Category Archives: Racism

Strategies of Denial of Racism

Dijk, Teun A. van (Wikipedia)

Speaking of denialism, . . . . or rather, painfully thinking back on the unpleasant experience of sitting in a plane for three hours next to a racist jerk who clearly assumed a fellow Aussie would love to be “entertained” with racist jokes and anecdotes against aboriginal Australians and Muslims (of any country). . . .

The painful part of the experience was that it was evident that my “guest” could not see that he was a racist or all-round ignorant bigot. In his mind he was simply acknowledging what he considered to be the “unfortunate realities” of the world. It’s the old line, “I have nothing against blacks, but . . . ”

(Were such persons willing to make the effort to check the full story, the facts behind the assertions, the other perspectives, then they would, I think, learn that their perception of “reality” has been very blinkered and that there are other “realities” — especially from the perspective of the minorities — that are worthy of appreciation and acceptance.)

It turns out that there is a vast scholarly literature on this very thing — denial of racism by those who speak and act racism. I’ll discuss just a small portion of one 33 page article that I have found cited in several other works:

  • Dijk, Teun A. van. 1992. “Discourse and the Denial of Racism.” Discourse & Society 3 (1): 87–118.

It is not appropriate or even moral in this day and age to be thought of as racist. We have laws against racist acts and even some forms of racist speech. Besides, it’s just not socially acceptable to be accused of racism. A decent person, it is assumed, abhors racism.

Would that the human race can just turn off bad attitudes like a tap. After how many centuries of slavery, genocides, race-riots, ethnic cleansings, can we really have suddenly moved into a utopian wonderland where we are all anti-racists? I don’t think that’s a likely reality.

Therefore, even the most blatantly racist discourse in our data routinely features denials or at least mitigations of racism. Interestingly, we have found that precisely the more racist discourse tends to have disclaimers and other denials. This suggests that language users who say negative things about minorities are well aware of the fact that they may be understood as breaking the social norm of tolerance or acceptance. (Dijk, 89)

read more »

Anti-Semitism

Charges of anti-Semitism are ever in the news: UK’s Labour Party defections over accusations of anti-Semitism; Macron’s move to criminalize anti-Zionism as covert anti-Semitism; the Ilhan Omar debacle in the U.S., Netanyahu accusing a UN report seriously critical of Israel’s killing of Gazans last year of being “based purely on an obsessive hatred of Israel.”

Time for some clarity of thought:

True anti-Semitism conceives of Jews as being different from other people, in various invidious ways, which gives those others license to single them out and persecute them in both large and small ways. Anti-Semites maintain that Jews who are engaged in what seem like legitimate political activities—running for office, contributing to political campaigns, writing articles and books, or organizing lobbying groups—are actually engaged in dark and secret conspiracies. Real anti-Semites sometimes favor harsh measures to deny Jews full political rights and at times advocate even more violent persecution of Jews. Even in its milder forms, anti-Semitism indulges in various forms of stereotyping and implies that Jews should be viewed with suspicion or contempt, while seeking to deny them the ability to participate fully and freely in all realms of society. In its essential features, true anti-Semitism resembles other forms of racist or religious discrimination, all of which have been roundly condemned in Europe and the United States since the end of World War II.

By contrast, almost all of the many gentiles and Jews who now criticize Israeli policy or worry about the lobby’s impact on U.S. foreign policy find such views deeply disturbing and categorically reject them. Rather, they believe that Jews are like other human beings, which means that they are capable of both good and bad deeds, and that they are entitled to the same status as other members of society. They also believe that Israel acts like other states, which is to say that it vigorously defends its own interests and sometimes pursues policies that are wise and just and sometimes does things that are strategically foolish and even immoral. This perspective is the opposite of anti-Semitism. It calls for treating Jews like everyone else and treating Israel as a normal and legitimate country. Israel, in this view, should be praised when it acts well and criticized when it does not. Americans are also entitled to be upset and critical when Israel does things that harm U.S. interests, and Americans who care about Israel should be free to criticize it when its government takes actions that they believe are not in Israel’s interest either. There is neither special treatment nor a double standard here. Similarly, most critics of the lobby do not see it as a cabal or conspiracy; rather, they argue—as we have—that pro-Israel organizations act as other interest groups do. While the charge of anti-Semitism can be an effective smear tactic, it is usually groundless.

Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen M. Walt. 2007. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 194-95.

 

Why Anti-Muslim Hostility is Comparable to Anti-Semitism

Justifying a view of Muslims as essentially untrustworthy and potentially violent by quoting the Koran has an interesting historical analog.

Johann Andreas Eisenmenger

In 1700 Johann Andreas Eisenmenger collated and published a comprehensive account of the reasons Jews posed a threat to Christian society. Translated, the title was Judaism Unmasked. The Jewish religious texts, Eisenmenger warned, were the evidence that the Jews hated and sought the harm of non-Jews. He brushed aside contemporary Jewish intellectuals who interpreted their own writings more in accord with modern values and went straight to the sources themselves.

. . . casting aside the interpretations accepted by his contemporary Jews in his quest to reconstruct the world of Judaism by studying the sources themselves.

From a range of Jewish texts he set out

to prove the worthlessness of the Talmud to which the Jews attribute religious authority close to that of the Bible. Five chapters are devoted to Jewish beliefs regarding the Messiah and to eschatology and resurrection. All this is intended to prove that the Jews are ingrained with superstitions and illusionary conceptions.

