Is Islamophobia the new anti-Semitism?
Is Islamophobia the new anti-Semitism? Sir Nicholas Barrington, who served as former ambassador to Pakistan, once stated in an address that he had “served in several Muslim countries” and that during that time he found that the “Stereotypes [of Muslim and other minorities] are very misleading” (Conway, 1997). In the essay, we will look at both sides of the debate – the disputes and stereotypes are varied. Definition, time and the location in which events occur impact upon how stereotypes develop and are perpetuated in a secular society. I will show that the two types of group hatred are utterly different from each other through the reasons outlined above, including an analysis of the issues surrounding each religion and by showing through this evidence why Islamophobia is not the new anti-Semitism.
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One definition of Islamophobia, according to The Runnymede Trust, is the “dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, to the fear and dislike of all Muslims” (Stone et al., 2004). The practice of discrimination refers to many areas of life including economic, social, and public life and is not based on whether a person is a practising Muslim, but instead is based on whether the individual appears to be Muslim or not (Anagnostou, 2007).
This definition has caused some to consider Islamophobia and recall the anti-Semitism that was prevalent during the 1930s and 1940s that reached its zenith during the Nazi era in World War II and attempt to compare and contrast the two. For instance, in Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia – New Enemies, Old Patterns it was asserted that:
“The frighteningly clear parallels are unmistakable when one analyses styles of argument and even images. To an extent, the same metaphors and ideas are used to incite hatred against Muslims as were and are used to incite hatred against Jews” (Schiffer and Wagner, 2011).
Likewise, anti-Semitism can be defined as the:
“…perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities” (IHRA, 2018).
However, as we will continue to show, while there are some similarities between the two types of group hatred, there are vast differences. Islamophobia is a new phenomenon when compared with anti-Semitism. According to The Runnymede Trust, in their report of 1997, it was stated that “in recent years a new word [Islamophobia] has gained currency which evokes the outlook and worldview” (Conway, 1997). The fact that Islamophobia is a recent development enables us to see that Islamophobia does not have the same historicity as anti-Semitism and, as such, would lead to an unfair comparison if we were to use one to explain the other. Continuing to look at the historicity of Islamophobia, a “term coined in the 1980s” according to The Runnymede Trust report (Conway, 1997), gained momentum following the September 11th 2001 attacks on the twin towers in New York (Welch, 2006). There has been a marked increase in Islamophobia since the September 11th attacks. One of the major reasons we have for asserting this increase is based on a study by Lorraine Sheridan, conducted at Curtin University which consisted of 222 British Muslims in which “respondents indicate that following September 11th, 2001, levels of implicit or indirect discrimination rose by 82.6% and experiences of overt discrimination by 76.3%” (Sheridan, 2006).
As we have discussed so far, there are similarities within the definitions of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, such as including the same core concepts of hatred towards a group based on their cultural-religious beliefs. However, we must not overlook the fact that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism fall into vastly different historical and political frames of reference (Bunzl, 2005). In the minds of most people in the West, Islam implies terrorist acts and totalitarian regimes in the Middle East; Muslims are seen as the perpetrator (Varisco, 2008). Another critical reason why Islamophobia exists is that of overrepresentation of the Muslim population within Europe. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, Muslims in 2016 were estimated to number just under 26 million throughout Europe; this represented around 4.9% of Europe’s total population (Europe’s Growing Muslim Population, 2017). However, the Muslim presence is perceived to be far more extensive, in significant part due to its portrayal in both mainstream and social media (Allievi, 2005). The media’s portrayal of Islam has led to more aggressive and demonising representations of Islam. However, at the same time, the Jewish population within Europe is vastly smaller at about 1.4 million (Lipka, 2018). This is made even smaller due to the lack of media coverage, which is in sharp contrast to that of the Muslim population.
As we have seen thus far, various factors influence how we define both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Let us take a closer look at these two types of group hatred individually. One of the elemental aspects of why anti-Semitism arose can be traced to the religious prejudices associated with Judaism, which began in the early first century and which are supported by Christian theology.
“Aside from the obvious fact that the racism of the Nazis and their fascist allies was pseudoscientific rather than scientific […] the fact that religions, including Christianity, traditionally tended to view only the lives of the members of their group as sacred, while the members of other religious groups are typically seen as subhuman or demonic and, thus, eminently killable” (Munson, 2018).
