Tragic events such as the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen early this year point to a worrying rise in anti-Jewish sentiment, often violent, directed towards European Jews. Anti-Semitism has become an ugly reality of contemporary sociopolitical life. Although it was once largely a phenomenon of the nationalist Right, the perpetrators of much modern anti-Semitism, it appears, are young Muslim men. But what is anti-Semitism? And how does it manifest itself among that cohort across Europe? In this book, Günther Jikeli looks carefully at the views of 117 young Muslim men in London, Paris and Berlin, and offers an in-depth qualitative exploration of these very important questions.
Anti-Semitism remains a difficult concept to measure, capture or even describe. Here is where European Muslim Antisemitism is triumphant. Along with offering a very useful “working definition” of anti-Semitism and a typology outlining four main categories of anti-Jewish hostility – often irrational and centred around conspiracy theories and stereotypes – Jikeli provides detailed insights into the anti-Jewish feeling embraced and voiced by young European Muslim men, and the rationales they offer for it. In doing so, we hear and read about its fragmented, troubling and multifaceted nature. This analysis is useful and important in helping us to understand the workings of anti-Semitism in our everyday lives, as it so often worryingly presents itself as part of common sense – that it is fine, almost normal, to dislike Jews! This viewpoint, of course, is highly problematic, and Jikeli’s book expertly dismantles this absurd fallacy.
Interestingly, European Muslim Antisemitism reminds us that the vast majority of European Muslims are law-abiding and democratic citizens – many of whom are themselves concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism and opposed to anti-Semitism. This moral resistance to anti-Semitism and to an essentialist view of Jews is skilfully showcased in chapter 11, where we hear detailed narratives from five young Muslim men focused on the tenets of respect, human rights, equality and reciprocity. These compassionate voices provide grounds for optimism. As a second-generation British Bangladeshi Muslim, I am aware of the immense sociocultural and economic diversity of European Muslims. We are also different ideologically and politically. Therefore, it was pleasing that Jikeli reminds us that the large majority of European Muslims condemn attacks against Jews and are not anti-Semitic. This significant point, I feel, gets lost amid the overwhelming statistical evidence, opinion polls and surveys that equate the Muslim faith with anti-Jewish prejudice.
Let’s make one thing clear: anti-Semitism is wrong and cannot be justified, plain and simple. To hold negative and bigoted views towards another person because of his or her ethno-religious background is both immoral and illegal. Nabil, one of the participants in this study, sums this feeling up eloquently when he says simply: “A human being is a human being.” However, although Jikeli examines in detail some of the possible socio-psychological sources of anti-Semitic attitudes among European Muslim men, he ultimately suggests that anti-Semitism is an individual choice. This is problematic. It is easy to blame people and their values and to ignore the surrounding structural processes and institutions. Having read this highly engaging book, the sociologist and educator in me wanted to explore further the underlying sociopolitical factors that help us to understand why young Muslim men engage in anti-Semitism. Here, Jikeli could have offered a more theoretical analysis of the working-class reality of many Muslim men, as well as the complexity of identity as a social construction negotiated through discourse, representation and power.
European Muslim Antisemitism is a brilliantly researched and highly accessible book. It makes a valuable contribution to an ongoing scholarly and moral debate on anti-Semitism. It is a book that should be read by everyone – especially students, scholars and policymakers interested in Muslim-Jewish relations. I wonder also, whether a similar up-to-date, detailed study that examines young European Jewish feelings towards Muslims might be warranted. That would also be an equally interesting read.
Aminul Hoque is lecturer in education, Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of British‑Islamic Identity: Third Generation Bangladeshis from East London (2015).
European Muslim Antisemitism: Why Young Urban Males Say They Don’t Like Jews
By Günther Jikeli
Indiana University Press, 360pp, £23.99
ISBN 9780253015181 and 15259 (e-book)
Published 16 February 2015