However, Eisenmenger attacks Judaism principally for its attitude toward other religions and their adherents. The point of this attack is to show that the Jews are commanded by their religion to abuse that which is sacred to all other religions, and above all that which is sacred to Christian­ity. The Jewish tradition prohibits robbery, deceit, and even murder only in relations between Jews, while the property and even the life of the Christian are as good as outlawed. If that is the tenor of the tradition into which Jews are initiated from childhood, one should not be surprised by their actual behavior should they be found abusing articles of Christian worship, that is, desecrating the host, or be caught in deceit, robbery, or even murder. (Katz, 17-18)

He supported his belief with Jewish texts saying that the Jews were commanded by their religion to commit the very crimes he accused them of.

Eisenmenger . . . wanted to demonstrate that everything derogatory or discriminatory that appeared in the Jewish tradition regarding any people whatsoever was seen by the Jew as applicable to his Christian contemporaries. The Christians are identified with the minim of whom it had been said, “Lowering down, but not raising up”; with Amalek, whose memory the Jews are commanded to blot out; and even with the seven nations whom the conquerors of Biblical Canaan were commanded to destroy. In the future, in the Messianic age, the com­mandment of destruction would apply to all mankind save the Jews. As the Jews awaited their redeemer every day, it stood to reason that they would carry out the commandment of destruction even in the present on those whom it was within their reach to injure and harm.

Eisenmenger’s point of departure was the belief that the Jews were habitually robbing and murdering their Christian neighbors. He believed the tales of ritual murder, of the desecration of the host and the like, regardless of whether they stemmed from folklore or from medieval chroniclers who failed to distinguish between fact and fancy. He supported his belief with Jewish texts saying that the Jews were commanded by their religion to commit the very crimes he accused them of. In his attempt to make this point, Eisenmenger drives his interpretation to the height of ab­surdity. In every case where he found such expressions as “deserves death” . . . he explained them as requiring a death penalty to be imposed by human hands. . . . Jewish scholars would also interpret metaphors and figures of speech literally whenever the conclusions to be drawn from such interpretations corresponded to their views. . . . To anyone who is knowledgeable in traditional Jewish literature, Eisenmenger’s interpretations read like a parody of both the legal and homiletic literature. . . . . [F]or the reader who is unfamiliar with that literature: he may fall for Eisenmenger’s conclusions, not knowing that they are no more than the very assumptions that preceded the writer’s examination of the material. He may accept the image of the Jews as a community of superstitious fools, hostile to those around them and despising whatever is holy to their neighbors. Completely unscrupulous in their behavior toward the stranger outside their community, therefore they cheat and wrong those who have business contacts with them, and this they do by command of their religion. If they are brought to court, their oaths are not to be trusted because they regard lying under oath of little consequence when their fellow litigant is a non-Jew. Their loyalty to the state is no more than lip service; and, in fact, they violate the law with impunity and are willing to betray their king and serve his enemies as spies and secret agents. The Jew cannot even be trusted in matters of life and death, and Christians who take treatment from a Jewish doctor endanger their lives. Eisenmenger fully believed the reports, in Christian chronicles and folk tales alike, that many a child had died at Jewish hands in order to satisfy ritual needs. Eisenmenger tried to gain the reader’s confidence by quoting chapter and verse demonstrating that the absolutely unethical behavior of the Jew derived from that decadent source of his religion, the Talmud and Rab­binical literature.  (19-20)

According to […], Islam does not develop, and neither do Muslims; they merely are. . . .

Edward Said, see How anti-Muslim hostility has replaced the old anti-Semitism

Jewish history was also conceived as a single historical unit both by Jewish tradition and by Christianity, the latter, of course, regarding the ap­pearance of Jesus as a decisive turning point. However, while the tradi­tional concept, Jewish or Christian, was that the unity derived from a divine mission, Voltaire explained it in terms of permanent qualities deeply rooted in the spirit and character of the people. Evidence of these characteristics could be taken from any period in the history of the people: after all, periodization is essentially an external matter, and time creates no barriers between generations. Consequently, Voltaire’s method allowed him to transfer his data from one period to the next and to attribute the basic characteristics of the Biblical people to later generations. Likewise, it is hardly surprising to find the converse: qualities discovered in later periods are attributed to Biblical Jews. That Jews are drawn to money and that they deal in business transactions and usury could be postulated in the light of their occupation in the Middle Ages and modern times, and Voltaire projects this stereotype back to the Biblical age. For example, the Bible does not indicate explicitly any desire on the part of the Jewish people to rule over other nations, but in the Talmudic and medieval periods deluding images of the Messianic era did arise. These were the basis for the Christian polemic contending that the Jews sought world domination. Ex post facto, polemicists found supporting material for this view in the Bible as well; Voltaire accepted their Christian accusations and incorporated them in his rationalistic indictment. (42-43)

Katz describes a list of other prominent names through history who followed the arguments and methods of Eisenmenger and Voltaire, too many to cover here in any sort of detail. The point is clear:

The reference to the Talmudic sources, usually based on Rohling’s Talmudjude, became a steady feature of anti-Semitic propaganda.

Or if not the Talmud, it was the Old Testament that rang out the warning:

Duhring, on the other hand, held, as we have seen, the Old Testament’s teaching responsible for Jewish immorality and regarded the “recent citation of Talmudic instances” to be superfluous. (267)

One dramatic scene . . .

