Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 26 February 2024


Islamophobia and antisemitism are not the same


As tempers flare over accusations of bigotry and the limits of acceptable speech, confusion has piled up over key words deployed as weapons on this cultural battleground. On the streets, the anti-Israel rallies with their shouts of “From the river to the sea!” and “Globalise the intifada!” are justifiably viewed by many Jews and non-Jews alike as hate-fests of unvarnished antisemitism.

Although many on these demonstrations are left-wingers or idealists, the fuel is being provided by Islamists. These are extremists bent upon forcing conformity to Islamic theological dogma and who are driven by theological Jew-hatred. Yet just saying that is to risk being tarred and feathered for a thought crime.

This happened to the former home secretary Suella Braverman and the former deputy Conservative party chairman Lee Anderson, who were both accused of Islamophobia for speaking against Islamists involved in these rallies. How can it be that to correctly call out one prejudice involves being accused of another?

The short answer is the equation of antisemitism and Islamophobia, on the basis that exactly the same kind of prejudice is directed at Jews and Muslims. The equation is false.

The first mistake is to assume that antisemitism is a prejudice like any other. It is not. It has uniquely lethal characteristics. These include the deranged and paranoid fantasy that Jews comprise some kind of cosmic antihuman conspiracy; an obsessive fixation with global Jewish power endangering the world in the Jews’ own interests; double standards, and the belief that the Jews are responsible for crimes of which they are not only innocent but are themselves the victims.


Such a presumed danger is so overwhelming that it must be removed altogether. That’s why antisemitism is fundamentally genocidal. That’s why its various iterations throughout history — Christian and Islamic theological antisemitism, Nazi racial antisemitism and, yes, contemporary Palestinian antisemitism — have all held that the Jews must be removed from the face of the earth.

These unique characteristics are all present in the demonisation of Israel. That’s why, although individuals hostile to Israel may not be anti-Jew, the agenda they have adopted has antisemitism at its core.

Now let’s look at Islamophobia. Prejudice against Muslims is obviously bad and should be condemned. Prejudice is a view that is unjustified and not backed by any evidence. So, for example, to denounce all Muslims as Islamists is a prejudice because clearly many are not. Indeed, Muslims are among the most numerous victims of Islamist fanatics.

Islamophobia, however, is very different. Several scholars have claimed that this hitherto little-known term was weaponised in the 1990s by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to stigmatise any criticism of the Islamic world by casting it as delusional. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a former Islamist, has said he was present early in that decade when members of the Brotherhood-linked International Institute for Islamic Thought decided to adopt the term Islamophobia to halt attacks as effectively as “homophobia” had done for gay people. He wrote in 2010 of Islamophobia: “This loathsome term is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliché conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.”

Most British Muslims, according to surveys, oppose religious extremism and detest religious violence. It is, however, idle to pretend there isn’t a serious problem within the Muslim community. The security service says 70 per cent of terrorist suspects in the UK are Muslim. Tens of thousands of British Muslims say they don’t want to integrate fully into British life.

It’s not possible to speak about this without being accused of Islamophobia, as Braverman found when she wrote last week about the need to end the appeasement of Islamism through which “sharia law, the Islamist mob and antisemites take over communities”.

Anderson was wrong to accuse the Muslim Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, of being under the control of Islamists and of having “given our capital away to his mates” — not on the grounds of anti-Muslim prejudice, but because this was a gratuitous personal swipe of guilt by association. It is right nevertheless to criticise Khan, whose duties include calling the Met Police to account over delivering “a professional, efficient and effective service to Londoners”, for doing nothing to hold the Met accountable for permitting almost five months of gross antisemitism on the streets.

People of goodwill parrot accusations of Islamophobia through ignorance or fear. British Jewish leaders, with the community’s historic experience of antisemitism uppermost in their minds and eager to show solidarity with other victims of bigotry — and to keep their heads below any cultural parapet — have chosen to accept the definition of Islamophobia at face value. This has had unfortunate effects. Although statistics show the Islamic world is riddled with antisemitism and that “Arabs and Asians” are disproportionately involved in attacks on British Jews, Jewish community leaders never speak about the threat they face from Muslim antisemitism.


“Islamophobia” is not equivalent to antisemitism. It facilitates it. Derailing the parliamentary process last week as a result of threats to MPs over their attitude to a foreign conflict was an inflection point in the encroachment by intimidatory, radical Islamism. That danger must be called out and dealt with. To equate any such call with the Jew-hatred at the theological core of this menacing ideology is as self-destructive as it is obscene.

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