This article was translated from Dutch and originally published in De Standaard on the 12th of February
By Ronny Naftaniel, Vice-president of CEJI
Surely they are often viewed as a scapegoat, but not a single European country has introduced race laws in order to discriminate against Muslims. Ronny Naftaniel is astonished that Rachida Aziz compares their position with that of the Jews "before the War".
In her opinion piece "Moslims zijn de nieuwe Joden" (Muslims are the new Jews), Rachida Aziz pleads for a more nuanced view of Muslims and Islam in our society ([Belgian newspaper] De Standaard 6 February). She believes that there is a kind of obsession with Muslims and gives examples of incidents in which wrongdoing was incorrectly blamed on all Muslims.
Drawing stereotypes about an entire group of people can never be defended. Regrettably, this happens far too often, partly due to the influx of refugees coming from the Middle East. These refugees are not coming here with the intention of raping women or to undermine our western values and norms, as some voices maliciously insist; rather, they are largely victims of the most violent conflict of this century and are simply looking for safety.
However, fighting this stereotype does not justify playing down events or misusing history. And that is precisely what Rachida Aziz is doing. She refers to a number of incidents of which Muslims were wrongly accused, such as the removal of pictures of pigs. While this may have occurred, these incidents are hardly determinative of people's image of Muslims.
Remaining silent about terrorism
What really matters is a string of terror attacks on European soil which were committed in the name of Islam. These attacks give rise to fear in the hearts of ordinary European citizens and have brought about a security situation which is tearing our communities apart. But Aziz stifles about the terror attacks.
Building on the words of the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme (French national consultative human rights commission), Aziz claims that "if you compare today with the period before the War, you could say that Muslims have replaced the Jews in our imagination and in the construct of the scapegoat". In saying this, she completely ignores the fact that antisemitism is still a daily occurrence, not something that has been "replaced". Yes, it is true that Muslims are often viewed as scapegoats, but this is not less true for the Jews - and especially by Muslims, as has been demonstrated by numerous studies.
And what precisely is meant by "before the War"? Is this a reference to the Weimar Republic in Germany and to 1930s in Belgium, when Jews held countless prominent functions and offices in public life, and got plenty of chances to flourish or to contribute to the societies in which they lived? Or are Aziz and the French commission referring to the situation in Hitler's Germany before the Second World War in which race laws were introduced and the Jews were without legal protection? This seems very unlikely to me, given the fact that there is no legislation currently in place anywhere in Europe that systematically discriminates against Muslims and aims to remove them from public life - even though there may be some politicians who might like to see this happen.
Aziz probably wanted to warn us that if we are not careful, Muslims may face the same fate as the Jews in the Second World War. There is no reason for such a warning. Europe today is far removed from Hitler's Germany. The treatment that Muslims face cannot be compared to antisemitism which is centuries old and often based on religion.
To take a stand against stereotyping Muslims and others, the public debate must unequivocally distance itself from discrimination. Criticism should be expressed if necessary, also if it relates to Muslims' conduct, and we must be continually aware of conscious or unconscious prejudices in our thinking. Our educational system should also have a stronger focus on the democratic, pluralistic society we live in. What we definitely must not do is to play down crimes and intolerance and to misuse history according to our own way of thinking. People see through this immediately and all that it does is cause the message to lose any effect.