A Battle of Rhetoric and Racism: How Nationalists Pit Jewish and Muslim People Against Each Other and Why This Needs To Stop

Published 1 March 2024 / By Sanne van Oosten

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Opinion Piece

The juxtaposition of Jewish and Muslim people in Westminster promotes the incessant undermining of both groups. In this piece, I offer an overview of research that shows us to be critical of nationalists using anti-Semitism to justify anti-Muslim racism. Not only is it insincere, it hurts both Jewish and Muslim communities by providing a seemingly civil justification of anti-Muslim racism. These justifications benefit nationalists who have proven to switch to anti-Semitic targets whenever it turns out to be more advantageous to furthering their nationalist political agenda.

Political science has long established the link between anti-Muslim racism and voting for nationalist parties. The recent remarks by Lee Anderson and Suella Braverman about Sadiq Khan and Palestine protests show that this link is not fading any time soon. This article lays out the origins of how anti-Muslim Replacement Theory uses biopolitics and eugenics to avert the supposed threat of Muslims. The downstream consequences of implementing these ideas are not exclusive to the far corners of the internet: according to this study they impact the daily lives of Muslims and their chances of getting a job. Discrimination against Muslims is particularly severe for Muslim politicians. In this study, I reveal severe biases against Muslim politicians and those politicians who stand up for religious rights for Muslims, which impacts the underrepresentation of Muslims in politics and disrupts the functioning of our democracies.

Political elites often use “civilizational” rhetoric to justify hatred against Muslims by drawing on just, civil and liberal causes such as gender equality, gay rights and freedom of speech. Because these causes are so civil, just and liberal, they both appeal to and weaken the Left on the political spectrum by causing confusion and insecurity about what it means to stand up against anti-Muslim racism. This article traces back the dynamic to its beginnings in the early 2000s in the Netherlands with the far-right leader Pim Fortuyn using gay rights to justify his criticisms of Muslims, a concept to be later termed homonationalism. At the same time in the US, women’s rights were being used to justify the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, later termed as femonationalism.

Of course, propagating movements such as advancements in gay rights or women's rights present no cause for concern, as long as it is genuine and helpful to those causes. Often, however, it is neither. In this paper, I show that those who are most likely to be against same-sex adoption are also those who are most likely to stereotype Muslim politicians as homophobic. And vice versa: those who do not hold homophobic attitudes do not stereotype Muslim politicians by their religious practices either. Another study shows that LGBT+rights are used instrumentally as a weapon against Muslims, with the inclusion of LGBT+ citizens “instrumentally liberalized and heightened when homosexuality is seen as part of native culture under ethnic out-group threat”.

Since the Hamas attacks of October 7 and the war on Gaza, however, the weapon is increasingly anti-Semitism. “Philosemitism” is another common “civilizational” weapon used against Muslims that is particularly salient in light of the atrocities going on in Gaza and the cries of protesters speaking out against genocide. Although the voices of white nationalists are loud this week, those using anti-Semitism to justify anti-Muslim racism needn’t be genuine or supporting the Jewish cause. If the research on homonationalism is any indication, it is entirely possible that “philosemitism” is being instrumentalised to further an anti-Muslim agenda as well. Case in point is that Lee Anderson himself was criticized in 2019 of anti-Semitism due to his active involvement in a Facebook group promoting Soros conspiracies.

Meanwhile, current research underscores a strong connection between the animosity shown toward Muslims and the animosity shown toward Jews, and how fringe groups organise the dissemination of hate for both groups. Research also shows that anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism share a cultural logic with anti- Muslim racism being stronger but anti-Semitism stemming from anti-Muslim attitudes. Strengthened anti-Muslim attitudes can have downstream consequences of producing more anti-Semitism which ultimately benefits far-right nationalist groups propagating ethnocentrism.

In other words, please do not fall for the weaponisation of anti-Semitism. Resist hate against Muslims and Jews because allowing for either will pave the way for more hatred against both by furthering the nationalist agenda.

Notes to reader 

Please note that this blog is an opinion piece of the author.