On April 21, 2018, an open letter was published in France by Le Parisien under the title “Manifesto against the new anti-Semitism”. The manifesto was written by the former director of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Philippe Val, and signed by more than 250 famous authors, journalists, and politicians. Interestingly enough, former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Ministers Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve were also among the signatories of this strange text.
The manifesto claims that, based on recent attacks on members of the Jewish community, a new anti-Semitism is rising in France and implies that Muslims are responsible for it. The text opens with the declaration that “anti-Semitism is a problem for everyone, not just Jews,” stating that the country has become a deadly theatre of anti-Semitism and adding that “France without the Jews is no longer France because French history, for geographic, religious, philosophical, and juridical reasons, is deeply linked to various cultures among which Jewish thought is decisive.”
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Those who wrote this manifesto are perhaps unaware that they are contributing to the marginalisation of nearly six million Muslims living in France, who on top of suffering the consequences of widespread Islamophobia, are now standing accused of being responsible for anti-Semitism as a whole. The signatories of this manifesto did not only blame Muslims but also claimed that Islam and its holy book, the Quran, are tools used to encourage anti-Semitic crimes.
The manifesto ends with these sentences: “The verses of the Quran calling for murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers must be struck to obsolescence by religious authorities, as were the inconsistencies of the Bible and Catholic anti-Semitism abolished by the Second Vatican Council, so that no believer can rely on a sacred text to commit a crime. We expect French Islam to lead the way.”
This call is extremely ignorant in three ways.
First: There has never been a proposition to make obsolete phrases that supposedly evoke anti-Semitism from the Christian sacred texts in the Second Vatican Council document nor any other.
Second: The Quran is not a book that commands the killing or the punishment of Jews, Christians or non-believers because of their beliefs. In Islam, human life is sacred.
Third: There is no church nor council in Islam. It is not individuals and institutions that constitute religious authority in Islam, but the book itself. Nobody can touch a single letter of the Quran. This book is under the protection of God.
I will briefly explain each one of these.
As it is known, the Second Vatican Council convened between 1962 and 1965 to adapt the Catholic Church and its institutions to the modern world. In order to put an end to rising anti-Semitism in Europe, Pope John XXIII assigned one of his cardinals the task of preparing a document that regulates relations with Jews.
The scope of the document was extended to include Muslims and members of other religions, over the concern that it would damage the relations with them. The document was published under the name Nostra Aetate, or the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council. This document called for Christians, and especially Catholics, to establish dialogue with non-Christians. The fourth article of this document is about Jews, and nowhere in this document is there a proposal or suggestion to make obsolete anti-Semitic expressions from the Christian sacred texts, contrary to the claims of the manifesto.
It can be argued that members of the Roman Catholic Church were, directly and indirectly, responsible for spreading anti-Semitic ideas. When European countries began to grant Jews equal rights in the 19th century, the biggest objection came from Roman Catholic Church leadership. Pius XII, who served as the pope during the Nazi genocide, had been a cardinal in Germany beforehand and had allied with Adolf Hitler in 1933.
The Nostra Aetate was prepared to regulate the relations of Catholic Christians with Jews to reduce the intensity of the anti-Semitic wave, which originated in the Middle Ages and peaked with the Holocaust during World War II. But as one can see, the Second Vatican Council does not even imply that passages from the Christian holy texts should be made obsolete.
The claims made in the manifesto, suggesting that the Quran commands the killing of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers are absurd since Allah Almighty commands Muslims in the Holy Quran (Mumtahanah, 7) to protect the innocent and act justly towards them regardless of their religious or ethnic identities. I want to remind the people making these accusations of three important acts of kindness shown to the Jewish community by the very Muslims whose holy book is accused of commanding their killing:
1 – When the Jews in and near Roman-occupied Jerusalem rebelled against Rome in 66 AD, the Romans not only quelled it but also destroyed the Second Temple. When the Jewish rebellion led by Simon bar Kokhba against Rome between 132-135 AD was defeated, this time the Romans expelled the Jews from Jerusalem and banned them from living in the city. Even after the adoption of Christianity, Roman emperors kept the ban. But after Caliph Omar bin Khattab conquered Jerusalem in 637, he gave Jews the freedom to enter the city as they pleased.
2 – When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, they massacred many of the Muslims and Jews in the city and expelled the rest. Salah ed-Din took Jerusalem back from the Crusaders in 1187 and allowed the Jews to return.
3 – After Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon ordered the expulsion of Spain’s Jewish population in the late 15th century, about 100,000 Jews, facing conversion o Christianity or death, took refuge in the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
These three events clearly show that Muslims, who today stand accused of anti-Semitism, helped Jews and gave them refuge. If the Quranic verses the authors of the manifesto want to delete existed before these three events, and if Muslims are supposedly ordered to kill Jews by those verses, then why have Muslims disobeyed this command and chosen to support Jews and protect them when they faced oppression by the Christians?
Trying to marginalise not just the history of Islam, but also all of its sacred values and depict them as the source of evil by focusing on a vile and murderous “terror” organisation like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a result of reasoning infused with Islamophobia is both irrational and unfair.
Should Muslims understand the West and judge its values on the basis of its history of genocides, Nazism or colonisation? Absolutely not! Because throughout history, there have been and will be murderers and murderous gangs without any belief in values. But Islam teaches us to protect our values and respect those of others. One only needs to look at the basic principles of Islamic law to understand this fact.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.