What is "anti-semitic?" And what is "islamophobic?"
Those who have followed my most recent posts know that as I've gotten to know a lot of Muslim refugees the past year, I've been learning a bit about Islam. As well, I try to stay up-to-date as well as I can on what's going on close to home and in places like Afghanistan or Palestine. I try to combine first-hand information with everything that I read, realizing that the "real truth" can be really hard to get. I generally try to take everything with a grain of salt, but I must admit that I'm more inclined to favour first-hand accounts from people that I've developed a personal relationship with. Especially when they are both numerous and consistent.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although I'd hardly call myself a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, I think that I've learned enough about what's going on in Palestine to staunchly disagree with the way that Israel is handling things. (I wrote a bit about that in a previous post.) There is a reason why Norway is filled with Palestinian refugees -- not Israeli refugees -- and everything seems to indicate that Israel is abusing its power by doing their best to seal off the Palestinian people from the rest of the world.
But there are, of course, two sides to this dirty conflict and although it's a bit easier for me to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's certainly not so in the larger, general Muslim-Jewish conflict. As a friend from Iraq admitted to me, it's easier for her to like Christians than Jews. And although I do know of some refugees from Palestine who had Jewish friends back home, I wonder how I would have been received by my Muslim friends on that first day if I had said, "Hi, I'm from Israel" instead of "Hi, I'm from Canada." We all have our personal prejudices. I think I'm generally a pretty culturally open-minded and accepting person, but even I have to admit that some people are "harder for me to like." Let's just say... *a-hem*.... that loving certain Americans of certain political or religious persuasions requires an extra big effort on my part. ;) But I think I'm able to recognize my personal prejudice, be mindful of it, and try my best to resist it.
As in the US, there is a lot of Islamophobia going on in Europe. Norway is no exception, but is in a sort of unique positition. Being one of the world's strongest supporters for a free Palestine and an outspoken critic of Israel's operations in Gaza, it's been accused as being the most anti-semitic nation in Europe. Fresh accusations of this have been brought up in the media after the recent release of the Norwegian-produced film Gazas Tårer (Gaza's Tears) which features real and very raw footage of civilian casualties during the siege in Gaza. Critics cite the repeated anti-Israeli/anti-Jew/calls for revenge and Israel's downfall as evidence of Norway's tolerance of anti-semitism. I haven't seen the film, but I personally don't consider showing the angry rants of devastated Palestinians to be part of an anti-semitic agenda. Who in their posistion wouldn't be angry? But it goes without saying that whether it's watching Gaza's Tears, reading Eyes in Gaza, or meeting refugees and hearing their personal stories, one doesn't really come away with warm and fuzzy feelings for Israel.
On the other hand, there's a part of me that has real empathy for the Israeli paranoia that has led to extreme and inhumane actions on its part. While I find myself somewhat frequently speaking up on behalf of peaceful, moderate Muslims who are being marginalized in North America and Western Europe these days -- even writing letters to several newspapers and signing my name -- I sometimes have fears about what I am defending. And I can't help but think that there is a personal Mormon connection.
Even among seemingly moderate Muslims, I strongly suspect that there are seeds of anti-semitism being planted within Islam, just as seeds of racism, homophobia, anti-liberalism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-feminism have been planted throughout history within Mormonism. It's just hard to believe sometimes, behind all the smiles, love and generosity that typify Muslims or Mormons, that phobia or marginalization are being cultivated behind the scenes -- perhaps most often subconsciously, unknowingly, and largely unintentionally.
My Mormon background, combined with my personal encounters with nice, normal, moderate Muslims, makes for an interesting learning experience -- not to mention a paradox. I find myself sympathizing with my Muslim friends, remembering how I once felt marginalized by certain people as a socially conservative Mormon, and knowing that they are going to be viewed with at least some skepticism and suspicion by most of those who don't know them personally. But at the same time, now that I'm more aware of Mormon history and seen evidence of how some Mormons so eagerly blur the separation between church and state -- whether it's black civil rights, the ERA or Prop 8 -- I can't help but fear that I may be indirectly defending just that by defending moderate Islam. While I have no doubt about my Muslim friends as people, I sometimes worry about where even moderate Islam can lead if Muslims someday comprise a more significant portion of the population. Will they respect secular, democratic values and civil law? After all, how many orthodox Mormons wouldn't want to turn their country into Zion if they had the power to do so? "Because the prophet says so" has proven to be a very effective tool in hindering civil rights in America. I sometimes feel very conflicted about what type of role I should take in defending my Muslim brothers and sisters. Is there a way to defend Muslims without necessarily defending Islam? I hope so, but it can be difficult to separate the two.
And so this brings me back to my initial question. Am I anti-semitic because I support a free Palestine and that I think that this film from Gaza -- complete with its real footage of Palestinians calling for revenge and death to Israel -- is a film that the world needs to see? Am I islamophobic because I'm somewhat skeptical of the ability of even moderate Muslims to not plant seeds of anti-semitism and not want to mix religion with civil law?
Are you an islamophobe or an anti-semite? Or maybe even a bit mormophobic?