IN THIS compelling and disturbing interview, Professor Norman Fenton asks Harry Markham – a junior research fellow at the Institute for Studies of Global Anti-Semitism, Head of Research and Policy at the Association of British Muslims (the oldest Muslim organisation in the UK) and a self-styled ‘good Jewish boy’ – about his personal experiences and analysis of events since the Hamas pogrom in Southern Israel on October 7.
Markham’s voice is unusual in that while he remains ardently committed to Muslim dialogue he believes that multiculturalism has endangered both Jews and civilisation. He deplores the fact that British Jews typically have worked with organisations which have affiliations with extremists, rather than with those, such as the Association of British Muslims, which are trying to reconcile faith with liberal democratic values’; people who see no contradiction in being a proud Muslim and also believing in liberal democratic values. They are, he says, the bravest people he has met in terms of speaking out against Islamism.
You can watch the interview below followed by edited excerpts from it to highlight the most significant observations that Markham makes on a number of critically important themes.
Explanation of October 7 . . . We need to understand the gut-wrenching events beyond the Middle East. We need to understand that this is a global insurgency against Jews and against civilisation . . . what we are seeing on the streets of Western Europe and around the world, in my view, is symptomatic of issues that, for a long time, successive governments have ignored and not dealt with. And I’ve argued previously that governments have been negligent in that they have been delusional in trying to engineer a diverse utopia. But in addition to governmental negligence, we are now seeing – and the events since October 7 have really brought this out – we are now seeing not state sanctioned anti-Semitism, but state enabled anti-Semitism. And the implications of anti-Semitism go well beyond Jews. This is a crisis of both . . . of and for civilisation, and we ignore it at our own peril.
. . . and the anti-Semitic hostility and ‘denial’ since
I’ve been experiencing this for many years. And as someone who has spoken out for Israel, I’m used to the insults, the anger, the aggression. It’s a part of the job, as it were. But that said, what we are seeing now is of a different breed. It’s no longer just a case of there being anti-Semitism, but a kind of unadulterated evil has unleashed itself across Western Europe and around the world. And I’ve not seen something like this before. October 7 didn’t initiate this, but certainly the events since October 7 have brought this to the surface.
Ordinarily on campus [UCL] I wear a big Star of David and I wear it visibly. And I also have on my laptop a huge sticker with the words ‘F*** anti-Semitism.’ And I sit in front of students, and I hear them gossiping about me, which is always a laugh. There is an atmosphere on campus, a very worrying and disturbing atmosphere. The truth is that students in my university and beyond, Jewish students, that is, are feeling scared. Doubtless there are students who are not coming on to campus because of this. Students who would ordinarily wear a kippah or display other sort of religious symbols are not doing so. Because unfortunately, there are students on campus and although relative to the student population they may be few in number, they are a sizeable minority, and they are concerning. Unfortunately, their work doesn’t just serve to intimidate Jews, but it’s become a kind of anti-intellectualism we see amongst these students.
One of the things that really bothers me is the denial of what happened on October 7, the distortion of incontrovertible truths recorded by Hamas themselves, I should add, and the way in which students have been denying it or distorting or questioning it. It’s reminiscent of the kind of Nick Griffin-like Holocaust denial that your generation witnessed. This is a form of neo-Holocaust denial. And it’s become apparent that people are trying to label people who stand by Jews as all being far-right. But as someone who studies the manifestations of contemporary anti-Semitism, the real, frightening, scary, hard right are certainly not standing by Jews right now. And you only need to see Nick Griffin’s Twitter page, and others like him, to see how what we are seeing now is the formation of unholy anti-democratic alliances, which brings the far right together with the far left and with Islamists. And they form a coalition of not only Jew hate, but anti-democratic extremism – and Jew hate just happens to be the common denominator.
Multiculturalism and modern anti-Semitism – leftist and Islamic
I’ve just completed a book tentatively entitled The Delusion of Multiculturalism, with a foreword written by my good friend and colleague, Shaykh Paul Armstrong, the Managing Director of the Association of British Muslims. My [thesis] is that Western European multiculturalism has endangered both Jews and civilisation and unless we have a radical cultural, social, political reckoning with the ideals which have led us to the place where we are now, Western Europe is heading in a very dark direction. Jews, often in the history of civilisational crises, are the first to fall. But they are by no means the last. So I’m looking at contemporary anti-Semitism, which was once something which we saw predominantly amongst the right . . . when it comes to Islamist anti-Semitism, it pales into insignificance. And the data on this is striking.
