Cambridge Holocaust Memorial Day Lecture: Facing Antisemitism, Rebuilding Anti-Racism

Facing Antisemitism: Rebuilding Anti-Racism

This talk looks at antisemitism, the primary motivator of the Holocaust, and calls for a way of confronting it that locates it within the larger global history of racism. In particular, I will draw out some of the ways that anti-Jewish racism and anti-Muslim racism have historically been related to each other. Looking at antisemitism in this relational way can enable stronger anti-racist responses to antisemitism, as part of the challenge of standing together across communities.

Hosted by Mónica Moreno Figueroa, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Cambridge, Fellow in Social Sciences at Downing College, and University Equality and Diversity champion

29 January, Old Library, Pembroke College, Cambridge, Organised by Equality & Diversity, Cambridge University

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Faith and belonging in London reports

Three reports to which I contributed along with Ruth Sheldon, mainly written by Jonathan Smith and Lenita Torning.

Media, Faith and Belonging

This report by the Faith & Belief Forum and the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck calls on media organisations to provide more opportunities for religious groups to represent themselves.

The report finds that inaccurate, sensationalised and simplistic media coverage reinforces negative stereotypes of religious groups, increasing the potential for suspicion, fear and communal violence. The report highlights how journalists, academics, community organisations and religious groups are working to address the issues in three ways: by challenging inaccurate stories, telling their own stories and working together to make a shared story.

It is the third and final in a series of reports supported by a grant from Dangoor Education which look at different aspects of belief and belonging in London.

Press release about the report is available here

Audio recording from the roundtable event available here

Download the full paper


Hate Crime, Faith and Belonging

This report by the Faith & Belief Forum and the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck explores the issue of religious hate crime, and provides recommendations for organisations working to address the issue.

It draws on insights from a May 2018 roundtable at Birkbeck which brought together 23 local organisations, academics and policy experts to explore the issues and share good practice. The report recommends that responses to hate crime should be led by local communities and seek to challenge divisive narratives with messages of belonging. Responses to should be collaborative, bringing together faith groups, faith forums, community organisations and local government.

It is the second of a series of three reports supported by a grant from Dangoor Education which look at different aspects of belief and belonging in London.

Press release about the report is available here

Audio recording from the roundtable event available here

Download the full paper


Faith, Belief and Inclusion

This briefing paper by the Faith & Belief Forum and the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London explores and provides recommendations for how to create a London that’s more inclusive of people of different faiths and beliefs.

The report draws on insights from a June 2018 roundtable event where 25 local organisations, academics and policy experts gathered to discuss factors for exclusion for Londoners from different faiths and beliefs, and to share good practice on inclusion. While the focus of the report is on London, it contains plenty of insights for those looking to remove barriers to belonging in the rest of the country.

It is the first of a series of three briefing papers supported by a grant from Dangoor Education which look at different aspects of belief and belonging in London. The next two reports will look at hate crime and the role of the media.

Press release about the report available here

Audio recording from the roundtable event available here

Download the full paper


UK Jewish Film Festival: Why do they hate us?

Prompted by a series of deadly attacks in Paris in 2015 and his son’s query about why Jews were one of the targets, Alexandre Amiel, a French-Moroccan Jewish filmmaker, set out to make a trilogy of films whose aim is to trace the origins of modern xenophobia in France towards Jewish, Arab and Black communities. 

I spoke at the UK Jewish Film Festival’s London screening of the film on 14 November, as part of a panel with Marie van der Zyl, Thomas Godwin, and Rt. Hon Joan Ryan MP. 

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Talking Europe/10 Gower Street: What the Halle shooting tells us about the European far right

The five features of the contemporary far right – Birkbeck Talking Europe vlogcast, episode 6

Accompanied by a blogpost at Birkbeck Politics’ 10 Gower Street blog.

Blogpost full text below the fold…

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Talking Europe: The rise of the far right in Europe

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Seed Meeting – Culture, Religion and Social Model: Paris and London in comparison

From the UK French embassy webpage:

Seed Meeting – Culture, Religion and Social Model: Paris and London in comparison

The Seed Meetings programme of the French Embassy in the United Kingdom aims to facilitate international cooperation between researchers in the UK and France.

