Muslims in Europe and Israelis: a shared experience?

It may seem to be a remarkably unusual comparison to make. What would a Muslim born in Europe and an Israeli have in common? However, emerging Israeli music artists have touched upon experiences in their music that are all too common for many Muslims in Europe.

“Where are you from? No. Where are you really from?” Many Muslims in Europe, who also tend to be ethnic minorities, are often faced with this situation. It’s a small question that gets asked every day. This question which looks innocuous, is full of meaning. The term “really” poses a problem because it can make people on the receiving end feel as if they don’t belong. In some people’s minds, it seems like being a Muslim or non-white, makes it impossible to truly come from a Western country. Many Muslims and ethnic minorities in Europe feel like they’re being put on trial in their homes and with the rise of populist politics across Europe, it seems that certain individuals feel, even more than ever, empowered to forcefully ostracise ethnic minorities from their Western identities.

This feeling appears to be recreated in the music of up-and-coming music artists in Israel. Daniel Saadon is an Israeli-born singer who caused a stir two years ago with his rendition of the Israeli national anthem, ‘Hatikva’, due to its depiction of Mizrahi Jews embracing both their Zionist and Arab roots. Last year, he released a song called ‘Ein Li Eretz Akheret’ (I Have No Other Country). The message in the song is one that many Muslims in Europe have repeatedly stressed: that they have no other home; they cannot simply “go back to where they came from” because their identity is intrinsically linked to their place of birth. It is not often contemplated, that many Israelis, who face frequent demonisation, had no choice in being born to a volatile political situation. Another Israeli artist of interest is the band A-WA, made up of sisters — Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim, who gained international acclaim for their first single ‘Habib Galbi’ (Love of My Heart), going viral in Israel, Europe and several Arab countries. Last year, they released the song ‘Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman’ (Here is not Yemen) which was inspired by the story of their great-grandma’s journey from Yemen to Israel. Many of the first Yemenite Jews who arrived in Israel were put in transition camps. They often faced taunts and were often seen to be less civilised and we see similar stories in migrant camps across Europe. Perhaps the most poignant verse from the song that encapsulates this experience is: “I came to you fleeing, you saw me as primitive, I saw you as a last resort”.

Both Saadon’s and A-WA’s songs touch upon experiences felt by many Muslims and ethnic minorities in Europe. They are faced with assertions that they need to change, “choose a side” and that their values are too primitive and barbaric. This is not to completely disregard the volatile situation with Israel and the Palestinians, but it does reveal that many Israelis have shared experiences with many Muslims in Europe, in being held responsible for actions that have nothing to do with them. Some people came to Israel fleeing from anti-Semitism in other countries and others were simply born there and this is an all too common reality for many Muslims facing Islamophobia in Europe. It displays the importance of not treating groups monolithically and shows that humans, from all walks of life, perhaps have many more shared experiences than realised.

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Saywah Mahmood

Saywah Mahmood

Aspiring Data Journalist | MA Interactive Journalism student (CityUniLondon)