What we know is that leftist anti-Semitism both contributes and enables other forms of anti-Semitism, especially Islamist anti-Semitism. If we look at the way in which recent events have played out, we can see that in the name of progressivism and so-called liberation, how Palestinianism (which is something separate from a legitimate cause for Palestinian nationhood) which we are seeing across Western Europe, which has nothing to do with the rights of Palestinians but the destruction of Israel, how that has been enabled in the name of progressivism. One of the things that I’ve been struck by over the past few weeks – and I say ‘struck’ because although I have been aware of this for a long time, in the face of such evil, is the way in which leftist circles have been justifying this in the name of legitimate armed resistance, as if the mutilation of babies, the raping of women, the burning of bodies, somehow constitutes legitimate armed resistance. It’s that kind of unspeakable breakdown of any semblance of a moral decency that I think enables the violence, the threats, the intimidation we are seeing across the world at the moment against Jews.
Norman Fenton: I’m wondering if the temptation has always been to say, ‘Anti-Semitism is coming from the far right,’ because those who actually genuinely have the power to enable and basically produce anti-Semitism to the masses, are able to use the far right as a convenient scapegoat?
Harry Markham: One of the great examples I often speak of is in Germany. And the German authority responsible for recording anti-Semitism, when they are unable to identify the background of an offender or someone who has committed an act of anti-Semitism, they immediately label that person to be far-right. Well, we know from the data that actually, although there is a worrying rise in actual far-right neo-Nazism in Germany, although nothing compared to Islamist anti-Semitism in Germany, it’s virtually non-existent, or at least not as worrying as Islamist anti-Semitism.
It’s all well intentioned to say we want to rid our societies of anti-Semitism. We won’t. It’s a hatred which has existed for millennia. But we can manage its most difficult or its most threatening expressions. And unfortunately, its most threatening and dangerous expression is its Islamist expression. And Western European governments have no real grip on the issue. It has no real understanding of the extent to which that anti-Semitism exists, the way in which the term ‘non-violent violence’, the way in which the ideas of murderous anti-Semitism, have been normalised in large sections of our Muslim communities. The failure to recognise that means that there can be no real credible governmental response. And one of the things that’s really interesting now is that governments just don’t know what to do. Governments do not know how to adequately respond to what’s happening. And that’s for a very good reason, because for so long they have not dealt with the underlying issues at play. My book, really, I suppose, is the road to October 7.
The people who, and the organisations which, have been most active in dealing with these issues are the likes of the Association of British Muslims, Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, certain Hindu organisations. I describe anti-Semitism as a psychosis. And part of the pathology of that psychosis, as with many other psychoses, is to deny reality. It’s delusional . . . and that doesn’t just affect anti-Semites, it also affects the victims of anti-Semitism. They deny the reality. It’s the Voldemort effect, if you will.
Norman Fenton: As represented by organisations like the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, and even the Jewish newspapers, like the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News. These are clearly dominated by left-leaning progressives who, it seems to me have, for many years, indeed, been in the kind of denial that you’re talking about of where the real anti-Semitism comes from. They’ve actually cosied up to the more extreme Islamic organisations that you’re talking about . . . (and are) in complete denial about the far left, because many of those share the same, you know, progressive, woke ideas of the far left, because that’s where they come from. . . they’re not at all representative of British . . . of real British Jewry, even though there’s a perception that they are. And have been in complete denial about the Islamist threat of anti-Semitism.
Markham: Again, the term I use is the Voldemort effect, because in Harry Potter, of course, not only did people deny that Voldemort was back, they refused to give Voldemort a name. They would not name him, because the threat of him was so overwhelming. But the problem is, if you can’t even name an issue, you have no hope of dealing with an issue. And I think, unfortunately, that effect, that Voldemort effect, has become endemic within these institutions.
I’m not trying to compare today with 1933, because I’m not a fan of kind of historical comparisons in that way – but I will just say in 1933, when Hitler came to power, the largest Jewish organisation in Germany at the time, the Liberal Jewish Union, I think it was called, I can’t remember the name exactly, issued a statement in which they basically said that for Jews who are worrying and planning to leave Germany now, they were never truly German in the first place.
These conversations are not easy. They are difficult, and they involve us really reconsidering the relationships and company we keep, but they are important. And Jewish organisations, so long as they do not deal with these issues, I’m afraid to say not only are they negligent, because they have a responsibility to protect their, as it were, flock, but to some extent they are also complicit. And I don’t say that lightly. I think organisations have a responsibility, Jewish organisations have a responsibility, to speak out on these issues and to call it out where they see it and not leave it to a few individuals here and there. My friends at Charlie Hebdo and well, I have a friend there, rather, and he tells me when he goes into his office, it’s like walking into a bunker. There are armed guards everywhere. It’s terrifying. The fact is there are brave individuals here and there, but they’ve been abandoned. And if you abandon people that are working for change, good people that are working for change, what happens? Those people not only face threats, violence and potential death . . . And that to me is where we are at now, because organisations which do have the capacity to speak on these issues and bring them to public attention have not done so, and they’ve left it to a few brave individuals. Be that certain journalists, be that individual Muslim voices or individual Hindu voices or individual Christian voices or even individual Jewish voices. They have been abandoned. And what these organisations don’t seem to realise is the more you leave these issues in what Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes as the taboo zone, and, well what happens? The likes of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders and AfD deal with these issues and talk about these issues.
