Are the parallels ever appropriate? JEU columnist Armin Langer shares his thoughts.
“Muslims are the new Jews”, said Naomi Wolf, author and former political advisor to Al Gore and Bill Clinton in November 2016 live on Aljazeera. “It feels like 1933 in America to me”, she added while emphasizing her Jewish background. Following Trump’s inauguration, this parallelism got even more space. I remember quite well the 9th of November when Trump won the US presidency – and when my Facebook feed was suddenly full of postings calling out Trump as the new Hitler. Comparing the new administration’s discriminating policies and non-stop hate campaign against Muslim to the Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic laws suddenly doesn’t seem anymore that inappropriate.
But are really Muslims the new Jews?
No doubt, many of the present-day anti-Muslim stereotypes resemble the old anti-Semitic ones.
Just like Trump, the European right-wing populists spread fear of an alleged Islamic takeover: Wilders launches a “de-Islamization” manifesto, Le Pen fumes against “rampant Islamization” of the continent, Strache calls for an “Islamization ban”. In Germany, the PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident) are marching on the streets of Dresden to save its Christian character. The city’s Muslim population is currently 0.2 percent, the whole country’s 5.4 percent.
A hundred years ago, the defenders of the Occident marched against an alleged Judaization. Protests erupted against new synagogue buildings which were regarded as symbols of the growing Jewish power; rumor had it that the Eastern European Jewish migrants in Austria and Germany just come for the money for which they don’t work. Eastern European Jews were often depicted as criminals and gangsters even in the 1920s and 30s.
In the 19th century, another concern of the Westerners regarding the incoming Eastern European Jews was their religion: Judaism, which was perceived as backward, barbaric remains of the old days, a theory supported by most “enlightened” intellectuals like Kant, Schleiermacher or Hegel. Just like today, when Muslims are categorically stigmatized as members of a fundamentalist, primitive faith.
To support this thesis, the so-called critics of Judaism, like August Rohling, cited certain passages from the Torah and the Talmud which sounded problematic in a modern setting. Similar to today’s many critics of Islam who divorce verses from its original context in the Quran or the Hadith literature.
The German far-right makes it even easier to draw attention to the parallels.
When right-wing populists politicians, extremists and Neonazis are shouting today “Deutschland den Deutschen” (Germany belongs to the Germans), they use the motto invented by Heinrich von Treitschke who introduced this sentence as “the slogan against anti-Semitism.” I’ve always wondered how uncreative the far-right can be.
Despite all these similarities, Muslims are not the new Jews. First of all, because we, the Jews are still here and anti-Jewish hatred didn’t seize to exist. Anti-Semitism has been part of Europe since centuries and it most probably will never vanish. Even if anti-Semitism is not as visible in the political arena today as it was a hundred years ago, it’s present in the heads. And very often it goes hand in hand with anti-Muslim hatred, with the hatred of the „Other“.
Talking about the similarities of the present-day anti-Muslim hatred and the anti-Semitism of the 19th century is important to warn our fellows not to fall into the same trap again. No one should listen to these anti-Muslim slogans. We all heard them already - but then they were directed against us, Jews.
Armin Langer (1990) is a graduate student of Jewish Theology at the University of Potsdam. He is the founder and coordinator the Jewish-Muslim activist group Salaam-Shalom. He has published op-eds in several German and international outlets, and his first book "Ein Jude in Neukölln" (A Jew from the No-go-Zone) was published in 2016.