OPINION: Counting the cost of Jewish-Muslim relations after the Paris attacks

OPINION: Counting the cost of Jewish-Muslim relations after the Paris attacks

By Fiyaz Mughal, Founder and Director of Faith Matters

Fiyaz Mughal promotes interfaith and conflict resolution
Fiyaz Mughal promotes interfaith and conflict resolution

The murder of four shoppers in a Kosher supermarket in Paris sent shockwaves globally after the murders of satirists in Charlie Hebdo and the killings of police officers who were protecting staff members of the publication.

The man at the centre of the crimes, Amedy Coulibaly, was it seems, a petty criminal who lost a close friend early in his life and who could not connect with others according to his wife, Hayat Boumedienne, who is on the run and who may well be in ISIS controlled territory.

The targeting of the Kosher supermarket was simply done for one reason alone. It was based on the targeting of Jews in the vain hope that the Government would allow some form of safe passage for the Kouachi brothers who were by then, holed up in a printing plant near to the Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris.

The killing of four hostages no doubt created further fear within the French Jewish community, who had increasingly felt nervous in France, given that anti-Semitism and Jihadist attacks on them had been taking place before. For example, the targeting of French Jews by Merah in Toulouse in 2012 had already created a downward spiral of confidence within Jewish communities in the country.

This latest attack has no doubt further exacerbated these fears with some feeling that the French State cannot guarantee their safety. In all of this, the response of the French Muslim community was quick and the shock widely felt.

Yet, on the one side, an ISIS sympathiser was killing hostages who were Jewish and on the other side a 24 year old Malian Muslim by the name of Lassana Bathily, was helping to save the lives of 7 Jews whom he locked into a freezer whilst Coulibaly was within the store. On the one hand, one was killing and the other saving lives.

There is no doubt that such events test Muslim and Jewish relations. Yet, at the Paris unity rally on the 11th of January, Muslims and Jews and a throng of different faiths and those with no faith lined the streets of Central Paris in a show of solidarity which made the point that France would go on and that communities would come together.

This feeling of solidarity was also felt here in the UK and with calls that Muslims offer their solidarity and their support to British Jewish communities. This was the message that was put out by Muslim organisations who urged supporters and followers to provide their help and support where required.

These calls were genuine and heartfelt given the carnage and suffering that was being wrought on Parisians just a few hundred miles from our capital. Yet in all of this, there are some elements to consider.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo has meant that the magazine has ordered a 5 million print run with a picture of the Prophet Muhammad on it and the likelihood is that the publication will sell out.

The deep sense of hurt felt within many in Muslim communities also is translated into a realisation that the actions of the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly, have in fact, led to a greater distribution of the caricatures.

Many within Muslim communities have already felt the need to stand up and work against extremism and to drown out the voices of the extremists and to disentangle their narrative.

On this, there is strong common ground developing within large sections of Muslim communities and which may be welcomed by their Jewish counterparts.

Unfortunately though, just as the dead are being buried and some sense of peace descends in Paris, political events have again started to play on sensibilities.

The arrest of Dieudonne on a Facebook post where he stated, ‘I feel like Charlie Coulibaly’, have opened up a fissure again.

Some within Muslim communities see this as a double standard based on free speech including the right to offend and insult, whilst Dieudonne’s past history has been documented in this piece by the CST.

Let us hope that Jewish and Muslim relations build and strengthen after this period given that there are joint issues that both communities can work on. Denigrating anti-Muslim hate or anti-Semitism should see both communities collectively stand up with each other.

There are those who seek to divide, citing their acrid and corrosive opinions that anti-Muslim hate is made up and that it is not really a problem, when the reality is that it exists, costs lives and damages victims and families. But this is not about whether anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim hate are more legitimate or whether the scale of suffering is the marker. Pogroms and the Holocaust have left an indelible imprint in the mind of every Jewish man and woman and this needs to be acknowledged and recognised as being a legitimate fear based on a history of persecution.

For Muslims and Jews, the future and for safety in Europe means standing side by side with each other and tackling those like Coulibaly who merge the politics of ISIS with faith and who attempt to affect community relations by trampling over them in their desire to cause anguish, death and pain. If we can push back far right extremist groups in Europe, then together, we can tackle our fears and those who target Jewish and Muslim communities together, including those like Coulibaly, who simply will not succeed in their desire to promote their extremism and inject it into our communities.

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