They cause anger, social panic, and fear. We have been told that their culture is overwhelming and that they are breeders of terrorists and other types of criminals. People claim that they must be crushed before “we” lose “our” way of life.
I am talking about two groups – Jews of 20th century Europe and Muslims of 21st century Europe. Both populations have faced racism and prejudice, albeit for their own specific causes and contexts, as David Cesarani points out. Jews and Muslims living in the European continent have been regarded as isolationist, self-segregating factions that have no interest in integrating into “Western culture.” Members of these groups have also been stereotypically viewed as narrow-minded, bigoted, and threats to public safety. In this short comparison between the experiences of Jews in 20th century Europe and Muslims living in Europe today, I draw some similarities between Jewish and Muslim history and offer a stepping stone to potentially bridge the ever-increasing gap between followers of Judaism and Islam.
Since the recent Paris attacks, firebombs and pig heads have been launched into mosques in France. 16 mosques were attacked in a 48-hour period after the Charlie Hebdo incident, according to Abdallah Zekri, head of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia. Veiled Muslim women have been victims of crude insults and the Internet has been rampant with threats against followers of Islam.
A similar flurry of violence occurred against Jewish communities in Germany on the night of November 9, 1938. Under the leadership of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany orchestrated pogroms against Jews after the assassination of a German official in Paris at the hands of a Jewish teenager. In just two days, over 250 synagogues were burned, over 7,000 Jewish-businesses were trashed and looted, and dozens of Jews were killed. These pogroms became known as Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass” named after the shattered glass from the store windows that littered the streets.
Attacks against French Muslims are not isolated incidents. Anti-Muslim violence has been rife across much of Europe for the last several years. For example, Neil MacGregor, a 35-year-old Scotsman, admitted in April 2009 that he threatened to blow up Scotland’s biggest mosque and to behead one Muslim a week until every mosque in Scotland was shut down. In an email received by Strathclyde police, MacGregor described himself as a “proud racist” trying “to deal with the current threat from Muslims in our own British way like our proud ancestors.” MacGregor was hardly different from Hitler and the Nazis, except MacGregror failed to succeed in his evil plot.
In turning back to Nazi Germany, we notice that Joseph Goebbels’ diary from 1941 eerily reflects some anti-Muslim propaganda spewed by today’s European leaders. Goebbels wrote that “[a]ll Jews by virtue of their birth and their race” are trying to “defeat and annihilate” Nazi Germany. He added that if they are not attacked, the “harmless-looking Jewish chaps would suddenly become raging wolves. They would attack our women and children to carry out revenge.”
Similarly to Goebbel’s, Jean Marie Le Pen, a French far right leader, claimed in 2012 that there were “200 million Muslims at our gates” who represent “a serious threat to Europe.” He added that Muslims are often of “a race, religion, and mores very different from that of true French.” Marine Le Pen, Jean Marie’s daughter, has compared French Muslims praying outside overcrowded mosques to the Nazi occupation of France. Speaking at a 2010 gathering in Lyon, she said “for those who speak a lot about World War II, if that was occupation, then we could also talk about [Muslims praying in the streets], because it’s occupation of territory.”
Moreover, Geert Wilders, the far right leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, regularly compares Islam to Nazism. He has stated that Muhammad “was the savage leader of a gang of robbers” who “looted, raped and murdered.” Goebbels and Wilders share a desire to spread extremism, bigotry, hatred, and fascism. The only difference between the two is Goebbels wanted to exterminate Jews while Wilders wants to rid the world of Islam.
It is also worth noting that Nazis and current-day anti-Islam politicians denounce the Talmud, the Jewish holy book, and the Quran, the Islamic holy book, as “evil” texts which Jews and Muslims use to “conquer” other Europeans. In Mein Kampf, Hitler’s biography, the Nazi leader wrote “the Talmud is not a book to prepare a man for the hereafter, but only for a practical and profitable life in this world.” He continues and suggests that Jews read the Talmud for inspiration in order to politically and financially dominate European society. Compare that to Wilders, who calls the Quran a “fascist book which incites violence … hatred and killing and therefore has no place in our [Dutch] legal order.” Hitler and Wilders’ racism connects because both men see Judaism and Islam not as religions but as “ideologies” that are incompatible with “modern civilization.”
Are Muslims being set up as the New Jews of Europe? It appears so. Muslims are the primary enemies of modern European states, the archetypal “Other,” and the scapegoats for Europe’s social, political, and economic ills. While Europe has recently experienced genocide with Jews, this kind of atrocity is preventable, and must never repeat itself. In light of the links between European Jews of the 20th century and European Muslims of the 21st century, we should wonder if history is about to repeat itself once again.