I spent Saturday morning glued to the news, watching as the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was devastated by a single white supremacist, fueled by both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
As an American Muslim interfaith activist, I’ve spent years forming relationships with the Jewish communities locally and across the country, so my heart swelled to see the responses of many from my own Muslim community who, without hesitation, rushed to stand with our Jewish friends and participate in vigils and fundraisers to support the victims of the attack.
These efforts included the “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh” campaign, which has as of this writing raised over $200,000 for the families of the dead, as well as countless interfaith services across the country.
Many have hailed it as a turning point in Muslim-Jewish relations. How wonderful this would be. And yet, a part of me feels that much more is needed.
Opinion | Muslims Must Do More Than Grand Gestures To Eradicate Anti-Semitism
For the truth is, these grand gestures give cover to everyday bigotry against Jews – and Muslims – in both communities.
As a white convert to Islam who chooses not to wear a veil, I often hear bigoted or ignorant things that White people – mistakenly feeling comfortable that they are among “their own” — say about Jews, Muslims and other minorities. As such, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in countless conversations where I’ve challenged naked Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism.
The fact that I have an identity that allows me to simultaneously challenge people that look like me while defending other people who believe like me is a privilege. It’s not always easy to do. Not everyone wants to have their ignorance or bigotry educated away, after all. But to fail to use my unique identity to challenge hate would be, in my own estimation, a sin.
However, I fear that there are many who do not agree with me. As the interfaith responses to last weekend’s tragedy unfolded, I noted some of the participants were Muslims who have in the past shared anti-Semitic posts on Facebook, quoted religious texts that diminish Jews, or have stood by leaders that have espoused anti-Semitic tropes.
I realized once again that performative activism can do as much damage as it can good, because it gives us the veneer of solidarity that simply can’t stand up to the real challenges we face working across communities.
Most Muslims will say that they don’t have a problem with Jews that they are “People of the Book” with whom we have a long, complicated, but mostly friendly historical relationship.
They will also claim that their criticism of Israel is separate from their feelings about Judaism as a religion, or Jewishness as an ethnic identity.
Time and time again we see members of our community engage in blatant, unchecked, classic anti-Semitism (which has existed for hundreds and thousands of years before Israel existed) paraded about and justified because of The Occupation or other geopolitical issues.
As an interfaith activist it would be easy for me to motivate people to action by painting a picture of valiant minority communities that band together in coalition to fight white supremacy and injustice with a shared vision of an equitable world.
It’s a compelling narrative. It’s also not exactly true.
In reality, there are serious inter-communal fault lines that the progressive movement is built upon, and these threaten to undermine our fight against supremacist agendas.
Unless we’re able to address racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other bigotry everywhere we encounter them, our efforts will be for naught.
Anti-Semitism doesn’t just look like a white man busting into a synagogue and shooting people dead. It looks like email forwards from family members and Friday khutbas and dinner party conversations in which ideas about the ‘Jew-controlled media’ or ‘Rothschild puppet masters’ and ‘sinister Jewish plotting’ are shared with impunity.
It looks like promoting public figures who have built a platform on anti-Semitism, under the auspices of inclusion.
It looks like boycotting or shunning Muslims work closely with the Jewish community because they ‘can’t be trusted.’
The people who should be challenging anti-Semitic ideas and statements in the Muslim community are not Jews. These dangerous ideas must be challenged within the Muslim community by Muslims who have the ability to ‘speak to their own’. Especially when these statements come from respected elders or leaders.
This means that we’re in an uncomfortable position of fighting the hate from White Supremacists while also working to root out hate that thrives through ignorance and misinformation within our own communities and families. But if we fail to do so, we’re only paying lip service to the ideal of a just, equitable world. That is, in a word, hypocrisy.
My identity as a nondescript white person has also given me a chance to observe that Islamophobia is alive and well in the Jewish community.
As a Muslim, I expect a defense from my Jewish friends when Islamophobia rears its head in Jewish circles.
Likewise, as Muslims, the humanity of our Jewish cousins is not negotiable. It’s not based on their politics or their level of religiosity. We don’t ‘wait and see’ where they land on any issue before deciding to push back against anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is damaging to all who engage in it, but it’s also damaging to those who let it slide. It’s a gateway for many other kinds of bigotry and hate, and the same playbook that has been used against Jews for thousands of years can be used against any of us at any time.
I implore my community and all other faith communities to take a strong stand against anti-Semitism, and to recognize that we are all responsible for addressing it wherever it is encountered.
Amanda Quraishi is an American Muslim digital media professional and interfaith activist from Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter: @ImTheQ.
Muslims Must Do More Than Grand Gestures To Eradicate Anti-Semitism