In a gathering of some five hundred participants in April 1882, a speaker named Franz Holubek declared that “The Jews have not shown themselves worthy of emancipa­tion . . . The Jew is no longer a co-citizen. He made himself our master, our oppressor . . . Do you know what gives these people the right to put their foot on our neck? The Talmud, in which you Christians are called dogs, donkeys, and pigs.’’ This invective provoked an uproar in the au­dience, causing the police to dissolve the meeting. Holubek was indicted for interreligious incitement but in the ensuing trial, defended by Pattai, he was found innocent. The line of defense was that the alleged invective conformed to scholarly established truth as stated in the learned treatise The Talmudjude, by August Rohling, professor of Hebrew literature at Charles University in Prague. (285)


Katz, Jacob. 1982. From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700–1933. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


 

How anti-Muslim hostility has replaced the old anti-Semitism

Trying to think through the question of modern antisemitism before writing my previous post I pulled off a shelf my old copy of Edward Said’s Orientalism. I was surprised to see how much I had forgotten, and to discover where some of my views on modern Islamophobia and racist attitudes towards Middle Easterners may have been born. Some extracts:

For whereas it is no longer possible to write learned (or even popular) disquisitions on either “the Negro mind” or “the Jewish personality,” it is perfectly possible to engage in such research as “the Islamic mind,” or “the Arab character” . . . (262)

Further on….

Yet after the 1973 war the Arab appeared everywhere as something more menacing. Cartoons depicting an Arab sheik standing behind a gasoline pump turned up consistently. These Arabs, however, were clearly “Semitic”: their sharply hooked noses, the evil mustachioed leer on their faces, were obvious reminders (to a largely non-Semitic population) that “Semites” were at the bottom of all “our” troubles, which in this case was principally a gasoline shortage. The transference of a popular anti-Semitic animus from a Jewish to an Arab target was made smoothly, since the figure was essentially the same.

Thus if the Arab occupies space enough for attention, it is as a negative value. He is seen as the disrupter of Israel’s and the West’s existence, or in another view of the same thing, as a surmountable obstacle to Israel’s creation in 1948. Insofar as this Arab has any history, it is part of the history given him (or taken from him: the difference is slight) by the Orientalist tradition, and later, the Zionist tradition. Palestine was seen—by Lamartine and the early Zionists —as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom; such inhabitants as it had were supposed to be inconsequential nomads possessing no real claim on the land and therefore no cultural or national reality. Thus the Arab is conceived of now as a shadow that dogs the Jew. In that shadow—because Arabs and Jews are Oriental Semites—can be placed whatever traditional, latent mistrust a Westerner feels towards the Oriental. For the Jew of pre-Nazi Europe has bifurcated: what we have now is a Jewish hero, constructed out of a reconstructed cult of the adventurer-pioneer-Orientalist (Burton, Lane, Renan), and his creeping, mysteriously fearsome shadow, the Arab Oriental. (285-86)

The Arab mind . . .

There are good Arabs (the ones who do as they are told) and bad Arabs (who do not, and are therefore terrorists). Most of all there are all those Arabs who, once defeated, can be expected to sit obediently behind an infallibly fortified line, manned by the smallest possible number of men, on the theory that Arabs have had to accept the myth of Israeli superiority and will never dare attack. One need only glance through the pages of General Yehoshafat Harkabi’s Arab Attitudes to Israel to see how — as Robert Alter put it in admiring language in Commentary — the Arab mind, depraved, anti-Semitic to the core, violent, unbalanced, could produce only rhetoric and little more. (307)

The fact about Islam . . .

Lewis’s polemical, not scholarly, purpose is to show, here and elsewhere, that Islam is an anti-Semitic ideology, not merely a religion. He has a little logical difficulty in trying to assert that Islam is a fearful mass phenomenon and at the same time “not genuinely popular,” but this problem does not detain him long. As the second version of his tendentious anecdote shows, he goes on to proclaim that Islam is an irrational herd or mass phenomenon, ruling Muslims by passions, instincts, and unreflecting hatreds. The whole point of his exposition is to frighten his audience, to make it never yield an inch to Islam. According to Lewis, Islam does not develop, and neither do Muslims; they merely are, and they are to be watched, on account of that pure essence of theirs (according to Lewis), which happens to include a long-standing hatred of Christians and Jews. Lewis everywhere restrains himself from making such inflammatory statements flat out; he always takes care to say that of course the Muslims are not anti-Semitic the way the Nazis were, but their religion can too easily accommodate itself to anti-Semitism and has done so. Similarly with regard to Islam and racism, slavery, and other more or less “Western” evils. The core of Lewis’s ideology about Islam is that it never changes, and his whole mission is now to inform conservative segments of the Jewish reading public, and anyone else who cares to listen, that any political, historical, and scholarly account of Muslims must begin and end with the fact that Muslims are Muslims. (317-18)


Said, Edward W. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.


Trying to understand today’s antisemitism

An article in Salon.com caught my eye and initially repulsed me enough to make me deliberately ignore it at first: Ever blamed “the Jews”? You have blood on your hands too.

My first thought was, Hang on, I blame “Australia” and “Australians”, too, for inhumane treatment of refugees and war-loving “all the way with the USA” enthusiasm whenever the US finds another excuse to invade someone. I blame the white British peoples and white Americans for a history of imperialist and even genocidal adventures. And if I speak critically of Israel I am similarly speaking of the nation as a whole for their treatment of black (even though religiously Jewish) races in their midst and of Palestinians generally. Far from my mind is that there is any racial essence in every single Australian, British, American or Jewish person that predisposes them to racist and genocidal (as defined by the United Nations) attitudes and actions. I know I have many like-minded opponents of all these evils among Australians, and I know they exist in the US, UK and Israel, too.

