Imam Saleem Seedat, along with his traditional Islamic training and academic background, has experience of working in the Corporate Division of the NHS for more than five years and has been involved in many voluntary community initiatives in Blackburn over the past decade. He has been the Mayor’s Chaplain for the Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and has also been a lecturer of Islamic Studies at a local seminary. Currently, Imam Saleem is a College Chaplain and, in his personal capacity, engages locally and nationally, through his teaching, writing and interfaith dialogue in issues surrounding contemporary Islam.
Whilst watching the debate of the Conservative party hopefuls on Tuesday evening, I was surprised to see an opportunity was given to a conspicuously practicing Muslim to pose a question to the five candidates. Not only was an opportunity given to pose a question but also in the midst of all the debate on Brexit, the growing problem of Islamophobia was highlighted and addressed head on. And even though the candidates’ responses left much to be desired, I considered it to be welcome progress to see Sajid Javid persuade all the candidates to agree to an independent inquiry into allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative party.
However, I had learnt the following morning the questioner: Imam Abdullah Patel, had been suspended from both his position as deputy head at Al-Ashraf Primary School and from his Mosque Imam role pending investigation.
It had transpired that an account attributed to him had a number of controversial tweets. In particular, in a tweet, allegedly, he wrote: ‘Every political figure on Zionist’s payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn.
‘They don’t like him. He seems best suited to tackle them!’
Other tweets referenced the Holocaust, with one saying: ‘How long are the Zionists going to hide behind the Holocaust cry?
‘It was a tragedy, but Gaza today is a repeat of the oppression.’
In addition, Aman Thakar, another questioner on the BBC’s leadership debate had also been suspended from his law firm: Leigh Day, after it apparently emerged that he said the most harmful part of Hitler’s legacy was his ‘abuse of nationalism’ in a tweet.
After pausing to reflect, I thought it would be important to make the following three points in light of my learning, experience and observation:
- If we are truly to tackle the scourge of anti-semitism, it is important that we are consistent in highlighting it. Anti-semitism should not be an issue that is used for political point scoring but if we genuinely want to root it out, like racism in general, it needs to be tackled at all levels without bias. Furthermore, anti-semitism should not be used for stereotypical amplification. That is to say that some sections of society or some minorities, in particular, are more prone to it than others.
Similarly, when I have had an opportunity to discuss anti-semitism in relation to the Labour party with some of my Jewish interfaith colleagues, I have learnt that it is important to not make anti-semitism a partisan issue and that similar investigative journalism in the Conservative party would be welcomed.
- One of the challenges, especially in interfaith dialogue between Jews and Muslims, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is difficult to see in the near future that there can be a meeting of minds between the mainstream Jewish community and the mainstream Muslim community on the subject. Therefore, formally, I tend to focus on our common ground like speaking about the rich heritage we share and tackling the far right. However, when I have been invited to speak on a subject associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I do try my level best not to adopt any anti-semitic tropes whilst not compromising my stance in relation to the conflict.
And among them things that I have a habit of avoiding is making comparisons between Israel and the Nazis or between the oppression of the Palestinians and the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a gruesome, shattering event of history, a memory that’s still incredibly painful for millions of people and an unprecedented evil in human history. Therefore, it is not accurate or helpful for it to be instrumentalised to make a point about the suffering of the Palestinians.
Similarly, I do not make allegations of Jewish control of the media, as it is a common feature of anti-Semitic discourse, and one that’s pushed in particular by white supremacists among others. By all means, that is not to say the argument cannot be made of the media in the UK having a habit of focusing disproportionately on Israeli casualties in much of the reporting at the time of an outbreak of violence, while ignoring, downplaying or equalizing Palestinian ones, even though the latter may be affected, empirically, in a much greater way. However, making a Foucauldian discourse analysis or the like about power relations is distinct to perpetuating anti-semitic tropes.
- And lastly, this controversy around Imam Abdullah Patel should not distract us from the importance of dealing with Islamophobia, as Baroness Warsi has effectively highlighted:
“Are we really going to focus on the vile views of this insignificant questioner to undermine the significant answers on a serious issue from 5 powerful men, one of whom will become PM
Please do not start to create the space for backsliding on an imp (sic) commitment”