Two years ago this month, in the wake of the Hyper Cacher terror attack in France and the killing of a guard outside the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen, a group of Muslims in Oslo decided to take action, forming what they called a “ring of peace” around the city’s main synagogue. “We want to demonstrate that Jews and Muslims do not hate each other,” one of the organizers said.
Last week, just days after a terror attack at Quebec City’s Islamic Cultural Centre that left six dead and many more injured, hundreds of Canadian Jews organized to make a similar statement, and on Friday, Feb. 3, they formed their own rings of peace around Muslim institutions. In Toronto, 300 Jews gathered outside the Imdadul Islamic Centre, welcoming mid-day worshippers with a message of peace and unity.
It was one of at least seven such gatherings in the city that day. Meanwhile, in the Montreal suburb of Dollard des Ormeaux, 50 people, mostly from Congregation Beth Tikvah, joined hands outside the Canadian Islamic Centre al-Jamieh. They carried signs saying “We Stand with our Muslim Brothers and Sisters/Love & Empathy Must Prevail” and “Unissons contre le haine” (“Unite against hate”).
By all indications, their presence was appreciated. “We feel we don’t have to face this all alone, that we have friends in faith groups who’ve come together in this time of need,” one mosque leader in Toronto said.
The deadly attack in Quebec City, coupled with America’s on-again, off-again travel and immigration bans against seven Muslim-majority countries, had many people thinking seriously about Islamophobia, and in this week’s Canadian Jewish News, we take a close look at how Jews are responding to the uptick in violence and often-racist rhetoric that Muslims in Canada are facing.
Is Islamophobia the new anti-Semitism? And do Jews have a particular responsibility to speak up? (Progressive Jewish groups certainly believe Jews have a duty to support their Muslim neighbours. As Barbara Landau, a co-founder of the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, tells The CJN’s Ron Csillag in this week’s cover story, “Jews have been vulnerable to irrational hatred for centuries, and therefore, our experience enhances our empathy and responsibility to speak out when others experience racism and faith-based prejudice.”
But others, like University of Toronto professor David Novak, question the validity of the term “Islamophobia,” especially considering “the problem of what has been called Islamicist terrorism, which certainly cannot be blamed on Islam, but certainly a lot of Islamic theology seems to lend itself to that.”
Novak adds: “Jews look to a certain degree with suspicion on Muslims, because Muslims largely come from countries that are the enemies of the Jewish state and Jewish People.”
Clearly, the topic of Islamophobia engenders passionate, disparate opinions in the Jewish community, encompassing our own history of persecution, as well as our hopes and fears regarding Israel. Whether or not those concerns should affect our reaction to what happened in Quebec City, and what continues to happen south of the border, remains a pressing question. Last Friday, as they formed their rings of peace outside Canadian mosques, many Canadian Jews offered their own answer.