Why do we condemn Anti-Semitism, but not Anti-Islam?

by Mohamed Elmasry

The battle against anti-Semitism has come a long way since the 1979 publication of "Anti-Semitism in America" by Professors Quinly and Glock.

Now, nearly a quarter-century later, you'll rarely find any of the examples identified and exposed in this well-documented study. Today, the slightest suspicion of anti-Semitism will be met with strong condemnation from the media and nearly all quarters of civil society -- as it should.

Imagine, for example, if Muslim or Christian religious leaders were to state on any popular North American TV program that "Moses was a terrorist," and "Moses was a brigand and a robber," or "Judaism is a monumental scam," and "Judaism is a very evil and wicked religion." The reaction from millions of viewers and hearers would be overwhelming.

Numerous Canadian and American newspapers, both major and local, would run outraged editorials. TV and radio talk shows in both countries would thoroughly discuss the reasons and the remedies needed. Our Prime Minister would almost certainly issue a strong statement, saying that anti-Semitism is uncivilized and is against Canadian values. The American President would probably address his country from the Oval Office to denounce the outrage of anti-Semitism. In short, North America would be swept by a tidal-wave of social opprobrium--and rightly so.

But we're talking here about anti-Semitism as applied to the Jewish world. It's not been that way for the significant Muslim population on this continent, even though Islam was originally founded in the Arab world, and Arabs are also Semites!

Consider the effect on all Muslims then, when outrageous and insulting public statements are made about our Prophet Muhammad and about the 1,400-year-old faith of Islam. Substitute in the first two quotes "Muhammad" instead of "Moses" and "Islam" for "Judaism" and you will read what was actually said, in that order, by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham -- all high-profile leaders of the American "Christian right."

Falwell made his inflammatory hate-statements on the widely viewed CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes," and Graham (son of veteran evangelist and media personality Billy Graham), delivered President Bush's inaugural prayer last year. All three have made it a basic premise of their theological platform to regularly denounce Islam.

But did you hear or read any overwhelming reactions against their slanderous statements from the national media, Canadian and American politicians, or other leaders in civil society? Not at all. There was no massive outrage, no official denunciation.

In fact, when the Canadian Islamic Congress contacted the Canadian Council of Churches asking them to issue a statement distancing themselves from Falwell's comments, they declined. There were no public statements from any of Canada's race-relations organizations, no statement from any Canadian non-Christian faith groups, ethnic groups, or any major body that could have made an effective and aware response to this "other" form of anti-Semitism.

All Muslims heard were a few very careful, politically correct, and mostly unofficial statements telling them that Falwell, Robertson and Graham do not speak for all Christians -- something any rational person of faith would already know! The North American Muslim community is not looking for such fatuous self-assurance; only strong, unequivocal public denunciation of pre-meditated hate-speech will carry any moral weight.

Sadly, as a result of the lack of public outcry, hate-mongering against Canadian Muslims has increased since the airing of Jerry Falwell's "60 Minutes" statement.

In fact, the swollen hate-language of anti-Islam voice messages received recently by the CIC, reads as if the callers were trying to outdo Falwell and his colleagues: "Muhammad was a pedophile, a mass murder, a demon-possessed maniac, a false prophet," said one. "Islam is a false religion. The Qur'an and the Hadith are both books of lies and deception," said another. And so on; it is offensive even to repeat such words in making a case against them. There was no doubt that those who left these, and messages like them, could be charged with hate-crime.

But with no strong or effective Canadian condemnation against utterances like Jerry Falwell's, every angry or uninformed person who has chosen to blame Islam for problems we all share on this planet, will now feel safe to spread anti-Islam hate speech at will.

Canadian Muslims have been told time and time again since 9/11 that America's "war on terrorism" is not a war against Islam. But the measured, "correct" tone of most media and public reactions to a growing tide of anti-Islam attacks, leaves a huge credibility gap. The average Muslim is not convinced by statements that are merely socially acceptable.

Over the past three decades, the Jewish communities in our midst have been notably successful in lowering the spread of anti-Semitism targeted at their faith and ethnicity. To their credit, North American Jews have made it their business to fight against it, from the local level on up to national, high-profile organizations that regularly lobby for government attention as well as influencing broad public opinion. Now it is the turn of Muslims to learn effectively how to lower the spread of anti-Islam, whose roots are in fact from the same sources as anti-Semitism.

If Muslims do not work hard to combat anti-Islam and expose those who for religious or political reasons are advancing it, the practice of anti-Islam will go on, and on... and on. Stopping anti-Islamic prejudice -- the new "model" of anti-Semitism -- is a question of basic principles.

But to accomplish this, Muslims need the help of every fair-minded Canadian. In hate-crime, talk is not cheap.

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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