The seed meeting “Culture, Religion, and Social Model: Paris and London in comparison” brought together senior professors and early career researchers in the social sciences and humanities from both sides of the Channel at the French Embassy in London to interrogate the premises and methodologies with which we might work as a network to conduct comparative work on religious minorities (particularly Muslims and Jews) in and across the two cities.

Researchers from Université de StrasbourgUniversité de ToulouseUniversité de PicardieEHESSSciences Po Paris and Sciences Po Bordeaux discussed the issue with colleagues from CambridgeSOASUCLKing’s CollegeWarwick UniversityBirbeck UniversityDurham UniversityUniversity of London Institute in ParisUniversity of Sussex and the University of Sheffield.

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Discussions included considering the texturing of urban space in relation to community-formation, architecturally, culturally, demographically, historically, and socially; the ways in which the image of the city, the neighbourhood and urban space gets curated, notably in museums and in the media, and the importance of civil society and associational politics in shaping these representations at the local and national level.

The group reflected freely about such “methodologies of encounter,” shining a light on the importance of walking, mapping, surveying and measuring by blending methodologies of ethnography, quantitative sociology, spatial syntax, archival research and social network analysis. They discussed the use of new technologies and digital art to elicit responses and track community and neighbourhood data and finally argued at length about scale of research, from the house, to the school, to the hospital, to the shop to the street, and about definitions of what, after all, is it to live in a community, religious, urban, national, or otherwise.

Through a successful meeting of scholars from a range of disciplines, the focused discussions uncovered several ways forward to sustain and develop the network in a seminar series in France and the UK, a workshop that would reunite those present in Sciences Po in spring 2020a scheme of writing in pairs France-UK for a journal, and the collective planning of micro pilot studies which would drive forwards a significant comparative research project.

Published on 24/05/2019


Notes on ‘Migrant City’

Notes by Yasmeen Narayan on Migrant City by Les Back and Shamser Sinha with Charlynne Bryan, Vlad Baraku and Mardoche Yemba, at the CUCR blog.


Anoop Nayak on Gateshead


Naaz Rashid: Notes from Brick Lane

Notes from Brick Lane

In DiscoverSociety 67, which focuses on the 40th anniversary of the Southall protests, Naaz Rashid reflects on Race, Violence and the City, a brilliant event she organised at LSE in June 2018 to mark the anniversary of the death of Altab Ali, at which I was privileged to be a speaker.

Opening:

On 4 May 1978, the day of local elections, Altab Ali, a young Bangladeshi textile factory worker in Whitechapel, was murdered on his way home from work. His murder was the catalyst for major anti-racist mobilisations amongst the Bangladeshi community and others in the East End of London. The community had been inspired by anti-racist activism in Southall following the murder of Gurdip Singh Chaggar in 1976. Last June, a day-long symposium, Race, Violence and the City was held to mark the anniversary of his murder. It would have been tempting to reflect back on the events of 1978 as a testament to how far we have come since Ali’s murder and there is undoubtedly much to celebrate: the allyship and solidarity which emerged in the aftermath across London, from Brick Lane to Southall and beyond, as well as the successes of the Bangladeshi community in establishing themselves in the East End. Once we start to think about the wider background to Altab Ali’s murder, however, it reminds us more of what remains to be done.

Conclusion:

The Battle of Brick Lane drew on its precursor, the Battle of Cable Street, but Ben Gidley cautioned against premature triumphalism; he reminded us that while the battle against fascism had been ‘won’ in the 1930s, this had not averted the need for a Battle for Brick Lane forty years later.

What all these examples illustrate is the importance of joining the dots, both across time and across different aspects of social life and how we, as scholars and/or activists might ensure that interconnectedness is named and explored.  Post Brexit and following the election of Trump there has been a significant upsurge in discussions of racism amongst the commentariat both in and beyond academia. Yet there seems, amongst some, a wilful neglect of the historic intellectual and emotional labour of anti-racist activists and academics who have always contextualised racist violence in a wider landscape and are in no way remotely shocked by such events, however saddened or indeed traumatised they might feel in their immediate aftermath.