I later did have cause to return and read the Salon article by Matthew Rozsa and learned I had reacted too quickly and ignorantly of what he had written. I should have paid more attention to “the Jews” in the title. No, I have never blamed “the Jews” for the atrocities of Zionism. We have two different terms when it comes to Jews or Jewish people, and I have just used them now, as does Matthew Rozsa. I find it hard to imagine an antisemitic bunch of neo-nazis denigrating “the Jewish people” but I can imagine them spitting out the word “Jew”. I haven’t quite put my finger on the best way to spell out the difference clearly in words but I no doubt will as I think it through some more.

I have been very fortunate to have grown up in a family and in social circles where antisemitism was deplored so I have never been able to personally understand the thinking of antisemites (though I can understand it “intellectually” of course). But recent events I have read and seen in the news have added to my incomprehension.

Trump (sorry to bring him in to the discussion) clearly lent moral support to the antisemitic demonstrators at Charlottesville when he said there were fine people on both sides. I have read and am led to understand that when certain circles speak of “globalists” they are implicitly referring to Jews, to George Soros as a prominent representative, with shades of “world conspiracy” thinking. Recall Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

But here’s the complicating part that I am not quite sure I completely understand. Trump also boasted of his enthusiastic support for the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Stuff the Palestinians. How could one demonstrate any more clearly some sort of philosemitism?

How does that move sit with his respect for the “fine people” of Charlottesville and sinister warning of Soros’s role in “financing” the “thousands of invaders”, a mixed band of criminals and “middle-easterners”, marching to the United States?

I turned back to Edward Said’s Orientalism in a search for some help. I recall he spoke of the bifurcation of anti-semitism since the Second World War: the despised Arab had taken the place of the “ghetto-bred Jew” while the “Jewish people” had become “dehumanized” in reverse — they were now effectively angels who could do no wrong and any faults were merely the side-effects of over-zealous good intentions.

But that was too simplistic. We see here someone who both backs Israel to the hilt and sends derogatory dog-whistles to antisemites at the same time.

It’s the same with that other branch of “semitic peoples”, too, isn’t it. The Arabs. We hear dire warnings of “unknown middle easterners” (hear “terrorists”) joining the invasion caravan on its way to the US. But at the same time we have a devotion that reaches over into subservience to the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

I guess if there is a common point here, it is that Jews and Arabs are on “our side” (or rather we are on “their side”) when they are contained in their state borders and demonstrate an ability to use decisive power to crush the Muslim cum Middle Easterner threat and give us oil. But most of all, the Saudi Arabian elites “do as they are told” by the West — give us oil, support Israel, and keep certain terrorists under check. (We set aside the actual facts for the moment — Israel’s responsibility for launching Hamas and Saudi Arabia’s financing of world-wide extremist Islamism — and confine ourselves to public impressions. Iran also crushes radical dissent and could give us oil but there is a need for vengeance there going back to the humiliating events surrounding the overthrow of the Shah, I think.) When certain Jewish people (“Jews”) and Arabs are “like us” — violent and keeping “Arabs” under the thumb of occupation and imprisonment, and wealth-generating in our interests — they are “good”.

So I returned to read Matthew Rozsa’s article and found some degree of confirmation:

Both sides, of course, will frequently target the state of Israel, which certainly deserves criticism for its treatment of the Palestinian people but has also attracted a certain breed of anti-Semite who embraces Israeli atrocities as a cover for their own bilious views. Here’s an easy tell that distinguishes bigots from legitimate critics: The former will come up with arguments that hold every Jew accountable for the actions of Israeli officials, and are likely to lump Israeli misdeeds into larger diatribes against “the Jews.”

And Edward Said covered that point, too, when he wrote

The common denominator between Weizmann and the European anti-Semite is the Orientalist perspective, seeing Semites (or sub-divisions thereof) as by nature lacking the desirable qualities of Occidentals. (Orientalism, p. 306)

Like us, good. Not like us, bad.

Trumpism: No, it’s not the economy that’s to blame

Smith (left) and Hanley — The University of Kansas

I posted on Facebook a link to an article that challenged my own “liberal” spirit of wanting to believe that racists and other bigots were fundamentally fearful and that a sure cure was to be found in strategically administered education and information. I had long believed that one reason people were sometimes fearful was that they believed certain their economic future was being threatened by immigrants, or people on welfare, etc. The article that challenged these hopeful views I have long held was based on an interview with a co-author of a scholarly publication that remains hidden behind a paywall but now someone has forwarded me a copy of that work and I can set out some of its details here. It is

Smith, David Norman, and Eric Hanley. 2018. “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?” Critical Sociology 44 (2): 195–212. https://doi.org/10.1177/0896920517740615.

The hypothesis that the authors set to test was

that prejudice is fueled more by aggressiveness than by submissiveness, and that it is accompanied by the wish for a domineering leader who will punish the “undeserving.”

Previous studies as a rule had interpreted a desire for authoritarian leaders as an indicator that people loved the idea of submitting and following a domineering figure. Smith and Hanley tested for a new view of authoritarianism — one that derived satisfaction from

forcing moral outsiders to submit. . . Authoritarianism is not the wish to follow any and every authority but, rather, the wish to support a strong and determined authority who will “crush evil and take us back to our true path.” Authorities who reject intolerance are anathema, and must be punished themselves.

(p. 196)

The desire for authoritarian leaders arises not from a submissive spirit but from a wish to see in charge someone who is “punitive and intolerant“.

Authoritarianism and prejudice, two sides of the same coin

Previous studies are cited that appear to make a convincing link between authoritarianism and prejudice. There is a strong statistical correlation between authoritarianism and many forms of bias, “from ethnocentrism to misogyny and homophobia”. It appears that people who support intolerant leaders are not somehow playing down their intolerance because they like something else about them; it looks like they support them because they are intolerant.

