Fiyaz Mughal OBE, the Muslim who founded Britain’s Islamophobia monitoring centre Tell MAMA, blogged the other day about why Muslims in the UK should be profoundly grateful to Jews. Note particularly how he lauds the Jews for defeating, by ‘their blood and their sweat and toil’, ‘those who wanted a mono-faith and mono-cultural Britain’, that’s to say, the indigenous British. I have made minor changes to the article, chiefly to improve punctuation.
SO WHAT HAVE JEWS EVER DONE FOR US?
This is a statement that I have heard over many years when working within segments of Muslim communities.
These statements have not been widespread and it is important to make this clear, since the over-whelming majority of Muslims simply want to get on with their lives and give so much to their local communities on a daily basis, without the need for their efforts to be highlighted.
These statements have usually come from those who see Jewish communities primarily through the lens of the Middle East political scenario, so much so that it is one of the first things that come to their minds when Jewish communities are mentioned.
So what have Jews ever done for us?
Well, how about the human rights that we enjoy and the ability to walk down the streets without getting beaten up, well that is partly down to Jewish men and women who had stood firm on the streets of our country against those who wanted a mono-faith and mono-cultural Britain.
Their efforts, their blood and their sweat and toil is embedded into the streets of our country, meaning that we can never allow the streets of our nation to be taken over by those who seek to divide communities or to promote extremism and intolerance. We can never give up on their courage and their sacrifices to those extremists within far right or Islamist groups.
Or how about the Halal food that Muslims enjoy? The campaigning to protect Halal and Shechita has been driven, by [and large], by Jewish communities, and is now jointly led because of that initial inspirational work.
Many within the over-40 generation will probably have come across or worked within Racial Equality Councils in their lives. Such institutions came about partly because of campaigning by Jews for equal rights for Black and Minority Ethnic communities and through political lobbying in the societal fight against racism and prejudice.
Jews led these campaigns front and centre with other communities. That joint activism shaped and changed a Britain over many decades where many within these communities ran the gauntlet of being regularly abused when they went shopping or when they dropped their children at schools. Many have forgotten those times and think that modern day Britain has not changed.
That is simply not true nor reflective of the huge societal progressive changes that have swept our tiny island and which we must acknowledge.
However, what is depressing is that today, our Jewish brothers and sisters are not seen as being part of the social activism within Black and Minority Ethnic communities.
They have been pushed outside of these activism circles by discussions within BME communities which sometimes support antisemitic notions of ‘Jews being powerful’ and that minority rights are about challenging power.
The latter is true, but it does not and never should be tied to antisemitic discourse which alienates a historically and socially active community which has been at the vanguard of the struggle against racism, through hazy concepts of ‘power’ and [race].
Just because most Ashkenazi Jews are white does not—and, I repeat, does not—mean that they do not suffer prejudice and hatred on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Or how about Jewish activism which has positively shaped legislation around hate crime work?
I have worked for many years countering anti-Muslim hatred, and what is clear is that work around tackling hate crimes has been shaped by Jewish communities, and who can forget the murder of Stephen Lawrence that shocked a nation and led to Jews, African Caribbeans, Muslims and many other communities coming together to shape this vital agenda.
Baroness Lawrence fought for justice for her son and, within that, the world of hate crime work has been shaped by prosecutions brought forward by Jewish communities.
Their actions mean that we can today work towards reducing hatred, intolerance and prejudice where we find it.
Or what about when Muslim institutions were attacked? What did Jews ever do for us?
Well, how about reflecting on the example of the Somali Bravanese Al-Rahma Centre. The Centre was burnt down after the murder of Lee Rigby and was supported throughout that period by the Muswell Hill synagogue in North London.
They provided shelter, a place for the community to congregate, and covered that small Muslim community with love, care, support and affection, so much needed when it had been targeted.
Or take the South London Liberal synagogue who are looking to house a Syrian Muslim refugee family, with a call for £50,000 to convert part of the synagogue into accommodation for refugees.
Yet, we must not forget that some within Muslim communities are also realising how much we owe to Jewish activism, spirituality and to the deep sense of moral care that is so embedded and part of the make-up of Judaism.
The support provided to Bradford’s Reform synagogue by local British Muslims was a beacon of hope and inspiration that should be highlighted over and over to those whose motivations and beliefs towards Jews are made up by their anger around the Middle East.
We know that, sometimes, this dog whistle politics is couched within the term ‘Zionist’ as though it is a get-out clause for some antisemites who can wallow in their ignorance, hatred and intolerance.
Such individuals who use the Middle East to target Jewish businesses, religious institutions, and who create divisions between Muslims and Jews, need to be told that their politics of hate is well and truly over.
Of that, we can be sure.