Submitting anti-Muslim actions to a ‘Jewish test’

Jonathan_Freedland“It’s a crude reaction but it’s the first one I had on hearing that the Swiss had voted to ban the building of minarets on mosques – the same reaction I have to the increasingly-frequent stories like it: how would I feel if this were not about them, but us? How, in other words, would I react if this latest attack were not on Muslims but on Jews?

“It’s crude because no two situations are ever exactly the same, and Muslims and Jews have different histories – in Switzerland and everywhere else. But it’s useful, allowing the testing of any proposition against an almost instinctive yardstick of decency.

“So how would I react if the Swiss voted to restrict the way synagogues are built? With horror, of course. Indeed, the mere hint of such a proposal in the heart of Europe – given the blood-soaked history of the 20th century – would send a shudder down the collective spine. That reaction alone would tell me that, on this proposal, there was only one decent place to be – against it.

“Or take Jack Straw’s campaign against the niqab in 2006. He and his supporters made what they hoped was a subtle, nuanced case against women wearing the full veil, but my first thought was much simpler. What if a government minister told ultra-orthodox Jewish men that, in their full beards, it was hard to tell them apart, or that he disliked the custom that commands ultra-orthodox Jewish women to cut off their hair, covering their heads with either a wig or a hat? No matter how subtle or nuanced his reasons, I would feel that this was, at best, an act of bullying directed at a vulnerable minority or, at worst, the first step towards something much more menacing.”

Jonathan Freedland at Comment is Free, 1 December 2009