Muslim Anti-Semitism is a very real, but whether or not hatred of Jews is either typical among contemporary Muslims, at least in America, or reflective of traditional Islam, is another story. That appraisal probably disturbs people on each side, with half already screaming that I am an Islamaphobe and the other half that I am a shill for the Muslim community.
Whether my assessment is correct or not, one thing is for certain: no problem, whether between individuals, communities or nations, gets better until each side can imagine that they are more guilty than they like to admit and that the other side is not as bad as they like to imagine. And all the attempts to avoid that, however well-intentioned, simply fuel the fires of hatred and suspicion on both sides.
Beliefnet’s Islam editor Dilshad Ali shared with me a piece by Muslim Next Door author, Sumbul Ali-Karamali which falls prey to some of that avoidance. Ms. Ali-Karamali largely ignores the real challenges of Muslim anti-Semitism, opting instead to explain how hatred of Jews has no place in classical Islam and has been rarely manifested among Muslims. And as beautiful as her conclusions are, it makes me wonder what she could be thinking.
Even if one makes a solid case for the relative merits of Islam over Christianity vis a vis the past treatment of Jews, which is entirely appropriate, we can not ignore the second-class status imposed upon Jews even under the crescent. Of course, as Ali-Karamali proudly points out, Jews were honored as people of the book, but they were hardly equal citizens. Jews were also relegated to the status of protected minorities forced to pay a Jewish head tax.
A good comparison may be to the status of Black Americans living under Jim Crow laws in more tolerant communities. Her failure to point that out turns her reflections on Muslim anti-Semitism into little more than patting her own tradition on the back, and misses an important opportunity for the kind of balanced exploration which is needed if she wants to be heard by those she hopes to convince.
But I guess that’s the point. She is trying to convince, not to explore a serious problem.
It’s not unlike Jews failing to see how windy speeches about the Bible’s commandments assuring full legal equality to all who live in the land of Israel, do not prove that Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are always treated equally.
From Muslim/non-Muslim intermarriage to the history of Muslim leaders during the Holocaust, her work is both historically inaccurate and in the same direction. That will simply not get the job done, if the job is really to make things genuinely better and not simply to convince those outside a community that they have nothing about which to worry.
I agree with Ms. Ali-Karamali that the real issue is choice. We all need to make choices about how to tell the story of our people. W all need to know that any telling in which we are always the innocent misunderstood ones is likely to be very wrong and can be very dangerous.
I believe that the future to which both Ms. Ali-Karamali and I aspire is probably quite similar and even attainable. But getting there will require a much more honest confrontation with the past. It will require cultivating a love of the traditions we follow based on their ability to attain that longed-for future, despite the fact that they have more than a few dark moments in that past which we must confront.