As well as the messages pushed in the media, the words of politicians also matter; which drives the other is a semantic debate that matters little to those whose blood is being spilt on the streets. Indeed, irrespective of whether media drives political discourse or vice versa we as the readership or electorate are ultimately responsible; our choices (including the decision to remain silent) about what we are prepared to tolerate matter. And as advocates for social and racial justice what we choose to remember and forget matters.

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France24: The resurgence of antisemitism

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I was on France24’s “The Debate” with Francois Picard this week, talking about antisemitism in light of issues relating to the yellow jacket protests in France and the Labour Party in the UK.

Is France becoming more anti-Jewish? Or has hate speech become more uninhibited? After some Yellow Vests hurled abuse at Jewish intellectual Alain Finkielkraut, people are rallying in Paris against anti-Semitism. Last year, anti-Semitic incidents rose 74% in France. Is social media enabling hate speech and fostering a culture of violence? Is that violence born from a changing world order, with weaker institutions like trade unions that used to channel grievances and tone down extremes?

Here’s a link to the YouTube version. The other guests were Rubin Sfadj and Juan Branco.
Cain Burdeau wrote up the broadcast for Courthouse News:

“We’re living in a time when there’s been a crisis of trust in sources of authority, sources of information, sources of knowledge, and so people seek alternative truths,” Ben Gidley, a senior lecturer in psychosocial studies at Birkbeck, University of London, said during the France 24 debate. “Once you stop believing in truth, almost anything can be true.”

Juan Branco, a lawyer for the yellow vest protesters, acknowledged during the France 24 debate that some protesters were guilty of anti-Semitism. But he blamed those incidents on people connected to the far right and said the movement’s leaders rejected anti-Semitism. He added that there was an intense effort to purge racist views from the protest movement.

Gidley said the rise of anti-Semitism was a troubling sign for Europe and does not bode well for the state of democracy.

“Jews are often one of the canaries in the coal mine,” he said. “It’s not just Jews, other minorities as well. You can take racist attacks as a kind of good indicator on the health of a democracy. Jews and other minorities are the first victims of a sickness in democracy.”


Muslim News Book Review: Rediscovering a shared past and the possibilities of a new future

Lovely review by Ala Abbas in The Muslim News of my book with James Renton on antisemitism and Islamophobia.

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Enquêter auprès de migrants.e.s : le cas français en perspective/Migrants’ studies: The French case in perspective

This event occurred at Sciences Po in Paris on Wednesday:

 

   

SYMPOSIUM “Enquêter auprès de migrants.e.s : le cas français en perspective”/Migrants’ studies: The French case in perspective organized by Elodie Druez, Sciences Po, CEE & Nonna Mayer, Sciences Po, CEE, CNRS

Mercredi 12 décembre 2018/Wednesday 12 December 2018, 14h – 20h, Sciences Po, Salle Goguel/Room Goguel, 27, rue Saint-Guillaume, 75007 Paris

Contacts : nonna.mayer@sciencespo.fr & elodie.druez@sciencespo.fr

En 2015-2016 l’Europe a connu un afflux exceptionnel de réfugié.e.s et de migrant.e.s, fortement médiatisé et politisé, propice aux rumeurs et aux instrumentalisations. Comment faire des enquêtes sur ces populations dans une perspective de sciences sociales ? Quels sont les problèmes méthodologiques et éthiques qu’elles posent ? Comment y remédier ? Ce symposium se penche sur ces questions en deux temps. Un retour critique sur une enquête comparative menée dans 5 pays européens, ‘’Antisemitism and Immigration in Western Europe Today: is there a connection?’’ coordonnée par David Feldman au Pears Institute (Birkbeck, Université de Londres) et financée par la Fondation allemande EVZ  (Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft/Mémoire, Responsabilité et Futur) sera suivi d’une table ronde croisant les regards de spécialistes des migrations et des migrant.e.s.