Christianity labelled Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ leading all the way back to primitive Christianity. For instance, the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:15 writes to the congregation there:
“…for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone” (NRSV).
As well as this the socio-economic status of Jews, for example, many Jews in the pre-Nazi period were engaged as traders and bankers, and these professions allowed them to have high economic status (Robertson, 1999). This socio-economic status led to the view that Jews were greedy, rich and crafty.
One of the major aspects that makes the comparison of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia problematic is the idea of the Jews being one people, one coherent group. The unifying of the Jewish population is central to the prejudices that surround and create anti-Semitism, as Arshad Isakjee postulates on the website The Conversation. Muslims are from a variety of groups which:
“…are often divided by class and have been known to fall out. Bangladeshis from the capital Dhaka and those from rural Sylhet have similarly failed to co-operate at times because of class and caste-based distinctions. These distinctions can be made without even touching on the theological differences within Sunni Islam alone. Deobandis, Barelvis and Salafis all have their own take on religious doctrine” (The Conversation, 2018).
This point alone shows us a significant difference and an essential aspect of why Islamophobia is not the new anti-Semitism.
Many view Islam by the worst parts of itself and Judaism by the best parts of its development. For example, Islam is seen as a regressive religion led by those with fundamental beliefs who use their religious beliefs to justify their actions (Karmani, 2005). Eatwell and Goodwin (2012) note that a significant number of people perceive Islam with “great concern and fear”. This fear has induced a regressive dialogue resulting in avoidance of and panic around Islam in general and more specifically towards the Muslims who belong to it (Morgan, 2016). As we have discussed, the media over-represent the Muslim community and population. As well as this, the high visibility of Muslims due to religious-cultural dress and grooming such as headscarves and beards place the Muslim population at the forefront of the mind of the average individual. If we add to this both the portryal in the media and the preexisting stereotypes, this all adds to and expands the percieved deepening divide and the impact that Islamophobia has on both the Muslim and non-Muslim community.
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In summary, while both communities are defined by their adherents and isolated by outside society, both exist in entirely different historical periods. The Holocaust, for many, demonstrates how far a community is willing to go based on prejudices instilled within it by the media and other sections of society. The Holocaust undoubtedly was the peak of anti-Semitism, and it is unlikely that prejudices will ever evolve to this point again where Jews, Muslims, or any other socio-religious group will be persecuted due to their affiliation with a group. While Islamaphobia does isolate Muslims in much the same way that the Jews were isolated, it will not lead to their reduction or elimination. As Green (2018) states, “there is no way that Islamophobia will ever lead to a Holocaust of Muslims – the living and written memory is too aware of the anti-Semitic atrocities”. Due to the points we have discussed above, and many others we did not have time to discuss, it is my opinion based on the evidence that while it may be true that the survivors of the Holocaust will eventually die out and as such the living memory of the Holocaust will inevitably fade, there has been too much progression (such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was a direct result of the findings and aftermath of the Second World War) for an event like the Holocaust to be repeated. Valuable lessons have been gained, and it is inconsistent with these advances to say that Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism.
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- Anagnostou, D. (2007). Development, discrimination and reverse discrimination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.64-65.
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- Morgan, G. (2016). Global Islamophobia. Routledge.
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- Sheridan, L. (2006). Islamophobia Pre– and Post–September 11th, 2001. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(3), pp.317-336.
- Stone, R., Muir, H., Smith, L. and Richardson, R. (2004). Islamophobia. Stoke on Trent, UK: Trentham Books, in association with the Uniting Britain Trust, London, p.vii.
- The Bible (1997). London: Oxford Press, pp.1 Thessalonians 2:15.
- The Conversation. (2018). Why there is no such thing as the Muslim ‘community’. [online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/why-there-is-no-such-thing-as-the-muslim-community-33862 [Accessed 18 Oct. 2018].
- Varisco, D. (2008). Islamophobia: making Muslims the enemy. Contemporary Islam, 3(3), pp.301-303.
- Welch, M. (2006). Scapegoats of September 11th. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, pp.54-61.
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