Terrorism in Europe has served as an unlikely boon for Muslim-Jewish relations, according to Samia Hathroubi, the Paris-based European coordinator for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
Addressing a virtual gathering of the New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee on March 1, she said, “Before the Charlie Hebdo attacks, on Dec. 14, for a weekend of twinning, we had a hard time organizing and bringing people in. Now, people are calling me to organize something. They call me on a daily basis,” she said. “There’s been a great shift among policy makers as well,” she said. But, she cautioned, “I’m not sure how long this will last.”
Following the attacks, she led a delegation of 70 imams, rabbis, and Muslim and Jewish activists who marched together, under one banner, in the Jan. 11 Paris Unity Rally.
Hathroubi said she believes in the power of dialogue to overcome stereotypes and fear. “There’s a competition of victimhood, a competition of memory, and a competition of identity. Jews are talking in the name of Judaism, and Muslims are doing the same. I think by changing and standing up for the other, we can bring people together to foster encounters and begin to trust each other.”
She thinks both groups are ready. “There’s a growing awareness of the need for Muslims and Jews to work together.”
The meeting took place as a conference call instead of at the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, as originally planned, due to weather advisories. About 30 people took part in the call, including students from NJ college campuses, and participants in FFEU programs, including the Muslim Jewish Solidarity Committee of New Jersey.
The committee, established one year ago, has three basic goals: education, socialization, and action. “The time for just giving interfaith lectures is gone,” said Dr. Ali Chaudry, founder and president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. “We need to have Muslims and Jews doing things together now.” He pointed to a recent joint program in Morristown to feed the hungry as a step in the right direction. “We need to bond,” he said, and to launch more practical endeavors.
Hathroubi, 30, whose family is originally from Tunisia, has been in her current position since September 2013. She works on three main tracks: lobbying, fostering encounters between Muslims and Jews, and combatting anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across Europe. Her work brought her to the United States in part to meet with representatives of the State Department.
She also shared that she is on the verge of launching an effort to bring French leaders to the United States to understand what works here, “and what we can do to have a better understanding and work together on public affairs,” she said.