In 2015-2016 the EU experienced an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants, widely mediatised and politicised, favoring rumors and instrumentalisations of all kind. How can one conduct surveys on such populations in a social science perspective? What are the methodological and ethical problems they raise? How can one cope with them? This symposium addresses these questions in two steps. A critical revisiting of a comparative survey conducted in five European countries, ‘’Antisemitism and Immigration in Western Europe Today: is there a connection?’’, coordinated by David Feldman at Pears Institute (Birkbeck, London University) and funded by the German Foundation EVZ (Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft/Remembrance, Responsibility and Future) will be followed by a round table bringing together experts in the research field of migrations and migrants.

 

Programme

14h-16h : Presentation of the EVZ report

Introduction/Opening: Florence Haegel (Sciences Po, CEE)

Elodie Druez & Nonna Mayer
Antisemitism and Immigration in Western Europe Today: Is there a connection?
The case of France

Contrepoint des autres équipes/Counterpoint by the other teams

Allemagne/Germany : Mathias Berek (Technische Universität Berlin)
Belgique/Belgium : Muriel Sacco (ULB) & Marco Martiniello (Université de Liège)
Pays Bas/Netherlands: Annemarike Stremmelaar (University of Leiden)
Royaume-Uni/United Kingdom : David Feldman & Ben Gidley (Birkbeck, University of London)

16h-16h30 : Pause/Break

16h30-18h30 : Table ronde/Round Table

Virginie Guiraudon (Sciences Po, CEE, CNRS), Laura Morales (Sciences Po, CEE), Patrick Simon (INED), Hélène Thiollet (Sciences Po, CERI, CNRS), Catherine Wihtol de Wenden (Sciences Po, CERI, CNRS)
Enquêter auprès de migrant.e.s, problèmes méthodologiques et éthiques/Round Table Migrants’ Survey: Methodological and Ethical Problems

 

Crédit Photo/Credit Picture : ©davide bonaldo_shutterstock


Scott Ury on “Islamophobia and Antisemitism” book: “an incredibly important contribution”

A lovely short review of Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story? by Scott Ury in Religious Study Review.

Biblical Translating and Interpreting

 

First published: 04 November 2018 | https://doi.org/10.1111/rsr.13612 | PDF link | Text below
ANTISEMITISM AND ISLAMOPHOBIA: A SHARED STORY?
Edited by James Renton and Ben Gidley. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Pp. xii + 311. $32.00.
By juxtaposing studies of anti-Semitism to those addressing Islamophobia, this collection of ten articles makes an extremely important contribution to both of these fields as well as the growing effort to study the various intersections and influences between these two related yet distinct phenomena. 

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Jewish and Muslim UK Immigration Experiences: Echoes of the Past, Influences on the Present

Next talk: 

“Jewish East London and the Myths of Integration” Jewish and Muslim UK Immigration Experiences: Echoes of the Past, Influences on the Present, Cambridge Muslim College/Woolf Institute Cambridge, December 2018.

From the Woolf Institute website:

The Woolf Institute and the Cambridge Muslim College are jointly organising a one-day conference on ‘Jewish and Muslim UK Immigration Experiences: Echoes of the Past, Influences on the Present’ on Thursday 6 December 2018.

This conference will be looking at the similarities in experiences in immigration between the British Jewish and Muslim communities. It has become clear to several researchers in the field that the experiences of British Muslims are in some ways similar to the experiences of British Jews from a century earlier. This conference will allow researchers who wish to explore such connections an opportunity to present their ideas and research. The number of attendees is limited to 40 as the aim is to encourage an atmosphere of discussion, engagement and exchange amongst participants.

The morning session and lunch will take place at the Cambridge Muslim College, 14 St Paul’s Road, Cambridge CB1 2EZ, between 9.15am – 1pm, The afternoon session will run between 2.30pm – 6pm at the Woolf Institute, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0UB, followed by a reception.

