Anti-Semitic attacks surge in Europe
LONDON // Fears are growing that the carnage in Gaza could radicalise a generation of young Muslims in Europe. There has been an upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks across the continent in the past three weeks and government ministers, security chiefs and community workers in several countries are now warning that the Israeli invasion could result in young Muslims turning to violent extremism. A group of 30 prominent Muslim scholars have become so concerned by the number of attacks on synagogues and even Jewish-owned supermarkets that they have now written to mosques across the United Kingdom with the message that "British Jews should not be held responsible" for Israel's actions in Gaza.
In France, home to about five million Muslims and 600,000 Jews, three synagogues have been firebombed in the past week, leading Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, to pledge: "Our country will not tolerate international tension mutating into intercommunity violence." Leaders from all the major faiths met the president in Paris last week and appealed for calm. That call, though, appears to have gone unheeded by some: by yesterday, Hassen Chalghoumi, a Paris imam, was under police protection after his car was doused in petrol and he received death threats for preaching tolerance between Muslims and Jews.
In all, Jewish organisations have recorded 55 anti-Semitic attacks in France and more than 150 in Britain - mainly involving vandalism, graffiti and verbal insults - since Israel moved into Gaza. There have also been reports of similar incidents and rising tensions between Muslim and Jewish communities in Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Holland. Not all the attacks, however, have involved Muslims targeting Jews. In Paris, three youths of Arab origin were assaulted by seven young men claiming membership of the Jewish Defence League, though the organisation has denied any involvement. In the longer term, the fear is that the Gaza crisis will lead to increasing numbers of youths listening to radical advocates of jihad, particularly in France and the United Kingdom, home to two million Muslims. Hazel Blears, Britain's communities minister, told the BBC: "I am very concerned indeed that the events in Gaza could well be used by those people who want to peddle pernicious extremist views to draw particularly vulnerable young people into that kind of extremism." On Thursday, for the second time in a week, Muslim community leaders met UK government ministers in a bid to stop the conflict of Gaza from manifesting itself in extremism on the streets of Britain. The Muslim leaders, supported by local authority executives, warned that many, particularly young people, were becoming increasingly angered and frustrated by Britain's ineffectual stance over the plight of the Palestinians. Usama Hasan, an imam in London and a community activist, warned that there had been a rise in extremist rhetoric and that new posters calling for violent jihad had been appearing. "The level of anger is so great over Gaza - nothing I have ever seen before. It is much higher than over Afghanistan," he said. Hanif Qadir, a former radical who runs a foundation aimed at steering young Muslims away from extremism, said: "Even among more moderate young people, we are seeing signs of serious, serious anger." Muslim leaders in Britain have written to Gordon Brown, the prime minister, warning him that the "disproportionate force" used by Israel in Gaza had led to a revival of extremist groups. "We urge you to make concerted and successful efforts to convince the US administration of the dangers of its approach and to ensure the incoming Obama administration forges a more enlightened direction," they wrote.
"We also believe the UK has an important role to demonstrate to Israel that the threshold of acceptable behaviour has been perilously transgressed." Hany el Banna, from the Islamic Relief charity, said after meeting ministers: "We are all working tirelessly to try and cool down [British Muslims]. But they see these images from Gaza and they trigger extremist thoughts in the simplest individuals. "Many millions of people will see these images in the media. What do you think the effect will be? The government is responsible for the country and its foreign policy. I don't want something to happen here." Shahid Malik, the British justice minister, accepts that Gaza could have long-lasting consequences on the attitudes of even moderate Muslims in the United Kingdom. "There is a real feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness among Britain's Muslims in the context of Gaza," he told The Guardian. "The sense of grievance and injustice is both profoundly acute and obviously profoundly unhealthy." Meanwhile, Muslim community workers in Greater Manchester have warned that the anger created by the deaths in Gaza could have undone years of work trying to undermine radicals preaching violence. "We are trying to get rid of organisations promoting terrorism but inaction by the British government has only provided more ammunition for the radicals," one said. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: January 18, 2009 04:00 AM