech said in a statement: “The Birmingham Mosque had offered the venue as a location for an episode. When asked if there were any issues for discussion that would be off limits, no concerns were raised. As a result the production company, together with the BBC and the mosque, made the decision to postpone the debate of the topic homosexuality and Islam until March 25th but agreed to show the pre-recorded segment.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/10710750/Mosque-leader-compares-being-gay-to-paedophilia-and-murder.html

The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/03/19/gay-muslim_n_4993241.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-26576673

The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/mar/14/bbc3-free-speech-debate-gay-muslim