Islamic, Islamist, Islamized, Muslim or ‘just’ Antisemitism? by Stefan E. Hoessl

December 14, 2014 0 Comments

A German interviewee for my PhD,[1] Kadir, told me that “Hitler did something good in killing Jews, because otherwise they would cause more pain among the Palestinians.”  The 18 year old man, who identifies himself as a Muslim Turk, was born in Germany as a son of Turkish, Sunni immigrants. Analyzing his words, the antisemitic substance is clear: Jews are evil and it's ‘in their biology’ to do bad things like causing pain. The Shoah, the Nazi´s institutionalized murder of 6 million European Jews, is legitimized as something good. These are concrete antisemitic topics, but how can one describe Kadir's Antisemitism?

Is it ‘just’ Antisemitism – a modern hostility against Jews, grounded in racial beliefs? The analysis of the whole interview shows that Kadir feels solidarity with the Palestinians; he identifies himself as a Muslim and thus feels a solidarity with Muslim Palestinians. This is the basis for his hatred of Jews. Does this make it a specifically Muslim Antisemitism? Or is it Islamized because the Antisemitism is embedded in a kind of thinking that is connected to the religious self-positioning of Kadir?

We also could ask if this kind of hostility is perhaps Kadir's reproduction of Islamic hostility towards Jews, grounded in aspects of Islamic history – for example, in the early battles between Muhammad and the three Jewish tribes in the region near Medina; the tribes are described in negative terms in the Qu´rān. Islamist thinkers, like Sayyid Qutb, took parts of this ancient history of the founding and proliferation of Islam and developed a specific ideology. By disregarding the centuries of Jews in Islamic communities as dhimmīs (second-class but protected non-muslim people in Islamic right), they constructed the idea of an ongoing war between Jews and Muslims from the first days of Islam to the present. Most of the existing Islamist groups, organisations, and movements would agree to what Kadir says. So, is Kadir`s Antisemitism an Islamist Antisemitism?

Islamic Antisemitism?
The Qu´rān contains anti-judaistic passages. Jews (addressed in part together with Christians) are shown as traitors and murderers of prophets, as people who broke their promise with god and accept lies. In other passages, Jews are considered to be respected receivers of a religion by god. How did these different perspectives on Jews have an impact on the coexistence of Jews and Muslims? In Islamic history, there was no persecution as a result of the Qu`rānic Anti-Judaism that is comparable to that of Europe, which is grounded in Christendom and its religiously impregnated Anti-Judaism.[2] Jews under Islamic rule were mostly seen and tolerated as dhimmīs, people who were protected for their acknowledgment of the primacy of Islam. This did not mean that Jews where treated as equals; the idea that this was a golden age of Jewish-Muslim coexistence and equality is a myth. As Bernard Lewis (1993: 148) points out:

If tolerance means the absence of persecution, then classical Islamic society was indeed tolerant to both its Jewish and its Christian subjects […], […] incomparably more tolerant than was medieval Christendom. But if tolerance means the absence of discrimination, then Islam never was or claimed to be tolerant but on the contrary insisted on the privileged superiority of the true believer in the world as well as in the next“

In effect, regarding Islamic history, Antisemitism didn´t exist in classical Islam (s. Tibi 2010: 2). Speaking of an Islamic Antisemitism implies a genuine connection between the religion of Islam and antisemitic resentments that – as outlined – does not exist. In so far, it is completely wrong to speak of an Islamic Antisemitism.

Antisemitism in the Muslim world
In countries with a Muslim majority, Antisemitism is widespread and often linked to religious semantics. A closer look at the appearance, spread, and transformations of Antisemitism in Muslim countries is necessary to understand this. According to Michael Kiefer’s (2006) analysis, which is partly built on Lewis` reflections, it was mainly the impact of Christians – priests and missionaries – and western diplomats, journalists and others, that spread the myths and stereotypes of European Antisemitism in Muslim countries. Kiefer speaks of an Import of Antisemitism from Europe to the Muslim world beginning in the second half of the 19th century. Antisemitic texts from Europe and America, including, for example, the antisemitic pamphlet ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, were translated into Arabic and spread as well. Violent anti-Jewish acts followed shortly after.

With the process leading to the foundation of the state of Israel (beginning in the 20th century), there was a caesura: Antisemitism and antisemitic violence increased significantly. This is due to the adoption of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, declaring British support for Jews building a national home in Palestine and its implementation in the context of the establishment of the British mandate in Palestine. From the 1920s on, there were several attacks and massacres of Jews (s. Kraemer 2006: 265). For example, in August 1929 in Hebron, a pogrom broke out with dozens of fatalities. In the 1930s, the influence of Nazi Germany on the Palestinian national movement and the religious and political leaders of this time, like Hajj Amin al-Husayni culminated in a hardening of resentments (s. Gensicke 2007). In other Arab-Muslim countries,  such as Egypt, there were comparable developments in the spread of Antisemitism.

