Toronto, Canada – When I told people that I wanted to organise a speech competition for youth on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the most common reaction I received was, “That would be hard.” However in late April 2012, 16 students from Muslim and Jewish schools, as well as public schools, in Toronto came together at the North American Muslim Foundation to participate in the 10th occasion of this annual event.
Despite some initial discouragement, I felt the connections between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were important. These two issues are often dealt with separately by Muslim and Jewish communities in Canada, but both groups have a great deal to offer each other as they work to overcome prejudice.
As such, my colleagues at the North American Muslim Foundation and I brought together a group of interested young people to address the question: do Jews and Muslims face the same challenges and do these challenges present opportunities for joint solutions?
Many of the participating students talked about personal experiences, such as their synagogues being vandalised with graffiti, or facing increased scrutiny at airports in the post-9/11 era.
Though the experiences were different, many felt that they were speaking with the same voice, only from different religious and cultural perspectives.
One young Muslim competitor described how she came to see criticism for wearing the hijab, or headscarf, in school as an act by one person and not an entire group. A Jewish student agreed, saying that when his synagogue was vandalised with graffiti it wasn’t a statement from the entire community, but a crime by one individual against a community.
A Jewish student reminded an audience of Jews, Christians and Muslims that working for harmony and standing up for religious freedom is every person’s duty.
Another Muslim student, whose experience of Judaism had previously consisted only of negative stereotypes, acknowledged that this speech competition changed her mind. As she reflected on the ways that both communities have struggled with stereotypes, she found common ground in the struggle to overcome them.
Examples of Jews and Muslims standing in solidarity are not as rare as one might think. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Jaffari Islamic Centre was the first Islamic organisation in Toronto to hold a joint press conference with a neighbouring Jewish synagogue to condemn the attacks. They also issued a joint condemnation when a Jewish school in Montreal and an Islamic centre in Pickering were victims of arson attacks.
At the end of the speech competition, students suggested ways they could work together in the future: doing workshops at Islamic schools on anti-Semitism, bringing together Jews and Muslims to organise a walk for a charity, proposing a bill to ban both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and working with members of parliament to pass anti-bullying legislation...Here's a thought--maybe they could all get together and celebrate the Ayatollah's annual Al Quds Day, always a festive occasion for the Khomeinists over at Jaffari.
Doesn't the above description sound convivial and interfaithy? Nothing at all, in fact, like this eyewitness account posted by Sassy last month (emphases in the original):
I was recently invited to a speech competition at the North American Muslim Foundation (NAMF). Students in grades 6-10 were invited to speak on the topic “Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia – Do they face the same challenges and share the same solutions.” There was one Jewish student and about 20 Muslim students. (I know that NAMF had asked many Jewish organizations to participate and all but one had declined.)Wow, two entirely different versions of the same occurance. It's sort of like a interfaithy Rashomon, no?
Almost all the speeches were misguided about anti-Semitism. Most of them said it was something that happened in the Holocaust but has ended. The most egregious speech quoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as if it were true. Many talked about Jewish money and power...
Reading the above descrimination I would have to say that it's going to be rather a challenge to overcome in-bred prejudices about Jewish involving the Protocols with charity walks and co-operative anti-bullying efforts.