23 June 2013
I was recently asked by the Jewish Chronicle to write a short piece on the way that the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby and the anti-Muslim attacks that have followed has affected Muslim Jewish relations in Britain.
Space was very constrained and the final 248 word version was published by the Jewish Chronicle on 14 June 2014 with the title “Post Woolwich, we must stand together.”
Below is a slightly longer version of what I would have written had I not been so space constrained.
The horror of 22 May is seared into my brain. How can I forget watching a murderer spouting on about “an eye for an eye” while his hands dripped with the blood of a young serviceman run down and then hacked to death on the peaceful streets of Woolwich?
The revulsion Muslims all over Britain felt for two killers who invoked the name of God while committing murder was poured out in many individual tweets, emails and group statements. The following day, our Prime Minister spoke for the nation when he said “This was not just an attack on Britain – and on our British way of life. It was also a betrayal of Islam – and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.” The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester, the Jewish Representative Council for Greater Manchester, and other faith groups came together to issue a statement which is on our website, as did many other faith groups around the country.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, various far right elements have used the murder to justify attacking individual Muslims and Muslim institutions.
The Board of Deputies and other Jewish organisations have been outspoken in condemning this, and in standing beside their Muslim fellow citizens. These statements of support have been shared widely amongst Muslims using social media. They evidence solidarity from a Jewish community that has a long communal memory of being held collectively responsible for the criminal acts of individuals, and of seeing its religious institutions attacked.
At a national level, there is little evidence of contact between the Board of Deputies and the Muslim Council of Britain. Before I left the MCB in 2010 I had been trying to promote dialogue but with limited success. However I believe that changes are happening below the level of national umbrella organisations. The activities of smaller organisations operating both nationally (such as the Three Faiths Forum and the Joseph Interfaith Foundation), locally (such as the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester) and also individual activity which modern technology permits all show Muslims and Jews coming together increasingly often. That is because many Muslims and Jews recognise that in Britain an increasingly secular society presents major challenges which are better tackled together.
The Israel / Palestine question has always had the power to divide British Muslims and Jews. However it need not be a barrier to cooperation. Muslims and Jews need to learn to compartmentalise; people can disagree about Middle East policy while still coming together to pursue mutual interests in the UK.