Islamophobia and Antisemitism: Reflections of an Arab-Jew
21 juni 2017, 20:00 - 22:00 uur
Ella Shohat, an Arab-Jew from a Baghdadi family now living in New York, is a Professor of Cultural Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University. During this event, she will elaborate on the Arab-Jew figure, and her ongoing challenge to the Eurocentric Arab-versus-Jew binary. By addressing the silenced histories of Arab Jews within Muslim spaces, Shohat disrupts the oppositional pairing of ‘Muslim’ and ‘Jew’ and of islamophobia and antisemitism. Islamophobia today, Shohat argues, holds echoes of the anti-Semitic figure of ‘the Jew’. Shohat’s work has shaped a new space to reflect on discourses on Muslims and Jews in Europe, critiquing the isolationist approach in the discussion of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism which also often places these phenomena as in opposition.In current debates, we see that some warn that Islamophobia and racist practices against Muslims are on the rise, pointing out that Muslim women wearing headscarves experience violence, that anti-terrorist measures undermine privacy and human rights of Muslims, and that politicians from mainstream parties (sometimes in the name of Israel or the fight against anti-Semitism) freely express their Islamophobic views. Others express their fears of rising anti-Semitism, pointing to the recent extra police protection of Jewish centers or to the harassment experienced by those wearing Jewish dress in certain neighborhoods with a large Muslim immigrant population. The urgency of concerns about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are emphasized with references to the Holocaust. Such references are also attacked, be it as a marginalization of anti-Semitism or the Holocaust, or on the contrary as a way of silencing any serious and open debate.
This event challenges this opposition by considering the topic of Islamophobia and antisemitism from a postcolonial perspective and by focusing on non-European Jewish and Muslim voices. It departs from the observation that it is not the first time that Islamophobic and anti-Semitic practices are connected: the history of Jews and Muslims (inside and outside of Europe) is intertwined, often in contradictory ways.
Although some now claim Judaism as the part of the essence of Western culture, in the past, European Jews were never fully considered to be part of ‘Western civilization’: Jews were imagined as Oriental (Eastern) Other, as were Muslims. They were labeled barbarian, and had to be civilized, destroyed, or assimilated. When Western European Jews were acknowledged as part of Europe, it was often at the expense of the Oriental Jewish and Muslim Other. To become part of the European project Jews, as Shohat has argued, had to de-Orientalize themselves and were contrasted with Muslims and Jews from the Orient.
Spanning several decades, Professor Shohat’s work has introduced conceptual frameworks that fundamentally challenged conventional understandings of Palestine, Zionism and the Middle East, focusing on the pivotal figure of the Arab-Jew. Defying the binarist and Eurocentric Arab-versus-Jew rendering of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Shohat’s work has dared to engage with the deeper historical and cultural questions swirling around post/colonialism, Orientalism and nationalism. Shohat’s paradigm-shifting work unpacks such fraught issues as the anomalies of the national/colonial in Zionist discourse; the narrating of Jewish pasts in Muslim spaces; the links and distinctions between the dispossession of the Nakba and the dislocation of Arab-Jews; the traumatic memories triggered by partition and border-crossing; the echoes within Islamophobia of the anti-Semitic figure of ‘the Jew’; and the efforts to imagine a possible future inter-communal ‘convivencia’. Shohat’s transdisciplinary perspective illuminates the cultural politics in and around the Middle East, forming part of her larger project of the decolonization of knowledge.
In a conversation with Shohat, Matthea Westerduin and Yolande Jansen explore in what way the perspective of these silenced voices and histories (of both Oriental Jews and Muslims) shed new light on today’s position of Muslims and Jews in Europe and the Middle East.
After the interview with Shohat, Annelies Moors, Ivan Kalmar and Nasar Meer will join the conversation in a roundtable.
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