Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain calls for better understanding between Muslim and Jewish communities: “… both communities are concerned that antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise. Some Jewish groups believe that anti-Jewish prejudice is being incited by Muslim extremists, while some Muslim groups believe that some Jewish columnists and editors have been deliberately trying to foster an anti-Muslim climate in the UK. Muslim communities must take more responsibility to ensure that criticism of Israel’s policies does not slide into casual antisemitism. The best way to encourage this is to ensure that grassroots ties prosper between our communities.”
Does more unite Muslims and Jews than divide them?
The Muslim View
By Inayat Bunglawala
Jewish Chronicle, 16 March 2007
Most British Muslims and Jews are unlikely to agree any time soon about the reasons for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Too often, though, a failure to agree on this issue is used as an excuse to stop talking about other areas in which we could co-operate, to our mutual benefit.
Take faith schools. Currently, over 50 per cent of Jewish schoolchildren attend Jewish faith schools, many of which are state-funded. Currently, though, only three per cent of Muslim children attend Islamic faith schools and only eight Muslim schools out of some 150 have secured grant-maintained status. As some secular groups are increasingly advocating the abolishment of faith-based schools, it makes sense for Muslims and Jews to work together to uphold the right of parents to send their children to such schools, and to make sure they are properly resourced.
It was heartening, a couple of years ago, to see representatives from both communities working to ensure that the government did not adopt the Farm and Animal Welfare Council’s recommendation to outlaw halal slaughter and shechitah. Many do not know that most Muslims believe it is permitted Islamically to eat kosher meat. I think it cannot be long before more Muslims than Jews buy Gilbert’s kosher beef.
Also, both communities are concerned that antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise. Some Jewish groups believe that anti-Jewish prejudice is being incited by Muslim extremists, while some Muslim groups believe that some Jewish columnists and editors have been deliberately trying to foster an anti-Muslim climate in the UK. Muslim communities must take more responsibility to ensure that criticism of Israel’s policies does not slide into casual antisemitism. The best way to encourage this is to ensure that grassroots ties prosper between our communities.
I accept that some actions, including the MCB’s absence from the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony – it has asked that the name be changed to a more inclusive Genocide Memorial Day – have caused some misgivings and even distress among British Jews. The MCB has decided to undertake a consultation of British Muslims about this issue and the position is currently under review.
A few months ago, the chair of the Jewish Racial Equality Council, Richard Stone, expressed his wish that an improvement in ties between Muslims and Jews could one day lead to a “Golden Age” for Britain. The MCB stands ready to work with the Jewish community to help make this a reality.
Inayat Bunglawala is the Assistant Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain
The Jewish Response
By Professor David Cesarani
At first sight, the historical similarities between the Muslim and Jewish experiences appear beguiling. Both groups made their way into British society in the face of popular resentment and institutional racism. Both have been branded the carriers of disease, vice, crime and dangerous ideologies, and been the target of immigration controls. Yet on closer examination, the trajectories they followed differ significantly.
Antisemitism and Islamophobia share traits, but more separates them. Christianity is based on the supercession and denigration of Judaism. This contempt was inscribed in European culture and acquired an autonomous existence. Islam has been feared and demonised, too, but this was partly because Muslim armies repeatedly threatened Christian Europe.
Jewish settlement in modern Britain dates back 350 years. Before mass immigration, a steady trickle of migrants established a respectable community. Mass Jewish immigration provoked popular protest, but Anglicised Jews were able to ameliorate the worst effects of prejudice. In the absence of a welfare state they took care of their own.
Muslims have been present in Britain since the 1800s, but there was no established community to ease the way for the mass influx from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Rather, the post-1945 immigrants were seen as the recipients of British taxpayers’ money. But unlike the Jews, New Commonwealth immigrants benefited from the notion that they were post-imperial citizens with rights in Britain.
Jews also demonstrated their patriotism, notably in two world wars. This, and the Holocaust, helped to blunt anti-Jewish feeling after 1945. Muslims also fought for Britain in two world wars, a massive contribution that is disgracefully under-appreciated. This ignorance accounts partly for the perception that Muslims are almost always opposed to British overseas interests.
The echo of anti-Western rhetoric emanating from Tehran and Islamist groups has no parallel amongst the Jews. On the contrary, Jews bruited their adherence to “British values”, often to an exaggerated degree. This contrasts with the perception, however erroneous, that Muslims owe allegiance to hostile powers.
So, instead of pursuing misleading historical comparisons, we should focus on real common interests. The BNP and the enemies of pluralism threaten both communities. Multiculturalism has been buried, but Jews and Muslims still share a commitment to preserving the conditions for diversity and fostering respect for all religions.
Professor David Cesarani, OBE, is research professor in history at Royal Holloway, University of London
The JC has invited contributions to this discussion. Email firstname.lastname@example.org