By Tom Heneghan and Nicholas Vinocur
Sep 5, 2012
Seventy European Muslim and Jewish leaders pledged on Wednesday to show "zero tolerance" to hate preachers of any faith including their own ranks, citing what they called rising religious intolerance on the continent.
Imams, rabbis and community leaders from 18 countries agreed to jointly counter bigotry against Jews and Muslims and combat legal threats to common religious practices such as circumcision of boys and the kosher and Halal ritual slaughter of animals.
The two-day meeting brought together Muslim-Jewish teams from around Europe to compare experiences in fighting religious prejudice and report on recent trends against minority faiths.
There have been several attacks on Jews in Europe this year, some from radical Muslims. In the worst case, a French Islamist killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse last March.
Extreme right-wing political parties are also increasingly agitating against Jews and Muslims, participants in the meeting said.
"We must institute a 'zero tolerance' policy against religious leaders of any faith who misuse their pulpits to incite religious bigotry," they said in a declaration.
"We vow to each other to speak out loudly and forcefully against any religious leader who defames those of other faiths, and, if such bigots emerge from within our own communities, to condemn them loudly and clearly."
Among the organizers was the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, whose co-founder Rabbi Marc Schneier has promoted Muslim-Jewish unity projects in the United States.
Schneier told Reuters that European Muslims and Jews had come together more this year to defend their common interest in protecting religious traditions from legal challenges.
That was not enough, he said: "Real cooperation is when you stand up for others even when it's not in your common interest."
Participants gave examples in their countries of interfaith harmony as well as tension, especially that arising from radical Islamism that has spread among some disaffected Muslim youths.
From Britain, Fiyaz Mughal of the non-profit group Faith Matters and Jewish Volunteering Network official Esmond Rosen presented a booklet on Muslims who saved Jews in the Holocaust.
Mughal accused far-right groups in Britain of trying to provoke anti-Semitism among Muslims, especially on the Internet. "A lot of these issues are happening online," he said. "This is where the real battle is."
Rabbi Michel Serfaty and Scheherazade Zerouala told how their French Judeo-Muslim Friendship group made bus tours around France to promote understanding in poor neighbourhoods where the two minorities often live side-by-side and sometimes clash.
Noting that a rabbi had recently been attacked in Berlin, the secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said imams must condemn anti-Semitism among Muslims.
"We also have anti-Muslim sentiment among Jews, as we saw in the beating of a Palestinian by Jewish children in Israel," Stephan Kramer added. "We are condemning these acts strongly."
ATTACKS RISE IN FRANCE
Moussa Diaw Al-Hassan, coordinator of Islamic studies at Osnabrueck University in Germany, said his program helped future imams analyze YouTube videos of hard-line Salafi preachers who appeal to some alienated young Muslims in Germany.
"It's important to teach imams how to detect this radical version of Islam," he said.
Toulouse Chief Rabbi Harald Weill regretted that no local Muslim leader contacted him to condemn the murders at the Jewish school there last March, but he did not want to give up hope.
"I came here today to say that, contrary to a large part of my community, I think there is a possibility that we can walk hand in hand," the Orthodox rabbi said.
Both Muslim and Jewish leaders in France say hostile acts and attitudes have spread in the wake of the Toulouse killings.
Muslim community leaders have registered a 15 percent rise in anti-Muslim acts in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2011. Jewish observers say anti-Semitic attacks and acts of intimidation have risen 37 percent over the same period.
(Writing by Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor; Editing by Mark Heinrich)