“The MCB complains that the Government refuses to take into account Muslim grievances on foreign policy (Iraq and Palestine) and domestic order (the arrest of terrorist suspects). In fact, it is the Muslims who refuse to listen…. Engagement is a two-way process and the Muslims in Britain, while effective at presenting demands, have done little thus far to show that they hear what the rest of the country wants.
“Instead, they have condoned or encouraged the kind of radicalisation which, according to the latest poll, suggests that 31 per cent of young Muslims want Sharia law imposed in Britain.
“If the Muslims are to be the new Jews – secure in their identity but living at peace with society around them – they must learn to engage, to debate, to yield a few sacred cows in exchange for a sense of pride and belonging. It may take another generation, but if multicultural Britain is going to prosper, it would be no bad thing if Muslims decided to become more like Jews.”
Norman Lebrecht in the Evening Standard, 6 February 2007
Does Lebrecht really think this sort of ignorant and condescending crap makes any kind of positive contribution to relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities in London?
No, Muslims are not the ‘new Jews’
Evening Standard, 6 February 2007
By Norman Lebrecht
Jews in Britain saw themselves as part of the nation, not a nation apart. Muslims today could learn from that, says one Jewish writer.
These days it is not hard to feel sympathy for Muslim Britain. The hammering on doors at dawn, the rush of armed officers, the bewildering arrest of boys from decent families, the violation of privacy – the rule book mechanics of police operations are designed to sow confusion. In a minority community, these effects can easily be magnified into a sense of alienation, a state of siege.
It does not take a huge leap of imagination to translate the latest raids in Birmingham, over an alleged plot by militants to kidnap and behead a British soldier of Muslim faith, into a general attack on a whole community, its values, its property, its physical security.
For all the efforts the police have made locally to assuage community feelings, the fear persists that Muslims are generically suspect of disloyalty and terrorism. The misplaced arrests last year in Forest Gate did nothing to allay these concerns. These are anxious times for our Muslim neighbours, colleagues and fellow citizens.
Anxious, perhaps, but not as terrifying as their spokesmen would have us believe. To extend fear into the language of pogrom and genocide, as some have done in recent days, is wildly irrational and dangerously misleading. Mohammad Naseem, chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque, announced on Friday that Muslims in Britain are under a similar peril to Jews in Hitler’s Germany. ‘The German people were told Jews were a threat,’ he declared. ‘The same thing is happening here.’
Maleiha Malik, a moderate, unveiled lecturer in law at King’s College, London, popped up in The Guardian to argue that Muslims are getting the same treatment here as Jews did a century ago. Both are ‘targets of cultural racism’. Both are seen as ‘a threat to the nation’. India Knight, another gently assimilated immigrant, puts it more bluntly. Muslims, she pronounces, ‘are the new Jews’.
Oh, really? Clichés are easily coined but when they come into common currency, as this one is doing, they foster a mindset that makes it harder than ever to maintain social harmony. Any idea that multicultural Britain is terrorising and segregating its Muslims prior to their annihilation would seem absurd to reasonable minds, yet this is the image that some Muslim leaders are apparently trying to convey. It needs to be nipped in the bud before fear turns to rampant paranoia, and that leads to actual violence.
When discussing Muslims and Jews in Britain, we need to isolate critical differences. The Jews in Britain never exceeded half a million, or one per cent of the population. The Muslims today number around two million, or four per cent. The Jews never constituted an ideological threat to the state. No faction in Judaism, no matter how remote or extreme, ever demanded the replacement of British law with rabbinic halakha, or the right to determine national policy according to the dictates of faith.
The Jews in Britain saw themselves as a part of the nation, never a nation apart. They requested the rights to free worship, to solemnise marriages, circumcise their sons, observe Saturday as a day of rest, slaughter animals with a sharp knife and bury their dead on sanctified ground. No other religious requirements impinged on the law of the land and the Jews as a group sought from the day of recognition in 1656 to play a full role in the life of the country, its commerce, its culture and its armed forces.
Elements within the Jewish community may have been attracted to Communism and Zionism, but these were secular preocupations unrelated to the Jewish faith, and they did not attack the British state and its citizens.
The Jews aspired to integrate within British society, contributing shades of their ancient culture to the kaleidoscope of island life. Their greatest fear was separation, a condition they had imposed on them in the Russian pale of settlement, the stetls of Poland and the ghettos of Italy. Here, they sought only to belong.
The state of belonging has three degrees – assimilation, integration and engagement. The first, which involves intermarriage, the abandoment of difference and the erasure of tradition, is rejected by religious authorities and community organisations – a decree which has not prevented many Jews (and not a few Muslims) from taking it by way of personal choice.
The middle level, integration, is the mainstream option – the chance to be fully involved in national life while maintaining every colourful detail of ethnic heritage.
The lowest level, engagement, involves intensive multilateral communication with the majority community while maintaining strict religious observance.
Muslim representatives such as the Muslim Council of Britain reject the first option and equivocate about the second. But it is their failure at the lowest level of engagement which exacerbates the present state of fear.
Over the past 40 years, ever since the Muslims came to Britain in appreciable numbers, Christian and Jewish groups have tried and failed to engage them in meaningful dialogue. With the exception of the late Sheikh Zaki Badawi, preacher at the Regent’s Park Mosque, few Muslim leaders were prepared to turn up and talk.
The Blair Government, from its earliest days in office, has made valiant attempts to encourage inter-faith dialogue. Here, too, few Muslims turn up – and when they do it is with prepared positions that they proceed to declaim. They are prepared to talk but not to listen, which is the essence of engagement.
The MCB complains that the Government refuses to take into account Muslim grievances on foreign policy (Iraq and Palestine) and domestic order (the arrest of terrorist suspects). In fact, it is the Muslims who refuse to listen, and often to turn up. Engagement is a two-way process and the Muslims in Britain, while effective at presenting demands, have done little thus far to show that they hear what the rest of the country wants.
Instead, they have condoned or encouraged the kind of radicalisation which, according to the latest poll, suggests that 31 per cent of young Muslims want Sharia law imposed on Britain.
If the Muslims are to be the new Jews – secure in their identity but living at peace with society around them – they must learn to engage, to debate, to yield a few sacred cows in exchange for a sense of pride and belonging. It may take another generation, but if multicultural Britain is going to prosper, it would be no bad thing if Muslims decided to become more like Jews.