The hostage crisis in Texas was alarming because such events are so rare
The startling hostage situation at a Texas synagogue in mid-January has revived concerns in the US about anti-Semitism. Authorities continue to investigate the motives of alleged hostage taker Malik Faisal, a British national who was killed during the event.
Faisal reportedly demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is serving an 86-year-sentence related to an assault on U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.
It’s not clear why Faisal thought taking rabbi hostage would help him achieve his goal. With his death, we may never know exactly what was going through his mind. But the event serves as a reminder that the American far-Right hardly has a monopoly on anti-Semitism. Across the globe, some of the widest prevalence of anti-Jewish attitudes is found in Muslim-majority societies. Survey work by the Anti-Defamation League shows, for instance, that 68% of Egyptians say that “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind” and 81% agree that “people hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” Majorities across many other Muslim-majority countries hold similar views.
In the United States, by comparison, 13% of people agree with the first statement and 14% agree with the second one. For all its flaws, the United States is a relative haven for Jewish Americans and other minorities. This is a country where members of ethnic and religious minorities have been elected to highest offices in the land and are running some of our largest corporations. One reason the hostage crisis in Texas was so alarming was precisely because such events are so rare.
In fact, Jewish-Muslim relations appear to be much better in the United States than they are elsewhere in the world. 2018 polling by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding suggested that Jewish and Muslim Americans largely like each other. 45% of Muslims polled that year had a favourable opinion of Jews and just 10% held unfavourable views. Among Jews, 53% held favourable views of Muslims while just 13% held unfavourable views of Muslims.
I suspect there are a few different reasons why anti-Semitism has never quite caught on among American Muslims in the way it has among Muslims abroad. One reason would be that both Jews and Muslims the U.S. tend to be highly-educated, which allows them to be socialised into similar environments; Muslims in the rest of the world won’t have as much natural contact with Jews and have to rely on negative stereotypes promoted in the news media and in the education system.
The other major strength I would posit the United States has is its colour blind liberal ethos. Our schools and our system of laws stresses that group generalisations and discrimination are both irrational and harmful. We’re taught to see people as individuals first and members of groups second. That may be under threat now but it is still the best defence we have against the toxic tribalism that prevails in much of the world.