Why do we condemn Anti-Semitism, but not Anti-Islam?

The battle against anti-Semitism has come a long way since the 1979 publication of the classic book "Anti-Semitism in America" by Professors Quinly and Glock.

Now, nearly a quarter-century later, you’ll rarely find any of the gross examples identified and exposed in this well-documented study.

Today, any anti-Semitism (for example, recent comments by the former prime minister of Malaysia) will be met with strong condemnation from the Western media, governments, and nearly all quarters of civil society. And that is as it should be.

Yet last month, a prominent American military leader, Lt.-General William G. Boykin, proclaimed that he is in “the army of God” and that Muslims worship an “idol.”

“Our spiritual enemy,” Boykin continued, “will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”

To date, neither President Bush nor his Secretary of Defense have dismissed Boykin or handed down any sort of meaningful reprimand for remarks that went far beyond being merely inappropriate. Would the American administration be so casually silent if the general had uttered the same hateful triumphalist bias about Jews? Of course not! That would be anti-Semitism.

But imagine, for example, if Muslim religious leaders were to state on any North American TV or radio program that "Moses was a terrorist," "the Torah is a monumental scam," or "Judaism is a very evil and wicked religion that worships a false god."

The reaction from millions of viewers and listeners would be a unprecedented avalanche of disapproval. Numerous Canadian and American newspapers, from local to national, would run outraged editorials. TV and radio talk shows in both countries would thoroughly discuss the reasons and the remedies needed for such abhorrent statements.

As with the former Malaysian PM’s comments, our federal government would almost certainly issue a very strong statement, condemning anti-Semitism as uncivilized and contrary to Canadian values. The American President would probably address his country personally, and on camera, from the Oval Office to denounce the outrage. In short, North America would be swept by a tidal-wave of social, religious and political opprobrium — and rightly so.

But we’re talking here about anti-Semitism as applied to the Jewish world. Not only does North America often forget that a significant segment of the Muslim world also comprises ethnically Semitic peoples; but more importantly, it forgets that the highly diverse Muslim population on this continent has consistently been at the receiving end of hate-filled utterances that are rarely taken seriously at the level of political leadership.

Consider the effect on all Muslims then, when outrageous and insulting public statements are made about our Prophet Muhammad and about the 1,400-year-old faith of Islam. The reader can substitute in my hypothetical quotes about Judaism above, the words "Muhammad" (for Moses), "the Qur’an," (for the Torah), and "Islam" (for Judaism) and have a very accurate impression of the type of comment heard in recent years by such high-profile exponents of the American "Christian right" as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham.

Falwell made inflammatory hate-statements — including that Mohammed was "a terrorist" — in 2002 on the widely viewed CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes," and Graham (son of veteran evangelist and media personality Billy Graham), delivered President Bush’s inaugural prayer last year. All three have made it a basic
premise of their theological platform to regularly denounce Islam. And of course, the very recent contribution by Lt.-General William G. Boykin was cut from the same vile cloth.

But did you hear or read any overwhelming reactions against their slanderous statements from the national media, Canadian and American politicians, or other leaders in civil society? Not at all. There was no massive outrage, no official denunciation.

With no strong or effective condemnation against such anti-Islam utterances, every angry or uninformed person who has chosen to blame Islam for problems we all share on this planet, will now feel safe in spreading hate speech against Muslims at will.

Now Muslims have been told time and time again since 9/11 that America’s "war on terrorism" is not a war against Islam. But the measured, "correct" tone of most media and public reactions to the growing tide of anti-Islam attacks on this continent leaves a huge credibility gap. The average Muslim is not convinced by hearing statements that are merely socially acceptable, or politically correct.

By contrast, over the past three decades, the Jewish communities in our midst have been notably successful in lowering the spread of anti-Semitism targeted specifically at their faith and ethnicity. North American Jews have made it their business to fight against it, from the local level on up to national, high-profile
organizations that regularly lobby for government attention, as well as influencing broad public opinion.

Now it is the turn of Muslims to learn effectively how to lower the spread of anti-Islam, whose roots are, in fact, from the same sources as anti- (Jewish) Semitism. For if they do not work hard to combat anti-Islam and expose those who for religious or political reasons are advancing it, the practice of anti-Islam will go on and on … and on.

Stopping anti-Islamic prejudice — the new "model" of anti-Semitism — is a question of basic principles. And to accomplish this, Muslims need the help of every fair-minded Canadian.

When it’s hate-crime, talk is not cheap.