Deciphering the New Antisemitism

Deciphering the New Antisemitism

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Deciphering the New Antisemitism addresses the increasing prevalence of antisemitism on a global scale. Antisemitism takes on various forms in all parts of the world, and the essays in this wide-ranging volume deal with many of them: European antisemitism, antisemitism and Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel. Contributors are an international group of scholars who clarify the cultural, intellectual, political, and religious conditions that give rise to antisemitic words and deeds. These landmark essays are noteworthy for their timeliness and ability to grapple effectively with the serious issues at hand.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253018694
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 12/09/2015
Series: Studies in Antisemitism
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 584
Sales rank: 1,056,510
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Alvin H. Rosenfeld holds the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and is Professor of English and Founding Director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University Bloomington. He is editor of Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives (IUP) and author of The End of the Holocaust (IUP).

Read an Excerpt

Deciphering the New Antisemitism

By Alvin H. Rosenfeld

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2015 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01869-4


Antisemitism and Islamophobia

The Inversion of the Debt


Something new was happening here: the
growth of a new intolerance.
It was spreading across the surface of the
earth, but nobody wanted to know.
A new word had been created to help the
blind remain blind: Islamophobia.
To criticize the militant stridency of this religion in its
contemporary incarnation was to be a bigot.
A phobicperson was extreme and irrational in his views,
and so the fault lay with such persons
and not with the belief system that boasted
over one billion followers worldwide.

— Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir

In 1910, a French drafter for the Ministry of the Colonies, Alain Quellien, published Muslim Politics in Western Africa (La Politique musulmane dans l'Afrique occidentale]. Aimed at a specialist audience, it offered temperate praise of Koranic religion, regarded as "practical and permissive" and best suited to the natives, whereas Christianity was considered "too complicated, too abstract, too austere for the primitive and materialistic mentality of the Negro." Observing that Islam, through its civilizing influence, contributed to European penetration, that it "dragg[ed] populations out of fetishism and degrading practices," the author urged his readers to abandon the prejudices that equated that faith with barbarism and fanaticism. He denounced the "islamophobia" rampant among colonial personnel: as he put it, "to sing the praises of Islam is as unfair as unjustly denigrating it." On the contrary, the religion should be treated impartially. In that instance, Quellien spoke as an administrator concerned with public order: he blamed the desire of Europeans to demonize a religion that maintained peace in the Empire, whatever were the various kinds of abuse — slavery, polygamy — it gave rise to. Since Islam was the best ally of colonialism, its followers had to be protected from the nefarious influence of modern ideas and their ways of life respected. Another colonial official, serving in Dakar, Maurice Delafosse, wrote around the same time that "no matter what those who endorse Islamophobia as a principle of colonial administration may claim, France has nothing more to fear from Muslims in Western Africa than from non-Muslims [...]. There is no justification for Islamophobia in Western Africa, whereas Islamophilia, understood as a preference granted to Muslims, might create a sense of mistrust in non-Muslim populations, which happen to be the most numerous." However, the terms Islamophobia and Islamophilia remained scarcely used, except by scholars, until the beginning of the 1980s. At that point, the term Islamophobia began to gain use as a political tool in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Teheran. A floating signifier in search of meaning, the term Islamophobia can indeed refer to two different things: either the criticism of Islam or discrimination exerted against the followers of the Koran. A word is not the property of the person who first used it but of those who have reinvented it so as to popularize its use. A newcomer in the semantic field of antiracism, that term is governed by three principles I dwell on here: the inviolability principle, the equivalence principle, and the substitution principle.


In October 2013, in Istanbul, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is funded by several dozen Muslim countries that shamelessly persecute Jews and Christians at home, addressed a call to Western countries in the persons of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Catherine Ashton, demanding that freedom of expression, that fundamental right, be restrained when dealing with Islam, since it resulted in far too negative a representation of that religion as oppressive to women and bent on an aggressive proselytism. The petitioners were willing to turn the criticism of Islam into an international crime, recognized as such by the highest authorities. Such a call, already formulated in Durban as early as 2001, has been repeated almost every year since. Doudou Diène, the UN special rapporteur on racism, in his September 14, 2007, address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, branded Islamophobia as "constitut[ing] the most serious form of religious defamation." Six months earlier, the very same Human Rights Council had likened that kind of defamation to outright racism and demanded a ban on any kind of gibe directed at prophets and religious symbols, while condemning Zionism as a form of racial discrimination and apartheid. The goal of the council's March 2007 statement was twofold: First, to silence Western countries, which were held guilty of three capital sins, namely colonialism, secularism, and sexual equality. Second, to forge a domestic policing instrument that can be leveled at those enlightened Muslims who dare to criticize their faith, denounce fundamentalism, or call for certain reforms: reform of family law, instituting gender equality, the right to apostasy and/or conversion, the right not to believe in God, the right not to observe Ramadan, and the right not to follow religious rules. This action by the council made it necessary to stigmatize young women who want to free themselves from the veil and go about in public without shame, their heads uncovered; to blast the French, the Germans, and the British with family backgrounds in Turkey, the Maghreb, or Africa who claim the right not to care about religion and who do not automatically feel themselves to be Muslims because they are of Pakistani, Moroccan, Algerian, or Malian descent. To block any hope of a change in the land of Islam, these renegades, these alleged traitors, have to be exposed to public condemnation of their coreligionists, silenced, and admonished for being imbued with colonial ideology. And all this with the approval of the useful idiots of both left and right, who are always on the lookout for a new racism and who are deeply convinced that Islam is the last oppressed subject in history. We are witnessing the fabrication on a global scale of a new crime of opinion analogous to the crime that used to be perpetrated by "enemies of the people" in the Soviet Union. It is a crime that silences contradictors and shifts the question from the intellectual or theological level to the penal level, every objection, mockery, or reservation being subject to prosecution.

