Review: European Muslim Antisemitism

Keith Kahn-Harris admired vital research


As Günther Jikeli argues in his compelling new book, there is a "research gap" on Muslim antisemitism in Europe. Although there have been surveys investigating Muslim attitudes to Jews, there is very little fine-grained, detailed research on this issue.

But Jikeli provides such detail; his book - subtitled, "Why Young Urban Males Say They Don't Like Jews" - is based on more than 100 lengthy interviews with young Muslim males in Germany, France and the UK. In "qualitative" research of this kind, that is a substantial number and, while the resulting mass of data cannot be extrapolated to all European Muslims, the methodology is rigorous enough for us to take Jikeli's conclusions very seriously.

Most of his interviewees expressed some form of antipathy to Jews. However, there was a good deal of variation in how this antipathy was expressed. Some repeated "classic" antisemitic stereotypes of Jews as wealthy and powerful; others saw Jews as responsible for what they saw as the atrocities perpetrated by Israel; still others drew on theological justifications. The intensity of the antipathy also varied, ranging from offhand comment to expressed desire to kill Jews.

Though this is a depressing book, it is perhaps not as depressing as it might first seem. For one thing, it is far from clear how far these attitudes are shared by other sections of the European Muslim population, particularly older people and women. Most importantly, Jikeli emphasises that the attitudes he uncovers are, for the most part, "fragmentary and full of contradictions".

Muslim antisemitism is not a single, systematic ideological position and in most cases it does not lead to a clear course of action. Nor is there a single "cause" for Muslim antisemitism - it is not simply a "response" to events in Israel, nor to deprivation and discrimination. As Jikeli shows, often, young Muslim males simply fall into antisemitism out of an automatic assumption that "that's what everyone thinks".

The book also highlights those Muslims in his sample who have actively rejected antisemitism. If young Muslim males often fall into antisemitism without a great deal of thought, antisemitism can be rejected through deliberate effort.

Jikeli has uncovered a disturbing phenomenon but not a hopeless one. European Muslim antisemitism is not set in stone and, through the efforts of scholars such as Jikeli, by investigating it in more detail we can develop responses accordingly.

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