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
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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