by Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik e.V. – My interview with Dr James Renton,
Dr James Renton is Reader in History at Edge Hill University, UK, and co-editor, with Ben Gidley, of Antisemitism and Islamophobia: A Shared Story?, which is forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan.
Milena Rampoldi: How would you define anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Which are the common aspects, what are the main differences between them?
James Renton: At base, we can use the terms anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as straight forward labels for anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms. But can we offer a fixed definition of these two fields of prejudice? The histories of the terms themselves tell us something of value in this connection. Within these stories, we find helpful insights into the complex relationship between the two: their differences, similarities, and, significantly, connections. It is essential, however, that any such discussion of this subject acknowledges that European ideas about Jews and Muslims, about Judaism and Islam, do not stand still. They are dynamic, like any field of human thought. We must not treat them as fixed prejudices that operate outside of time, or indeed place. Certainly, both racisms possess very powerful continuities, which are hugely important. But the interplay between these underlying structures of thought and the dynamism of cultural, political, social, and economic change must not be ignored.
The word ‘anti-Semitism’ was invoked at the end of the nineteenth century, at a time in which the pseudo-science of race predominated in European political thought. Jews and Judaism were at the forefront of Europe’s imagined political problems in this period— or Questions to use the terminology of the day— that demanded solutions. The process of Jewish emancipation (incomplete as it was) in central and Western Europe became a focus of ire in these zones as societies grappled with profound economic and political crises and transformation: from depression and warfare in Europe (particularly Germany’s defeat of France in 1870) to concomitant escalating conflict between European imperial states over resources and territory in Africa and Asia.
May 2, 2016