Speakers include:

Dr Ed Kessler MBE, Founder Director of Woolf Institute

Dr Ben Gidley, Senior Lecturer in Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London

Prof Humayan Ansari OBE , Professor of History of Islam and Culture, Royal Holloway

Bryan Cheyette, Chair in Modern Literature and Culture, Series Editor of New Horizons in Contemporary Writing

Dr Mohammed Seddon, Research Associate, British Muslim Heritage Centre

Rabbi Dr Norman Solomon, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Jewish Theology and Philosophy; Talmud

Alyaa Ebbiary, PhD Candidate & Nohoudh Scholar, Dept. of Anthropology & Sociology, SOAS

Programme

9.15 Arrival at Cambridge Muslim College and introductions by Dr Ed Kessler MBE and CMC

9.30-11.00 – Panel 1

Prof Humayun Ansari, Professor of History of Islam and Culture, Royal Holloway and Rabbi Dr Norman Solomon

Coffee

11.30-1pm – Panel 2

Dr Ben Gidley, Senior Lecturer in Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London and Dr Mohammed Seddon, Lecturer, University of Chester

Lunch (followed by walk/taxi/cycle to Woolf Institute)

2.30-4pm – Panel 3

Prof Bryan Cheyette, University of Reading and Alyaa Ebbiary, PhD Candidate & Nohoudh Scholar, Dept. of Anthropology & Sociology, SOAS

Coffee

4.30-6pm – Panel Discussion and Conclusion

Dr Ed Kessler and Alyaa Ebbiary, PhD Candidate & Nohoudh Scholar, Dept. of Anthropology & Sociology, SOAS

6pm – Reception at the Woolf Institute

Speaker Abstracts

Prof Humayun Ansari, Professor of History of Islam and Culture, Royal Holloway

A brief historical exploration of the similarities and differences between Jewish and Muslim religious claims, between their political engagement with wider society, and between antisemitism and Islamophobia in the context of and recent debates surrounding multiculturalism.

Rabbi Dr Norman Solomon

Experiences of immigrant Jewish families

Tracing the experience of three families of Jewish immigrants over three generations, one family each from Germany, Poland and Egypt. How were the original immigrants received in the UK, and how did they adapt to the new culture? In the second and third generations, how did individuals acculturate, and how and why did some break with the original culture while others sought ways to return to their ‘roots’?

Dr Ben Gidley, Senior Lecturer in Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London

Jewish East London and the myths of integration

The East End of London is an iconic site of migrant arrival and integration, and its history and present are conventionally narrated through a story of ethnic succession as each “wave” of migrants arrive, settle, integrate, move up and move out to make way for the next “wave”. In this narrative, Jews are often framed as a “model minority”, against whom other minorities are judged (and usually found wanting). This paper, based primarily on archival research on early 20th century East London), explores some of the flaws in this narrative, by emphasising different responses to integration among the Jewish migrant population, forms of inter-ethnic contact (including Jewish-Muslim contact), and other Jewish trajectories which cut against the successionist narrative.

Dr Mohammed Seddon, Research Associate, British Muslim Heritage Centre

Jewish and Muslim Communities in Nineteenth Century Manchester

Contemporary relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities in Britain have been largely shaped and marred by international politics as a result of the creation of the state of Israel in the aftermath of the Second World War. However, historically the two distinct communities have enjoyed long periods of cultural proximity and cross-fertilisation, particularly in their migration and settlement experiences in Britain. From as early as the late-eighteenth century Maghribi and Levantine Muslim and Jewish traders migrated into the ‘Cottonopolis’ of industrial Manchester and their shared middle-eastern traditions and cultures ensured that both communities enjoyed a lengthy reciprocal relationship of inter-religious tolerance and collective community development. This paper explores some of the issues, experiences and historical details relating to Muslim and Jewish communities in 19th century Manchester.

Professor Bryan Cheyette

“Good/Bad Jews, Good/Bad Muslims: Some Theories and Contexts”

My talk will explore the ways in which Jews and Muslims have been racialized in relation to mainstream discourses within British culture. It will look at some theoretical work (especially around supersessionism) to show that both Jews and Muslims are bifurcated into “good” and “bad” versions which play off each other in the form of racialized tolerance. The talk aims to understand the mechanisms of this bifurcation and the ways in which such distinctions function culturally, socially and politically within the British nation-state and beyond. Such processes, in differing historical contexts, apply to both Jews and Muslims now and then.