But a mystery remains: that of the transubstantiation of religion into race. That is the trickiest part of the operation, although it seems to be on the verge of success: as everyone knows, a great, universal religion like Islam or Christianity gathers a wide array of populations and thus cannot be reduced to a specific race. To talk of Islamophobia, then, amounts to generating serious confusion between a distinctive set of beliefs and those who adhere to it. Criticizing or attacking Islam or Christianity would therefore result in smearing Muslims and Christians. Now, the denunciation of a creed, or the rejection of dogmas one judges absurd or false, is the very foundation of intellectual life: does it make any sense to talk of anticapitalist racism, antiliberal racism, or anti-Marxist racism? In a democracy, one has a right to reject all religious denominations, to regard them as fallacious, backward, or stultifying. Here is a clear counterexample: whereas Christian minorities living in some of the lands of Islam are persecuted, killed, or forced into exile, the word Christianophobia, which was coined by UN drafters, has not been widely adopted. Such a terminological dearth seems strange: we have a hard time picturing Christianity as other than a conquering and intolerant religion, although in the Near East and as far as Pakistan it is today a martyred religion. In France, a country with an anticlerical tradition, one can make fun of Judeo-Christianity, mock the pope or the Dalai Lama, and represent Jesus and the prophets in all sorts of postures, including the most obscene, but one must never laugh at Islam, on pain of being accused of discrimination. Why does one and only one religion escape the climate of raillery and irony that is normal for the others?

At this juncture, there appears the strangest element of this story: the enlistment of a part of the U.S. left in the defense of Islam. That is what one might call the neo-Bolshevik bigotry of Marxism's lost zealots. The left, which has forsaken everything it once believed in — the working class, the third world — clings to this last illusion: Islam, considered the ultimate religion of the poor, represents, for a certain number of disenchanted activists, the last utopia, after the fall of communism and the fiasco of Third Worldism. In the gallery populated by the exemplary characters of history, the Muslim has replaced the Prole, the Wretched of the Earth, the Guerillero. He is now the one figure embodying hope for justice on this planet, transcending borders and parochialism, the only champion, according to his supporters, of social justice. What Marx considered the "opium of the people" has become the indispensable viaticum. Feminism, equality between men and women, the intellectually vivifying effect of doubt, the spirit of inquiry, all that has been traditionally associated with a progressive position, is trampled upon. Such a political stance leads to an uncompromising worship of any Muslim ritual or practice, most notably the Islamic veil, which has been literally glorified and exalted to such an extent that, for some commentators, an unveiled Muslim woman who claims her right not be veiled can only be a traitor, a Harki, or a knave bought by colonial authorities. Here, it would be appropriate to dwell further on what has been called Islamo Leftism, the hope, entertained by a revolutionary fringe, of seeing Islam become the spearhead of a new insurrection, engaged in a "Holy War" against global capitalism, something reminiscent of what happened in Baku in 1920, when Bolshevik leaders, including Zinoviev, called, alongside Pan-Islamists, for a Jihad against Western imperialism. As an illustration of such a trend, one may refer to the following reflection of the philosopher Pierre Tevanian, who seriously maintained that "it has been statistically established that racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic opinions are more common among Whites than among non-Whites. [...] One must also acknowledge that the panels of Muslim respondents are clearly more progressive than the rest of the population with respect to questions relating to social welfare, redistribution of wealth, racism and xenophobia" and, finally, that 93 percent of Muslims in France voted for the socialist candidate in May 2012. That is a very strange claim, inasmuch as it racializes the whole issue to the extent that it links political opinions to skin color or religious denomination.