The founding of the state of Israel in 1948, its victory in its war for independence, and other military successes after the attack of Arab countries, humiliated Palestinians, Egyptians and others. There was a need for an explanation. How could all the Arab armies not defeat a small state in its founding process? Antisemitism and conspiracy theories associated with it seemed to give a logical explanation. Thus, since the 1950s, there has been an enormous wave of antisemitic propaganda that flooded the Arab and the Muslim world, and led to a wide spreading of antisemitic ideas, stereotypes, resentments and conspiracy theories.

Antisemitism embedded in a religious frame
The Islamization of Antisemitism primarily began with the expansion of Islamism in the 20th century. Islamist thinkers, like Sayyid Qutb and the Iranian leader Khomeini, created this specific ideology of Antisemitism. This kind of Antisemitism is relatively new, but its core did not differ from the myths and conspiracy theories from Europe. However, this Antisemitism was merged with anti-judaistic Qu´rānic image of the Jews and the early history of Islam, and framed with religious references – disregarding centuries of Islamic history with Jews and Muslims side by side. The result was an antisemitic construct that implies the idea of a Jewish hostility against Islam from the beginning of Islam until the present. According to this ideology, Jews are supposed to be enemies of Islam and Muslims. They are seen as conspirators against the religion of Mohammed and his people. Today, Antisemitism, especially this Islamized or Islamist Antisemitism, can be found in nearly every Islamist context. In the 20th century, Antisemitism became an elementary component of the ideology of totalitarian movements – the same is to be stated regarding Islamism. Like 20th century fascism, Islamism presumes a negative Jewish influence in the workings of the world; Jews and Judaism are thought of as being evil and the destruction of Judaism and world Jewry is equated with the liberation of the world from all evil. This Antisemitism is often expressed as hatred of the State of Israel, which is blamed for various problems in the Islamic world – its destruction is the goal of many Islamist movements (s. Biskamp/Hoessl 2013: 17f.).

Today, the Islamized or Islamist Antisemitism is not exclusively part of Islamist thinking and imagination. Over the last century there was a gradual spread of this Antisemitism among other Muslim contexts. Through modern media and migration processes, there was a re-import of this Islamized or Islamist Antisemitism to Europe and other western countries.

Kadir’s Antisemitism
Taking all of this into account, it is obvious that the terms Kadir uses are not embedded in religious semantics. The themes Kadir uses – Jews as generally evil; approval of the Shoah – are not specifically connected to an Islamized or Islamist Antisemitism. They are classic antisemitic themes. But as mentioned in the introduction, the Antisemitism expressed by Kadir can´t be understood completely without regarding the religious dimension of his self-perception as a Muslim in the world. The importance of this aspect shows that it is necessary to qualify this Antisemitism as one that is connected to a religious self-definition – and therefore as a specific Muslim Antisemitism.

Arendt, Hannah (1962): Origins of Totalitarism. New York.
Biskamp, Floris/Hoessl, Stefan E. (2013): Politische Bildung im Kontext von Islam und Islamismus. In: Biskamp, Floris/Hoessl, Stefan E. (Hrsg.): Islam und Islamismus. Perspektiven für die Politische Bildung. Giessen, S. 13-40.
Gensicke, Klaus (2007): Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten: Eine politische Biographie Amin el-Husseinis. Darmstadt.
Lewis, Bernard (1993): Islam in History: Ideas, Men and Events in the Middle East. Chicago/La Salle, Illinois.
Kiefer, Michael (2006): Islamischer, islamistischer oder islamisierter Antisemitismus? In: Die Welt des Islams (46/3), S. 277-306.
Kraemer, Gudrun (2006): Antisemitism in the Muslim World. A critical review. In: Die Welt des Islam 46, 4, S. 243-276.
Tibi, Bassam (2010): From Sayyid Qutb To Hamas: The Middle East Conflict and the Islamization of Antisemitism. http://www.isgap.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/bassam-tibi-online-working-paper-20101.pdf (02.10.2014)




[1] In my PhD-project, I work at the University of Cologne (Germany) to the topic ‚Antisemitism and religious Habitus‘ and focus on interdependencies between Antisemitism and the religiosity of 17- to 20-year-olds that define themselves as Muslims.
[2] In Anti-Judaism, the core of hostility against Jews focusses on their religion and their belonging to Judaism. The reference point of Antisemitism is the racist understood being-Jewish. Hannah Arendt (1962: 87) points out, that the main difference between Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism is, that Jews under Christendom could (theoretically) escape Anti-Judaism by converting. Being Jewish in contrast was thought in a biologically way as indelible.

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