Carving a Space in the Islamic Ummah
The semi-structured interviews allowed participants to invoke and describe their perceptions of Jews and Israel. Some issues were not previously envisaged as relevant to participants' sense-making vis-à-vis Israel and Jews. Anti-Zionism appeared to provide a discernible space for young British Pakistanis in the Islamic Ummah, which could enhance feelings of acceptance and inclusion in the religious ingroup (Jacobson, 1997).
Several individuals described negative intergroup relations between Arabs and Pakistanis (see Chapter 7), and complained of the social stigma surrounding their ethnic ingroup membership in contexts involving Arabs. There was a perception that social stigma surrounding their Pakistani ethno-national identity excluded them from the Islamic Ummah:
I do feel that we as Pakistanis are a bit sidelined by other Muslims, you know [ … ] when I went to Iran, I was surprised that people were a bit disgusted by Pakistanis you know. (Fozia, female)
I've never felt that accepted by Arabs and that, especially Arab girls. They think they are so bad, like they consider Pakistanis like shit, you know, like slaves and servants and that. (Sajjad, male)
It [perceived exclusion] can make you like want to hide, you know. Like you're not the same as the rest and like you're an outsider, you shouldn't be there. It feels horrible, you know. (Ayesha, female)
Fozia, a Shiite Muslim, described a pilgrimage to Iran during which she met with Iranian Muslims who held unfavourable attitudes towards Pakistani Muslims, while Sajjad highlighted a perceived lack of acceptance from Arab Muslims (and especially Arab girls). Some participants were aware of a negative social
representation of Pakistanis, namely that they were “disgusting”, “like shit” and “like slaves and servants” in the eyes of fellow Muslims of non-Pakistani background. This was threatening for the belonging principle of identity among individuals who regarded their religious ingroup as a primary source of belonging. Those individuals who depended on their religious group memberships for feelings of acceptance and inclusion, which has said to be the case for British-born Muslims of Pakistani descent, for instance (Jacobson, 1997), may be particularly susceptible to identity threat when they feel excluded by other Muslims. Identity threat was clearly observable in Ayesha's account, in which she described her desire to “hide” due to the feelings of inauthenticity which ensued from perceived rejection from other Muslims.
Against this backdrop, it was unsurprising that some British Pakistani Muslim individuals appeared to seek feelings of acceptance and inclusion from fellow Muslims of non-Pakistani background. For several participants, the manifestation of anti-Zionism seemed to provide a common platform for self-identifi with other members of the religious ingroup, that is, a self-aspect that could bind Muslims:
There's a lot of fighting even in Islam, Muslims fighting Muslims, killing each other. But one issue that we all fight for is Palestine and, as a Muslim, I can't just sit by and watch Zionists killing Palestinians, Jews taking Muslim land. I think of it as my duty to fight it however I can. (Fatimah, female)
There was tension in many participants' accounts, given that there was a desire to construct Muslims as a unified and cohesive religious group bound by their faith, on the one hand, and a need to acknowledge the discord and conflict exemplified by the Arab Spring and other conflicts, on the other. Yet, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was said to constitute one core issue around which Muslims of all political persuasions and ethnic backgrounds were united (Litvak, 1998). Fatimah argued that “as a Muslim” she felt compelled to take an anti-Zionist stance, suggesting that this constituted a necessary aspect of Muslim religious group membership (“my duty”). It seemed that, as Muslims, individuals felt that they could not tolerate acts of aggression against Palestinians (whom they categorised as fellow Muslims), for instance. Like Fatimah, several participants viewed anti-Zionism as a common concern among all Muslims and thereby contributed to a shared superordinate Islamic identity. This perception was bolstered in the context of the threat representation – respondents regarded Israel and Jews (whom they accused of concealing the “truth” regarding the Holocaust) as posing a realistic threat to the superordinate Muslim ingroup.
Indeed, participants reported forming close and cohesive relationships with other Muslims around the issue of anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinian cause:
Aijaz: Yes but here it was special because it's a cause that us Muslims are all passionate about. We believe in it strongly and it sort of brings us together, you know [ … ] It's like common ground, all the divisions are broken down. That feels good.
