Richard Stone: British Jews and Muslims are natural allies

From a talk by the adviser to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, to the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation conference in Rabat

Share
It has to be an extremely narrow-minded person to deny that Muslims and Jews on the north-west edge of Europe are other than natural allies.

It has to be an extremely narrow-minded person to deny that Muslims and Jews on the north-west edge of Europe are other than natural allies. The common history of Muslims and Jews, particularly when Jews lived under Muslim rule, demonstrates the creative partnerships that blossomed and benefited both communities in all but a few periods of their coexistence. It is only in the last 60 years that the politics of the Middle East have destroyed much of the capacity for people from these two sister faiths to live, work and enjoy life together.

British Jewish students have in recent months come under attack from anti-Zionist extremists. Support has come from moderate groupings in many student societies, including Islamic societies. It has not been easy for moderate Muslims to speak out against the extremists, who can be quite threatening.

It has been frightening and distressing for young Jewish students who have recently left home and are in their first year at university to be shouted at and attacked on the basis that they are somehow responsible for the acts of the Israeli government: "All Jews are racists and deserve to die." In the same way, support across the board has been strong for Muslim students who are attacked for being "responsible for acts of the Taliban and of all terrorists around the world".

With a history of Jews living in peace with Muslims for more than 1,000 years, it seems strange that the two communities in Britain live mainly in separate worlds. Partly this is because the majority of British Muslims came to the country in the last 50 years. The generation of British-educated and mainly British-born Muslims is only just coming to positions of power, aided by the change of government in 1997. British Jews, on the other hand, have had places in the corridors of power in significant numbers for more than 100 years.

There is also the matter of colour prejudice. British Jews see themselves as capable of assimilation, able to slip unnoticed into white British society. That white British society has managed to maintain anti-Jewish prejudice and keep Jews at arm's length from total acceptance is strongly denied by many wishful thinkers of British Jewry. Jews may try to pretend to themselves that the typically British subtle anti-Semitism has gone away. It has not. Conor Cruise O'Brien, the eminent Irish statesman, accurately described anti-semitism as "a very light sleeper". British Jews need to remember the over-confidence of German Jews in the 1920s and 30s.

During the seven years of peace process recently in the Middle East, there were few obstacles to dialogue between Muslims and Jews in the UK. The collapse into chaos and murder has inevitably had a strong negative effect. Muslims who maintain the dialogue come under nasty verbal attack from extremist groups in their own communities. They are shouted at as not being true Muslims because they talk with Jews who are cast as the enemy of Islam.

Jews who talk with Muslims can be attacked from two sides. From within their own community they are told that they are taking grave risks since "all Muslims are potential terrorists". By Muslim extremists, Jews are told they are all Zionist imperialists, guilty of murder of innocent Palestinian children today, and also in the past in Sabra and Shatila.

In the face of such unpleasant experiences, some people understandably decide that it is more comfortable to take the easy road, and drop out of dialogue. Others stick it out, saying that dialogue is more important than ever. They feel that a time will come, sadly probably after many more deaths 2,500 miles away, when British Muslims and British Jews will need to know who in the other's community can be trusted when it becomes popular again to demonstrate links publicly.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England