17 Variables

The researchers examined 1883 white voters in the 2016 election. Of those 1883 around 52% voted for Trump (979) and of 716 of his supporters (73%) “voted for him enthusiastically”.

The variables they measured were five demographics

  1. gender
  2. education
  3. age
  4. marital status
  5. income

and twelve attitudes. Attitudes towards

  1. Child traits (i.e. desire or propensity for submission to an authoritarian leader)
  2. Domineering leaders
  3. African Americans
  4. Reverse discrimination
  5. Immigrants
  6. Muslims
  7. Women
  8. Personal finances
  9. Health of the economy
  10. Liberalism vs conservatism
  11. General religiosity
  12. Fundamentalism

read more »

The Day Another Race Likened Me to an Ape

Photo from flickr

My RSS feeds tell me that there’s a scandal in the U.S. right now over a prominent personality tweeting a comparison of an African American advisor to Obama with an ape.

I had my own small taste of what it is like to be on the receiving end of such a comparison a few years back when I was visiting China. It happened when I was somewhere in the middle of the mainland (certainly away from coastal regions like Shanghai and Beijing where foreigners were not an uncommon sight), in Wuhan province I think. I was sitting with my Chinese friend in a large and crowded cafeteria and was slightly amused to notice that so many of the other diners appeared to be focusing their eyes on me. I assumed the reason was that I was the only white Caucasian in the room. I could not help wondering how often any of these people had ever seen a non-Chinese person “in the flesh” before. I mentioned my thoughts to my Chinese friend whose reply took me aback: I was told they were staring at my hairy legs and arms; I was told that they were thinking that I looked like a monkey.

I confess that that comparison took me aback for a moment. I laughed, but something deep down inside me was not laughing. Did I not belong to a race that historically compared others to subhuman species? That’s what “we” did to “them” — what was the real source of the ugly feelings I was feeling deep down inside at that moment?

That was the first time I had been in a country where I was the racial minority figure and being compared with a wild animal. In Australia I had become accustomed to hearing of certain ignorant whites comparing other races, including Asians, to a species less than human. Here I was in China getting a small taste of the tables being turned.

I was able to laugh it off, though, because I had no reason to suspect there was anything more than innocent curiosity and analogy in the minds of my Chinese neighbours. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I suspected they all thought I was literally a less evolved animal.

 

Still Chosen After All These Centuries: Readings on Modern Jewish Experiences

I have been reading (and re-reading) several books on the grisly history of anti-Semitism. A few weeks ago I posted on a couple of thoughts that arose out of my reading of From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933 (1980) by Jacob Katz. Katz covers the rise of anti-Semitism from the Age of Enlightenment through to the rise of Nazism. His survey covers not only Germany but also France and Austria-Hungary during that period.

If hatred of Jews is a product of Christianity’s ancient and medieval heritage of blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus, why did anti-Semitism flourish despite the advent of the Enlightenment, rationalism, the ideals of brotherhood and equality that were fanned with the French Revolution and Napoleonic conquests? How do we explain the survival and eventual avalanching of ant-Semitism despite a time in history when Jews were finding themselves being successfully assimilated into society as professionals, intellectuals, and more?

Through Katz’s book it is clear that Hitler did not suddenly come upon the scene and manufacture a popular antagonism against Jews. Hitler merely exploited what was already fermenting before his arrival on the scene.

Katz’s answers are interesting. They are compatible, for most part, with the analyses of the other authors I read.

Another work, one that covers a wider field than Katz’s primary focus on the history of written ideas, is The Pity of it All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch 1743-1933 (2002) by Amos Elon. Elon writes more colourful portraits of individuals, from Moses Mendelssohn to Albert Einstein. Elon takes us through the struggles of many high-achieving Jews to slough off their “Jewishness” in order to become one with other Germans both in professional status and cultural acceptance. Yet, the “pity of it all” was, of course, that the reader knows the outcome before the final chapter and that it was all in vain.

Meanwhile, I found myself turning back to re-read Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years (2008 edition) by Israel Shahak. Shahak’s little volume is a sharp reminder of the unsavoury tribalism at the heart of beliefs and practices of many religiously conservative Jews and nationalist Israelis even today. So often a haloed religious smile hypocritically hides a judgmental, intolerant heart. Elements of the superstitions and ugly tribalism associated with medieval Jewish ghetto life that more cosmopolitan Jews since the Enlightenment have sought so diligently to escape are still with us, unfortunately.

Finally there was The Jewish Century (2004), an award-winning book by Yuri Slezkine. Slezkine’s primary focus, unlike the above works, is on the Jewish experience in Russia and the contrasting experiences of Jewish emigres in, above all, the United States of America and Israel. His first few chapters were far too literary, metaphorical, for my taste that was seeking something more direct and prosaic. But I could not ignore his point and had absorbed his message by the final section.

Once again we find ourselves immersed in the by now familiar story: Jews finding themselves, or rather making themselves, increasingly accepted in their host society only to find themselves suddenly once again fallen from grace despite their best and most loyal efforts. Tribal nationalism trumped the idealism of socialism in Russia. The same atavistic nationalism that animated the pre-war world survives as a regressive anachronism in Zionism.

Only Israel continued to live in the European 1930s; only Israel still belonged to the eternally young, worshiped athleticism and inarticulateness, celebrated combat and secret police, promoting hiking and scouting, despised doubt and introspection, embodied the seamless unity of the chosen, and rejected most traits traditionally associated with Jewishness. (p. 327)

How has it been allowed to flourish as such an anachronism? Whence the unquestioning support for the Zionist state of Israel from the world that fought to end the worst excesses of nationalism and racism?

