Nov 17, 2010

Are You An Islamophobe or An Anti-Semite?

I was reading the discussion going on at Mormon Heretic after his post about Benson, Eisenhower and Communism, as well as Glenn Beck's latest Jewish controversy, and was reminded of something that I've been wondering to myself lately.

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?


Mormon Heretic said...

FD, glad to see you blogging again, and glad to see that I was a sort of inspiration. :)

Is there a way to defend Muslims without necessarily defending Islam?

Absolutely. I don't know if you saw my post on the mosque at Ground Zero, but I support it. I just read a book called "Have a Little Faith" by Mitch Albom discussing his rabbi. The rabbi had both Christian, Muslim, and Hindu friends and defended them. Mitch tells of an interaction between the rabbi and a Hindu woman where the rabbi asked about reincarnation and apologized for not knowing more about Hinduism. When questioned, the rabbi responded.

Look, I know what I believe. It's in my soul. But I constantly tell our people you should be conficed of the authenticity of what you have, but you must also be humble enough to say that we don't know everything. And since we don't know everything, we must accept that another person may believe something else."

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?

Having feelings of compassion for the Palestinians is not anti-semitic. I am a little worried about the revenge thing. While understandable, it's not what Ghandhi or Jesus taught. But it does sound like a good film. I never liked Count of Monte Cristo because of the revenge factor, but it still teaches some interesting lessons. I suppose this film could do that too.

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?

This is what we talked about on my blog. I think we need to support moderate muslims. If we don't, only the jihadists are left, and I'd rather work with moderates than jihadists. As a moderate, I gravitate toward moderates by nature.

The Faithful Dissident said...

MH, that's a great quote by the rabbi. Thanks for sharing. I did enjoy your post about the Ground Zero mosque and I tried to check in every so often to follow the heated discussion that followed your post. I also support the building of that mosque. As you said, it's important that we support moderate Muslims. I feel that many westerners are unfortunately blurring the line between Islamic and Islamist, lumping them all into a single group. Islam is probably about as diverse as Christianity. So many different interpretations and ways of practicing it.

But in all fairness, I understand why some westerners can turn into Islamophobes and not have any trust in even moderate Muslims. I myself am still very skeptical of the ability of those who come from a very strict religious background to uphold civil law. This goes for Christians as well as Muslims. Just yesterday there was a story in the news here about a group of Muslims who were using a room for some conference at a university in Oslo. They had requested separate entrances for men and women and wanted them to sit separately. The university told them that it was against their policy to do that (Note: Norwegians are very big on gender equality and desegregation of the sexes.). So they had an agreement that they would abide by the rules if they wanted to use the facilities and then they went ahead and created separate entrances and separated the men and the women anyways. Now the university has told them that they can't use their facilities anymore and the group feels disriminated against.

It's a tough one because the group claims that it was the women themselves who wanted to be separated. In their culture, men and women do not sit together and the women felt uncomfortable. So it would cause them distress to force them to do so.

We can't force men and women to interact with each other if they don't want to. Once when I was visiting some Palestinian friends, a friend of theirs from Chechnya came to say hello to them and when we were introduced, he said he couldn't shake my hand because he doesn't shake hands with women. In all honesty, I wasn't angry or particularly offended on a personal level. But I do feel offended on collective level in the sense that if someone is going to come and live in a place like Norway and make a life for himself, he's going to have to adapt to a minimum of social standards here. And one of the most important of these is gender equality. We're not asking men and women to sleep with each other. But if you can't even shake hands with a woman, how can you get a job here? How do you even get past a job interview when the boss is a woman?

So, although I can totally respect and encourage the freedom of Muslims to practice their faith privately, segregating the sexes as much as they see fit in their homes, mosques and private property, I feel like they need to bend a little for the sake of living in a peaceful, stable society -- which I'm guessing is a main reason for why the wanted to come here in the first place. I'm not saying that there aren't any Muslims who manage to integrate into Norwegian society -- in fact, I think the majority of them do integrate themselves and function quite well. But there are others who don't, and it's because they are not willing. And I'm sure I could say the same about other religious groups.

Mike S said...

I think there is a difference between pure Islam and how it is practiced in many cultures. The country with the most Muslims is Indonesia, and they don't have as much cultural baggage as the Arab Muslims do. So I think you can absolutely support Muslims yet not necessarily support some of the cultural practices.

