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Review of “European Muslim Antisemitism: Why Young Urban Males Say They Don’t Like Jews” by

The author's team interviewed 117 young Muslim men on the streets of Paris, Berlin and London. They found very concerning antisemitic attitudes.

Summary

27 April 2022

The author

The book contains the following biography:

Doctor Günther Jikeli is a research fellow at the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies, Potsdam University, and at the Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (GRSL/CNRS), Paris.

He earned his PhD at the Center for Research on Antisemitism in Berlin. He has taught at Indiana University, Potsdam University, and at the Technical University Berlin.

From 2011 to 2012 he served as an advisor to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on combating antisemitism. In 2013, he was awarded the Raoul Wallenberg Prize in Human Rights and Holocaust Studies by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and Tel Aviv University.

Overview of the book

The book was published in 2015. I bought it in that year, and recall reading it shortly afterwards but have only now found time to write this review.

The book comprises 281 pages + 64 pages of appendices, notes, etc. It has the following contents:

Acknowledgements
Introduction

  1. European Muslims: Between Integration and Discrimination
  2. Debates and Surveys on European Muslim Antisemitism
  3. Interviews with Young Muslim Men in Europe
  4. Patterns of Antisemitism among Interviewees and Beyond
  5. “Classic” Modern Antisemitism
  6. Antisemitism Related to Israel
  7. Antisemitism Related to Islam or Religious or Ethnic Identity
  8. Antisemitism without Rationalisation
  9. Perceptions of the Holocaust
  10. Sources of Antisemitic Attitudes
  11. Positive Examples: Rejecting Antisemitism

Conclusion
Appendix A: Working Definition of Antisemitism
Appendix B: List of Interviewees
Notes
References
Index

Introduction

In the introduction, the author explains why the work was carried out and the conceptual model of antisemitism he uses.

“Antisemitism in Europe has increased dramatically since the beginning of the 21st century. Antisemitic parties, although still a minority, are now members of the European Parliament and some national parliaments. Antisemitic stereotypes meet with high approval rates in surveys, and in some countries the majority of the population shares these views.

Antisemitic acts have increased and become radicalised; violence has become more frequent and many Jews in Europe feel under threat. In recent years, the most violent antisemitic acts have been committed by individuals of Muslim background. However, little is known about their views of Jews and why many have negative views of Jews.

In 2004 and 2005, I was involved in educational projects in Berlin, Germany, that aimed to combat antisemitic attitudes. We worked with students from different backgrounds, including many Muslims. Young Muslims were not the only students who exhibited worrisome antisemitic attitudes, but my colleagues and I knew the least about both their views of Jews and their rationales and motives.

I was professionally interested in the kind of tropes young Muslims use so that we would be able to work on them with the students. I participated in meetings with other educators from across the country – and even from other European countries – to learn from their experiences. Many educators have come to deal with antisemitism among Muslim students. In these years I emerged as one of the few “experts” on antisemitism among young Muslims and was invited to inform German president Horst Köhler on that matter before his 1st official trip to Israel.

Surprisingly, the antisemitic killing spree by Mohamed Merah at a Jewish school in Toulouse, which resulted in the death of three children and a teacher (and father) shot at close range on March 19, 2012, did not lead to major debates about antisemitism, although the incident signifies a new dimension of antisemitic attacks in 21st century Europe.

This has changed to some extent with the cold-blooded shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24, 2014, which left four dead. The case of the presumed murderer, French Jihadist Mehdi Nemmouche, made it clear that radicalised Muslims pose a serious and growing terrorist threat first to Jewish communities but also to the wider public. Nemmouche grew up in France and was radicalised in prison. He then participated in the Syrian civil war, most likely on the part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

However, those radicalised extremists are (dangerous) exceptions and the large majority of European Muslims condemns attacks against Jews. In recent years, a number of representatives of Muslim communities have publicly condemned violence and hatred against Jews, and a few Muslim individuals have also spoken out explicitly and self-critically against widespread antisemitism within Muslim communities.

Discussing Muslim antisemitism is politically challenging. It can be feared that naming the problem contributes to further stigmatisation of Muslim minorities. I argue that scholarly discussions about antisemitism among Muslims in Europe are necessary for a detailed understanding of the phenomenon and its sources, which might inform the development of effective tools for fighting antisemitism in Europe.

