Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 16, 2024

Condemn antisemitism and Islamophobia with equal measure: a different call for solidarity

By ARUSA MALIK | May 16, 2024


Editor’s Note, 2024: This op-ed was written in early May and was delayed in publication.

Observing the past year's events unfold, I never thought I would write something like this nor that the need arise. Regardless I find it important to remind the Hopkins community, along with myself as I put my thoughts on paper, about the importance of condemning hatred from any direction and toward any direction. I will not try to avow a moral high ground nor advocate for how the geopolitics of the Middle East should operate. Those are discussions to be had through deliberate and organized dialogue. My intention is to call for solidarity against acts of Islamophobia and antisemitism alike, something easier said than done. 

My understanding of solidarity is to stand for a cause or shared interest, united. Across the world, in the U.S. and, now, on university campuses, various calls for solidarity are being made. Solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom have lost their lives, futures, homes and continue to do so. Solidarity with Israelis, who were the victims of an intentional and painful attack in October. Don’t get me wrong, solidarity is important and necessary, especially when it comes to highlighting the sheer humanity at stake during this devastating war. But why is it so difficult to stand in solidarity against acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia, simultaneously? 

The rise of a far-right Israeli government, along with an extremist government in control of Gaza, has not only exacerbated political tensions but also augmented religious ones. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself claimed his “hands [were] tied” when making foreign policy decisions since he relied on Knesset support from his coalition, which consists of far-right, Zionist and religious leaders such as Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir and Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich. On the other side of the Erez crossing is Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, better known as Hamas. Established as a political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, Hamas’s charter calls for “an Islamic society in historic Palestine” through any means necessary, including physical violence. The organization was officially categorized as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997 by the U.S. Department of State. On the ground, conflict is not defined by the creed of Judaism or Islam. It is defined by the governance of Israel and Hamas. Note that Hamas governs solely Gaza while the West Bank is governed by the Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority

With differing political objectives and keen religious leadership heightening those tensions, the war between Hamas and Israel is viewed as a religious conflict between Jews and Muslims rather than a political one over occupation of land and borders. Both Jews and Muslims have legitimate claims to the Holy Land, and leadership from both sides use religion as pretext for their actions. In discerning the conflict as religious, Muslims and Jews are pitted against each other, something that is being reflected in the U.S. today. Alan Dowty wrote in Israel/Palestine that, as the early conflict progressed, it created religious tension; however, it was not rooted in a clash of religions. Thus, viewing the conflict as political rather than primarily religious is helpful in defusing divides that accompany fanaticism. 

Since October 2023, reported bias incidents against both Jews and Muslims have been on the rise. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) received 1,283 bias reports and requests for help between October 7 and November 4 of 2023. Compared to reports submitted over one month in 2022, this value represented a 216% increase in complaints. More recently, with student protests appearing on college campuses, the use of derogatory slurs  against Muslim and Jewish students have increased. Female students who wear the hijab and present as outwardly Muslim have been a frequent target of such incidents. Of course, we can’t forget the story of Wadea Al Fayoume, the six-year-old boy stabbed 26 times in Illinois simply for being Muslim. 

Similarly — and equally as unfortunate —  antisemitic incidents surged 360% over a three-month span after Hamas attacked according to the Anti-Defamation League. Hundreds of incidents have been reported against Jewish institutions on college campuses, and about two-thirds of all incidents were attributed to repercussions of the Israel-Hamas war. The reemergence of harmful Jewish tropes and even a Jewish residence hall’s getting set on fire are just a few of the hate-motivated incidents the Jewish community has endured. Antisemitism has contributed to Jewish individuals’ feeling so unsafe that some choose not to wear symbols of Judaism outwardly as it may invite undesired confrontation.

This is unacceptable and intolerable. No one should feel as though they are being targeted for practicing their religion on a university campus. That being said, bigotry has become a lamentable externality of the Israel-Hamas war. It is a reality we are currently dealing with. 

There is a hypothesis for taking sides on questions of moral judgement. Peter DeScioli, a professor of moral and political psychology at Stony Brook University, explains that “moral judgment takes as input a person's action and computes as output a wrongness value for that action.” He argues that the establishment of a rigid binary framework used to define what is "right and wrong" leads to political extremism. DeScioli hypothesizes that moral judgment is often used to take sides in a conflict, further dividing people and dissipating room for cooperation. 

This leads me to a simple conclusion: Don’t pick sides in regard to condemning Islamophobia and antisemitism. This may seem straightforward, but, in practice, it's quite difficult. I fully recognize there are personal, familial and spiritual ties to all that is transpiring. That being said, as difficult as it may be, I encourage us to look beyond those ties and consider the humanity of those around us. 

Rebuking antisemitism and Islamophobia are not mutually exclusive, binary choices. Having sympathy for the Palestinians who are now displaced in Gaza or the Israelis who have missing loved ones is valuable. Taking peaceful actions to demonstrate your solidarity is valuable as well. It spurs hope for those who may have lost it within the U.S. and abroad while demonstrating commitment to a cause that is personal for many. 

When it comes to identifying and denouncing hateful actions that your peers, neighbors or friends may be facing, do not be selective. Students of all identities, faiths and backgrounds should strive to practice this. Call out antisemitism with the same fervor with which you would call out Islamophobia, and call out Islamophobia with the same fervor with which you would call out antisemitism. At its core, the current situation is a struggle over power and land. Do not let semantics and rhetoric make you think it is an intrinsically religious conflict or one that warrants bigotry toward Jews and Muslims. 

As a Muslim student, I call for my peers of all faiths and identities to stand in solidarity with Jewish and Muslim students alike across the country, especially here at Hopkins. Next time you say something, share something or hit that repost button... bear in mind your Jewish or Muslim classmate, and think about both of them.

Arusa Malik is a sophomore from Crofton, Md. majoring in International Studies and Political Science

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