A look at anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Are you interested in hearing an intelligent voice from the Muslim community address the prejudice and racist chaos going on in America? Samar Jarrah, a Kuwait-born Palestinian-American, will be our presenter at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 21 in the David G. Willens Community Room at the Federation office. To make your reservation, contact Dena Sklaroff at denas27@aol.com or 239.591.0101.

Samar lived in Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan before moving to the U.S. in 1989. She worked as a TV editor and reporter in Jordan. She holds a master’s degree in International Relations and served as a political science instructor at the University of South Florida Tampa. Currently, Samar co-hosts a weekly live radio show called “True Talk” on WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa. The show addresses Arab Muslim issues.

If one were to take a course on world religions, one would expect to learn about the differences among religions, but sometimes the most important differences can be found within a religious tradition. There are no more than 15 million Jews in the world, yet this small group contains tremendous diversity. Differences of religious observance divide ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews – for example, in the adherence to kosher dietary laws.

Often people are aware of the differences within their own groups but assume other groups to be homogeneous. This, unfortunately, seems to be true of the way many Americans perceive Muslims. If we think about the diversity among 15 million Jews worldwide, or among more than 300 million people of Christian heritage in North America, how much more diversity is found among the one billion Muslims around the world? A glance at diversity of the Muslim world reveals that in the United States, about 35% are South Asian, 33% are Middle Eastern and 25% are African American. There are also significant numbers of converts to Islam from diverse ethnic traditions.

There are also similarities between Judaism and Islam and, of course, all good people. Amir Hussain, professor in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, at a 2007 Colloquium titled “Jews and the Muslim World: Solving the Puzzle” held at the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills, Michigan, described three things: “First is the love of learning. Second is the idea of social justice, and third is the notion of exile, a theme that runs throughout the Jewish tradition.” Muslims who have immigrated to the United States and Canada, often to escape oppression, are modern-day exiles.

Currently, Muslims in America are experiencing Islamophobia. Though nothing like the Holocaust, it bears a remarkable similarity to the anti-Semitism Jews experienced throughout their long history. We remember what it was like being persecuted as a foreign ethnic religious minority. As Jews we could understand the issues facing Blacks who were discriminated against, and now Muslims are seeking that same understanding from us. The question to consider is whether as Americans we are ready to stand with Muslims during their plight?

But Muslims in America are not alone. There is the growing trend of hating all minorities, especially Muslims and Jews. As a community that knows prejudice and racism, might we be able to unite and help other communities? Is this the time for Americans to think outside the narrow prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict and unite as a community with Muslims to help other minorities like Hispanics, refugees and new immigrants?

As Jewish humanists we believe the freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.