The establishment talk (is) about, ‘We need to stop these . . . stop the likes of Le Pen, Wilders, etc., but by dismissing these issues as far-right and not grappling with these issues and not dealing with them, they actually lend credence to the far right. That’s my point. I’m not saying they’re far-right, but I’m saying they lend credence, at least, to what we can say, they’re populist right, they inadvertently give those organisations, they further their momentum. And I’m saying if you want to take the debate away from them, you have to reclaim these conversations. And what is extraordinary at the moment is that organisations or parties which were once involved in Holocaust denial – and even have some connections to fascism, historically – have now become, I would say, our last hope, for Jews at least. And what a sad indictment that is on the state of liberal democracy, that we have to entrust our futures in the hands of people which . . . which may themselves be democratic, but may have elements within their parties which have illiberal tendencies.
The Muslim vote and the politics of number
This is a point that I think you and I have discussed on several occasions before, and I dedicated a whole section in my third chapter to this, and I describe it as ‘the politics of numbers’. David Baddiel said, ‘Jews don’t count,’ But it’s also the case that people don’t need to count Jews, because we are very small in number. So when it comes to the issue of the Israeli/Arab contestation, one of the interesting things about it – and I have to, in some sense, admire Keir Starmer, a rare thing though that is – because he has maintained a position which is not politically opportunistic . . . And he could well pay the price. I think that the likes of Galloway, for example, George Galloway, could well seize this opportunity.
In 2001, the French socialist intellectual Pascal Boniface wrote a letter to the then . . . Francois Hollande. And he said to him, ‘You need to realise that in your country, in our country, France, there are ten times more Muslims than Jews. And in that case you need to adopt policies which are more friendly towards the Palestinian cause than Israel, because we need the Muslim vote.’ And Hollande ignored . . .I’m not sure if it was Hollande, I can’t remember, but they, but certainly the socialist party at the time ignored that. Today, socialism in France under Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has taken on Boniface’s words. And what’s incredible is that the national demonstration, I think, in which 180,000 people attended in Paris against anti-Semitism, the party which did not show its face, was the Socialist Party. The party which did was Le Pen. And I think that that particular example serves to illustrate the way in which the tables have turned politically.
What we saw on October 7 – and this needs to be understood – is that it’s not just a war against Jews. This is a war against civilisation itself and all the values which we hold dear in our civilisation, namely democracy, the right to be an individual, the right to believe what you please, the right to be free. And it’s a war against that. And I am so outraged that people who are not even far-left, but people who proclaim to champion the liberal cause, just my fellow centrists, do not seem to realise what is going on. And it’s not, you know, this kind of extremism is no longer just enabled by the far left. It’s also enabled by people who we see as kind of reasonable.
The only hope I have is in the alliances we form with others. Because Jews just don’t have . . . we are vastly outnumbered. But if people realise what anti-Semitism actually means, right, and understand its place in . . . as a kind of crisis of civilisation, and understand that its implications go well beyond Jews and it consumes societies, it destroys societies, then I hope that people will join us in calling this out and . . . and calling for not just a kind of paradigm shift in the way we’re talking, but action. It’s like governments, not only do they refuse to give it a name, but of course they just don’t deal with it. They do not deal with the issues at play. And what’s interesting is that they will call out, you know, even now, when the police, for example, when that nutter went on to the streets and spoke about creating jihad on the streets, for instance, right? And the police would somehow justify it by saying, ‘There are multiple meanings to the word jihad.’ We all know what, clearly, that guy meant. . . the police think he was sort of talking about a profound, introspective struggle, right? . . . Come on! But you see, that is how the state has – as I said at the beginning – enabled anti-Semitism, and even state-complicit anti-Semitism. They have kind of justified it.
The police across Western Europe and the states across Western Europe do not have a grip on this issue. And the point that needs to be made is that whilst it’s only a few that will go out and commit visible criminal acts, the problem of Islamist thinking has become so normalised in large sections of our Muslim communities, meaning that the underlying issues haven’t been addressed, and the consequence of not dealing with those underlying ideological issues means that it’s obvious that hundreds of thousands of people are going to flood the streets . . . it’s an inevitable development from an issue that has just been ignored.