European Muslim Antisemitism

Why Young Urban Males Say They Don't Like Jews

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Günther Jikeli
Studies in Antisemitism
  • Bloomington, IN: 
    Indiana University Press
    , January
     360 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This book is superb. Based on 117 interviews with young Muslim males in Paris, London, and Berlin, it is an attempt to determine why, put bluntly, Muslims in Europe hate Jews. The book confines itself to males and to young males. The degree of religiosity among the author’s subjects varies, but all deem themselves devout. Also, the book limits itself to big cities. The author explains these limitations sensibly. He did not interview more persons because the answers to his questions were almost always the same. There should therefore be no issue of the representativeness of his sample.

Güther Jikeli, a research fellow at Potsdam University and at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, does not quite write on the scale of the Frankfurt School’s Authoritarian Personality (1950), the classic psychological explanation of fascism. (Jikeli does quote Theodor Adorno, the key author of the book, at the end.) Except for a brief consideration of the mechanism of projection on the part of his subjects, Jikeli does not seek the psychological source of their prejudice. He enumerates dozens of possible social causes, such as family influence, level of education, and income. His correlations, which he proposes as causes, are less questionable than obvious. Less obvious is his argument that antisemitism among his interviewees is greater in Berlin than in Paris or London.

For Jikeli, no one sociological cause explains all of the antisemitism. The prime cause is ideological. Islam instills hatred of Jews, and that view is combined with hatred of Israel. Jikeli’s subjects ignore any distinction between Jews and Israelis. At the same time the existence of Israel turns out not to be the main source of contemporary hatred of Jews. Jikeli notes, for example, that Turkish Muslims are far less obsessed with Israel than Arab Mulsims are. Antisemitism stemming from Islam gets combined with classic antisemitic stereotypes that have nothing specifically to do with Islam, such as the belief that all Jews are rich or dishonest.

Jikeli does not mince words. Antisemitism is not mere anti-Zionism, itself a form of prejudice. Given the preposterous justifications his interviewees offer, it is irrational. It is not based at all on fact. Rather, it is based on fantasy. And the degree of antisemitism among Muslims far outweighs the degree of antisemitism among Christians, even when Muslims adopt such traditional Christian fantasies as the supposed inclination of Jews to kill others’ children.

Even in the face of the prevalence of antisemitism among his subjects, Jikeli does not despair.  He never claims that all young urban Muslims, let alone all Muslims, are antisemitic. He devotes his final chapter to interviewees who reject antisemitism. And he sees education as a remedy for prejudice.

But to see antisemitism as treatable by education, whether formal or informal, is to assume an idealistic view that goes all the way back to Plato: that evil stems from ignorance rather than from weak will. In other words, antisemitism, like all forms of prejudice, supposedly comes from not knowing better. Surely the crazy charges made against Jews by Jikeli’s subjects derive from more than ignorance. That today’s Oxford University Student Labour Party espouses brazen antisemitism with glee shows that education is not the solution.

As carefully researched as Jikeli’s book is, it confirms rather than challenges what is conventionally assumed about antisemitism. While Jikeli does spurn antisemitism as fantasy, he does not try to work out the kind of thinking that creates and accepts the fantasy.

Still, Jikeli presents the most thorough and systematic study of his topic to date.  He writes pellucidly and calmly. The topic aside, his book is a pleasure to read.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Robert A. Segal is Professor of Religious Studies at University of Aberdeen.

Date of Review: 
May 30, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Günther Jikeli is a research fellow at the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies, Potsdam University and at the Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (GSRL/CNRS), Paris.



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