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Published on August 20th, 2010 | by Daniel Luban

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The New Anti-Semitism?

My latest piece for Tablet is now up. In it I look at the recent surge in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and propaganda, particularly during the recent controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” and how they relate to traditional anti-Semitism. An excerpt:

The problem for the ADL is that there simply isn’t much anti-Semitism of consequence in the United States these days. While anti-Semitism continues to thrive elsewhere in the world and to molder on the fringes of American society, Jews have by now been fully assimilated into the American ruling class and into the mainstream of American life. A mundane event like the recent wedding of Protestant Chelsea Clinton and Jewish Marc Mezvinsky drove this point home. What was notable was not the question “will she convert?” but how little importance anyone attached to the answer; the former first daughter’s choice between Judaism and Christianity seemed as inconsequential as the choice between Episcopalianism and Presbyterianism would have a few decades ago.

At the same time, many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified.

Read the whole thing here.

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2 Responses to The New Anti-Semitism?

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  1. avatar scott says:

    I don’t think anyone is served by simply describing these Islamophobic arguments as simply, beyond the pale. That said, the same thing is true of Jewish or other shibboleths.

    As to Sharia, it’s not nutty to say that Muslims would like to bring Sharia here. But, what does that mean? To lampoon it, never advances anything.

    Sharia, is something that Muslims might enjoy being able to opt into. But, Sharia, under even classical precepts would offer opt ins for Jews to live by Jewish law, and Christians to live by whatever legal system they wish. It should be noted that the Quran says let there be no compulsion in religion almost as often as it says “God is great.”

    Now, the Quran tells Muslims to be fairer to non-Muslims than the Ummah. This they say is the best dawa, or way to evangelize. Muslims are also generally open and willing to discuss their faith openly. The prohibitions against images of Mohammad are not made out of repression but protect a common human failing.

    Buddha said, “I’m not a god, don’t worship me,” and they did. Jesus never claimed to be god nor did he ask people to worship him, but they do. Philosophically, anthropormophization of God can be found in every faith tradition, this seems to be a human propensity. The prohibitions against images of the Prophet are designed to guard against this, not to suppress discussion.

    Perhaps Muslims suffer from being too timid. I was closer to the community just before and after 9/11. I put fliers on cars in shopping malls advertising and open house/Mosque outreach event. The other Muslim looking guys were far more reluctant to be so brazen.

    I for one welcome this discussion, as the Quran has nothing as unabashedly vile and anachronistic as the tales of Joshua and the many other stories of genocide and annihilation. Mohammad after the hijra to Mecca is forced to confront a treasonous plot by Meccan Jews. He insists that these Jews be judged according to Jewish law–as is the Sharia policy. The rabbi, who is aligned with the Muslims and others of Mecca insists that Mohammad execute the judgment, literally. He is tasked with executing 300 Jews. Mohammad tries to pass on this, to allow them simply to be banished from Mecca. But the Rabbi insists. We see no reluctance from Joshua, nor from Paul.

    That isn’t to say that the Quran doesn’t have problematic iayats/verses, but they don’t seem as offensive to modern readers as the much older Torah. I think the Quran benefits from being the last revision of what is essentially the same basic tome. (Of course no Jew, Christian, or good Muslim can say this) Also, philosophic thought developed substantially from the time of the recording of the Torah, written contemporaneously with the Book of Ezra.

    Between that time the Greeks had basically established the problem of creation ex nihlo, the problems with a god who can come as a dinner guest and other developments that weren’t available to the authors of the Torah. Karen Armstrong breaks this down effectively describing the varying descriptions of the Godhead through the Torah.

    It seems to me that few people are even moderately literate in their own tradition much less those of the others. Few Christians have reflected on the problems with the stories of Joshua.

    Anyway, this is a difficult discussion more many, especially the faithful. I understand the discomfort many have even allowing this conversation. However, failure to do so is aid and abet those who would seek to divide us by preying on our ignorance.

    At the end of the day, we all cherry pick to create our own personal faith. All three traditions have doctrines and texts that are, if not regrettable, easy to misinterpret. Learning to acknowledge this, allows us to more freely focus on that that which is most noble; namely, the Golden Rule. I believe we should use the Golden Rule to test the dogma and dictates of our own faith traditions.

  2. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    Islamophobia, the “new anti-semistism” as you put it, has not yet been stigmatized by American society as a whole, and therefore can still be displayed in public. Anti-semitism itself, while expressed openly only on the fringes of our society, is nevertheless more widespread than you may think. It is no longer respectable to voice anti-Jewish feelings, just as it is no longer permissable to express racist feelings toward blacks. Both racism and anti-semitism have indeed declined since I was a boy, but both remain just under the surface of the mainstream (if I may put it that way). They will probably remain so, unless we experience a real economic calamity or a military disaster brought on by the actions of Israel. Then we may see a “sharpening of attitudes” at the very least.


About the Author

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Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



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