2 May 2013

Islamophobia is not a modern day Anti-Semitism

More than once I have heard it said, “Islamophobia is the new Anti-Semitism” It is not: the two phenomena are characterised to a far greater extent by their differences than by their similarities.

What is meant by the two terms? Islamophobia can be defined as political disapproval of Islam; and anti-Semitism as political disapproval of Jews. In political discourse both terms are used pejoratively, i.e. as negative labels to apply to attitudes or behaviour, but for the purpose of this piece of writing, I will use them simply as descriptive concepts.

Disapproval of Islam is opposition to a religion. A religion is a set of alleged facts about how the world is and a system of beliefs about how it ought to be. Opposing Islam is not of itself racist as Muslims may be of any racial background. People labelled as Islamophobic are from both the left and right.

The left criticise Islam because many of it adherents make demands for changes in the rules that govern society. These demands typically entail the subordination of women and imposing restrictions on the freedom of expression. The political right, on the other hand, attack Islam for entirely different reasons: they dislike a separate unintergrated group living in "their" society.

The left and the right differ on another point. The left criticises Islam, not because it is Islam per se, but because its supporters seek to diminish political and social freedom. The left levels the same opposition against against similar illiberal and intolerant social demands by other religions, particularly fundamental Christianity. The right however endorses the demands made on society by the Christian religion, but reject those of Islam.

Anti-Semitism, a movement of Europe's political right, is hostility to Jews on account their ethnic origin. The attack on Jews in the 1930s in Western Europe was not based on the contents of Judaism or any demands that Judaism made on society (the majority of Jews were atheistic, non-observant or had converted to Christianity), but on the "threat" of an "alien" element that had “infiltrated” into society and was “polluting” it from within. Anti-Semitism was a rejection of assimilation by Jews into gentile society.

In other words, the attack by the right on Jews was for successful assimilation into society, while the attack on Islam is for separateness. The common thread in right-wing thinking is dislike of sharing living space with ethnic groups other than their own, whether those groups be assimilated or not.

In conclusion, we can say that apart from notions of hatred, disapproval and/or criticism, Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism have nothing in common. To conflate the two is simply wrong.

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