Relations between Jews and Muslims are a fraught issue in the discussion of anti-Semitism. Many are wary of raising the subject as they are afraid of what they might find. Others fear being branded Islamophobes.
An open mind is a pre-condition for tackling this difficult subject. It is necessary to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it might lead.
For this reason a new journal article on Muslim-Jewish relations should be welcomed. Gunther Jikeli, a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, has done a great service by compiling a meta study on the subject. That is he has pulled together numerous empirical surveys on the theme. Together they cover 14 European countries plus America and were conducted over the past 25 years. The introductory section also gives an overview of the subject including further scholarly references.
The article’s headline conclusions are worth considering first:
· Many Muslims and Jews acknowledge that the other community suffers from discrimination.
· Jews often see Islam and Muslim extremists as a threat to them. However, at the same time Jews are more ready than the rest of society to distinguish between most Muslims and an extremist fringe.
· Anti-Semitic attitudes are significantly higher among Muslims than among the general population. These differences do not disappear when the surveys are controlled for socioeconomic factors.
· Muslims tend to have more negative attitudes towards Israel than the general population.
· Nevertheless it is important to note that most Muslims in most European countries and in America do not exhibit anti-Semitic attitudes.
It should not be a surprise that – as Jikeli freely acknowledges – there are limitations with the data. For example, in some cases the sample sizes are too small to draw broad conclusions. In addition, the fact that the surveys span 25 years in total also means that attitudes could have changed significantly over time.
It should also be noted that Muslim populations in Europe in America are extremely diverse. They come from different countries, different branches of Islam (for example, sunni, shia and alevi [a heterodox Muslim group found mainly in Turkey]) and have varying degrees of religiosity. It would be a mistake to assume that attitudes to Jews are uniform across the different groups.
Nor does the survey distinguish between Muslims and the sub-set of the community that supports Islamism as a political movement. This is not a criticism of the survey, since its scope is already incredibly broad, but it should be borne in mind when assessing the data.
A relatively small section within the Muslim community adheres to a political outlook that has anti-Semitism at its core. That of course does not mean all other Muslims view Jews in that way. At some point it would be useful to have an empirical study that disentangles Muslims as a whole from the Islamist element but that would be a difficult task.
Nevertheless, despite its limitations, the article provides a valuable resource for anyone trying to understand contemporary anti-Semitism.
· Gunther Jikeli. “How do Muslims and Jews in Christian countries see each other today? A survey review”. The article appears in a special issue of Religions on the theme of “Are Muslim-Jewish relations improving in the 21st century?”.