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Antisemitism Islamophobia and Interreligious Hermeneutics pdf

Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Interreligious Hermeneutics. Ways of Seeing the Religious Other

  • Book Title:
 Antisemitism Islamophobia And Interreligious Hermeneutics
  • Book Author:
Emma O’Donnell Polyakov
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The assumption that religion can be neatly separated from the public sphere can give rise to the notion that one may critique a social situation or political context while remaining innocent of casting judgment upon a religious community; however, religion is intricately interwoven into cultures and societies and no such disassociation can be readily reached.

As the public eye keeps a critical gaze focused on international conflicts, particularly those in the Middle East, these conflicts cannot be easily unbound from the religious traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity rooted in these regions and intertwined in these conflicts.

When attention is focused on conflicts and social situations that cannot be entirely disentangled from religious identities, traditions, and communities, religious stereotyping and discrimination often arise, at times overtly, but at other times in very subtle ways.

Many places across the globe, particularly Europe and the United States, are experiencing a rapid growth of religious plurality, which is only expanding with the refugee crisis. While many have welcomed this transformation as an opportunity to enrich their communities, this diversity has also been met with a surge toward nationalism and separatism, and with increased suspicion, hostility, and violence.

 Rapidly changing international and multicultural contexts can reinforce patterns of essentializing religious traditions and identities, particularly in the case of conflicts that are linked to specific religious communities.

Interpretations of conflicts in the Middle East and fears of terrorism can slide into Islamophobia, and similarly, criticism of Israel can all too easily shift into a criticism of Jews, to name just two prominent examples. Situations such as these challenge us to explore the ways in which we receive and interpret the religious other.

This volume examines the hermeneutics of interreligious encounter in contexts of conflict. It investigates the implicit judgments of Judaism and Is-lam that arise in response to these conflicts, and explores the implications of these interpretations for relations between Jews, Christians, and Mus-lims. Two particular intersections of religious identity and current events serve as the focus: 1) perceptions of Judaism in relation to Zionism and the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and 2)  Western perceptions of Islam in relation to conflicts in the Middle East.

 Antisemitism and Islamophobia are distinct phenomena with very different histories and manifestations; however, both phenomena are pernicious forms of religious stereotyping, and both are op-erative in many cross- cultural perceptions of the religious other. It is useful, therefore, to recognize this relationship and to explore specific contexts of each phenomenon, with attention to the hermeneutical lenses shaping these perceptions of otherness.

While the questions raised in this volume examine the intersection of political events and religion, the responses specifically address the consequences in the realm of interreligious relations. This volume brings together three distinct discourses: the study of ancient and new tropes of antisemitism as they appear in today’s world; research into contemporary expressions of fear or suspicion of Islam; and philosophical reflections on the hermeneutics of interreligious encounters.

It draws together fields often kept separate, bringing historical and sociological studies of specific contexts of religious discrimination into conversation with theological and philosophical theories of interreligious en-counter, incorporating studies from the diverse disciplines of history, sociology, philosophy, religious studies, and theology. Addressing antisemitism and Islamophobia through the tools of interreligious hermeneutics, the volume considers the processes of interpretation, re- envisioning, and misunderstand-ing that necessarily occur in any perception of the religious other.

Hermeneutics and Reflexivity

The practice of interreligious hermeneutics is a development of the discipline of hermeneutics, which generally refers to the study of textual interpretation, and in its original context, primarily biblical texts. However, hermeneutics can also be applied to non- textual, interpersonal contexts, and can become a study of ways of “reading” and interpreting the other.

 Thus, interreligious hermeneutics is the practice of examining the processes through which the religious other is interpreted, with attention to the layers of perception, interpretation, and understanding or misunderstanding involved in interreligious encounters.

 As Catherine Cornille observes in the opening paper of this volume, few scholars today “still believe in the possibility of a neutral or objective representation of the religious other.” Whereas earlier scholarship generally assumed the capacity to understand the religious other, this is now recognized as ultimately unattainable, given the inescapable subjectivity through which the other is viewed and interpreted.

In the humanities and social sciences, this recognition has inspired a shift toward scholarly reflexivity, and toward post- colonial critiques of a Western, and primarily Christian, hegemony of framing the other.

