Ideas Hub: Dr Yulia Egorova on Muslim-Jewish relations and what her latest findings have uncovered

By Myriam Francois|August 12, 2015|Ideas Hub|4 comments

Dr Yulia Egorova, Reader in Anthropology, Durham University

The relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities of Europe is often constructed by public discourse as polarized due to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Indeed, in the summer of 2014, the mass media presented numerous reports suggesting that the relations between Europe’s Jews and Muslims were deteriorating following the military action between Israel and Gaza. At the same time, it has been argued by social scientists and humanities scholars that the discussion of Jewish-Muslim relations needs to be situated in the wider context of the position of ‘minority’ communities in Europe.

In 2013-2015 Fiaz Ahmed and I conducted a study, which involved in-depth interviews with British Jews and British Muslims and participant observation of the meetings of two initiatives in Jewish-Muslim dialogue. The overall study revealed that community members demonstrate a wide range of views regarding each other and that their relationship provides an important example of sizeable groups of Jews and Muslims often living side by side and successfully negotiating different types of mutual perceptions and understandings. One aspect of our findings that attracted our attention was that these relations appear both to be shaped by and, at the same time, reflect wider public British attitudes towards ‘minority communities’ in general and towards Jews and Muslims in particular.

We saw that some members of the Jewish communities had strong security concerns which harked back to the long and tragic history of anti-Jewish violence, and which in the political climate of contemporary Europe are often directed at Muslims.  The latter, in their turn, are struggling to shed the image of foreign, racialized others, who are seen as a constant security threat. What appears to be particularly problematic for the development of Jewish-Muslim dialogue, is the extreme right portraying Jewish people as potential ‘allies’ of European Christians in the fight against the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe, and the mass media constructing Muslims as the enemies of the Jews and leveling blanket accusations of anti-Semitism at the entire Muslim community.

We saw examples of the negative effect that this rhetoric can have on Jewish-Muslim dialogue in our study. One of our respondents who was involved in an initiative that brings together young Jews and Muslims told us that it was often hard for him to recruit Muslim participants. When he tried to explore what was preventing them from taking part in these events, he was told that some young Muslims felt that it would not be legally safe for them to engage in these activities. They were worried that they might be asked about their position on Israel, and if they made any negative comments, they would be accused ofbeing prejudiced. Another interviewee noted that when she tried to encourage a group of Muslim pupils to visit a Jewish museum, they told her that they were embarrassed to do it, as their community in the public discourse was often associated with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The example of Jewish-Muslim relations in the UK could be usefully referred to in exploring this problematics in the diaspora worldwide, as, we expect the local conditions to be an important factor of these relations in many parts of the world. To go beyond the context of Jewish-Muslim relations, our study highlights how the expectations and social fears that different communities have about the way they will be treated by other ‘minority’ groups are an important indicator of the overall state of inter-communal relations in the country and the level of socio-political comfort that they experience not just in relation to each other, but also in relation to the mainstream society.



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About Myriam Francois

This is the official blog for the SOAS-CIS. It aims to encourage scholars to debate and engage with the wider public on the basis of their research and will foster discussions about mainly UK and also European Integration discourse as relates to Islam and British Muslims. We tweet @SoasCis

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