Agreement and understanding aren’t concepts that usually come to mind when the issue of Muslim-Jewish relations is brought up these days. The two communities have much to disagree about politically, and opportunities for genuine dialogue have been few and far between. But there’s hardly been a more critical time for Jews and Muslims to come together than now.
Across North America and Europe, both in the halls of power and on the streets, incidents of anti-Semitism are on the rise. Bigotry against people of colour, millions of whom are Muslims who reside in the West, is also on the rise. A 28-year-old man in Quebec City killed six Muslims in cold blood last year. Meanwhile, members of the so-called “alt-right” call for the creation a “white ethnostate” that’s free from the corrupting influence of Muslims and Jews.
Canada isn’t immune to the allure of far-right populist rhetoric. It has already began to shape the contours of our politics, locally and nationally. A poll conducted earlier this year by Ekos Research and The Canadian Press showed that just 46 per cent of Canadians express views that amount to a tolerant and open-minded perspective of the world and of each other. Whatever this means going forward, the effects will have serious, possibly long-term consequence for both Jews and Muslims.
Coming together to face this rising wave of hate requires both communities to commit to a level of honest introspection. Leaders from both groups must address any problems stemming from their own community that result in hatred toward the other side. Now is as good a time as any to seek common ground. This doesn’t mean overlooking areas of profound disagreement, as sweeping such issues under the rug will simply exacerbate whatever negative effects they may have on future relations. Rather, both communities must work to decide which issues can be momentarily put aside, so that we may come together.
Those issues are not going away, and terms like Zionism and Islamophobia still represent wedge issues that are unlikely to be neatly resolved in the near future. But a conversation between Muslims and Jews can still be had without either side compromising on their principals. This must be the broader goal.
Both the Canadian Jewish and Muslim communities are faith-based and share a religious outlook that’s constantly being negotiated within secular contexts throughout the Western world. This is a baseline of common experience that can be explored, in order to establish a deeper sense of empathy and understanding between the two communities. Issues related to education, religious leadership, advocacy and even security – something that has become a real priority for many minority communities in North America – could benefit greatly from cross-communal exchange and pollination.
Several community organizers have already begun this process. Leaders on both sides have started a conversation about what more can be done to bring Muslims and Jews closer together. Next week, leading figures in both communities will discuss this question publicly in Toronto, in the hopes of sparking a positive long-term relationship.
There is little, if anything, to be gained – for either Muslims or Jews – by trying to sabotage the other side in bad faith. There are serious cases of political disagreement, and members of both communities will find each other on opposite sides when the chips fall on some important issues. But there is also much more to be gained through dignified and honest co-operation. It shouldn’t take the troubling rise of neo-fascist populism across the Western world to force both sides toward mutual support, but here we are.
Steven Zhou is a Muslim journalist based in Toronto who focuses on national security issues. Follow him on Twitter: @stevenzzhou.