Where does anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic hate speech overlap?

Published: September 8, 2015

As we prayed Jumma together and welcomed the Shabbat queen together, something changed. PHOTO: MUSLIM JEWISH CONFERENCE FACEBOOK PAGE

The first session of the sixth annual Muslim-Jewish Conference (MJC) began with the following announcement:

“Everyone separate into two categories of groups. Muslims sit with Muslims and Jews sit with Jews. Let’s write down stereotypes that you think people hold about your religious identity.”

It didn’t take long for the stereotypes to roll in. The Muslims jotted them down rather quickly. We’ve all heard them countless times and they’ve been stitched into our consciousness. Words such as terrorist, judgmental, and oppressed were penned down. The Jews were quick to word out the stereotypes as well – wealthy, conniving, and greedy.

A Jewish New Yorker shared stereotypes he butts heads with every day, from jokes about his gigantic ‘Jewish nose’ to the popular perception of Jews as big, bad instigators of violence.

A Muslim from London offered a negation to the stereotypes – all Muslim hijabi women are not oppressed, all bearded Muslim men are not extremists and all Muslims do not eat hummus and conspire against the West all day.

We were two of the 170 Muslims and Jews moored in a remote corner of Germany, hailing from 44 countries and every walk of life imaginable.

Over the next week, we continued our conversations about problems and prejudices in our communities. We talked to government officials from Germany and USA about how Muslims and Jewish communities can communicate better. We quizzed an Australian Jewish scholar and a Canadian Muslim Imam on everything – from sacred texts to prayer traditions, sectarian divides to gender roles – in an attempt to understand our religions better. Most importantly, we asked each other endless questions.

What is the difference between Shia and Sunni Islam, Orthodox and Reform Judaism, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews?

What is the significance of the kippa (yarmulke) or the hijab?

Where does anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic hate speech overlap?

Are women disenfranchised in the name of religion in our communities?

We found ourselves grappling with questions such as, how do you explain Jewish identity to a Muslim from a country with no Jews, where Judaism is synonymous with Zionism and Zionism with terrorism?

How do you tackle biases within your very own community, let alone those in other faith groups?

The questions were endless, each one as arduous as the former. While we didn’t have answers to every one of them, we were struck by the power of honest and constructive dialogue. By making an effort to humanise the ‘other’, we found ourselves listening with the intention to understand, not to retaliate.

Sure, we did find ourselves on the opposite sides of the debates. We fought the overwhelming urge to preach that our own point of view is the most poignant and our community’s suffering the greatest. In addition to that, the two groups had their internal squabbles. Muslims disagreed with other Muslims. Jews disagreed with other Jews. This dispelled the myth of the singular monochromatic identity on both sides.

And of course, we had to tackle the elephant in the room – the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Yet, as we prayed Jumma together and welcomed the Shabbat queen together, something changed. In grappling with these questions collectively, we found ourselves capable of entertaining ideas without agreeing with each of them. It became easier to respect each other’s experiences and belief systems, no matter how different they were from our own.

We listened to an Israeli woman describe how a Palestinian friend she met at MJC comforted her when her brothers were in combat during an Intifada (Palestinian uprising). We met a non-violent Palestinian activist, who has founded a centre for peace dialogue in Ramallah, Palestine.

We heard narratives from Jews whose families have faced persecution purely for being people of the book in Western Europe, Middle East, and in the Holocaust. We learnt stories of Bosnian Muslims who suffered ethnic cleansing, Yemeni Muslims made homeless by sectarian violence and, Palestinian Muslims losing family to decades of conflict.

But the question is not who suffered more, or who suffered longer. The question is how we can come together to build a world where our children are not persecuted for their beliefs and where apathy won’t define our reaction to human suffering.

To do this, we have to move forward by communicating honestly amid the clamour of contemporary media and politics. And here we are, a Muslim Pakistani studying in Massachusetts and a Jewish American working in Jerusalem, trying to do just that.

We cannot solve conflicts by establishing a hierarchy of suffering or letting stereotypes from mainstream society take over us. We will move forward by listening – listening to live better, listening to learn things we cannot know in isolation, listening until there is enough room in the world for our commonalities and differences to coexist in harmony.

All photos: Muslim Jewish Conference Facebook page/ Daniel Shaked.

Video: Naomi A. Garfinkel 

This blog was co-authored by Rachel Delia Benaim, a freelance religion reporter based in Jerusalem, Israel. Her work has been featured in The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The Diplomat, among others. Follow her on Twitter @rdbenaim (https://twitter.com/rdbenaim).


Areeba Kamal

An alumna and former employee of Nixor College. She is currently studying International Relations and Computer Science at Mount Holyoke, USA. She tweets @KamalAreeba twitter.com/KamalAreeba

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • 19640909rk .

