Many thanks to a reader who produced an improved translation of this Aftenposten article.
We have demonized the Jews
Sara Azmeh Rasmussen spoke of her own anti-Semitic past in anarticle in Our Country in April. Now she will confront it.
Social commentator and a freelance writer Sara Azmeh Rasmussen does not deny that it has been difficult to tell what she was a part of. She is concerned about the anti-semitism she sees among Arab and Muslims, but feels that she must openly tell about her own past.
For me it is impossible to talk about anti-Semitic attitudes as the humanist I am today, without making my past known, she says.
From 1991 to 1993 she was a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), a party that in addition to being nationalist and supporter of a Greater Syria, is a party that is clearly racist.
– I have decided to take a stand, because it has even guided my university study choices, and I am ashamed that it took me so long she says.
– The party is racist and anti-Jewish. What was it that attracted you to it?
– Syria was a very closed country. Syria is a dictatorship. I was in opposition to the regime and at the same time afraid of the Islamists’ rising popularity. What appealed to me was wiping out the ethnic and religious divides. And the gender perspective was essential. Members of the party listened to religious minorities and had a more liberal view of gender norms.
– You left after just two years?
– There were complex reasons. I was disillusioned and realized that there was a difference between ideals and reality. The demand for discipline, which I initially perceived as a safety, was difficult to accept.
Today, the SSNP has opportunities to work more openly in Syria. It is represented in the Syrian parliament, and it also has two members in the Lebanese parliament.
– It is very alarming that a fascist party with a racist ideology, should be so popular. I can find explanations for why many young people are attracted to it. It is a secular party, and many perceive Islamism as a threat to their way of life and freedom. But at the bottom it is an irrational and dangerous ideology that links rights to race.
Azmeh Rasmussen does not see this kind of fascist anti-Semitism in our part of Europe.
– More prominent here is the Islamic, religious-based anti-Semitism that exists in the Arab and Muslim communities.
– Is it increasing in the Norwegian society?
– Hatred of Jews has long flourished in dictatorships in the Middle East that needed an external enemy. Islamism has had a period of growth and use the Israel-Palestine conflict to strengthen its position. In sum, there is more hatred of Jews, but with different rationales. This hase come with immigration to Europe, where it is channeled through cooperation between extremist groups. In Norway, I can mention the Blitz and the Red Party. And at times, SV is not anti-Israeli but anti-Semitic in their statements. Thus, anti-Semitism in Europe is more visible.
– It’s a pretty serious accusation against the Norwegian political parties.
– Yes, but let’s take SV. When there is call for boycott of Israeli goods and academics, as it creates often indirectly a picture
of Israel and Jews as an aggressive and militant people who just want to crush and kill their opponents. There goes all the nuances of what is happening on the ground.
– How can the clearly racist attitudes countered?
– I have no faith in suppressing the problems. We must have transparency on the fact that they exist. It is certain that there is growing anti-Semitism, especially among immigrants from countries with Muslim majority. We need more information aimed at those communities and we need an open debate and dialogue. My main motivation when I
said I was a Jew hater and extremist, is that there is no way around a critique of anti-Semitism among the people who have roots in the Middle East. Europe is a good starting point for such work.
– Can this have any bearing on the fronts in the Middle East?
– Yes, I think. For me it is not about just easing my conscience. Now we have new peace negotiations. It is important that Arabs and Israelis sits around the same table, but I do not think it can lead to peace without beeing supplemented by work on the myths that stand so deep. In the Islamic religious tradition there are End Times stories which say that the Jews will be slaughtered to the last man. We must do something about this. We have demonized the Jews, and we must now
refine the picture of them.
– But if we look at the Middle East conflict is not covered both sides fairly nuanced?
– I respond to that part of the left does not make the same moral demands of Arabs and Muslims that they impose on the Israelis. They say they are the weaker party, and the weak should not expect so much. It is stigmatizing for both.
– Negotiation – The situation looks bad, and the way long?
– What we have talked about is an important key to peace. Here in Norway we can realize the severity of Jew hatred and work with it. I think it may be a drop in the ocean, but that it is needed to resolve the conflict.