November 19, 2010
Tarek Fatah speaks in Vancouver on Nov. 29.
JONATHON VAN MAREN
Tarek Fatah, author, broadcaster and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, comes to Vancouver this month to bring the Jewish community a message: antisemitism is flourishing within the Muslim community. But he also brings hope.
“We now face a phenomenon in which European fascism and Christian antisemitism have been merged with what I would call Arab nationalism and medieval texts that have no basis in Islam,” Fatah told the Independent. This mixture, Fatah noted, is so uniquely toxic that, according to him, even the recent antisemitism conference in Ottawa failed to recognize the threat.
Painstakingly dissecting this type of antisemitism is the purpose of Fatah’s new book, The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism. And it has brought the liberal activist and devout Muslim under the criticism of many in his own community who already distrust him due to his advocacy of gay rights and his support for separation of church and state.
Fatah took the manuscript to imams he respected before he published his book. He explained that they said, “[D]on’t write it because it disturbs 1,300 years of what the Muslims have thought of as divine truth. You’re challenging certain beliefs or doctrines that are universally believed by all Islamic scholars to be true. So I asked them, if what I say is right, then why shouldn’t I say it? And their point [was] that it would cause unnecessary hurt.”
Fatah, however, is not afraid to challenge the hatred that has crept into his community worldwide.
“I can’t understand it,” he said. “My community gets hurt when their prophet is depicted in a cartoon in an unsavory manner, yet it is the same community that takes it with pride when it is said that their own prophet was a mass murderer. Yet nobody but the Muslims is saying Muhammed is a mass murderer, for the simple reason that his victims were supposedly Jews ... and it is somehow a matter of pride for them.”
In The Jew is Not My Enemy, Fatah explains, “It is not just Hadith literature that nourishes Muslim antisemitism. At the core of Jew hatred among the Arabs and Pakistanis (more than any other Muslim community) is a legend written in the ninth century that records how, in 627, in the city of Medina, the Prophet of Islam participated in the slaughter of between 600 and 900 Jews.”
The account of the Battle of the Trench (or the Battle of the Confederates), writes Fatah, where Prophet Muhammed and his Muslim followers defend themselves against a much-larger invading Meccan army and then lay siege to a Jewish fortress, culminates “in the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of Jewish men who had remained neutral in the battle. This slaughter has weighed heavily on the Muslim mind ever since, and to this day it determines how we view our Jewish cousins.
“Written two centuries after the massacre, the account has acquired the status of divine truth in the minds of Muslims.... As the Muslim world declined in all aspects of human development, our failures could always be blamed on the ‘treacherous and untrustworthy’ nature of the Jew.”
Muslim antisemitism, Fatah told the Independent, is deeply entrenched throughout the Islamic world, in Arab and non-Arab nations, due to a fusion of religion and politics, which Fatah calls “Islamism.”
“You’ve got to understand that religion is not the problem,” he stated. “The problem is the mixing of religion and politics.”
Fatah believes that the mode traditionally taken to mend fences between the Islamic and Jewish communities, a process that he has dubbed “the interfaith industry,” has failed miserably and outlived its usefulness.
“What is happening in the case of the Israel-Palestine dispute,” he explained, “is that the people who are seeking goodwill are stuck meeting the people who are the originators of hate. So you will find that the Jewish community doesn’t meet Muslims who are musicians, it has no interaction with Muslim academics, it doesn’t meet with Muslim athletes or Muslim architects. The only ones that the Jewish communities meet are the Muslim clerics: that is where the source of the problem is.”
In order to begin to reverse the antisemitism that now permeates Muslim society – Fatah estimates, for example, that 95 percent of Egyptians and 90 percent of Pakistanis have a negative view of Jews – he said several steps are necessary. First, Muslim texts outside of the Koran that contain hatred and antisemitism must be rejected as un-Islamic, such as the Hadith, which consists of purported sayings of the Prophet Muhammed collected by various followers of Islam substantially after his death.
“If there is hate literature in the Hadith, why should I accept it?” he asked. Both the Hadith and other texts, which Fatah said have no provable connection to Prophet Muhammed, allow Fatah, “in the absence of any physical evidence, to say that if there is something deeply disturbing, I don’t have to buy it.”
While stopping antisemitism is unequivocally a Muslim responsibility, Fatah said, he added that there are actions that must be taken by Israel and the Jewish community. He strongly affirms the right of the Jewish state to exist, and considers contrary views antisemitic, but he also considers the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to be the greatest inhibitor of this process.
“The Jews have given so much to human civilization over the last 5,000 years, so few have given so much,” he stressed. “All I’m asking is for the Jews to give just a little bit more. Although they are on the receiving end of tremendous hate, with people questioning their very existence, they are in a position today to shut off the oxygen that feeds antisemitism by ending the occupation of the West Bank.... My feeling is today that no one in the Arab world wants a Palestine. They want it to be a wound in Israel’s kneecap that makes sure Israel can’t stand on its feet.”
Fatah dedicates The Jew is Not My Enemy to Noor Inayat Khan, “[t]he forgotten Muslim Indian princess who died as Agent Madeline in the Dachau concentration camp at the hands of a Nazi execution squad.” He ends his book on a hopeful note, contemplating her bravery, as well as that of “countless other Muslims [who died] in the fight to destroy Hitler and his Third Reich,” and the fact that 10th-century Jewish traveller, diplomat, merchant and writer Ibrahim Ibn Yakub “wrote his memoirs in the Arabic language, evidence of a time Muslims demonstrated little of the hatred they do towards Jews today.” Fatah notes that respect is needed from both sides, Muslim and Jewish, for a return to positive relations, and that both Muslims and Jews need to remember people like Khan and Ibn Yakub, “these unsung heroes, for they provide us some solace on the lonely path towards peace among the Israelite and the Ishmaelite.”
Fatah speaks at Temple Sholom on Monday, Nov. 29, 7:30 p.m.
Jonathon Van Maren is a contributor to the Peak, Simon Fraser University’s student paper, and a member of Hillel.