Zionism and Islamism have more in common than their adherents think: both are dangerous political ideologies posing as religious movements.
The only meeting place for a Muslim and a Jew is on the battlefield." So began the leaflet we in Hizb ut-Tahrir distributed across Muslim communities in Britain in the 1990s. We supported this war cry by backpatting our comrades in Hamas and refusing to recognise Israel's right to exist. Behind every single world event, from the Holocaust to 9/11, Arab Islamists blamed a global Zionist conspiracy. Similarly, in Jewish circles, Zionists from Binyamin Netanyahu to Daniel Pipes have made careers out of lambasting Islamists. But are Islamists and Zionists really all that different, despite their blatant enmity? I think not.
Zionism and Islamism are both political perversions of ancient Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam. They were both born out of protest and anger: Zionism in response to tsarist pogroms and Islamism as a retort to colonialism. The heavy political content of both ideologies came from men who had no theological training in the centuries-old traditional understanding of the Torah or the Koran. Theodore Herzl, an Austrian journalist, mapped out Zionism in an age of ubiquitous nationalism. Syed Qutb, an Egyptian literary critic, was the chief ideologue for Islamism. And yet they appealed to people of religious faith. Or did they?
Some of the most ardent Zionists have been non-Jews, not least George W Bush and droves of evangelical, literalist Christians. Increasingly, here in Britain, we are witnessing a new phenomenon of left-leaning non-Muslims who identify with Islamism: George Galloway's Respect party members are a fine example of this. When non-Jews and non-Muslims can share political ideologies set up in the name of faith, it illustrates that these movements, in essence, are not faith-driven, but political developments that have a potential to appeal to various sections of the political spectrum, irrespective of religious affiliation. Islamism pits itself against socialism and capitalism, not other religions.
Prior to the Holocaust, Zionism was a pariah movement among Europe's Jewish communities. Rabbis chastised Zionists for abusing religion and religious identity. And yet, with the inhumane onslaught against European Jews in the 1940s, Zionism gained acceptance and respectability. Today, across the Arab world, Islamism is on the cusp of gaining acceptance in the Arab street as political strangulation, economic suffering and social frustration reach unprecedented levels. For five decades, Muslim scholars, the ulama, have warned against Islamism - but for how much longer?
The recent violent outburst of Hamas in Gaza, killing Fatah members and overtaking government buildings, brought smiles to the faces of many an Islamist in Britain and beyond. Today, Islamist terrorism in pursuit of a utopian Islamist state is a global reality. But we would be ill-served if we forgot the Zionist terrorism of the notorious Stern Gang, assassination of British personnel, raids on Palestinian villages, and the blowing-up of the King David Hotel in 1946. Disregard for the sanctity of human life is a hallmark of both Zionism and Islamism.
Just as Israel is an expansionist state which remains in occupation of the Golan Heights, Islamists plan for a state that would have an occupying army to support ever-expanding borders (see Hizb ut-Tahrir's draft constitution). Just as Zionists claim territory based on notions of "Jewish land" and God-given rights, Islamists wish to reconquer India and Spain as "Muslim land", once ruled by Muslim monarchs.
Zionists have achieved their state; Islamists are busy trying out every conceivable option to bring their dream Zion to fruition. For centuries, Jewish people said "Next year in Jerusalem", and for decades for now, Islamists have been repeating "Caliphate by next Ramadan". I did this for three Ramadans before realising I had been sold a pup and so abandoned Islamism, and slowly rediscovered Islam. There is a world of difference between Islam and Islamism, as there is between Judaism and Zionism.
While millions across the world make the distinction between Zionism and Judaism, to date that distinction is not yet clear for most of us when it comes to Islam. Islamism is not Islam, regardless of the claims of "Muslim spokesmen". To condemn Israeli excesses is not anti-semitic; and to criticise Islamism is not to be Islamophobic.
Among my closest friends, I count American Jews. As a Muslim, I see Jews as cousins-in-faith, the descendants of Jacob. In The Islamist, I denounce suicide bombings and support a two-state solution to the question of Palestinian nationhood, as endorsed by Muslim scholars at al-Azhar in Egypt. So I don't come to this as an enemy of Israel.
My problem lies with marketing political ideologies as religion. Whether it is evangelical Christianity in the United States and their religious support for rightwing Republicans, or Zionism posing as Judaism, or Islamism masquerading as Islam - all three are equally guilty of misleading people, creating conflicts and corrupting three of the world's greatest religions.