It is only if Muslims are essentialised, that is, if it is wrongly assumed that people of Muslim background necessarily or “naturally” adhere to certain attitudes, that they become further stigmatised. Neglecting specific forms of antisemitism and groups of antisemitic perpetrators, on the other hand, is detrimental to the struggle against antisemitism.

The lack of investigation into antisemitism among Muslims in Europe represents a research gap, and simultaneously points to the necessity of additional studies that can add insight with the goal of fostering a more nuanced public debate on Muslim minorities and Muslim antisemitism. Due to this large research gap, I have chosen an exploratory approach for my investigation. The principal questions of this book are the following:

  • What stereotypes of Jews exist among young European Muslims?
  • What kinds of arguments do they use to support hostility against Jews?
  • What role does the perception of the Middle East conflict play?
  • Does Islamist ideology influence young European Muslims?
  • What are the possible sources for their antisemitic views?
  • Are discrimination, specific perceptions of Islam, foreign television, and friends and parents relevant factors for the genesis of antisemitic resentments?
  • And what are the motives among Muslims to actively oppose antisemitism?

Chapters 4 – 8 provide a detailed description of patterns of argumentation for negative views of Jews. Four main categories of patterns emerged from the interviews:

  • “Classic” antisemitic attitudes. This category comprises antisemitic conspiracy theories and well-known stereotypes of Jews, such as assumptions that they are rich or stingy.
  • Antisemitism related to Israel. Here, antisemitic views are often based on a conflation of Jews and Israelis and a Manichaean view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Certain tropes, such as “Jews kill children,” are used to justify hatred against Jews, including local Jews. Negative views of Israel are used to justify antisemitism.
  • Negative views of Jews with direct reference to Islam, Muslim identity, or the person’s ethnic identity. This is often voiced in such assumptions as “Muslims hate Jews.” Negative associations of Jews made in accordance with the collective identity or with the perceptions of “Islam” make it difficult for young Muslims to distance themselves from such assumptions.
  • Expressions of hostility against Jews in which the person does not bother to give any arguments for such enmity. This reveals a normalisation of negative views of Jews and/or the true character and irrationality of antisemitism; Jews are hated simply because they are Jews.

Chapter 3 Interviews with Young Muslim Men in Europe

This chapter has a section on methodology.

“Data Collection Method and Context”

The author writes:

“Interviewees were approached outdoors in Tower Hamlets and Finsbury Park in London, Belleville and Barbès in Paris, and Kreuzberg and Neukölln in Berlin. These districts, traditionally inhabited by many economically disadvantaged immigrants, have in recent decades mainly been inhabited by individuals from countries with Muslim majorities.”

I cannot comment on Paris and Berlin, but as far as London is concerned successful Muslim families typically migrate out of Tower Hamlets and Finsbury Park as they become wealthier. Accordingly, the relatively low education levels of the UK Muslim interviewees mentioned below do not surprise me.

“Largely for practical reasons, I had to restrict the participants to male interviewees. Young men are easier to contact spontaneously on the street, both because they are more numerous than women and more willing to grant an interview. Also, most perpetrators of antisemitic incidents are young men. However, gender might influence rhetoric and attitudes towards Jews. The findings should not be transferred to Muslim women without further research.

Interviewees were approached randomly on the streets in quiet areas. They were asked if they were willing to (anonymously) give their views on their neighbourhoods, experiences of discrimination, and general political matters. They were also told that the interviews were for an academic study of young people’s views in Germany, France, and Britain.

The interviews started off with views on the interviewees’ life in the neighbourhood, their occupation and interests, and their experiences of discrimination and possible conflicts in the neighbourhood between ethnic or religious communities. The interviewees were given freedom to express their views and experiences and to talk about whatever issues they wanted. The interviewer merely directed the conversation and try to ensure that participants give some biographical data and comment on perceived discrimination, the Iraq war, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Middle East conflict.

At the end of the interview participants were asked, if they had not already talked about these matters earlier, if they could befriend or marry a Jew, what they thought of the belief that Jews are rich, and what they thought of equating the suffering of Jews at the hands of the Nazis with the sufferings of the Palestinians via the Israelis. The interviewers tried to ask questions as outsiders, not judging the interviewee, but also not necessarily hiding their own point of view. The interviews were conducted in the language of the country.