The most fundamental way in which World War II transformed the world was that it gave birth to a new moral absolute: the Nazis as universal evil. . . .

It was only a matter of time, in other words, before the central targets of Nazi violence became the world’s universal victims. From being the Jewish God’s Chosen People, the Jews had become the Nazis’ chosen people, and by becoming the Nazis’ chosen people, they became the Chosen People of the postwar Western world. The Holocaust became the measure of all crimes, and anti-Semitism became the only irredeemable form of ethnic bigotry in Western public life (no other kind of national hostility, however chronic or violent, has a special term attached to it — unless one counts “racism,” which is comparable but not tribe-specific). (pp. 360-361, my bolding)

read more »

More on Islamophobia as an analog of Anti-semitism

Following on from Islamophobia Really Is a Twin of Anti-Semitism . . . .

I find it interesting to compare the various attitudes towards Jews in France between 1780 and 1880 (chapter 8 and others of Jacob Katz’s From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933) with attitudes towards Muslims that we are witnessing today.

In Australia (and the situation does not seem to me to be very dissimilar in other Western countries) we have divided social attitudes towards Muslims. Some of us are willing to welcome the Muslim community, especially recent refugee arrivals, with open arms. Others are worried that too easily accepting them brings problems: their values are too different; they do not assimilate; they protect would-be terrorists; they sympathize with terrorists; they pose a threat to the future cultural landscape of the country; they threaten to introduce sharia law.

So it is interesting to read of a similar divide in nineteenth century French society. Though a minority, it appears, were willing to carry on the hopes of rights for the Jews that the French Revolution seemed for a moment to promise, others could not put aside their fears and suspicions concerning the consequences of Jews being fully accepted as equals with equal rights. Their values were too different; they did not assimilate; they were capable of any crime imaginable, “cheating, forgery, treason” (after all, they were all the children of deicides); they posed a threat to the wellbeing of non Jews — they would reduce other French people to destitution; they cheated and robbed in their business dealings; they had no moral principles worthy of a civilized community; etc.

As long as Jews kept to themselves they were seen as incorrigibly unfit for mainstream French society; when some Jews took advantage of certain liberties introduced with the French Revolution and gained positions as heads of major companies or teachers in universities, they were seen as an even greater threat to the long-term well-being of society.

Interestingly throughout the years up to 1880 the authors of major works warning the French nation about the Jewish threat to society did not see the “degenerate nature” of the Jews as racially determined. They viewed the problem as primarily a cultural and religious one; the Jews were “damaged” by their primitive religious beliefs and customs. Many anti-semites, among socialists like Fourier and among the clergy of the church, believed that Jews could become worthwhile citizens eventually, but only through being isolated from their communities and undergoing thorough “re-education”, or by becoming Christians and leaving their Jewish ways and associates entirely.

The biological determinism concept — what we tend to think of as the essence of racism — emerged only later in France.

Anti-semitism was not at this time a “racist” phenomenon. But it was anti-semitism no less.

So those today who insist that their “Islamophobia” or their “critical pronouncements about Muslims” and the threat they pose to society today is not racism and therefore cannot be compared with anti-semitism are not quite correct.

Another interesting contemporary rhyme with history is the few names of the minority group who do come over to the mainstream society and turn against their former religious group.

The anti-Jewish front received unexpected reinforcement from a type of Jewish convert peculiar to the first decades of postrevolutionary France. . . . France produced a type of convert . . . who himself became active in propagating Christianity and assailing his former coreligionists, his “brethren in the flesh.” The emancipated Jew in France had, seemingly, no reason for changing his religion. But paradoxically it is in France that we meet a whole category of converts who demonstrated their conviction by becoming active in missionary work and joining hands with other detractors of Jews and Judaism. (pp. 116f)

Some of these converts (e.g. Theodore and Alphonse Ratisbonne) had in fact grown up with an education that contained relatively minimal Jewish content, or had had negative experiences that estranged them from their Jewish communities, so it was easy for such persons to break away and turn on their fellow Jews. But their Jewish history nonetheless gave them a prominent status within the Church and wider society as “Jews who had seen the light”. These converts, we can well imagine, were excellent propaganda value to “proving” just how degenerate the Jews they left behind really were.

One thinks of a number of prominent names of ex-Muslims who today share public platforms with bigoted Islamophobes. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s past history with her Muslim family and community is shrouded in unanswered questions and checkered with moral ambiguities, for example. No doubt some other ex-Muslims really have suffered terrible injustices that nothing can excuse, but we become part of a wider problem if we brand all Muslims as abnormally abusive. (More positive voices I have found are Maryam Namazie and Elham Manea.)

Just some passing thoughts as I continue to read Katz.

 

 

Two Baffling Conundrums on Modern AntiSemitism

Jerry Coyne and Mano Singham have each posted their respective conundrums about Nazis and modern day antisemitism.

FTB (Freethought blogs) blogger Mano Singham raises his question in Why do neo-Nazis hate Jews?

But the anti-Jewish racism of Nazi Germany had a plausible explanation. Demagogues always face a particular problem. Part of their appeal is to pander to their followers by telling them how great their race is. This message resonates especially when they are not doing so well, as was the case in pre-war Germany. But then you have the problem of explaining why, if they are so great, their country and their lives are not wonderful. . . . 

Mano points out that the Jews in the US do not single themselves out as obviously different by living in ghettos; to most of us they are essentially indistinguishable from anyone.

So back to my question: Why do the current neo-Nazis hate Jews? I am genuinely baffled.