Interestingly, I think some of the same issues are present in the LDS Church. Many of the day-to-day concerns of Mormons have NOTHING to do with the eternal gospel or doctrinal tenets. This includes our Sunday practices, including types of meetings, color of shirts, etc. It includes number of earrings and whether your shoulders show. It even includes things like forbidding the same glass of wine that Christ or Joseph Smith drank because of US prohibition. The "pure" essence of the gospel is buried under cultural onlays, much like in the Arab world.

Takk for posten. Jeg savner norge rundt juletiden. Det er kjempe hyggelig.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Mike S, how did you learn Norwegian? Did you serve a mission in Norway? I'd love to know more. By the way, I've always enjoyed every single comment that I've ever read by you on any blog. Feel free to drop me a line thefaithfuldissident at gmail dot com.

Anonymous said...


I'm glad I stayed with the post long enough to get to your point. The way it started out, I thought I was going to get a clobbering.

Since you've been following the Muslim discussions on Mormon Heretic, you know the importance I place on distinguishing true moderates from extremists who pretend to be moderates or humanitarians in order to gain or keep wealth and power, no matter who gets victimized.

I believe this must be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian situation as well.

The process of internalizing hatred for the "other" is not happening NOW; it was well advanced prior to WW2.

If I can use the post-Civil War US as a neutral example, when the Yankees smashed the Confederacy, the "manhood" -- the identity -- of Southern Culture was humiliated. There were elements of that culture that could not do anything against the North, but that certainly turned their efforts to holding their place ABOVE African-Americans. To be equal with blacks was intolerable -- perhaps more intolerable than being conquered by the North. There are such extremist views in pockets even a 150 years later.

In World War I, great Empires were smashed by the British coalition. People in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Mid-East could not lash out at Britain, so their extremists turned to scapegoating those who had been below them. Another World War followed, with new Imperial borders rising -- but the old hurts un resolved, and new victims created. No one felt more victimized than the Arab World, and no one more distrustful that anyone but their own forces would protect them than the Jews who made it to Israel.

That is an environment ripe for extremists to exploit legitimate grievences. Who holds sway in Israel is debatable; who holds sway over Gaza isn't -- it's the group of Palestinians who wish to return Palestine to a pre-1948 status without a Jewish state.

The Israelis are sufficiently realistic -- or paranoid, if you prefer -- that that will not happen without major military conflict, IMO. Pressure on Israel is counter-productive. It increases their "paranoia" while convincing the Palestinian side that they need not do anything about Israeli's legitimate security concerns to reach an agreement, but should simply strengthen their "resistance".


SUNNofaB.C.Rich said...

Norway apparently isn't a big fan of immigration either.

miss meaygghan said...

I don't know much about the conflicts in the Middle East at all. I am interested to hear stories of Muslims in other countries experiencing discrimination because I think, "Man, what if my religion had a policy that was ever so slightly different?" For instance, what if my religion asked me to wear special temple garments on the outside of my street clothing, rather than under? What if I lived in a place like France where outward expressions of religion are forbidden in places funded by the state, like schools? I have great sympathy for Islamic moderates. I don't know much about Jewish history or politics, but I also like to play with the "what if" scenarios? Certainly our faith has sentiments towards a Zion of the future where Jesus will reign and our promised land, America, won't have social or political problems.

It's interesting how in the States, the Church has political teeth to use terms like "free speech" and "freedom of religion" to use for rhetoric for its political interests, but that doesn't fly in other countries. Sometimes I think our Church is more American in personality than we realize.

Anonymous said...

I studied Islam back in the 1970s when I was looking for a religion that would have made sense and felt right, too. Islam made a lot of sense, but the Taliban version of it sounds totally foreign to me, and not at all the same Islam.

Reportedly there have also been Mormons, who have read every GA comment from a point of view of wanting to justify violence—and to me, such Mormonism is completely alien. From what I read, the central message is "love thy neighbor as thyself," a.k.a. the "Great commandment."

So, yes, it seems it's possible to twist any religion to justify all kinds of atrocities, when interpreted with sufficient ignorance and bad faith, but that is true of any philosophy. One can say that eugenics—including the Nazi version of it was a direct outcome of Darwinism. There are even Buddhist groups who have risen up in arms against Chinese hegemony in some areas.

Anonymous said...

