With the rise of Islamist regimes following the Arab Awakening, we are seeing an increase in religious repression across the Middle East. That repression was predictable had we only read the tea leaves of Islamist antisemitism.
Islamism is an all-encompassing political, religious, societal, and cultural philosophy which believes that all citizens derive their rights not individually from God but from their national leader’s interpretation of Islam enacted on behalf of God. Islamists, in effect, reject the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and instead enact the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines, among other supremacist Islamist doctrines, blasphemy and apostasy laws. Egypt’s ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, put this on full display during their recent public rejection of the UN Charter on Women as being “anti-Islam.”
We have for too long tacitly accepted the synergy between Islamism and antisemitism. Had we heeded the warning signs, we could have at least been prepared to confront head-on the ascendancy of Islamists across the region. We would have understood that we first need to empower our natural allies on the ground—liberals and anti-Islamists. The Obama Administration abandoned our friends of the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 and now, again, in Egypt in 2011. Throughout history, antisemitism has long been the “canary in the coal mine” for threats against all people, all faiths, and liberty.
The demonization of Jews is not just another symptom from the radical fringe of militant Islamist groups. It runs much deeper across Islamist thought, and is in fact pathognomonic (distinctive of a disease) of a far more pervasive societal and tribal fascism also mirrored in the Arab secular left. Arab national socialist movements like the Baathists of Syria and Iraq, or the NDP of Egypt, share with Islamists a common dominant strain of antisemitic conspiracy theories and Jew-hatred.
Beneath Islamist antisemitism is a more dangerous pan-national global supremacism that exploits all minorities, whether Jewish, Christian, or atheist, or minorities from within the faith like the Shi’a, Ahmediyya, Isma’ilis, or dissenting Sunnis. Islamist run media like Al Jazeera provide the vehicle to plant conspiracy theories in the fertile minds of susceptible Muslims. Our challenge in the United States is to either help their antagonists, non-Islamist reformers, domestically transform that soil through alternative media—or we can sit back and watch the Islamists in Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood), Tunisia (Ennahda), Saudi Arabia (Wahhabis), Iran (Khomeinists) or Pakistan (Deobandis) fertilize and till the hate-filled soil into an even greater imminent threat.
Make no mistake—the departure of Arab fascist dictators in the Arab awakening was a long overdue step forward. But we cannot expect dysfunctional tribal societies with rampant anti-Semitism, a dominant victim mentality, high illiteracy rates, and a deep seeded hate of western democracy to resemble genuine democracies. Already, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is buckling down on free speech and blasphemy against Islam in a systematic fashion far worse than even under the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak.
While Islamist movements are frighteningly popular, with support recently peaking at 35 to 40 percent of the Egyptian population, they are still not a majority movement. However, the antisemitic hate in Egypt is a majority sentiment. Islamists were able to come to power by finding common cause with otherwise divided secularists around the language of hatred of the West and of Jews.
A poll conducted in 2006 by the Pew Global Attitudes Survey revealed that “anti-Jewish sentiment” is endemic in the Middle East across faith groups. “In Lebanon, all Muslims and 99% of Christians say they have a very unfavorable view of Jews. Similarly, 99% of Jordanians, large majorities of Moroccans, Indonesians, Pakistanis and six-in-ten Turks also view Jews unfavorably.” This is a cultural byproduct of what is messaged in many Muslim news media, textbooks, literature, sermons, and entertainment. Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan recently referred to Zionism as a “crime against humanity.” Meanwhile, Egypt’s Brotherhood finally allowed a documentary on the disappearance of the “Jews of Egypt” to be shown, after long being held up by government censors.
In 2006, Pew reported that Muslims in Europe also hold a far more unfavorable opinion of Jews than the general population. In Britain, 47 percent of Muslims held an unfavorable view of Jews versus 7 percent of the general public. In France, 28 percent of Muslims held an unfavorable view of Jews versus 13 percent of the general population.
The Qatari owned Al Jazeera has aired countless sermons and programs vilifying Jews and Israel. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is arguably Sunni Islam’s most influential cleric in the world and wields considerable influence in the Muslim Brotherhood. Reaching weekly over 60 million viewers in his program “Shariah and Life,” he commonly spews anti-Western and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. On January 28, 2009, he stated “the last punishment was carried out by Hitler…this was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.”
The grim reality is that Muslim imams, scholars, and activists demonstrating the courage to publicly take on the antisemitism of Islamist leaders are far too few and have not made their presence known. They have neither the platforms nor the backing which petro-funded Islamist linked movements do around the world.
We must support them by heeding the warnings which the horrible history of Islamist antisemitism has shown and take action to prevent its prevalence on every front throughout the world. The Obama administration cannot even get itself to even use the word “Islamism,” let alone take a stand against the pervasive antisemitism created by Islamists at home and abroad. Just like Islamist inspired terror, Islamist inspired antisemitism cannot be treated without targeting Islamism. Instead, President Obama’s national security team has engaged Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups in the U.S. and oddly seems to consider the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt an ally in the making.
Our leaders have to take sides in the battle of ideas against Islamism by reviving our public diplomacy in support of universal human rights, whether popular or not. We need to systematically expose—name and shame—the antisemitic behavior and ideas promulgated by Islamist movements, including all forms of hatred against Jews, conspiracies, and anti-Americanism. Antisemitic ideas are not isolated incidents to be condemned and dismissed. We should expose their root cause, foremost of which among Muslims is Islamism.
The U.S. must engage and provide platforms for courageous reform-based civil society organizations dedicated to working against anti-Semitism. Conversely the administration must also disengage from Islamist groups and expose their ideology for what it is—incompatible with modernity. We must end the climate of political correctness and subtle bigotry, which gives Muslims a pass on accountability for the hate-filled ideas of antisemitism. We must not be seen as advocating for liberty only at home and turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism from our supposed “allies”.
We must confront Islamist groups with what Prime Minister David Cameron referred to as “muscular liberalism.” While hyper-secularists in Europe attack the faithful of all faiths, Islamists thrive in that blind multicultural environment. We ignore at our own peril what Islamist antisemitism tells us about who they are and what lies ahead for those of us in its way.
About the Author: M. Zuhdi Jasser is the author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith, and is President and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is also a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (the opinions here are his own).
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