Mano’s blog post prompted me to pick up from my “waiting-to-be-read” pile of books Jacob Katz’s From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933. It had been some time since I read other answers to Mano’s question, such as Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century and Israel Shahak’s s Jewish History, Jewish Religion, (see my 2011 post, Understanding the Reasons for Anti-Semitism) hence I had an added incentive to make Katz my next read.

Mano’s quandary arises from what I think is confusion between a moment of political exploitation of antisemitism and the reasons for antisemitism itself. Antisemitism has long lurked independently of persons in power who have taken opportunities to exploit and fan it.

That was part of my point in my previous post, Islamophobia Really Is a Twin of Anti-Semitism.

Hard on on heels of Mano Singham’s public query, Jerry Coyne posted his own somewhat perverse confusion in A thought about “Nazis”. I posted a short reply on Mano’s blog but Jerry seems to have a habit of banning from his blog views that dissent from his and he has certainly banned me from posting on WEIT (Why Evolution Is True) — though ironically he deplores the “deplatforming of Richard Dawkins by a Berkeley radio station as “a terrible blow to free speech” — so I cannot offer my response to Coyne personally.

Coyne has a conundrum that he posts in A thought about “Nazis” . . . . read more »

How Philo-Semitic British Israelism Morphed into Anti-Semitic White Supremacism / Christian Identity

In a former life I was mixed up with British Israelism (the belief that the Anglo-Saxon races are the “lost ten tribes of Israel”) so recently I was interested to find a new research paper by J. M. Berger using British Israelism as a case study in how an innocuous if eccentric belief system was able to evolve into today’s antisemitic white supremacist Christian Identity movement. (I have posted details of Berger’s paper at the end of this post.)

The church I once belonged to embraced British Israelism as one of its core doctrines. When I wanted to learn more about the details of this belief-system I tracked down an old book-lined room of old wooden desks and chairs and tended by an old man representing what appeared to be the last gasping remnant of the “British Israel Association” in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I purchased some very old literature with quaint titles that I still have with me:

Most of those publications hold a special place for Jews: the Anglo-Saxon nations (British and American) may have been declared the descendants of the tribe of Joseph but the British royal family was esteemed as a branch of the Davidic dynasty. The tribe of Judah, the Jews, were welcomed as inheritors of the promise of “the sceptre” that would continue unbroken until the coming of the Messiah.

So how could such a belief system evolve into a racist, even a violent, outfit?

It is impossible to cover the details of Berger’s discussion here but I can hit a few highlights. (This post does not do justice to Berger’s theoretical argument.)

It will be helpful to understand some basic principles of British Israelism.

Of primary importance is the distinction between the terms Israel and Jew. Israel is said to refer primarily to the ten tribes who made up the Bible’s kingdom of the north, based at Samaria, while the term Judah, from which we have Jews, was the name of the southern kingdom with its royal city of Jerusalem. Thus Israel refers to the northern ten tribes, the kingdom conquered by Assyria in the 720s, while the Jews belonged to the southern kingdom up to the time of the Babylonian captivity.

The promises made to Abraham were primarily racial or national. Yes, grace was promised (through Christ) but so was race. Multitudes of progeny, many nations and kings, dominance of the political landscape and super-abundant possession of wealth were promised Abraham’s descendants. Those promises became more specific when the dying Jacob passed on blessings to his sons, assigning each one, a future tribe, a particular destiny. The eldest son of Joseph was Ephraim and his descendants were to become a “multitude of nations” while his brother, Manasseh, was to become “a great nation”.

According to the argument these promises were never literally fulfilled in Bible times.

But around the mid-nineteenth century a few people did see two brother peoples, one a multitude of nations and the other a great nation, who did possess all the wealth and military dominance that they believed had been promised to Abraham’s descendants, specifically to the two sons of Joseph: the promises to Ephraim were seen fulfilled in the British Commonwealth of Nations and those to Manasseh in the United States of America.

After ancient Israel (the northern ten tribes) were taken into captivity they eventually migrated (as prophesied) to the north and the west, reaching the British Isles, Scandinavia, the Low Countries, northern France.

But none of this was antisemitic. Quite the contrary, as Berger rightly notes, it was philo-Semitic. British Israelism had a place for all the tribes of Israel: the Jews had been promised not national wealth but a perpetual royal dynasty. Luckily the prophet Jeremiah was able to rescue some of the royal daughters (descended from David) at the time the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was ravaging his way through Jerusalem and eventually relocate them in Ireland where they united with another branch of Judah’s royal family line.

In the last days the British royal family would belatedly acknowledge their true identity and hand their throne over to Jesus at his return. The British and American nations would recognize at last that they were Israelites and Jews would convert to Christianity and everyone would live happily ever after.

The earliest copy of John Wilson’s formal ideological statement of British Israelism dates from 1850, although a Preface the 1876 edition is dated 1840.

So that was British Israelism as it was known for around 100 or so years — up to the time of the Second World War. Bizarre, yes, but surely harmless.

There was a tiny seed, however, that some generations after its publication (see insert on John Wilson) was coopted for lunatic and violent ends. That seed was the passing claim that all of today’s races descended from the three sons of Noah, with those from Ham being the children of the curse. (Ham, recall, was cursed by Noah for apparently taking advantage of his drunken stupor.)

