ISLAM VS ISLAMISM
Before delving into this topic, I want to make something abundantly clear: Islam and Islamism are not the same thing. Islamophobia will never be the answer to antisemitism. We cannot fight one bigotry with another.
That said, we must be willing to name antisemitism where we see it. While antisemitism is one of the two building pillars of white supremacy, antisemitism is virulently alive and well within other ideologies.
Islam is a religion. People who practice Islam are known as Muslims. To describe things that are Muslim in nature, we can use the adjective “Islamic.”
Islamism is an extremist political ideology. Islamist (again, not to be confused with Muslims or Islamic) beliefs vary widely; however, what different Islamist groups have in common is that they believe nation states and geographic regions should be reconstituted to return to “authentic Islamic practice.” Some Muslim scholars have described Islamism as an “anti” ideology: essentially, anti everything that they perceive to violate their interpretation of Islamic laws.
Islamist groups are virulently antisemitic and have posed a violent threat to Jews for decades.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The Islamist movement can be traced back to the late 19th century. During this period, the Ottoman Empire spent massive sums of money on Western civilian and military technology, and as such, got into major debt with European colonial powers. Eventually, this led to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
In light of all this, various North African, Southwest Asian, and Central Asian publications wrote of Islamic “alternatives” to the decline of the Empire. For example, some preached of a return to (their fundamentalist interpretation of) sharia law or a the (re)-establishment of the Islamic Caliphates.
Among the first Islamist groups was the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Hamas, the governing group in the Gaza Strip, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Other Islamist groups today include the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram, among hundreds of others. Many of these groups are deeply antisemitic at their core.
Despite what many might expect, the antisemitism at the core of Islamist movements did not originate as a response to Zionism or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, its core origins can be traced to the Prophet Muhammad’s initial conflict with the Jewish tribes of the Arabian Peninsula (I actually have a post on this: THE EXTERMINATION OF A JEWISH TRIBE IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA). According to Islamists, this is at the very source of their problem with Jews. Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has only exacerbated this antisemitism.
Of note, Jews living in Muslim-majority nations were treated as dhimmis (second class citizens) for centuries (see my post WHAT WAS BEING A JEWISH DHIMMI LIKE?). However, the overwhelming Islamist view is not that Jews should live as second class citizens, but that they should be exterminated entirely — at least in Muslim-majority nations.
RESPONSE TO ZIONISM
(This slide is not about Zionism the movement. Please don’t turn the comments into a debate about Zionism because that’s not the point. Also: the Islamist interpretation of who Jews are is outrageously incorrect).
Again, the core antisemitism of Islamist movements is unrelated to Zionism and the modern political Zionist movement. However, undoubtedly, the Israeli-Arab conflict and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 have exacerbated this hatred. To Islamists, Zionism and Israel are “proof” that their antisemitism is justified. It’s not uncommon for Islamists to conflate the past (e.g. Muhammad’s conflict with the Jewish tribes) with the present (e.g. Israeli policies).
Because Islamism is an “anti ideology,” and because Islamists interpret Zionism as a foreign, colonial, and most importantly, “Western” movement, they (incorrectly) see Jews as the westerners that they must oppose. As such, they consider Jews a threat to (their fundamentalist interpretation of) Islam.
ANTISEMITISM AS A GATEWAY
Antisemitism is often the “gateway drug” (for lack of a better term) into Islamism. Islamist groups often recruit followers by preaching hatred of Jews. This is actually something that both Islamist and white supremacist groups in the United States have in common.
For example, non-violent extremist groups often echo the very same antisemitic sentiments that outrightly violent Islamist groups preach. In 2019, for instance, the Muslim American Society organized and hosted Israel-Palestine events where young children were encouraged to chant slogans in Arabic such as “chop off their heads.”
Even non-violent clerics have been quoted echoing Islamist antisemitic sentiments. A cleric in Pittsburgh, for example, stated, “…if you look even deeper, behind the scenes — Jews [are] running everything.” Another in Minnesota said: “[Jews are] the descendants of apes and pigs.”
As such, it’s easy to see how people, motivated by deep-rooted antisemitism, will make the jump from non-violence to violence.
Statistically, the two biggest violent threats to Jewish life worldwide are white supremacist extremism and Islamist extremism.
For example, in September of 2021, during Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar, a 16-year-old Syrian Islamist was arrested when German police discovered a plot to attack a synagogue. Islamist antisemitic violence is so bad in Europe — France, especially — that the Jewish community is leaving Europe at alarming rates. In 2007, 7000 French Jews petitioned for asylum in the United States, citing antisemitism as a reason. Thousands of French Jews move to Israel every year for the same reason (8000 in 2015, for example).
Two relatively recent Islamist antisemitic attacks on Jews in France include the 2012 Toulouse Jewish school shooting, where 4 Jews were murdered, including 3 children; and the 2015 Paris Kosher supermarket hostage crisis, where 4 Jews were murdered.
Some Islamist attacks on Jews include full-blown terrorist acts. For example, in 1994, a suicide van bombing at a Jewish community center in Argentina claimed the lives of 85 people.
The antisemitic conspiracy theories espoused by Islamist groups are, unsurprisingly, the very same antisemitic conspiracy theories espoused by white supremacist antisemitic groups. In fact, both extremists use the very same source material, including the antisemitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
As stated, antisemitism in Muslim-majority nations long predates European colonialism of those regions. However, European colonialism exacerbated it for two reasons: (1) those fighting European colonialism were more receptive to Islamism’s “anti” ideologies, and (2) Europeans imported plenty of antisemitic source material (such as The Elders of Zion) to Muslim-majority countries.
N*zism was also deeply influential in the region. The N*zis notoriously collaborated with Islamist leaders and spread their propaganda across Southwest Asia and North Africa. Leaders in the region considered the Jewish genocide a form of “divine punishment.” Islamists hold that same view to this day.
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