In theological studies, this recognition has been a bit slower, and until quite recently, the primary area of concern has been soteriological; that is, many theologians have focused their inquiries into non- Christian religions on the question of salvation, searching for ways in which the truth claims of Christianity might function in relation to other religions.

However, in the past few decades the focus has shifted away from soteriological issues and toward hermeneutical questions, exploring not how the religious other may be saved, but rather, taking the reflexive turn and examining ways of seeing of other (Moyaert 2012:34). This shift turns the spotlight back onto the viewer, exploring the layers of perception and interpretation through which one attempts to understand the religious other.

 This volume follows this move, turning the lens around to examine the ways that we see the religious other in the increasingly religiously plural context of today’s world. In this regard, it joins a few recent volumes that explore the new field of interreligious hermeneutics (Cheetham et al 2011; Cornille and Conway 2010).

An inherent ambiguity exists in interpretations of the religious other, for the ways that members of a religious community understand themselves and their practices are inevitably different from the ways that others understand them from different perspectives. This volume does not seek to overcome this ambiguity, but rather to observe and analyze it.

Many of the papers in this volume consider cases in which there is no objectively correct interpretation, or cases in which views of a given situation remain ambivalent. These papers trace ambiguities such as these in topics ranging from the history of communications between Israel and the Vatican to the interpretation of a provocative Swedish cartoon series.

Another thread uniting the papers in this volume is the recognition that identities are often constructed and reinforced in contradistinction to the other. A central theory on the process of identity construction holds that identity is formulated in relation to what it is not, through the process of recognizing difference and positing oneself in distinction to it.1 And, through defining one’s identity in relation to the other, one also emphasizes the otherness of….

Radicalization as a Security Threat

Svenska Dagbladet starts the discussion of radicalization of Muslim youth in Sweden by an editorial written by Per Gudmundson in 2014. In “How Does One See an Extremist,”5 Gudmundson reflects on a photograph that he took of four young men celebrating their high school graduation in a suburb out-side Gothenburg. A year later, he narrates, they were fighting for IS and two of them were already dead. Describing the problem with radicalization, the author concludes the short article with the question:  “How can one detect them? In my photograph, I can only see four ordinary immigrant children in a high school.”

Following Gudmundson’s narrative, we see articles that explain how Sweden does not have a program for the prevention of radicalization (Nordberg 2014), and that many of Sweden’s large municipalities lack expertise and competence in dealing with religious extremism (Delin and Littorin 2015). The most frequent argument on the sources of radicalization is seen starting the end of 2014, where we see a clear line of argumentation that social exclusion, discrim-ination and general marginalization in suburbs have direct consequences for youth radicalization (Kamali 2015; Özdalga 2015).

In two articles (Karén 2015 and Svd 16- 11- 2015) there is mention of the role of mosques in radicalization, stating that some imams may contribute to the process of radicalizing immi-grants while there are others who fight it.

While the majority of articles discussing radicalization make only indirect reference to the refugee stream and present the problem as relevant to all Mus-lims in Sweden, the editorial writer Ivar Arpi (2016) presents an exception (that comes towards the end of our search period and therefore may represent the manner in which the discourse is shifting). In “True Anger Gave Jihadis a Base in Sweden,” Arpi argues that:

The risk is obvious that some of them (the refugees) will search for crim-inal gangs or extremist environments in their search for belonging or meaning. The European Police Office Europol also warns in a report on risks that Sunni Muslim refugees from Syria can be vulnerable to radi-calization and recruitment attempts. As far as the threat of the violent Islamic environment is concerned, the future is all but bright in Europe.

While Arpi addresses what, in his views, is the likelihood of refugees becoming radicalized in Sweden, a fifth of the SvD articles on radicalization presents the view that terrorists take advantage of the refugee stream. Nordberg (2014), Afzali (2014), Arpi (2015), SvD (16- 11- 2015), SvD (23- 3- 2016), and Boscanin (2016) all refer to the possibility that jihadists who fought for IS would seek asylum in Sweden using fake documents. The articles also warn that the in-creased pressure on the migration board may result in the institution’s inability to detect such fraud, resulting in providing refuge to terrorists who should be prosecuted.

In comparison to the 28 articles making reference to radicalization in Svens-ka Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter published 13 articles that connect radicaliza-tion to refugees. In a more recent analytical article (2016- 02- 21) entitled “The

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