How to book

Registration is free an includes lunch and evening reception.

Tickets must be booked in advance on Eventbrite here.

For further information, contact Claire Curran at cc640@cam.ac.uk.

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From my archive: On being haunted in the city

I was thinking today of my friend Bukola, who left this world just over 20 years ago this month. It made me dig this piece out, which I wrote ten years later, which was published in the CUCR magazine Street Signs in Autumn 2008. The Paul here is Paul Hendrich, who died tragically young ten years ago, in January 2018.

It is at train stations that I am most often visited by ghosts. Yesterday, at Waterloo East, I saw my friend Paul pushing his daughter in a buggy. As he came nearer and his image clarified, I realised that of course it was not him – those sideburns, that orange shirt belonged to another man – and a wave of grief hits me, thinking of the friend I no longer have, but especially the father his daughter no longer has.

Less frequently now than before, but still with surprising regularity, I see Bukola at London Bridge station, a glimpse amongst the crowds boarding and alighting from the trains in and out of the city. Sometimes her hair is cropped short, sometimes bleached yellow, her smile a white dazzle amongst the blur of passengers.

Bukola was my close friend for four years, nearly fifteen years ago.

I find her present too in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, a book she lent me which I have been unable to finish but still morbidly pick at from time to time. It reminds me of a grim few days when I struggled with it in the inauspicious environment of the surgical in-patients ward at King’s in Camberwell. The memory of my brief hospitalisation inevitably triggers the far grimmer memory of later visits to Bukola in the psychiatric wing in the tower of Guy’s in the final months of her life. The muted television. The nodding inmates endlessly sipping tea and repeatedly tapping barely smoked cigarettes in the ashtray. The lack of privacy these men and women had.

Bukola’s copy of the Trilogy has passages underlined and highlighted. I have no way of knowing if she emphasised them, or bought the book second hand, already notated. I find arcane significance, clues to her death, in these phrases and paragraphs: depressing images of urban anonymity, paranoid fantasies of being followed along city blocks, Manhattan’s cityscape as an illegible labyrinth.

The regularity with which Bukola comes to me at London Bridge, I think, has to do with the survivor’s guilt associated with suicide: perhaps if I’d acted differently, if I’d held out the hand of friendship more fulsomely, more unconditionally, she would have made different decisions. I think of Bukola, as Antonin Artaud described Van Gogh, as suicided by society.

Her imagination, her creativity, her energy burnt too brightly, too vividly, too intensely for this world. I have no doubt that the everyday drip-drip of racism was part of Bukola’s illness, the non-verbal geographies of suspicion and interdiction that black Londoners navigate; in her episodes, Bukola frequently experienced herself as a black dog.

Bukola, though, was passionately metropolitan. Unlike many other native Londoners, she did not take the pleasures of the city for granted, and she used to enjoy taking me and my friend Johnny – small-town provincials – through the estates of Nunhead where she had been brought up, or pointing out the obscure root vegetables in Peckham
Rye market, or teasing us for acting like bumpkins at Soho post-production parties she snuck us into.

I thought then I would never lose the wonder of the metropolis, the bedazzlement and sensory overload in the face of London’s hugeness and variousness, of the city sublime. But over the years I find myself cultivating what the sociologist Simmel called the blasé attitude, the shock-resistance techniques of the urbanite – the defence system Bukola never mastered. And with that blasé attitude comes a little less wonder.

Until she appears again from out of the throng at London Bridge.

 

 

Gidley, Ben (2008) “On being haunted in the city” Street Signs Autumn 2008, p.17


From the archive: Passages Through Dark Times

Been going through some of my old stuff, and found some stuff from the CUCR magazine Street Signs (archive online here). This is from page 18-19 of Volume 1, Issue 5, Spring 2003. The issue also has a lovely interview with Paul Gilroy about The Streets, Fran Tonkiss on “inner city values”, Michael Stone on Laurie Grove in New Cross, Les Back interviewing M Y Alam, Hiroki Ogasawara visiting Walter Benjamin’s grave, and a beautiful celebration of Flemming Røgilds.

