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Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism

Professor Ivan Kalmar, is a  professor in the Department of Anthropology, and Hon. Newton W. Rowell Professor at Victoria College, University of Toronto. He says his work and personal inclination tends toward improving the understanding between Jewish and Muslim peoples.

During the luncheon Professor Kalmar discussed the similarities in the language and attributes between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. There are differences between the two hatreds but for the purpose of this day’s luncheon, he chose to focus on the 4 features they have in common. He describes the relationship between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as being “two dialects of one language,” rather than one language in and of itself.

Professor Kalmar began with an overview of the features of Muslim Anti-Semites and Jewish Islamophobes. The terrorist attacks on Kosher supermarkets cannot be seen as only anti-Israel unless one regards all Jewish people as one unified body, something that is typical within anti-Semitic views. A 2011 press conference between the Israeli Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, and a Jewish-French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, was used by Turkish President Erdoğan, to claim that Jews had a hand in ousting the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt. In this press conference Levy had said that if the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, they would have to be eliminated. For Professor Kalmar, this only works as evidence if one believes that the Jewish people are unified as one group within a global conspiracy.

Muslims though, face the same kind of view from Islamophobes. Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders have spoken out against terrorist acts and have indeed affirmed Israel’s right to exist, despite their criticism of Israel’s policies themselves. Still Muslims are also accused of being one unified people with a global conspiracy.

The imagery of both hatreds also plays a role in highlighting their irrational similarities. Here, Professor Kalmar uses an example from the Online Jewish Press, written amidst terrorist attacks on Jewish worshipers in Jerusalem, 2014. The article, which conflates Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, uses these attacks to highlight the irrational view that Muslims felt blood needed to be added to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The author then goes on to cite the example of the traditional Bedouin wedding dance with swords and bloodthirsty grins as support for their argument. Professor Kalmar points out that this is not a new image. It was vastly popular in the 19th century, during a time when Arab and Muslim nominations were synonymous. The presentation of the “true” Arab or Muslim mentality has been employed from the 19th century all the way to today’s Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Professor Kalmar describes the false image of Jews and Muslims presented by Christianity. Indeed, Judaism and Islam share more similarities to each other than either do to Christianity. The views of these religions though, have been informed by Christianity’s portrayal of both with a harsh and loveless God who does not have Jesus’ “tempering hands.” They use the Talmud and the Qur’an as textual evidence of a harsh people preoccupied with justice, unable to use the Old Testament as it is itself part of Christianity.

The similarities between religions can also be found in the racial and linguistic terms of the 19th century. The racial term of “Semite” originally referred to the language family that both Hebrew and Arabic belong to. It was common to confuse language families with races during the 19th century, explains Professor Kalmar. Following this there was a group who described themselves as anti-Semitic who organized politically to attack the Jews during the Depression.

With examples and similarities given, Professor Kalmar moved on to the similar language and imagery found within Islamophobia and the anti-Semitism that existed about a hundred years ago. Indeed, he concludes that it is the same imagery that has been recycled to fit into Islamophobic rhetoric today. These include four features: anti-immigration sentiment, textual slavery, world domination, and double loyalty.

The two hatreds are rooted in an anti-immigration sentiment. Many Jewish people immigrated from farther east, like Russia, and even the established Jews objected to this. The ‘new’ prejudice of Islamophobia takes the language of the old prejudice against the Jews; for Professor Kalmar, Islamophobia is the current expression of what was once directed at Jewish people.

The second shared aspects of these hatreds resides with the false view that Jews and Muslims are somehow slaves to their religious texts. The Qur’an and the Talmud hold a kind of power over their followers, which prevents them from withstanding the scriptures influences, according to derisive portrayals.

The idea of world domination through religion was first used by Christianity, which Professor Kalmar remarks as ironic because in both Islamophobic and anti-Semitic practices, it is the Jews and the Muslims who are accused of having plans of world domination. There are accusations that these groups use special privileges and legislation in an attempt to change the countries in which they reside. Here they are set up as the enemy within and without, using domestic groups to exert their influence.

Tied to the accusations of world domination are the accusations of double loyalty. Conspiracy theories abound with ideas of double talk, where what is presented to the non-Muslims or non-Jew is seen as false and different than what is presented to those within their own religion, maintaining a disparaging image of untrustworthiness and global conspiracy.

For Professor Kalmar, these are the prominent features within the hatreds of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, something that is uniquely shared by them and not by other prejudices, like anti-Black or anti-Chinese. It is his hope that highlighting the shared features of these hatreds will lead to better understanding of peoples’ sentiments and further mutual understanding, something that he believes is the only way to a human future.

Islamaphobia & Anti-semitism


Islamophobia & Anti-Semitism:

Ivan Kalmar
Prof. Ivan Kalmar
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Toronto

Prof. Ivan Kalmar is a professor in the Department of Anthropology, and Hon. Newton W. Rowell Professor at Victoria College, University of Toronto. His main work has addressed parallels in the image of Muslims and Jews in western Christian cultural history. He co-edited a volume called Orientalism and the Jews. More recently, he has published Early Orientalism: Imagined Islam and the Notion of Sublime Power. In addition, he has published research articles dedicated to reviving the notion that Jews and Muslims have long been considered in the West as related to each other. This was not necessarily entirely based in objective fact, but was more so, and was certainly far more hopeful, than the all-too-current notion that they must be opposites and enemies. On today’s topic, antisemitism and Islamophobia, Prof. Kalmar has co-written an article with a leading western Muslim author, Tariq Ramadan. This article will be appearing in the Routledge Handbook of Muslim-Jewish Relations.