Antisemitism & Islamophobia: Origins, History, Relationship
Delivered by Rabbi Reuven Firestone, the Antisemitism & Islamophobia lecture explored the origins and persistence of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in medieval Europe as well as in current Jewish and Arab societies.
Beginning with an overview of the formation of new religions and their relationship to established religions, Rabbi Firestone explained that the roots of religious prejudice stem from a competition for followers and a critique of the old order. This led to an explanation of the role of a scapegoat in a given society as a means through which the sins and guilt of a community could be transferred to another and absolved through sacrifice. After establishing the foundation of religious prejudice in general, the Rabbi shifted his focus to the origins of prejudice between the three Abrahamic religions by citing specific passages from the Bible and the Qur’an. Rabbi Firestone first provided the original religious and historical context of the verses before explaining how people seeking to foment enmity in the competition for followers corrupted the message over the centuries. The resulting “otherization” and stereotypes formulated in the Middle Ages established the core of erroneous beliefs and prejudices that characterize classic anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Over time, Rabbi Firestone argues, these stereotypes become embedded in society and persist because it is a natural inclination of society to stereotype and “otherize,” creating an entity within a society that may be used as a scapegoat and persecuted. The lecture ended at the dawn of modernity, which facilitated the transition of these phenomena from a religious context to a secular one but with the same violent and devastating consequences.