The article below describes my first proper academic conference, in Leipzig, and reflects on the relationship between Jews and the left in the darkness of the 20th century, and how that darkness is remembered by historians and leaves its traces in urban space. Since I wrote it, some of the people in it have passed away, including Arnold Paucker in 2016 (age 95).

Memhardstrasse and Rosa Luxemburg Strasse

Passages Through Dark Times
Ben Gidley talks about Jewishness, Memory and Urban Space in East Germany

“You who will emerge from the flood in which we were drowned remember when you speak of our weaknesses the dark time from which you escaped…
Remember us with forbearance.”
–Bertolt Brecht “To Those Born After Us”

“Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and in their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and
shed over the time span that was given them on earth…”
–Hannah Arendt “Men in Dark Times” 

The transit bus from the airport into Leipzig arrived at the exact time given on the time-table. The bus glided through the flat monotony of the Saxon countryside, entering a zone of urban sprawl, in which it was impossible to distinguish which low-rise concrete box contained homes and which contained factories, warehouses, offices. The grey postindustrial landscape was punctuated here and there by Vietnamese signs, testimony to the historic links between East Germany and Communist Vietnam.

From the bus station, we crossed over the no-man’s land of a wide ring road (“good for tanks”, as my Yiddish teacher, Gennady Estraikh, pointed out – a fact he knew from the bitter experience of living most of his life in the Soviet Union) into the beauty of the baroque town centre. Since reunification, Leipzig has been a jewel in the East’s crown, receiving heavy regeneration investment. “Leipzig is coming” is the bizarre slogan of the tourist office, which describes it as a cosmopolitan, multicultural town (not something apparent from the faces of the people I passed on the street).

It was Autumn 2001. I was in Leipzig to participate in a conference, held at the Simon Dubnov Institute for Jewish History and Culture, entitled “Jewish Questions, Communist Answers”, about the historical relationship between Jews and Communist parties. I was anxious about giving my first proper conference paper – especially as I was scheduled into the opening slot, at 9 a.m., sharing a platform with some of the most distinguished scholars at the conference. As it turned out, post-September 11 fear of flying had kept away many of the American delegates, including the one I was most scared about sharing a session with. The absence of Americans, however, also meant that the dominant language shifted from English to German, leaving me feeling a little marginal – something non-English speakers regularly experience in the often American-centric academic world. As with many European academics, most of the conference participants were able to slide with ease between languages. But the multi-lingualism of the conference delegates was part of something different. Continue reading


Anya Topolski on race after the Shoah

issue cover imageA really insightful and provocative review essay by Anya Topolski on Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story? edited by James Renton and me, and Whites, Jews, and Us: Towards a Politics of Revolutionary Love by Houria Bouteldja. Some really nice words, and makes some important criticisms too.

Opening extract:

Race remains a taboo term and topic in Europe today. This post-Shoah silence is both political and, until very recently, academic.1 The two books under review aim to break this silence by tackling the complex and entangled questions of antisemitism, islamophobia, and white (Christian or secular) supremacy and to demonstrate that racism in Europe cannot be separated from the question of religion (and I would add well beyond Europe). The essays collected in Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story?, edited by James Renton and Ben Gidley, provide the rich histories and complexities concerning the race-religion intersection, in terms of [End Page 280] the shared stories of antisemitism and islamophobia, in Europe.2 Whites Jews and Us: Towards a Politics of Revolutionary Love, by Houria Bouteldja, is a passionate political appeal for action against the violence, exclusion, and power games experienced by excluded groups in Europe today.3 Read together, these two books offer a theoretical and applied analysis of racism in Europe today.

