Haras Rafiq, the interim managing director of ISGAP (Institute for Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy) and a trustee of the UK charity Muslims Against Antisemitism. He has been a counter-extremism and counter-terrorism expert since 2004.
As a youngster in school in the 1970s, I remember one of the most harrowing lessons in history class—that of Nazi Germany: its warped ideology, its colonial ambitions, and the crimes it committed against humanity, the most disturbing of which was the genocide of European Jews, referred to as the Holocaust or Shoah (Catastrophe). Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically tortured and murdered approximately six million Jews across German-occupied Europe. The murders were carried out in pogroms and mass shootings; by a policy of extermination in concentration camps; and in gas chambers and gas vans in German extermination camps.
I just couldn’t understand how human beings could be so evil and how the world had allowed it to happen.
Further reading as a young adult, highlighted to me that antisemitism was not a new phenomenon in the twentieth century but had been around for thousands of years and was probably one of the oldest forms of xenophobia still in existence. Later on in my life, I came to the realisation that whenever it took hold in a society, the hatred started with the Jews, but it never ended there. It is a good barometer for society’s health and Nazi Germany was the most recent example of that. Hitlers’ Germany stared with the Jews but didn’t end there, committing many atrocities against many groups as it conquered almost the whole of Europe.
Fast forward to the 2022. As a British Muslim, I find that antisemitism is once again at a critical mass, but this time the charge is not being led by Nazis but by Islamists, spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood, who believe that they are doing “God’s work”, aided by the political far-Left. But this isn’t only a problem for the United Kingdom; this trend is being replicated around the world.
Take the recent case of Malik Faisal Akram, the British Islamist terrorist who decided to leave his family and friends in the UK to travel to the US and undertake a siege at a synagogue to try to force the U.S. government to release a convicted Islamist terrorist linked to Al-Qaeda, Aafia Siddiqui. I argued in an op-ed that his selection of the synagogue as a legitimate target was driven by antisemitism that has taken root in many Muslim communities driven by Islamism and my case was later proven by the release of his last phone call with his family, who tried to talk him down. He hated Jews and believed antisemitic conspiracy theories.
I have mentioned the far-Left, but the rot goes further, even making its way into the broader “progressive” Left. An example of this is the British Labour Party under its previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, when a lot of influence was exercised by an organisation called Momentum. There were numerous complaints of antisemitism and an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) identified serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process of handling antisemitism complaints. A report by the UK’s human rights watchdog found Labour to be responsible for “unlawful” acts of harassment and discrimination during Corbyn’s tenure as party leader. Many commentators, including Lord Clive Soley, a Labour peer and a former MP and Chair of the party, argued that the mainstream centre-Left Labour Party had become institutionally antisemitic.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Corbyn met Hamas officials in Israel and Palestine in 2010; chaired a panel at an event in Qatar with the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal in April 2012; and then invited leading Hamas activists and supporters to a meeting in the House of Commons in March 2015. Also, Labour’ s then-Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, Seamus Milne, had long been a supporter of Islamism and argued that the “war on ‘Islamism’ only fuels hatred and violence”, while praising the antisemitic Hamas.
Our societies are now faced with what some former colleagues and I termed the “triple threat”: a three-pronged ideological attack from Islamism, the far-Right, and the far-Left. All three have now been associated with colonial aspirations (ISIS being the recent Islamist showing), carrying out heinous crimes against humanity, and all three have one thing in common—they all hate jews. Antisemitism is used as a recruitment strategy by all three of these and has become the fuel that drives these ideologies. Islamism and its hitherto unchecked advance into Muslim communities, as well as the Left, has played a major role in this. Ideological entryism has spread in all aspects of our civil society—right across the board, from politics to the universities, elements of the mainstream media to social media, religion, and grassroots organizations.
But the fightback against this particular scourge has taken shape in the Middle East. Countries such as the UAE and Bahrain have signed the Abraham Accords and a further four countries have normalised relations with Israel. This has led to a change in people-to-people relationships between the signatory countries and bilateral initiatives within the private sector and civil society. It is more difficult to see people as “the other” and to hate them when they are cooperating in these types of initiatives.
Holocaust Memorial Day or Holocaust Remembrance Day is an annual observance to commemorate the victims of the Shoah. The majority of countries around the world have chosen 27 January, the anniversary of the day Nazi control of the Auschwitz concentration camp was broken in 1945, while other countries have selected separate dates, often related to national events during the Holocaust.
It is a time to remember the dead but also to reflect and seek to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own—it’s a steady process, which can only get going if discrimination, racism, and hatred are not checked and prevented.
It was encouraging that, in 2021, the UAE and Bahrain held Holocaust Memorial Day events where Jews and Muslims lit six candles in memory of the six million who perished, declared that they are standing together against extremism, and that, “We will not forget.” The same year, the UAE opened a Holocaust memorial exhibition, the first of its kind in the Middle East. The display aims to raise awareness among Dubai’s residents and tourists of the horrors of Nazi Germany’s extermination of Jews and other minorities and explores the chain of events leading up to the Holocaust and includes a special tribute to Arabs who defended and saved Jews. There is hope for the Middle East region.
In Arabic, the word for human being is ‘insan’. Linguists say that the word has two roots: the first one is “nisyân”, which means “to forget”, and the second is “unsiyah”, which means “to relate”, “to love”/“be loved”, or “to become close to”. “Insan” can thus be translated as “loves to forget”. And too many human beings around the world continue to forgot the lessons of the Shoah.
It is for this reason that Holocaust Memorial Day is so important, lest we forget (again and again) the evil that has preceded us, and we continue to allow it to fester and re-emerge.
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