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Understanding difference

Why don’t we say ‘anti-Muslim racism’?
Why do we need the terms antisemitism and antigypsyism? Isn’t it just racism against Jews and Roma?
Doesn’t ‘racism’ cover all the above?

There are many different forms of discrimination, and people use various terms to define them. At Stories that Move, we focus on antigypsyism, antisemitism, racism, and discrimination against LGBT+ people and Muslims – using these specific terms.

Why terminology is important

The terms we use are important for making clear how different types of discrimination work, and what leads to them. All forms of discrimination have some elements in common, but there are also differences that need to be understood if we’re to grasp the complex history and deeply rooted traditions of ‘othering’ in our societies.

In our online tool, learners will encounter various descriptions of antigypsyism, antisemitism, racism and discrimination against LGBT+ and Muslims to explore the contemporary and historical elements relevant to each term. We also refer to other words that are in common use but are controversial, such as homophobia or Islamophobia.

All these terms are in our glossary, for learners who want to know more.

Creating the other

What the many faces of discrimination have in common is that people are targeted because of their appearance, name, place of birth or perceived identity. Some kind of homogeneous group is constructed (for example Jews, Muslims, Roma, gay people, people of colour) and people are discriminated against on the basis of what they are imagined to be.

Europe has always been diverse, with lots of minority groups all interacting in many different ways. Most of these minorities share a long history of discrimination. It’s important for learners to see that there is no hierarchy in who is discriminated against most, and there should be room to consider the many forms of discrimination relevant to their own lives and the society they live in.

Racism and antisemitism

Antisemitism is often defined as a form of racism in which Jews are held to blame for social, economic and political problems. Like other forms of racism, the created target group is portrayed as inferior. But unlike other forms, antisemitism also creates an image of Jews as all-powerful. This idea forms the basis of conspiracy theories about Jews secretly influencing the media, the banks or the world at large.

Antisemitism in its modern form does not show up in social problems like poverty or unemployment. It is more likely to appear in hate speech and hate crimes, which have a big impact on the lives of many Jews. The fact that mainstream society often doesn’t recognise antisemitism as a relevant problem is experienced as an additional threat, making it seem that antisemitism is the victims’ problem, rather than a problem of society as a whole.

Reversal of guilt

When addressing the topic of antisemitism in the classroom, you may encounter denial. Some learners may dispute its relevance, saying something like ‘Jews are surely no longer discriminated against today’ or referring to ‘what’s going on in Israel nowadays’. Experts point out that this subject triggers a complex mixture of guilt, defensiveness and weariness towards the notion of Jews as victims.

The reversal of guilt is a common phenomenon that victims of antisemitism share with others targeted by discriminatory language: if they are ‘still’ suffering from antisemitism, there must be a reason for it.

Denial of the Holocaust or minimising its importance are common forms of antisemitism. It is important that recognising, commemorating and learning about the Holocaust remain strongly anchored in the curriculum across Europe.

Antisemitism in relation to Israel

Criticism of the policies of the state of Israel or rejection of Zionism is often linked to antisemitism. These are particularly sensitive and complicated issues. When considering students’ views, consider the following points:

  1. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and surrounding countries in the wider region is complex. Many people who are not very familiar with its long history are keen to have an opinion on who is to blame for the current situation.
  2. Israel, as a nation state, can be criticised like any other country. Sometimes, however, the criticism is antisemitic in the language and imagery used. To dispute Israel’s right to exist can be considered antisemitic in the way that it uniquely denies one group the right to form a nation. Often the Israeli government is judged by harsher standards than other governments.
  3. Comparing the Israeli occupation policy with the Holocaust is not only extremely offensive, it is also often motivated by anti-Jewish sentiment.
  4. Antisemitism is most clearly expressed when all Jews are held responsible for Israeli politics.
  5. Anti-Zionism is not by definition antisemitic. There are large groups of Jews inside and outside Israel who support a Palestinian state, the division of Jerusalem, and a return to the 1967 borders by means of exchanging disputed territories. However, objective discussion about Zionism is difficult in the current political climate. In practice, a lot of anti-Zionism turns into antisemitic rhetoric.

Racism and antigypsyism

Antigypsyism is another specific form of racism. It is often used in a narrow sense to indicate anti-Roma attitudes or negative stereotyping in hate speech. However, antigypsyism gives rise to a much wider spectrum of discriminatory expressions and practices, including structural manifestations, such as the poor quality of housing and education available to many Roma. As with other forms of racism, the distribution of power and wealth is an important contributory factor.

What sets antigypsyism apart is its widespread social acceptance in Europe. Antigypsyist attitudes and acts are tolerated without moral stigma in a way other forms of racism are not. To criticise or take discriminatory action towards Roma is all too often perceived as justifiable and legitimate.

Like other forms of racism, antigypsyism has its origin in how the social majority views and treats those it identifies as ‘gypsies’. To combat antigypsyism, we need to examine mainstream societies and listen to those who are affected but usually silenced by antigypsyism.

Emphasising achievements

Each of the five forms of discrimination has its own history that often includes persecution and mass murder. This toolbox does not deal with all of this history of slavery, colonialism, Nazi genocide etc. But it does offer learners the opportunity to connect with different forms of discrimination, through stories from their contemporaries and stories of the past.

We consider it important to not only focus on the denial of rights and the suffering of those who are discriminated against but to also look at the achievements of groups and individuals.

No easy answers

In our Facing discrimination learning path, where discrimination is analysed and the different terms are introduced, the aim is not to give easy answers and crisp definitions. We hope to engage learners in an intense conversation and thought process in which they consider similarities and differences between the experiences of discrimination faced by minority groups.

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