Op-Ed: Studying Muslim Anti-Semitism in America
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards...
“The 2014 ADL Global 100 Survey has spotlighted many aspects of contemporary anti-Semitism. Among them are the widespread anti-Semitic prejudices in the Muslim world. However, there are few studies providing detailed data on Muslim anti-Semitism. In 2009, I published the first North American study comparing levels of Muslim and Christian anti-Semitism.The sample size of each group was one hundred people. It was then compared to one hundred Jewish North Americans as a baseline.”
Steven Baum is an Albuquerque-based clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for over 30 years. He developed an interest in the psychology of genocide and then focused on the psychology of anti-Semitism during the next decade. He has published numerous articles and books on anti-Semitism, genocide and hate, and is the founder and editor of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
“From the study, it became clear that the Muslims interviewed were more anti-Semitic than Christians in the United States and Canada. The average or mean test scores endorsing negative Jewish stereotypes – after statistically separating out anti-Israel sentiment items – were more than double those of North American Christians. When separating culture from religion, Arab Muslims came out as the most anti-Semitic. Arab Christians and Non-Arab Muslims from Bosnia and Pakistan were less so, yet still anti-Semitic. Mainstream North American Christians were not very anti-Semitic at all.
“Next I tried to statistically identify those key elements which were linked to the higher anti-Semitism scores. Christian anti-Semites were often people whose personal experience and identity had been threatened which created helplessness and increased anti-Semitism. By contrast, Muslims believed their group experience and group identity, i.e., their socio-cultural and religious worlds, were invariably threatened by Jews.
“There were exceptions however. A minority of Muslims scored low levels of anti-Semitism approximating the anti-Semitism rates of their Christian counterparts. The least anti-Semitic Muslims did not identify with their social and group sense of self, but with their more evolved individuated personal identity. They were less authoritarian, less conforming, less religious and more psychologically developed. These emotionally evolved Muslims did not view their religious group as facing Jewish threats and tended at times to be more sympathetic to Jews.
"Such findings are consistent with studies of rescuers during the Holocaust and related genocides. If one excludes rescuers whose motives were financial or political, psychological examination found rescuers to come from more educated, more liberal-minded households, to be less conforming with traditional standards, more individuated, as well as more emotionally developed.
“In this study, most Muslims were strongly identified with their group and their culture's hatred of Jews. Whether one was Shia or Sunni, this made no difference when it came to anti-Semitism. Both groups hated Jews equally.
“The social beliefs of a nation may well be pathological and like superstitions, are often dismissed as fanciful and silly. But when such beliefs turn political and become supported by a state’s religion, its government and popular culture, the average person accepts the saturated social beliefs as real. Given the appropriate conditions, one may act on these beliefs in the future.
“Assimilation may include adopting their new culture's values, dress and style but does not eliminate well-entrenched beliefs like anti-Semitism. In my study, the Muslim’s anti-Semitic ratings did not show declines with more years of residence. There were even slight increases
“How developed one’s identity and personality are, appears to be a key factor in prejudice as well. In 2004, Belgian researchers Vassilis Saroglou and Philippe Galand began investigating group identities of 246 native and immigrant Mediterranean Muslim youths. The researchers found that Muslim immigrants differed from native-born Belgians on a series of psychological tests: Muslims were found to be highly religious, uninterested in exploring themselves and less open to new experiences. Not surprisingly, these traits correlated statistically with anti-Americanism.
“What the survey suggests is that the most anti-Semitic people were the most culturally and religiously bound. Those who were more individualized and more assimilated, were less anti-Semitic. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton anticipated the study's findings during an interview when asked why there is dehumanization and violence. His response was to transcend ‘the oldest most primitive problem, which is our tribalism, our tendency to go beyond a natural pride in our group [identity].
“There were other psychological findings as well. Extraversion was statistically correlated to less anti-Semitism and Christianity. Neuroticism and psychosis were correlated with greater levels of anger, authoritarianism, Islam, and being Arab. Yet North American Christians originating in the Middle East, are also likely to be anti-Semitic. Thus anti-Semitism does not always develop from religion. An important factor is how one’s culture adds poison to the mix.”
Baum concludes: “One needs to be very careful about drawing too many conclusions from the study, but it does provide us with findings which indicate where more research is required.”