Let me first provide the reader with a summary of the contents. When Renton and Gidley selected and edited this volume, based on the proceedings of a 2008 conference, what was their ambition? With the nuance of erudite scholars, nuance sometimes lacking in Bouteldja’s book, Renton and Gidley refuse to take up the question of the complex relationship between antisemitism and islamophobia in a reductive or simplistic manner. Is it possible to focus on similarities without sacrificing differences or vice versa? The approach chosen by the editors is, in this vein, judicious. “We have to excavate and concentrate on a shared story of evolution; in short, we need a diachronic framework, in which we can identify moments of beginning, change, separation (6).” The aim is thus to focus on how this relationship has changed or unfolded over time which leads to the four-part diachronic structure of the book: Christendom, empire, divergence and response. While I welcome the aim, it might have been too ambitious as it would have required more active engagements with the respective contributions and an editorial conclusion. As it is, several of the essays feel rather misplaced. This is unfortunate as the structure and aim creates possibilities that would have been both timely and relevant. One concrete example is that of antizyganism. While the editors, and several authors, mention discrimination against the Roma, none consider how the exclusion and persecution of Roma might be related and entangled in this relationship—precisely because of the diachronic structure, this might have been possible.

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The vicious circle of Islamist terrorism and far-right extremism

When most people think of the Bataclan these days, it’s not the venerated theater where rock bands have been playing since the 1970s which comes to mind. Rather, it’s Islamist terrorism, after 89 people were killed there during a concert in November 2015.

So when news spread this fall that a rapper named Médine, who once named an album “Jihad” and is openly critical of secularism in France, will play the Paris venue in the fall, the far right was outraged. “Is it normal that a militant, fundamentalist Islamist goes to the Bataclan to express his hatred and defend ideas that I believe are inciting crimes?” asked France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

An article in CS Monitor by  (Correspondent) and  (Staff writer). Colette interviewed me for the article. Here are the extracts with me in them:

“It’s partly about the politics of the spectacle of confrontation,” says Ben Gidley, a senior lecturer of sociology at Birkbeck, University of London who worked on a 2014 study on what drives extremism in British society. “Every time [a far right leader] is on television saying something inflammatory, that fuels the anger about extreme Islamism which gives an opportunity to the entrepreneurs of panic on the right to put their message into the public sphere. Once you have a spectacular appearance on one side, it gives a platform to the other.”

And:

Mr. Gidley in Britain says that labeling far-right violence “terrorism,” whether in political discourse, media coverage, or within civil society, is a solution to breaking the cycle. “It’s really important,” he says, “to challenge the association of terrorism and Islamism which contributes to the anti-Muslim discourses that feed the far right and to have clarity to challenge it properly, that there is a problem with right-wing terrorism.”

He also says policy makers need to create more space for cultural mixing and frank talk about people’s concerns amid demographic change. “There need to be more opportunities for people to air their grievances, to feel listened to,” he says. “If there are concerns about migration or foreign policy, instead of making them into taboo topics, create opportunities to allow people to feel listened to so they don’t get channeled into extremist ideology.”

I think in the first quote, there’s a slight leap out of context. I think where it puts “a far right leader” in square brackets, I was referrring to Anjem Choudary, the British hate preacher the UK mainstream media love almost as much as they love “Tommy Robinson”. My point was that each time he appears on the screen, it fuels the anger about Islamism that feeds the far right (just as every time “Robinson” appears on the screen, it fuels the anger about Islamophobia that fuels Islamism.

In the second quote, I am arguing that the far right and Islamists resemble each other in channeling real (as well as imaginary) grievances in dangerous directions.

These ideas are developed more fully in a chapter I wrote with David Feldman in this report.


CUCR podcast: Identity, belonging and citizenship in urban Britain

From the CUCR blog:

In this CUCR podcast, Les Back talks to Steve Hanson and Ben Gidley about their new report with Sundas Ali Identity, Belonging & Citizenship in Urban Britain (CUCR, 2018).  This study of UK cities was conducted before the Brexit vote but in many respects it anticipated its outcome.  In this report they argue that urban spaces  can be characterised on a continuum with ‘English cities’ at one end and British cities at the other.  They also talk about the politics of Englishness and urban multicultural conviviality and what makes a good city.
The full report can be downloaded for Free here and copies are available from directly from CUCR.
Steve Hanson’s book Small Towns, Austere Times: The Dialectics of Deracinated Localism is available from Zero Books.