The freedom for Muslims to express their identity in Europe is today under attack. Implicit in this attack is the view that Islam is intrinsically repressive, and embodies values alien to western values of liberty, tolerance and democracy. The memory of the Holocaust stands against such a grossly sanitised view of European history. It reminds us that in the heart of modern Europe the demonisation of a religious and cultural minority culminated in genocide – the mass, industrialised slaughter of European Jews. Why then, with European Muslims subject to attacks reminiscent of the gathering storms of anti-semitism in the first decades of the last century, has Holocaust Memorial Day become such a difficult issue for some British Muslims? One objection has been outlined by Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain. “There have been many further instances of genocide and mass killings since we vowed ‘never again’ in response to the Nazi crimes,” he has pointed out. “Do the innocent killed in those horrific episodes not equally deserve to be commemorated in a more inclusive and aptly titled Genocide Memorial Day?” However, for many Muslims, arguments about the specificity of the Holocaust are not the main reason they are uneasy about participation in memorial events. The main reason is Palestine. The way in which Zionists have abused the memory of the Holocaust to bolster support for today’s Israeli state and its racist and murderous policies towards the Palestinians repels many Muslims, as well as some anti-Zionist Jews, from participating. In fact, Palestine should not be a reason for boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day, but a reason for participating. As the peace campaigner Uri Avnery, who organised a demonstration against the killing of Palestinian children on last year’s Holocaust Memorial Day in Tel Aviv, put it: one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that you must not accept an ideology telling you “that other people are inferior and subhuman” or that loyalty to your country justifies “the occupation of another country and oppression of another people”.
Ruth Kelly yesterday challenged Muslim groups who have boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day, in a speech warning Islamic organisations that sitting on the sidelines in the struggle against extremism was “not good enough”. The communities secretary announced that funding for groups would depend on their willingness to take a lead on the issue, and defended the government’s record, insisting: “Britain is a good place to be a Muslim.”