The interviews were only held if the person fell into the following subject group: 14 – 27 years old, male and self-identifying as Muslim.

Most of the interviews were conducted with one person at a time, though friends standing by were allowed to participate, which led at times to interviews with two or more respondents. Altogether, 117 young male youths in Paris (40), London (40), and Berlin (37) who consider themselves Muslim were interviewed from 2005 to 2007.

This number includes only those who answered most or all of the questions. Group interviews consisted of two to four respondents, most in pairs of two interviewees, which enable discussions with individual interviewees. The group interviews are particularly interesting for an analysis of some of the group dynamics among young people. The average length of an interview was about 40 minutes.

The interviews were recorded and transcribed according to transcription guidelines designed for qualitative interviews by Heiner Legewie and Elker Partzhold-Teske. The investigators’ observations were also recorded.”

Appendix B: List of Interviewees

The book lists 117 interviewees. Each of them is anonymised by giving them “pseudonyms chosen from lists of popular boys’ names from the respective ethnic community.”

I was amused to see that the author did not realise that no Muslim parent would ever call their child “Ganesh” (one of the pseudonyms used) given that it is the name of a Hindu god!

For each interviewee, the author gives their age, their ethnic background, and their country of residence. The country residence is always either Great Britain, Germany or France since these were the locations of the interviews.

The author also gives the education category defined as follows:

“Category 1: Early school dropout or unemployed without any formal job qualification.

Category 2: Basic job qualification, either achieved or probably achieving in the near future (“Lehre”; “CAP/PEB”; vocational / technical colleges)

Category 3: Students who intend to pass Abitur, baccalaureat, or A-levels.

Category 4: Participants who have passed Abitur, baccalaureat, or A-levels.

Category 5: University students and graduates.”

Looking down the list of interviewees, I counted only nine people in category 5 and only six people in category 4. This is a sobering reminder of the poor educational performance of many young Muslim men in these three countries.

Even though the nine people in category 5 are a very small group, I was not surprised to see that the UK accounted for six, France accounted for three, and Germany accounted for none.

I have written before about how the UK is doing much better at integrating its Muslim population than is France. See my article “Why is France doing so badly at integrating Muslims?

I know less about Germany, but am aware that the German education system segregates school pupils at a relatively young age into an “academic track” and a “technical work track.” I suspect that this harms the prospects of Muslim Germans, even though I do not believe that to be the German government’s intention.

Why the book matters

The research methodology which is described in detail in the book and which I have summarised above makes it clear that this is not a representative sample of Muslims for a variety of reasons:

  • All of the interviewees are male.
  • They are limited to the age range 14 – 27.
  • More subtly, the process of finding the interviewees would not capture more financially successful Muslim men who no longer lived in “Muslim dense” areas but who lived elsewhere, for example in the suburbs. Similarly, I suspect that stopping Muslim men on the street may miss significant numbers of Muslim men who are more affluent and either working longer hours in offices or, trivially, travelling by car.

Despite not being representative, the methodology of relatively long interviews (as opposed to completing a questionnaire) allows very “rich” recording of attitudes and beliefs in a way that is impossible with a questionnaire.

Accordingly, the book provides deep insight into attitudes that are held by a significant number of young Muslim men in these three countries, even if one cannot quantify how statistically representative the young men interviewed are in relation to the population of young Muslim men as a whole.

When you read the interviews, many of the attitudes disclosed are deeply disquieting, as well as revealing high levels of ignorance about Islam from my perspective.

(The interviews did find some young man with positive attitudes towards Jews who did not display antisemitism, but they were very much the minority amongst those interviewed.)

Assessment of the book

What makes the book so worthwhile is the ability to read quite detailed summaries of the individual interviews which provides a much richer understanding of the views about Jews that are held by many young Muslim men in Britain, France and Germany.

Accordingly, I strongly recommend the book to everyone who cares about these issues, whether they are academics or ordinary citizens.

I particularly recommend the book to fellow Muslims as it shows just how great is the need amongst young European Muslim men for better education about Islam.

 

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