There was a sense that relationships built with other Muslims (of various ethnic backgrounds) around anti-Zionism were particularly cohesive and meaningful given the centrality of the issue to individuals' identities (Baum and Nakazawa, 2007). Aijaz indicated that the issue unified groups that might not usually be so cohesive, glossing over potential intergroup differences. His account suggested that this was beneficial for the belonging principle of identity given that this reportedly “feels good”. Anti-Zionism contributed to the re-construction and accentuation of a superordinate Islamic identity, which provided sufficient levels of belonging and self-esteem.
Some participants indicated that they felt compelled to take an anti-Zionist stance due to the perceived centrality of anti-Zionism to Islam. In order to accentuate feelings of authenticity (Markowe, 1996), respondents believed that it was necessary to lay claim to an anti-Zionist stance. As indicated by Ali, this was particularly observable in religious contexts, such as religious classes in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was discussed:
You couldn't exactly like go to the religious classes and say to them “Oh the
Jews are like us and are equal” so you have to follow the line to like fi in [
… ] I wouldn't dream of like saying I accept Israel, not that I do or anything. (Abu, male)
Abu's account highlighted the coerciveness of negative social representations of both Israel and Jews in religious contexts. He regarded antisemitism and anti-Zionism as commonsensical in these contexts and therefore rejected the possibility of expressing any approval of the State of Israel or of Jews, more generally. Furthermore, it was implied that in these contexts Jews were generally considered to be inferior to Muslims, which perhaps constituted a form of downward comparison to enhance the ingroup's self-esteem (Wills, 1981). Like Abu, several participants unanimously invoked the sense of acceptance, inclusion and belonging which ensued from taking an antisemitic and anti-Zionist stance, since acceptance of the social representations disseminated in religious settings essentially allowed individuals to perceive a sense of solidarity. This is consistent with Breakwell's (1993) assertion that social representations are central to the formation and maintenance of a social identity. Similarly, in their research into identity among British Muslim gay men who may feel insecure about their religious group membership, Jaspal and Cinnirella (2014, p. 272) have observed
that, for such individuals, acceptance of religious group social representations may constitute “a means of demonstrating, at a psychological level, their affiliation and loyalty to the Muslim in-group, in a context of mounting doubts concerning the authenticity of their religious group membership”. Similarly, antisemitic and anti-Zionist social representations may be regarded as important to their religious group membership and therefore not open to contestation if one's religious group membership is to be safeguarded.
Given the perceived centrality of anti-Zionism (and in some cases, antisemitism) to Muslim identity (Baum and Nakazawa, 2007), some individuals regarded their anti-Zionist activities as actively bolstering their Muslim religious identity and as unifying the religious ingroup:
I was holding a placard saying “Israel is a Nazi state” [at an anti-Israel protest in London] [ … ] To me it was like a duty. As a Muslim, it's a duty and to me it was no different to performing salah. (Qazi, male)
To me it [anti-Zionism] feels good, like I feel quite proud, like I'm doing my bit. Pakistanis are always like quiet or just moaning about crap things but this is something that has put us on the map, you know, as Muslims. (Sarfraz, male)
Qazi recounted his experience of participating in an anti-Israel rally in London during the Gaza War in 2008 (also known as Operation Cast Lead). In displaying an anti-Zionist placard which read “Israel is a Nazi state”, Qazi believed that he was performing his “duty” as a Muslim. By anchoring his anti-Zionist activities to the performance of salah, the practice of formal worship in Islam, Qazi represented anti-Zionism as one of the pillars of Islam and therefore as a fundamental duty that was central to the identification with and practice of the Islam faith. Similarly, Sarfraz construed Zionism as enhancing both his Muslim religious and Pakistani ethnic identities, which in turn provided him with feelings of self-esteem: “it feels good […] I feel quite proud”. There was a re-positioning of his Pakistani ethnic ingroup within the Islamic Ummah, which was particularly important for those young British Pakistanis who believed that their ethnic ingroup was excluded from the Ummah due to discrimination from Arabs. Like Sarfraz, several individuals perceived their anti-Zionist activities as exemplifying their commitment to their religious ingroup: “I'm doing my bit”. Moreover, anti-Zionism performed positive functions for their Pakistani ethnic identity (a subgroup within their superordinate religious ingroup), since it was perceived as enhancing the reputation, credibility and commitment of Pakistanis “as Muslims”. In short, it seemed to endow young British Pakistanis with a space within the Islamic Ummah.
Anti-Zionism, which was imbued and bolstered by antisemitic social representations, provided individuals with feelings of acceptance and inclusion from other Muslims, which crystallised this important social identity and enhanced the belonging principle of identity.