Letter to the Editor: Islamophobia and antisemitism

Pete Moore

I applaud The Observer for its critical coverage of Stephen Hoffman’s offensive comments about Muslims in the wake of the January 2015 attacks in Paris. Questioning powerful individuals is a cornerstone of journalism and an important aspect of a liberal arts education. Hoffman is president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and served on a 2015-16 faculty hiring committee in the Department of Religious Studies. His remarks came during a CWRU event (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyZNyLpV5zs&feature=youtu.be) and begin around 1:12. Those who watch the segment will note how Hoffman starts with some caveats but concludes far from them.

I showed this clip to my Introduction to Middle East Politics class in order to demonstrate the kind of logical errors in linking identity to political behavior that is feeding fear of Muslims and Arabs in the United States and abroad. By claiming that “fundamentalist” Muslims have come to France “in the last 20 years” and are “bringing the anti-Semitic teachings that are in the Quran to bear as well as the hatred from the Middle East,” Hoffman is asserting a fact-free, ahistorical view. He reduces political acts of violence to religious identity. He claims with no basis that “there are a lot of [French Muslims]” who tolerate attacks on Jews. He repeats widely debunked claims of “no go zones” in European cities. My colleague Paul Silverstein at Reed College demolishes this kind of ignorance in his article “The context of anti semitism and Islamophobia in France.” For more recent rebuttals from an Oxford scholar and in The Guardian, see Brian Klug’s “In the heat of the moment: Bringing ‘Je suis Charlie’ into focus” French Cultural Studies, 27 (3) 2016 and “Charlie Hebdo attackers: born, raised and radicalised in Paris.”

Attempting to explain violent political acts with reference to religious texts or ethnic origin are analytical dead ends and, yes, grossly ignorant. Moreover, these notions form the basis of perceptions that Islam is incompatible with European values. In fact, Europe does not have a Muslim problem. It has a problem with the effects of inequality and a history of brutal colonial rule.                

The Observer also deserves credit for reaching out to Hoffman so that he could revise some of his earlier claims. Fortunately, the College of Arts and Sciences offers several courses to which students can turn to for reasoned understanding, including RLGN 172: Introduction to Islam, POSC 370: Nationalism, Religion, and Ethnicity in World Politics, and HSTY 234: France and Islam.  

Pete Moore

M. A. Hanna Professor of Political Science; Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies