17 January 2022

After the Texas synagogue siege, we must face up to antisemitism among British Muslims

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The appalling events over the weekend at a synagogue in the Texas city of Colleyville have thrust into the spotlight a problem which has been left unaddressed for too long – antisemitism in British Muslim communities. 

The hostage-taker behind the incident, which has been described as an act of terror by Joe Biden and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, was British citizen Malik Faisal Akram. The 44-year-old from Blackburn apparently travelled to the US from the UK earlier this month.

This is far from a new issue, of course. Back in 2013, prominent British Muslim broadcaster Mehdi Hasan raised the scourge of antisemitism in British Muslim communities. Writing in the New Statesman, Hasan said the ‘sorry truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected the British Muslim community’ and that antisemitism is not just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim population – it is ‘routine and commonplace’.

I am not quite as pessimistic as Hasan was – and it’s worth saying that a comfortable majority of British Muslims do not support anti-Jewish views and antisemitic tropes. However, the evidence does show that there are relatively high levels of antisemitism among British Muslims when compared with the general population. A 2017 study by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) found that when set against the general population, British Muslim respondents were more likely to believe that Jews have too much power in Britain (8% versus 27%), exploit the Holocaust for their own purposes (10% and 25%), and possess feelings of ‘group superiority’ over non-Jews (13% and 28%). So while anti-Jewish views about supposed superiority, wealth, power and the exploitation of victimhood are not necessarily shared by most British Muslims, they are certainly more prevalent when compared to the wider public. 

Building on this JPR research, my own study – based on December 2019 polling – suggests that there is a relationship between social segregation and higher rates of antisemitism within the British Muslim population. On a 0-10 scaled index, which measures perceptions of disproportionate Jewish control in the global spheres of politics, banking, media, entertainment and arms production, British Muslims who are part of friendship groups which largely include people from the same faith background score higher compared to those who are part of predominantly non-Muslim friendship groups (2.89 and 2.12 respectively). Less well-integrated Muslims were more likely to believe that British Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the UK, when compared to their better integrated co-religionists.

This supports the conventional thinking behind ‘contact theory’ – that as people branch out of their own ethnic and religious group in a social sense, there tends to be a reduction in prejudices towards ‘outgroupers’. Conversely, socially segregated networks can act as ideological echo-chambers where negative stereotypes of other groups can be reinforced without challenge. A lack of interaction with people of different backgrounds can also breed suspicion of the unknown – presenting fertile ground for extremist narratives and divisive worldviews to take root. That’s why integrating Britain’s communities into a cohesive whole with higher levels of social trust and mutual respect should be a top priority for the Government.

I am proud to be a patron of the interfaith organisation Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS) – a courageous outfit which works tirelessly to foster stronger British Muslim-Jewish relations. Indeed, there is much common ground to be struck between these two religious minorities in Britain – sharing a wholesome appreciation of family-orientated values, viewing their monotheistic faith as a vital source of resilience, and facing a shared ideological foe in the shape of far-right extremism.

The debate on antisemitism in British Muslim communities should not be obscured by the leftist forces of political correctness; nor should it be exploited by right-wing bigots who wish to use to events in Texas to portray all British Muslims as rabid antisemites.

We must not be paralysed by tribal identity politics and divisive notions of ‘Jewish privilege’ when it comes to tackling antisemitism in British Muslim communities. It is also important not to alienate British Muslims who are appalled by such forms of discrimination within their own communities. They are integral in our collective efforts to strengthen social cohesion and interfaith relations in modern-day Britain.

The events in Colleyville appear to represent British exportation of radical Muslim antisemitism to the shores of one of our closest allies. This is a watershed moment – one in which we must renew all of our efforts to challenge antisemitic hate in our communities.

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Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a Patron of Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS).

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.