By Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
Jun 29, 2011
Tarek Fatah, a community activist in Toronto, often challenges conventional wisdom and does so again with his book, The Jew is Not My Enemy. The book invites Muslims and Jews to come together in mutual respect and peace.
It cites Qur’anic teachings to emphasize that the holy book does not incite hatred against Jews, it is later scholars who distorted Islam to promote anti-Semitism.
But the book rests on questionable assumptions and interpretations. That it would be condemned, as it has been by extremist Muslims and Jews, is not surprising. But mainstream Muslims and Jews, and followers of other faiths, should welcome it for nudging Muslims and Jews toward the universal values of justice, peace, human brotherhood and equality.
Fatah argues that though the Holy Qur’an chastises Jews (as it does Muslims and others), its criticism is directed at the wrong-doers and not against all Jews, most of whom were not even born when those transgressions took place. To condemn them simply because they were born Jewish is to challenge God who created them in the first place. This interpretation blends with the Islamic belief that God is just, that He judges people on their conduct and that He does not punish the innocent. Fatah quotes the Qur’an where it compliments Jews, Christians and others who do good deeds.
But the book’s premise — that anti-Semitism is rampant among Muslims — is contradicted by the book itself. It states that the Muslim caliphs in Arab countries, Ottoman Empire and in Muslim Spain treated the Jews well. Fatah also acknowledges that many Muslims provided refuge to Jews fleeing Hitler’s death squads. Other scholars assert that when Romans expelled the Jews from Jerusalem it was the Muslim conquerors of Jerusalem who permitted the Jews to come to Jerusalem for the first time in 600 years. The Crusaders again expelled the Jews when they took over Jerusalem. When Muslims recovered the city, they invited Jews back.
Fatah blames the West’s anti-Semitism, the teachings of Madrassas, the rhetoric of the Iranians after their revolution, fanatical Muslim preachers and Israel’s long occupation of Palestinian lands for fueling anti-Semitism among Muslims. This is true, but legitimate criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism just as the vices of Muslim dictators should not be used to distort Islam or defame all Muslims. There is no evidence that most Muslims hate Jews. With the rise of extremism, some Muslims kill innocent Muslims too, but they are a tiny minority.
Fatah is correct that Muslim countries are terribly mismanaged and that this has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict or with US actions. But Israeli actions do adversely impact the lives both of Palestinians and those of neighboring countries. Similarly, American policies seriously harm Muslim countries, producing mass resentment.
The book documents the failures of Palestinian leadership and blames them for rejecting some United Nations resolutions. But Israel has flouted far more UN resolutions and it is the Israeli settlers and the right wing, according to most impartial observers, who are thwarting a just settlement of the dispute. Fatah admits some of this but does not acknowledge the quest by Palestinians and Arab countries in recent years for a just peace.
Fatah ridicules the allegations that Israel practices apartheid. He quotes Arab Israelis as saying that they enjoy far more human rights than people in most Muslim countries. This is true, but Israeli laws severely discriminate against non-Jews and relegate them to second-class status. This was acknowledged in Ottawa by respected Israeli journalist Gideon Levy and by Haneen Zoabi, an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset. Both spoke as loyal Israelis and also as people of conscience trying to correct a horrible injustice.
Fatah’s book needs to be read, but with care. Its basic message mirrors Islamic teachings — that God created all living beings, that He made people different so that they get to know each other. Islam also teaches truth, justice and respect for others. It condemns brutality and oppression. If Arabs and Israelis follow this teaching, peace and justice could replace the nightmare and killings in the Middle East.
If Muslim countries are to truly progress, they’d have to deal with their own internal malaise and rid themselves of the poison that is destroying their society, as Fatah says. If they can do that, external factors will be less menacing to them than they are now.
— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge and the recipient of some of Canada’s highest awards. EMail: email@example.com
Source: Arab News