Islamism is one of the main forms of contemporary anti-Semitism. For that reason I was delighted to attend a virtual event yesterday on Islamist anti-Semitism in Britain.
The event was organised by the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank, with four speakers who are all members of Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS). The full recording of the event is available to view above.
Before I say anything else I should commend the bravery of these individuals. They face abuse and even physical violence from a small but vocal section of their co-religionists.
What follows is my take on the key points of the discussion. I will also add some links in the spirit of helping those who want to follow up key points. The video is available for those who want to watch the full event.
I am not endorsing every point that was made. I might have disagreements in some cases and in others I do not know enough to take an informed view. The links and the points in brackets are mine. But I think overall this is an important contribution to the discussion on this key topic.
The event was chaired by Dr Rakib Ehsan. He is an independent analyst and the author of a useful report on Muslim Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Britain (2020). At the start he said he was keen to hear practical policy suggestions at the event.
The first speaker was Fiyaz Mughal, a founder and trustee of MAAS. He is also the founder of TellMAMA, an anti-Muslim hate crime monitoring project. He is a regular contributor to the Jewish Chronicle (thejc).
Mughal provided the historical background to Islamism. He started with the crucial point that the vast majority of British Muslims are not Islamists before giving his take on the nature of Islamism.
In Mughal’s view the defining feature of Islamism is the fusing of the religion and the state. State structures, for the Islamists, have to play a key role in implementing sharia (Islamic law). Among those who accept this narrative are many who want to see the destruction of the state of Israel and thereby its Jews.
Islamist extremism is inherently supremacist. It holds that anything that it does not believe in should be destroyed. This principle was apparent in both Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
Mughal argued it is necessary to go back to the second world war to understand how Islamism intersected with anti-Semitism. At the centre of this nexus was Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem (in office from 1921-48), the Sunni Muslim cleric in charge of Muslim’s holy places. (It is worth noting that the position was created by the British mandate authorities).
The mufti had close ties with the Nazi regime (there was a coincidence of interests as by then he had fallen out with the British and Nazi Germany was at war with Britain). Mughal says Husseini was involved in recruiting Bosnian Muslim soldiers for the Waffen SS and also ran an Arabic language radio station created with Nazi support.
Husseini also had close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood (the Ikhwan), an organisation that was based in Egypt. In turn one of the organisation’s key ideologues was Said Qutub (1906-66) (Among other things he wrote a pamphlet called Our Struggle with the Jews).
So for Mughal it was this nexus involving the Nazis, the mufti of Jerusalem and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood that played a key role in moving anti-Semitism to the centre of Islamist ideology.
The second speaker was Elizabeth Arif-Fear, a human rights activist and convert to Islam. Her focus was on how Islamist anti-Semitism should be combated.
She said there was a lot of attention paid to far left and far right anti-Semitism but relatively little to the Islamist version.
This is a particular problem as, on average, Muslims tend to have the least favourable attitudes towards Jewish people (although taking the important point made above that Islamism remains a minority view among British Muslims). Conspiracy theories as well as myths about Jewish money and power have significant traction. Tensions tend to become higher during times of conflict involving Israel and Gaza.
Islamists tend to manipulate Islamic scripture. They draw on it to justify violence against Jews. For example, this is apparent in the Hamas charter and is also a procedure followed by Hizb ut-Tahrir (the party of liberation).
She emphasised the importance of promoting inter-faith dialogue. Anti-Semitism needs to be denounced for what it is. But taking such a stance is not easy. She said she had been doxed (that is her private information had been made public) for expressing such views. Someone else had acid thrown in their eye.
It was Arif-Fear who said: “Quite frankly you have to be brave” to tackle this subject.
The final speaker was Wasiq Wasiq, he is, among other things, an associate fellow of the Henry Jackson Society.
In his view an important feature of Islamism is its view that public life should be led in accordance with Islam. It is not just a private matter. In other words it is a political version of Islam.
Wasiq divided Islamism into three types: violent, non-violent and participationist. Neither of the first two believe in democracy or free speech. The participationists, in contrast, tend to be more pragmatic. They do not reject democracy outright but instead use it for their own ends.
In Wasiq’s view the participationists have played a key role in mainstreaming Islamism anti-Semitism. They are playing the long game in their attempt to Islamise society. Participationists have set up charities, NGOs and think tanks. They have also aligned themselves with politicians.
Wasiq argued that participationists have picked up some of the key trends in identity politics and critical race theory. They have used these to help promote classic anti-Semitic tropes of power and privilege.
Participationists have manipulated the fact that the Conservative party has not adopted the flawed All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) working definition of Islamophobia. They have contrasted it with the widespread acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
Islamists typically present themselves as victims of discrimination. Often they team up with the radical left, in a red-green alliance, to promote this perspective. In his view the two groups are natural bedfellows.
Wasiq argued that a collaborative effort involved government, corporations and religious communities is needed to tackle Islamist anti-Semitism. He emphasised the importance of free speech in achieving this objective.