    They don’t. Anti-Islamic speech can get you killed. Anti-Jewish hate speech (its mostly Muslims doing it now) will make you a hero.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Muslims chanting Death to the Kafir, call to wage Jihad or issuing Fatwa to kill someone, does that count as hate speech?Recommend

  • cautious

    Commonality? Intolerance/xenophobia? Many Muslim states tend to institutionalize their hatred of Jews. I doubt many Muslims ever ponder why Muslim countries went to war with Israel without so much as a single conversation. Go figure.Recommend

  • ajeet

    One Jewish brain is equal to a million Muslim brain.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Jews and Arabs were the same peoples separated by religion. Genetically they are almost identical.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    its in their prayer (Quam-e-kafreen) . cant count as hate speech.Recommend

  • Iqbal

    There is one great difference. The jews have made a mark in all walks of life — Science, technology, music, philosophy, mathematics. They are the architects, in a sense of what we call modern society. They can be orthodox and value their traditions too. But Muslims, in the last 1000 years …… less said the better.Recommend

  • Fahimuddin

    I have worked with jews, they are intelligent but that not much.Recommend

  • Headstrong

    Gives you an idea of what ajeet thinks of the size of the average Muslim brainRecommend

  • Talha

    Game on. Al-Biruni, Ibn-e-Sina (Avincenna), Ibn-e-Rushd, Maulana Rumi, Al-Khawarizmi, Omar Khayyam, Thabit ibn Qurra, Al-Razi (Rhazes), Jabar Ibn Hayan, Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (Alkindus), Ibn-Haytham (Al-Hazen), Ibn-e-Zuhr (Avenzoar) … among them, scientists, thinkers, philosophers, magnificent poets, Mathematicians, physicians … and many more besides if you just take your head out of ‘where the sun don’t shine’.Recommend

  • Iqbal

    Pick up any modern mathematics and Physics book and see how many such names figure in. And to be completely honest, Much of Mathematics and Astronomy was picked up by the Arabs from the Indians — that includes our current Pakistan by the way. The challenge is to find Muslims, especially in ideologically muslim Nations, Jews of the calibre of Einstein, Marx, Freud, Eisenstein, Spinoza, Rabi, Feynman, Schwinger, Pauli, etc etc.

    Tell me. Where are any such luminaries in Pakistan? One Salam we had was hounded out, and we worship a fake Nuclear Physicist instead.Recommend

  • Talha

    Well, same question to you, tell me a ‘luminary’ of the Western Dark Ages that contributed significantly to modern science. You seem to be glossing over history, don’t you?
    Countless Muslim scientists were pioneers in their own respective eras. Your original claim was about Muslims in the last 1000 years not just the the last 100 years. Science doesn’t start post 1945 you know. And modern science is obviously built upon the findings and conclusions/or improvements of past scientists.
    As for your second claim – to find Muslim scientists in the ideologically Muslims states – well, on counter, Einstein was German-born, Marx (again German), Eisenstein (German), Freud (Austrian), Spinoza (Dutch), Feynman (USA) … I don’t remember any of them being ‘ideological’ Jewish states now, do you?
    Your classification of Muslims being ‘just’ Arab belies your ignorance of history. Less than 15% Muslims in modern day society are Arabs.
    And just supposing some ‘Arabs’ picked up some stuff from the ‘Indians’ … ‘Indian’ doesn’t equal ‘Hindu’ … pre-British rule in the sub-continent, all of India was ruled by Muslims, remember?Recommend

  • Jew

    Germany was ideologically Jewish when Marx and Einstein became scientists
    (Before Hitler mass killed the jews)
    USA has religions as
    2.No religion/Atheism
    Austria has a large number of Jews
    In general Jew population is extremely less and is still producing more successful people than the worlds 2nd largest population-IslamRecommend

  • Talha Haroon

    Dear Mr. Jew,
    1). Not ‘ideologically’ Jewish but financially so. They controlled much of the industry, that’s true.
    2). US isn’t an ideological religious state. (‘Iqbal’ and me were exchanging views on this particular point).
    3). Austria has more Muslims than Jews currently.
    4). Again, as mentioned, science doesn’t began post 1945. Yes the Jewish population is producing quite a few names in science CURRENTLY, and a few in the past, but does not erase the names of quite a few Muslim scientists produced over the last one thousand years, who laid a great part of the scientific foundation upon which other scientists build today.

    We could play this red-herring fallacy again and again, but just misses the point, doesn’t it?Recommend

  • Kumar

    Funny how you put the word ‘hate’ when talking about anti-jewish speech, but omitted it when talking about anti-islamic speech.Recommend

  • Kumar

    Figured. Because, maybe, people like Ayelet Shaked were present in the Knesset in 1967 and 73 too? Current Israeli Justice Minister … she openly called for Palestinian genocide. Institutionalization of hated, you said?Recommend

  • Hamidah Fawad

    Here come the Indians – This is such a nice article about working together, ;earning gtogether, living together and people on this forum are doing exactly what this article advises against. Everyone with negative comments and comparisons, please grow up.Recommend

  • Hamidah Fawad

    It works both ways. Israeli Jews tend to institutionalize their hatred of Muslims. As I requested earlier – grow upRecommend

  • Hamidah Fawad

    ??? What prayer. Please elaborateRecommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Pity, you cannot mention Abdus Salam in that list. When he is the Only Muslim scientists of our modern society. All names you mentioned are almost 800 years old. They did great works indeed.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Kafreen mean those who did not believe in Muhammad pbuh as Gods messenger, It is not hate speech.Recommend

  • Bharat Indian

    A mind filled with hatred, supiriority or infrriority complex etc. can’t invent anything new. First clean the filth then talk about science and technology.Recommend

  • Bharat Indian

    Indian equals Hindu only, people who lives around Indus or west of Indus river, no matter how much you deny this fact. Just by converting, one can’t loose its hindu genome. It is only Muslim hindus, who are unable to invent anything inspite of living around Indus, ruins of great Taxila and ruins of holiest temple of Goddess Sharda (Goddess of learning and invention), seems to me curse of the goddess to muslim hindus.Recommend