Friday, September 23, 2005

COMMENT: Muslims and the Holocaust

Nazi-hunter Simon Weisenthal passed away. He was perhaps the world’s premiere Nazi hunter. His centre built up an intelligence network that provided evidence leading to the trial and conviction of numerous people at all levels of the Nazi regime.

Yet for some Muslims, Weisenthal has been a problematic figure. His stated views on Palestinian rights were sometimes reminiscent of attitudes of some of the very people he was fighting. It seemed as if he lived in denial of Palestinian suffering.

But then, it is hard to blame him. For many holocaust survivors, Israel is a life insurance policy they wish they had access to when Hitler came to power. They lived in a Europe which promised and preached emancipation of Jews in the name of liberalism or socialism or secularism or some other ism.

Yet all the rhetoric could not face the tsunami of hatred built up over centuries toward the Jewish people. Jews were lambasted as Christ-killers, as nasty bankers and money-lenders, as being involved in a huge conspiracy to destroy Christianity and Western civilisation.

From time to time, I read some disgustingly anti-Muslim editorials and opinion pieces in newspapers. The suspects are well-known – Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine. Some are more subtle and sophisticated – Pamela Bone and Paul Sheehan comes to mind.

I imagine the hatred and venom that goes into these articles, and am reminded of a verse from the Qur’an which goes something like this.

Their lips speak hatred of you, but what their hearts conceal is much worse.
I sometimes wonder whether such editorials hide a deeper hatred which many in this country have toward Muslims. Today, people are able to say things about Muslims which they couldn’t say maybe 10 years or even 5 years ago. Today, a politician can stand up and describe me in Federal parliament as a “bomb thrower”, suggesting I have some links to terrorism.

Had that politician not been the human embodiment of all that is irrelevant and redundant in Australian politics, I would perhaps have ignored her. But then, I wonder – are her attitudes all that irrelevant? Is there an undercurrent of racism against Muslims in Australia?

I wonder whether David Hicks would receive more government support if he had not converted to Islam. I wonder if Schapelle Corby would have received the support she does if she had announced a conversion to Islam and not Christianity? But it goes beyond that.

I wonder if Aussie Mossie Ed Husic would have won the seat of Greenway at the last Federal Election if he had been born to a Bosnian Catholic family. I wonder if Paul Sheehan would have written about Husic’s religion a fortnight from the campaign. I wonder if some Young Liberals would have handed out a false how-to-vote in letterboxes speaking about Husic being “an asset to Islam”.

The attitudes we see in Christendom toward Muslims seem to find a mirror in what Jews saw in Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. And that means that Muslim Australians need to learn some coping mechanisms from Jewish Australians.

The attitudes of the late Simon Weisenthal toward Palestinians should not blind us to the importance of learning to recognise the signs of xenophobia from our Jewish spiritual cousins.

Islamic and Jewish theology, law and culture have more similarities than differences. Today’s Muslims are being demonised in the same way Jews have been, the attitudes are centuries old and are locked into the Christian psyche.

Jews are Christ-killers. Muslims are Saracens or Moors or Turks, the Sick Men of the 21st Century. Muslims don’t understand “our” values and refuse to conform to “our” way of life.

Recently, I bought over $100 worth of books on Jewish culture. I have been wanting to especially focus on how Jews lived as persecuted minorities and survived for so long. As an Aussie Muslim, I feel like an endangered species. I fear a holocaust on the horizon. The rhetoric of conservative politicians, shock jocks and columnists makes me even more fearful.

Muslims don’t know what it is like to live as an oppressed minority with nowhere to go. We have only in the past 200 years been suffering real internal oppression and external domination.

Jews have been experiencing this for thousands of years. We need to learn from them how to keep our theology, our cultures and our memories alive. And many Jewish Australians are reaching out to us. In this regard, I was heartened to read the reaction of the peak body of Australian Jews, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) in relation to the pseudo-debate on the wearing of hijabs in state schools.

If Jewish Australians, especially holocaust survivors, can find resonance in our current position, perhaps we need to learn from their experiences. Our current fears should bring us closer to those who share so much with us.

Let us learn from the victims of a holocaust so that we are prepared to perhaps face our own.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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