A few days ago the organisations we represent – the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain – published an unprecedented joint statement. There should be little controversial in what it said about opposing antisemitism and Islamophobia, or stating that: “Whilst everyone has the right to voice their political opinion, there can be no excuse for racism, violence, or other forms of intimidation.”
Yet of course the significance of the statement lies not only with what we have said, but also with the fact that we have chosen to stand together to say it. Though our communities and religious traditions have so much in common, relations between them have been delicate.
The primary reason for this difference lies, of course, over 2,000 miles away in the Middle East. Indeed, the conflict in Israel and Gaza over the past two months has placed a particular strain on Muslim-Jewish relations. For many Jews and Muslims in this country the conflict is personal, with relatives and co-religionists living under the shadow of war on both sides of the divide.
It should surprise no one that our organisations have different views about the causes, conduct and solutions to the conflict, and it says this explicitly in our joint statement. Yet the whole point of it the statement is that we do not need to agree about these matters – which we cannot anyway affect – given the harm that it does if we import disagreements into our two communities’ relationships in the UK.
While everyone has the right to voice their political opinion, legitimate protests must not be allowed to lapse into Islamophobia or antisemitism. Be in no doubt, leaving graffiti on a synagogue is as offensive and antisemitic as daubing slogans across the door of a mosque would be Islamophobic.
We must not allow events in the Middle East to define the relationship between our communities here in Britain, when in fact we have so much in common: our faiths have a common Abrahamic heritage, many common traditions and liturgy, and the common experience of immigrant communities seeking to integrate in British society.
Our enemies over the years have been all too ready to set being a “good Jew” or a “good Muslim” as being at odds with being a good Briton. In fact, for the vast majority of Jews and Muslims in the country, our historical coexistence and our religious heritages underpin our commitment to British values. And it is our respect for one another that determines our right to practice our faiths openly and confidently.
The challenge we have laid down as leaders of our communities is to get to know one another and identify the widest possible range of areas for cooperation: the right to eat religiously slaughtered meat, to circumcise our sons, to support refugees and to struggle against prejudice and hatred, whether directed by outsiders against us or arising from within our own communities. These are the challenges that face us every day in the UK, and they offer plenty of scope for us to work together to understand one another and move beyond lazy stereotypes.
But our ambition is greater than that: by role-modelling a constructive and positive relationship between Jews and Muslims, we can not only avoid the importation of conflict into our lives here but maybe, just maybe, we can export a little peace and goodwill elsewhere. Talking is not easy. We have our disagreements and concerns, and there may well be bumps in the road. But every journey starts with a single step and we have just taken ours, together.
May the God of Abraham grant our world more peace, wisdom and hope.Source: Guardian