Each day I receive an email from Jewish News Online in which they highlight some stories. Yesterday’s edition contained an article by Fiyaz Mughal – the founder of Tell MAMA – entitled “Chief Rabbi right to call out ‘see no evil hear no evil’ mantra on anti-Semitism.” The article was in support of the call from the UK’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mervis, for Muslims around the world to be more vocal in standing up to anti-Semitism. Mughal writes:
“The fact that there has not been one single Imam who has publicly spoken up about the need to tackle anti-Semitism within and beyond Muslim communities, is telling.”
When I read that I did a double take. Whaaaaat? Not a single Imam? In the whole world? Really? What was Mughal basing this on? How much research did Mughal actually do before he came up with that astonishingly sweeping claim? It took me all of ten seconds to type in the words “Imams condemn anti-Semitism” into Google and it turned up quote after quote by Imams across the world condemning anti-Semitism. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Here’s an extract from a Reuters story “Euro imams, rabbis pledge zero tolerance for hate preachers”:
“Seventy European Muslim and Jewish leaders pledged on Wednesday to show “zero tolerance” to hate preachers of any faith including their own ranks, citing what they called rising religious intolerance on the continent. Imams, rabbis and community leaders from 18 countries agreed to jointly counter bigotry against Jews and Muslims…”
That certainly sounds like Imams speaking out against anti-Semitism both “within and beyond” does it not? Several years back the Muslim Council of Britain (whose affiliates include hundreds of mosques) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews issued a laudable joint statement in which they said:
“We condemn any expression of Islamophobia, Anti-semitism or any form of racism. We call for Muslim and Jewish communities to redouble efforts to work together and get to know one another.”
So, many Imams have indeed spoken out against the evil of anti-Semitism.
And how about Muslim communities? Just a few months ago, I recall reading a wonderful story in The Independent about a group of Muslims in Leeds who went to show solidarity with the congregants of a synagogue that had been defaced with racist graffiti. It was a really heart warming gesture. This story is especially poignant because in his article Mughal notes several examples of Jews displaying support for Muslims who are victims of anti-Muslim bigotry, but tellingly provides no examples of Muslims standing up in solidarity with Jews. At best one would say that conducting basic research is clearly not a Fiyaz Mughal strongpoint. If one was inclined to be less generous, however, you might say that Mughal was rather dishonestly giving a very selective and partial portrait in order to deliberately bolster his misleading argument.
And then there was this contribution in the Jewish Chronicle from your present writer over a decade ago where I said:
“We have to be honest, and I think there has been a real danger – because passions are so heated around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – of genuine disputes over Israeli policies sliding to an easy, or casual, form of anti-Semitism…Muslims as well as others ought to be cautious about that. It would be absurd if, after being on the receiving end of prejudice, we ended up being prejudiced ourselves.”
And there are plenty of other similar examples one could quote from. All forms of bigotry, whether it is prejudice against Jews, Muslims or any other religious group, ought to be vigorously challenged. We should be wary of making sweeping generalisations of any group of people.
So, why did Fiyaz Mughal make such a manifestly false claim in the Jewish News in support of the Chief Rabbi? Interestingly, Mughal acted in much the same obsequious manner last summer when following the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in London Bridge and Borough Market – a time when public figures would normally have been extra careful not to encourage division in the UK – the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, wrote a very ill-judged article in the Jewish Chronicle saying:
“…it is time now for the diverse Muslim communities of the UK to stand up and be counted – to go beyond mere condemnation. I believe they need to stage a huge rally of their own in a prominent location such as Trafalgar Square. Muslim religious and secular leaders must make the point loudly and publicly that these attacks are a perversion of Islam and the attackers will be liable to be punished after death and not rewarded in heaven. Every British mosque should be holding its own protest against terrorism, proclaiming Not in our Name.”
To their immense credit around 100 British Jews from a number of different synagogues and unaffiliated individuals wrote an open letter strongly rebuking Jonathan Arkush saying:
“We particularly reject the assertion that members of a religious or ethnic group must quickly and publicly denounce any members of that group who act repugnantly. We hope you will remember that this has been used to persecute Jews in living memory. Just as we as Jews have no responsibility for the actions of Jewish terrorist groups, Muslims are not personally responsible for the actions of groups such as ISIS. Finally, we are deeply troubled with your presuming to enforce a mandatory public reaction on the entire Muslim community in the wake of these attacks. We commend the Muslim community leaders who have spoken out against the terrorists, but it is not for us to dictate how people in grieving communities should respond. We stand with all our Muslim sisters and brothers, and all people of faith and no faith, in love and healing from these atrocities – together.”
It was a highly commendable letter which displayed genuine solidarity with British Muslims at a sensitive time when the terrorists and their supporters would have been desperately trying to set communities against each other.
But how did Fiyaz Mughal respond? Did he also roundly criticise the President of the Board of Deputies for trying to “enforce a mandatory public reaction on the entire Muslim community”? Of course not. The very next day, Mughal wrote an astonishingly ingratiating article for the Jewish Chronicle rushing to Arkush’s defence saying that the Arkush comments were “sensitive and thought through – and carried with it a deep sense of empathy and care for Muslim communities.”
A couple of years ago, Fiyaz Mughal was the subject of a fawning interview in the Observer by that notorious supporter and propagandist for the illegal war against Iraq, Nick Cohen. In the article, Mughal accused his opponents in the Muslim community of being “charlatans”. Well, there are certainly some charlatans around, no question. Perhaps Fiyaz Mughal should take a good hard look in the mirror.