As the situation in Palestine teeters precariously on the edge of chaos, the world is bracing itself for the long-term reactions that are bound to follow. Almost as soon as the fighting in Palestine began to escalate, there were fears that acts of reprisal and copy-cat violence would occur in other parts of the world. Sadly, the negative prognosis has proven to be true, and once again we are forced to the conclusion that in the face of mounting crises, the Muslim world's worst enemy are some Muslims themselves.
In Europe the reaction to the Palestinian crisis has been a cautious, if uneven one. The premier of France was one of the first to condemn the killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces, while the leadership of Germany remains at odds with itself- unable to comment decisively thanks to its own problematic relationship with Israel, the Jewish diaspora and its own painful past. Britain, as always, dithers as it waits to echo the fatwas of Washington.
But the governments of Europe are not only concerned about the state of affairs in Palestine and Israel. Closer to home there is also the real danger that the violence in Palestine will have serious repercussions in terms of race and inter-religious relations within Europe itself, where both Muslims and Jews make up substantial and influential minorities. In France, where Muslims make up the biggest religious minority, there have already been a spate of anti-Semitic attacks and acts of aggression against Jewish synagogues. In Germany, angry Muslim youth have also attacked synagogues and other places identified with the Jewish community. It appears as if the violence in Palestine is now being replicated worldwide, with angry Muslim youth- more often than not of Arab or South Asian background- taking the law into their own hands in order to extract revenge for the bloody killings of Palestinians elsewhere.
That such acts of violence have begun to occur elsewhere is understandable. For millions of young Muslims worldwide, the killing of Palestinians by Israeli armed forces is something which they feel strongly about. The world can no longer ignore the fact that the Palestinians are living under occupation and that they can no longer tolerate the loss of their sovereignty and freedom.
But the worrying aspect of this new round of violence outside Palestine is that is has also opened the way for some decidedly dubious dealings and alliances between Muslims and their so-called 'allies'. It was shocking to see the images of Muslim youths marching in the capitals of Europe carrying banners and placards calling for the 'death of all Jews'. Worse still is the fact that some of their Muslim youth movements have begun to ally themselves with extreme right-wing organisations ranging from neo-Nazis to Fascists, who happen to share a common hatred for world Jewry. Apparently for some of these young Muslim hotheads, any kind of instrumental coalition would do as long as the end result is the condemnation of Jews in toto.
But as Muslims we must remember that in Islam there is an ethics of confrontation which draws a clear boundary between what is permitted and what is not. To resist evil and oppression is indeed a duty for Muslims, but this does not allow us to form alliances with others who are themselves evil and oppressive. The cause of justice cannot, and will never, be served if Muslims chose to work with extremist forces who are themselves the embodiment of racism, prejudice and xenophobia. How on earth could we ever hope to fight for our rights as equal citizens in parts of the non-Muslim world, if Muslims choose to work hand-in-glove with reactionary forces like neo-Nazis and Fascists who are at the forefront of denying those same rights to others?
The other thing that cannot be forgotten during times like these is the principle of Justice itself. The question of Palestine, it must be remembered, is one of justice in the most comprehensive sense of the world. The struggle to liberate Palestine from occupation is based on the idea that every nation has the right to be free and to co-exist in peace with others. This is a cause that is being fought for not only by progressive Palestinian forces, but also progressive Jews in Israel who do not wish to see their country turned into an exclusive religious state. We must never forget the tiny but vocal minority of progressive Jews who have been condemning the injustices of Israel for decades as well.
For that reason, Muslims the world over need to get a grip of the moral fundamentals when addressing the Palestinian question. The aim should be to work towards peace, mutual respect and co-existence, however problematic that might be. But to respond to the aggression of Israel with even more racism and intolerance is the worst thing that Muslims could do at this stage. It robs our struggle of its moral basis and brings us down to the level of those who aggress us. This is when Muslims prove to be their worst enemies, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
(Dr. Farish A Noor is a political scientist and human rights activist. He is currently working and teaching in Berlin, Germany and is working on the subject of Islamist political movements in Southeast Asia.)