Provincial Synod

“Defining Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism”

The following motivation for the Synod resolution on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism was presented by the Right Revd Brian Marajh, Bishop of George, and Bishop-Elect of Kimberley and Kuruman:

Your Grace, members of Provincial Synod, 

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has gone on record many times, including at this Synod, to state that “all forms of Antisemitism and Islamophobia should be condemned in the strongest terms”. But what is Islamophobia and Antisemitism and what are we condemning in the strongest terms?

In many respects, Islamophobia cannot be separated from modern Antisemitism because they share similar traits, most noticeably racism based on perceived racial features, ethnic appearances, and cultural practices. 

Black South Africans know all too well what it is like to be profiled on this basis, something that was formalized under Apartheid, but continues to this day in many spaces dominated by a White gaze, like historical Whites’ only suburbs. Many of us sitting in this Provincial Synod from South Africa have experienced racism so can sympathize with the motion set before us. But other countries in ACSA have had their share of colonial oppression, so can also relate to the problem of discrimination based on race or religion.

September 11 this year marked twenty years since planes were flown into the Twin Towers and Pentagon buildings in the United States of America. Muslims in America and many other parts of the Western world faced increased Islamophobia. Political and social reactions to September 11 fueled ignorance, bigotry and violence towards Muslims. Young Muslims have experienced being bullied and intimated in schools and universities, often with the taunt to “Go back to your country”, despite being born in, and citizens of, their home country.  

Before September 11 (2001), Muslims were like many others in a random melting pot of cultures in Western countries. After September 11, they felt as if they were viewed as terrorists simply because they were Muslim. Muslim’s reported being treated with suspicion or called names in public spaces, or repeatedly singled out by airport security to this day. Sikh men (who wear turbans as part of their religion) were mistaken for being Muslim and so also became a target, because they conformed to a Westernised concept of Muslims.  You do not therefore have to be Muslim to be a victim of Islamophobia, you simply have to look like somebody else’s concept of one.

All the countries in ACSA have a Muslim presence.  Yet Muslims, in many respects, battle to be treated as equal citizens in these countries. In some countries Islam is not recognized as an official state religion.  Muslim women experience being ridiculed for wearing the hijab. Muslim young people encounter resistance to them wearing a head scarf or sporting a beard in schools. In South Africa, a mosque in Kalk Bay was smeared with pig’s blood and one in Simon’s Town had a pig’s snout placed at its entrance. 

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance defines Islamophobia as,

“a fear, prejudice and hatred of Muslims or non-Muslim individuals that leads to provocation, hostility and intolerance by means of threatening, harassment, abuse, incitement and intimidation of Muslims and non-Muslims, both in the online and offline world. Motivated by institutional, ideological, political and religious hostility that transcends into structural and cultural racism which targets the symbols and markers of a being a Muslim.”

No definition is perfect, yet this definition is recognized by the United Nations as a good starting point and we can therefore surmise it is also a good starting point for this Provincial Synod.

In regard to Antisemitism, Jewish people have been a very small minority in Southern Africa from the earliest days of colonialization. Within the British Empire they were treated as second class citizens. This did not change with the rise of Afrikaner nationalism and the same ideology that gave rise to Apartheid racism also fueled Antisemitism.  Although Jews were accorded the status of “Europeans”, they were not accepted as equals in White society and several sports club, for example, had an exclusive “Europeans Only and No Jews” policy. Speaking about South Africa, DF Malan, in an interview with a newspaper in 1931, said, “it is very easy to rouse a feeling of hate towards the Jews in this country.”  

Despite the tragedy of the Holocaust and an international commitment to fight Antisemitism, antisemitic incidents have recently risen to levels not seen since World War II. Extreme Antisemitic content is found across a range of social media platforms, with comments such as ‘#HitlerWasRight’, ‘Happy Holocaust’, and ‘Peace be upon Hitler’.  

Jews in recent years have been intimidated for wearing jewelry that is identifiably Jewish or religious clothing associated with being Jewish. Even non-Jews have become victims because of being mistaken for being Jewish. For example, a Lebanese Christian was attacked in Los Angeles earlier this year – this is like a Sikh person being attacked for looking like a Muslim! The largest percentage of hate crimes against a minority in America are now against Jewish people.

Sadly, Jewish people in Southern Africa have not been exempt from this ugly trend.

Like Islamophobia, a definition of Antisemitism is equally hard to quantify, but the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance recommends the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

These two definitions are set before this Provincial Synod in the motion “Defining Islamophobia and Antisemitism” so that the Anglican church is empowered to identify and condemn Islamophobia and Antisemitism in the strongest terms, as stated at our previous Provincial Synod.

I therefore propose this motion for adoption.

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