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I am an American Jew who has been reaching out to Muslim friends and neighbors. To stress the connection I feel, I sometimes describe myself as a fellow (or sister) Semite or say that I consider anti-Semitism to be just as unacceptable whether directed against Jews or Muslims.

Is this terminology appropriate, or does it show me to be ignorant or insensitive? I know that not all Muslims (or Jews) are of Middle Eastern descent, although both Islam and Judaism are considered Semitic religions.

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"Semite" is an ethnic description (originally referring to the peoples that spoke semitic languages), "Muslim" a religious one. The confusion only arises because "Jewish" is both an ethnic and a religious description. There are non-semitic Jews however, in particular: converts from other ethnicities. While many Muslims are Arabs, many are not, so calling non-semitic Muslims Semites makes no sense.

Note: "anti-semitism" is a poor term for exactly the reason that "Jewish" is both an ethnic and a religious description. This conflates the objectionable opposition to people based on race with reasonable criticism of religion and contributes to a taboo against the latter.

  • "Anti-semitism" is considered a "reasonable criticism of [the Judaic] religion"? That's a new one. – Beanluc Nov 21 '16 at 0:32
  • @Beanluc Anti-semitism is not a reasonable criticism of religion, it's a condemnation of people based on their race. In the case of Judaism, criticism of the religion is however often times interpreted as racial bias - just look at the debate around infant circumcision. That generates a racial taboo around a religious practice. – G. Bach Apr 2 '17 at 17:40
  • Yeah, I didn't say anti-semitism was a reasonable criticism of religion. I pointed out that it appeared to me that you had. – Beanluc Apr 3 '17 at 16:48
  • More precisely: It looks like you're saying that it's reasonable to criticize Judaism. That's what I was saying is "a new one". Whether or not the expression "anti-semitism" should be used to name that criticism isn't really anything I care about. – Beanluc Apr 3 '17 at 16:51
  • @Beanluc "It looks like you're saying that it's reasonable to criticize Judaism" I am saying that there is such a thing as reasonable criticism of Judaism. For example, criticizing the circumcision of infants for religious reasons or the punishment of stoning for adultery is perfectly reasonable. I'm not saying that anti-semitism is reasonable criticism of Judaism. The conflation between reasonable criticism and irrational racial bias happens because both a person adhering to Judaism and a person of Jewish ethnicity are referred to as "Jewish". – G. Bach Apr 3 '17 at 20:22

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