Edward Said, in Orientalism, recalls that in the cartoons that appeared after the 1973 war, the Arabs, depicted with hook noses, standing near a gas pump, "were clearly Semitic": "The transference of a popular anti-Semitic animus from a Jewish to an Arab target was made smoothly, since the figure was essentially the same." In short, according to Said, in the Western Christian world, hostility toward Islam went hand in hand with antisemitism, and it thrived coming from the same source. Philosopher Enzo Traverso explains that "Islamophobia, for the new racism, plays the role that once was that of Anti-Semitism": the rejection of the immigrant, perceived, since the colonial era, as the other, the invader, the foreign body that cannot be assimilated by the national community, "the specter of Judeo-Bolshevism being replaced by that of Terrorism." In such a perspective, Traverso claims, Islamophobia is part and parcel of what could be called "the Anti-Jewish archive [...], a catalogue of stereotypes, images, places, representations, stigmatizations conveying a perception and an interpretation of reality that condense and organize themselves into a stable and continuous discourse. As a discursive practice that can shift the object on which it bears, Anti-Semitism indeed transmigrated towards Islamophobia." Here are some other symbols of such a transformation: back in 1994, in Grenoble, young Muslims protested against the ban of the Islamic scarf from schools by wearing armbands with the crescent of Islam in yellow, on a black background, together with this inscription "When is our turn?," an allusion to the yellow star that the Jews were compelled to wear under the Nazi occupation of Europe. And when militant Islamists, suspected of sympathizing with the Algerian jihadist groups during the Algerian civil war of the 1990s, were placed in detention in the summer of 1994, confined to barracks in northern France, they immediately hoisted a banner labeling the place a "Concentration Camp." Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss fundamentalist preacher who once served as Tony Blair's adviser, explains that the present situation of Muslims in Europe is similar to that of the Jews in the 1930s. That is indeed an astounding temporal shortcut: 2014 is already 1933. To criticize Islam, to deny the respect of its integrity, amounts to nothing less than preparing a new Holocaust, clothing oneself in the garb of Hitler's executioners. Referring to the prohibition of the Islamic veil in French schools, former London mayor Ken Livingstone declared that he was "determined London's Muslims should never face similar restrictions. It marks a move towards religious intolerance which we, in Europe, swore never to repeat, having witnessed the devastating effects of the Holocaust (...). Have the French forgotten what happened in 1940 when they started to stigmatize the Jews?" There are also contemporary scholars who want to address jointly the construction of the "Jewish Problem" and that of the "Muslim Problem." Christian Europe, Gil Anidjar argues, conceived its enemy as "structured by the Arab and the Jew, that is to say, by the relation of Europe to both Arab and Jew." According to Edward Said, it was Ernest Renan who, while building the science of Orientalism, gave support to the Semitic hypothesis invented by the historian August Ludwig von Schlozer. Renan's work on Semitic languages, Said maintains, is akin to "a virtual encyclopedia of race prejudice directed against Semites (i.e. Moslems and Jews)." Accordingly, there would exist a link between European integration and the rise of Islamophobia comparable, according to Shlomo Sand, to "the role played by political Judaeophobia in nation-building in Europe" during the nineteenth century.


Excerpted from Deciphering the New Antisemitism by Alvin H. Rosenfeld. Copyright © 2015 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction Alvin H. Rosenfeld
Part I. Defining and Assessing Antisemitism
1. Antisemitism and Islamophobia: The Inversion of the Debt Pascal Bruckner
2. The Ideology of the New Antisemitism Kenneth L. Marcus
3. A Framework for Assessing Antisemitism: Three Case Studies (Dieudonné, Erdoğan, and Hamas) Günther Jikeli
4. Virtuous Antisemitism Elhanan Yakira
Part II. Intellectual and Ideological Contexts
5. Historicizing the Transhistorical: Apostasy and the Dialectic of Jew-Hatred Doron Ben-Atar
6. Literary Theory and the Delegitimization of Israel Jean Axelrad Cahan
7. Good News from France: There Is No New Antisemitism Bruno Chaouat
8. Anti-Zionism and the Anarchist Tradition Eirik Eiglad
9. Antisemitism and the Radical Catholic Traditionalist Movement Mark Weitzman
Part III. Holocaust Denial, Evasion, Minimization
10. The Uniqueness Debate Revisited Bernard Harrison
11. Denial, Evasion, and Anti-Historical Antisemitism: The Continuing Assault on Memory
David Patterson
12. Generational Changes in the Holocaust Denial Movement in the United States Aryeh Tuchman
Part IV. Regional Manifestations
13. From Occupation to Occupy: Antisemitism and the Contemporary Left in the United States
Sina Arnold
14. The EU's Responses to Contemporary Antisemitism: A Shell Game R. Amy Elman
15. Anti-Israeli Boycotts: European and International Human Rights Law Perspectives Aleksandra Gliszczynska-Grabias
16. Delegitimizing Israel in Germany and Austria: Past Politics, the Iranian Threat, and Post-national Anti-Zionism Stephan Grigat
17. Antisemitism and Antiurbanism, Past and Present: Empirical and Theoretical Approaches Bodo Kahmann
18. Tehran's Efforts to Mobilize Antisemitism: The Global Impact Matthias Küntzel
List of Contributors

What People are Saying About This

Edward Alexander

A very important book on a very, very frightening development that was barely to be imagined as recently as a few years ago.

Edward Alexander]]>

A very important book on a very, very frightening development that was barely to be imagined as recently as a few years ago.

George Washington University - Walter Reich

Seventy years ago, after Nazi Germany systematically murdered six million of Europe's Jews before it lost World War II, antisemitism seemed exhausted. In Europe, calls for 'Jews to the gas' and 'Hitler didn't finish the job' have become common, as have violent attacks against Jews. The world's oldest hatred is once again rearing its ugly head, and that head is roaring.

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