The Swiss minaret ban is a kind of canary in the coal mine. It’s worth noting that though Islamophobia is driven by fear, whereas anti-Semitism is driven by hate, the functional expression of both in European society follows very similar trends. The self-styled defenders of Western Civilization want to forget that anti-Semitism found its ultimate expression in Europe not centuries ago, but mere decades – and the same passions exploited today against muslims run the risk of reigniting the same old hatreds that still percolate beneath the surface of “modern, civilized” Europe.
There is hard data to support the argument that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are linked. The Pew Global Attitudes Project is an invaluable reference; last September they released a report (full PDF; summary) which showed an alarming increase in unfavorable opinions of both jews and muslims alike in all the major European countries (but not in the US or Britain):
A spring 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finds 46% of the Spanish rating Jews unfavorably. More than a third of Russians (34%) and Poles (36%) echo this view. Somewhat fewer, but still significant numbers of the Germans (25%) and French (20%) interviewed also express negative opinions of Jews. These percentages are all higher than obtained in comparable Pew surveys taken in recent years. In a number of countries, the increase has been especially notable between 2006 and 2008.
(…) Opinions about Muslims in almost all of these countries are considerably more negative than are views of Jews. Fully half of Spanish (52%) and German respondents (50%) rate Muslims unfavorably. Opinions about Muslims are somewhat less negative in Poland (46%) and considerably less negative in France (38%). About one-in-four in Britain and the United States (23% each) also voice unfavorable views of Muslims. Overall, there is a clear relationship between anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim attitudes: publics that view Jews unfavorably also tend to see Muslims in a negative light.
The demographics of these jew-hating, muslim-fearing publics are consistently dominated by older people (above age 50) and people who have not attended college. And unsurprisingly, they are dominated by members of the political right.
It’s easy to see how an increase in right-wing political paranoia – as epitomized by the electoral success of European far-right parties like the Vlaams Belang and the SVP – can open a pandora’s box from which both muslims and jews alike will suffer. This is why muslims and jews need to work together and actively join forces in articulating their common rights of religious freedom and expression, respect for their holy sites, and civic identity.