It was a pleasure reading your post. You should not criticize yourself for challenging yourself and others. The many complex layers that make up religion, politics and humanity as a whole may never fully be understood by anyone. Emotions, once stirred, are hard to set aside. I'd say as long as you continue to love others openly and as you'd want them to love you, you will always do the right thing. Be careful with labels; even the simplest aren't really black or white - grey areas serve as beautiful material for teaching valuable lessons.

However, once you've decided you believe in something, it is now your burden to share that information. If you see injustice, recognize it as such and defend it. That is the most beautiful thing you could do for humanity.

Please keep challenging yourself and NEVER think you've got it all figured out. As soon as you do, something will happen to prove you wrong.

Anonymous said...

This Jew just stumbled across your blog. You should know in the hasidic Orthodox communities we are generally not fans of Zionism, a secular movement of Jewish nationalism that has replaced authentic Jewish values, divine commandments, and holiness. To oppose the State of Israel's policies absolutely does not make you anti-Semitic. In fact, you'd be in good company with much of religious Jewry.

Jill said...

Hey, I realize that I am way late on this, but where can I find Tears of Gaza with English subtitles? THANKS

The Faithful Dissident said...

Hi Jill, sorry, I'm not sure where you can get a copy. I'm sure it'll eventually be released to DVD, but I'm not sure whether it is yet. Amazon is probably your best bet, or perhaps from the director, Vibeke Løkkeberg.

Anonymous said...

You are such an open and intelligent Spirit. It is the soul root of your Obvious Beauty.

You are keen in your first hand observations, while seeking for truth. But the absolute truth is layered & camoflauged in ambiguity, based in a lack of complete vision. A lack of vision for not yet seeing through all those layers, but none the less, approaching it's core.

You have indeed been on a journey of truth & finding it well. Only an inherently pure and noble soul can make that journey. And it becomes more pure as the journey progresses.

But as you slice your way beneath the layers of truth mingled with lies, you come to find an equally proportionate ugliness that opposes Righteousness. A truth that is far more than what you have thus discovered. A truth grounded and revealed through comparing Polar Opposites being promulgated by Satan & His World Leaders.

You are correct in your observations of the Jewish/Palestinian situation from the level of understanding that you have reached. But the larger truth to that and other conditions around the world, run much deeper than what you have observed thus far.

What you see within and without the Lord's Church, is a full blown conspiracy of Satan making his final attempt at ruling this world under a single manifestation of His Power. Only it is camoflauged in half truths and extends itself to complete lies of deception. And not merely a scattered array of evil influence throughout the world, but one designed to CONSOLIDATE it's power into One Man and a power structure designed upon the Pyramid Concept of shared power.

Every Goe Political Situation in the world at this time, is a PRODUCT of Satanic Conspiracy. What you "SEE" is only PART of what there IS.

The Jewish state was CREATED by Satanic forces for the purpose of USING Israel as an eventual Scape Goat for Satanic Aggression aimed directly at it's soul.

The Jewish/Israelie "Players" are JUST THAT....Players of Satan's Plan to use the newly formed Jewish State to foment the type of political chaos that is needed to implement Satan's Plan to rule this world. But God will bring this plan to ruin.

The situation in the Middle East is an ORCHESTRATED melay of deception promulgated upon BOTH Israelies, Palestinians, & the rest of the World. All Governments have been corrupted by this influence, some more than others. But they will ALL eventually fall prey to being overtaken by a single Satanic effort to consolidate this mess.

This has been in the making for a long time and is soon to come to pass. But in the process of this movement making it's final stab at doing this, it will all begin to fall apart. Not withstanding God needing to separate His More Righteous Children from those who will go down with the ship. This is Zion's Purpose.

I keep referring to your LDS roots because this is where you belong. Not off in the world seeking for a truth that is soon to slap us all in the face.

Come Home and wait for God to make His Move. This will surely bring an end to the Questions of who is Right & Who is Wrong.

You have come closer to seeing the truth than most who only watch the news that is biased by it's own allegiance to worldly influences.

God's solution to all this is to eventually wipe the slate CLEAN of this wicked deception & begin things anew with His OWN Plan.

The More Righteous Children of God from all cultures, will have the opportunity to partake in this New Paradigm designed by God, while Satan's influence in this world will come to a Burning End through a Nuclear Holocost, designed by Satan, and allowed to move forward by God.

The Middle Eastern and entire World cause for that matter, can be changed for the good in no other way but God's Way.

I Love Your Passion & Courage to seek out truth First Hand. You are an Amazingly Beautiful Daughter of God.