Muslims are far from the first “troublesome” minority community to be denigrated and demonised in the West. With a brief (pictorial) look at how Jews in Europe were framed in the last century, br Hamzah Qureshi looks at the parallel between their depiction then and that of Muslims in the west today.
The historical treatment of “troublesome” communities within western states is something Muslims today have much to learn from. While there are numerous examples worthy of mention (e.g. indigenous people in the US, Canada and Australia, Latinos in the US, Communists during the Cold War across the West, Asians and black people in Europe), here the focus will be on the story of Jews in Germany in order to specifically examine certain parallels.
First though, some context. In Europe during the 19th and 20th century, the Jewish question interrogated the status of Jews and soon morphed from a seemingly neutral inquiry into a question of a serious threat. Numerous answers were proposed – resettlement, integration/assimilation, deportation – as Jews were labelled an obstacle to the German nation and the insidious enemy within.
German historian and theologian Bruno Bauer (a student of the renowned German philosopher Hegel) wrote a book called The Jewish Question in 1843. In it, he argued that Jews can achieve political emancipation only if they relinquish their religious consciousness. Soon after, high profile German public figures across the board started to declare that the problem was inherently unsolvable: the Jews needed to go entirely.
What resulted was that Final Solution to the Jewish question– the Holocaust. An attempt to effectively exterminate Jews under Hitler and the Nazis during World War 2. Millions of Jews were killed in the most horrific ways.
Today there undoubtedly exists a Muslim question. The same solutions suggested by experts that were offered for the Jewish question are now being suggested for today’s Muslim – integration, assimilation, deportation and so on. To some, Muslims have become an existential threat, an enemy within and a persistent danger. Muslims are told that in order to be accepted, they must conform to a certain set of values different to their own.
All this begs the confronting question – what will be the Muslim’s final solution? For this, it is instructive to ask how German society was convinced that the answer was in the atrocity of the Holocaust.
The answer is that Jews were concertedly ostracised and demonised, through sensational amplification of what made them different. A bitter wedge was driven between them and mainstream German society. The unspeakable atrocities to come were given a degree of social justification, acceptance even. Jews were depicted to be dirty, ugly, selfish, manipulative and greedy, a scourge on the German nation.
These were some of the Nazi descriptions of Jews:
Compare that to some depictions of Muslims nowadays:
As well as front pages from mainstream Australian papers like The Daily Telegraph:
Bearded, dirty, threatening, violent, blood-thirsty. The similarities between anti-Jewish cartoons in Nazi Germany and cartoons about Muslims in Australia today are startling.
Could it be said that cartoons and publications like the above were not really all that problematic because they were only cartoons or films? Given the dark episode of history that followed, most certainly not. As contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek says, there is no ethnic cleansing without poetry. Yet when demeaning cartoons or films of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) are published, Muslims are told to accept them as products of freedom of speech and only cartoons.
Nowadays, anything and everything to do with Islam and Muslims is open to not just critique or question, but mockery and degradation – and this is what forms the dominant public perception of Muslims. A mere 70 years ago, the very same process helped produce one of the darkest chapters in human history.
Hamzah Qureshi is a Muslim activist based in Sydney and is a spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir. This piece is extracted from a talk he delivered at a recent conference in Sydney.