In the modern liberal world, few issues are treated like Muslim antisemitism. In journalistic and academic circles, Muslim antisemitism is not a respectable issue to bring up, which turned it into one of the giant elephants in the room of our modern world. Given the scale of the problem, its political salience and its rising potency, the silence is becoming as dangerous as the family secret.
The new year had not settled in before Malik Faisal Akram terrorized the American Jewish community in Colleyville, Texas. Akram flew across the Atlantic to take hostages during a Shabbat service in the Texas synagogue. The incident, thankfully, ended without casualties aside from Akram. In a bizarre and shameful twist, the FBI initially denied the incident had anything to do with Jews. That a man with Islamist allegiance and a history of antisemitic utterances just happened to take hostages who happened to be Jewish would sound a joke worthy of Soviet living conditions. Despite this the error that was later amended, the incident betrayed the extent to which American institutions try to conceal Muslim antisemitism.
Muslim antisemitism is a specific form of Jew-hatred prevalent in many Muslim societies across the globe. It is especially prevalent in my home country, Egypt, where it is considered by most to be a pillar of national and religious identity. Muslim antisemitism in its current form is a modern fusion of classical Islamic anti-Jewish legends and doctrines and modern European antisemitic pathologies. The mixture is so explosively successful that it is common in Muslim literature to use early Muslim legends of conflict between Muhammad and Jews as a commentary on the Protocols of Zion or vice versa. The fusion has existed for the past 80 years, and it is too late to try to separate from it what is Islamic versus what is European. Any attempt to classify this form of antisemitism as left-wing or right-wing is futile, for it easily incorporates elements from both of them.
It is crucial to emphasize that Islamism did not invent Muslim antisemitism, yet it usually depends on it. Islamist mobilization against the United States, nation-states and modernity typically relies on an obsession with Jewish conspiracies and hatred of Israel, a heritage which Islamism developed from many sources, including Nazi and Arab nationalist influence, as well as significant input from the struggle ideologies of the international left. Those influences resulted from the ideological environments in which Islamism competed for ideological influence. The success of Islamism in shaping mainstream Islam in many corners of the globe since the 1970s and until today means that Islamist antisemitism passes as authentic faith.
The collapse which many Arab societies experienced in the aftermath of the Arab Spring was neither sudden nor unexpected but the result of a long and gradual decay of social and cultural institutions. The escalation of militancy, violence, sexual neurosis, economic hardships and political failure in the post-independence era, in the form of multiple revolutions, wars and civil wars, meant that the sociological conditions in Arab societies were ripe for the activation of scapegoating mechanisms, a role to which Jews are a classic choice. The military defeats at the hands of Israel deeply injured national pride and activated the historical sense of Muslim male supremacy. These sociological elements gave the doctrinal and ideological sociopolitical salience to antisemitic ideas, making them a powerful psychological force among many Muslim societies.
Politicians feed on psychologically meaningful ideas. This is the case with Islamism, Islamist politicians, and antisemitism – Islamists constantly merge their vital interests and their revered symbols and vice versa, as in all human affairs. When paranoid obsessions with Jewish conspiracies are so successful in captivating the minds of so many, it creates the perfect environment for predatory politicians. Thus, for Islamists, antisemitism is both a symbolic system of metaphysical truth and a political program. These two meanings cannot be disentangled.
These ideological social, and political fantasies forces were at play in Colleyville, the wave of antisemitic attacks this last summer, in the Muslim wing of the Squad, in Tehran, in Gaza and many other places. To think that 80 years after the Holocaust, Western intellectuals, politicians, activists, and academics would be trying to obfuscate such a crucial issue is unimaginable. Yet, even with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan live on CNN talking about Jews controlling the media, no one seems to notice. And in the wake of the terrorist attack, and instead of defending Jewish lives, many proceeded to warn about Islamophobia. One would not be entirely insane to assume that some might have even felt a little disappointed that the perpetrator wasn’t a white supremacist. Whether guilty white or blameless Muslim, the identity of the perpetrators trumps that of Jews.
To refuse to speak about Muslim antisemitism openly is to do a condescending disservice to Muslims and a terrible betrayal of Jews. In a culture that seems to fetishize stunning bravery, the moment of truth exposes an ocean of cowardice. Those who speak up, whether Jews, Muslims or others, are our only hope to confront the antisemitic position. Antisemitism has been feeding on Muslim minds and Jewish lives for a very long time, and we can’t let “the elect of the good” gaslight us out of reality or make us doubt what we all can see.
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