Yet the fact that the Jews were designated a place apart from certain other tribes of Israel would eventually prove to be a wedge that could too easily be exploited in an increasingly anti-Semitic environment. Notice the following lonely paragraph penned by John Wilson in his Lectures on our Israelitish origin (1876 edition):

We have adverted to the case of the other house of Israel, which as being left in the land, and having generally borne the name of “Jews,” are supposed to have remained distinct from all other people. We have seen that the best portion of them must have become mingled among the Gentiles; and the worst of the Gentiles—the Canaanites and Edomites, children emphatically of the curse—having become one with them, they have become guilty of the sins of both, the curse of which they have been enduring ; that they have nothing in the flesh whereof to boast, and cannot obtain possession of the land by the old covenant ; that they can only obtain a peaceable settlement as being viewed in the One Seed Christ, and as being joined to the multitudinous seed to come, especially of Ephraim. (p. 368)

Ominous. But a reflection of the times. The descendants of Shem, Noah’s eldest son, wrote Wilson, had “the greatest natural capacity for [religious] knowledge” (p. 28) and it is from them that the tribes of Israel and the “other white races” descended. Wilson even uses the “Semitic” to refer to all of these descendants of Shem, not only the Jews.

Rising tide of anti-Semitism

read more »

Forgotten Past: Saint-Domingue, Slave States, and the Second Amendment

Battle at San Domingo, a painting by January Suchodolski
Battle at San Domingo, a painting by January Suchodolski

In the fury that followed the murderous rampage in a South Carolina church back in June, we Americans found our attention diverted from yet another gun incident to the ubiquitous Confederate battle flag and the unhealed wounds that its presence calls to mind. And in the ensuing noisy debate, I happened to see a right-wing meme in my Facebook stream that gave me pause. It complained about what today’s schoolkids aren’t taught, and it ended with this provocative statement:

Whites were the first people to stop slavery in modern times, whereas slavery continues in Africa to this day.

Presumably, the author of this bit of copy-and-paste truthiness couched this statement with “in modern times,” because he or she knew that Chinese governments had banned slavery at least twice in ancient times. Even at that, China did not permanently free its slaves until the 1720s in the Yongzheng emancipation, and de facto slavery continued for decades.

The long road to emancipation

In fact many nations took steps, however slowly, toward abolition throughout the 18th and 19th century. We can’t be entirely sure what the author meant by “stop slavery,” but I would argue that it must encompass participation in the slave trade and the use of slaves in colonial territories; it has to include more than just the abolition of bondage in the homeland. Nor can we forget serfdom. For while we may marvel at Russia’s abolition of slavery in 1723, we must also note with dismay that its serfs weren’t freed until 1861. (See the Abolition of Slavery Timeline at Wikipedia.)

We could cite the 1777 constitution of the so-called Republic of Vermont, but the slavery ban contained therein had rather spotty enforcement. Moreover, Vermont was a “reluctant republic,” and sought absorption into the Union as soon as it could do so.

The United States itself, of course, did not eradicate slavery nationally until the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. Before that, several nations in the Western Hemisphere had already freed their slaves. Even Great Britain, which had taken halting steps toward full emancipation in the late 18th century, did not effectively end all slavery in the empire until 1837.

We could possibly point to Norway and Denmark as the first two countries to halt participation in the transatlantic slave trade (effective 1803); however, Denmark still allowed slavery in its colonies until 1848. We might also note France, whose revolutionary government briefly outlawed slavery, only to see its return under Napoleon.

A successful revolution

But clearly, of all the places in the world with well-entrenched, industrial-scale slavery, Haiti (originally, the French Colony of Saint-Domingue) is one of the first, if not the first, in which immediate and permanent emancipation took place. And the African slaves did it themselves. In The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward E. Baptist describes how the revolution started: read more »

Mike Huckabee, Meet Some Real Christians

As a Vridar reader, you know that I’m an atheist, having happily lost my faith some 40 years ago. You probably know that I’ve often referred to religion, any religion, as a “mind virus.” I’ve had some unkind things to say about Christianity and professed Christians, but I’ve tried to make it clear that I don’t wish to covert anyone.

"The Golden Rule" mosaic
“The Golden Rule” mosaic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do what you want; believe what you want. But please do it with your eyes wide open. Read everything. Consider all the facts, and make a rational decision.

Having said all that, I’d like to say something nice today about Christianity. I’ll confess my admiration for the victims of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Finally, I’ll have some scathing comments about presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.

As a boy, I grew up believing in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I was pretty sure that this maxim was unique to Christianity, but of course that’s because my fundamentalist upbringing shielded me from real human history. It turns out that this rule of behavior is practically universal. It has the obvious ring of truth about it. Would I want somebody else to do it to me? If not, then I shouldn’t do it.

But Christianity takes it a step further. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells of the last judgment, in which the Son of Man will separate the just from the damned the way a shepherd would separate the sheep from the goats. He concludes with:
read more »

The Politics of the Muslim Controversy

Salman Rushdie condemns ‘hate-filled rhetoric’ of Islamic fanaticism, The Telegraph:

It’s hard not to conclude that this hate-filled religious rhetoric, pouring from the mouths of ruthless fanatics into the ears of angry young men, has become the most dangerous new weapon in the world today.

If the rhetoric is the weapon then let’s find out why are we seeing so many taking it up today? Recent generations have seen several enemies — the rhetoric of nationalism, the rhetoric of corporate capitalism, the rhetoric of state socialism — and this is a new one. What has led to its emergence?

A word I dislike greatly, ‘Islamophobia’, has been coined to discredit those who point at these excesses, by labelling them as bigots. . . . 

It is right to feel phobia towards such matters. . . . To feel aversion towards such a force is not bigotry. It is the only possible response to the horror of events.

I can’t, as a citizen, avoid speaking of the horror of the world in this new age of religious mayhem, and of the language that conjures it up and justifies it, so that young men, including young Britons, led towards acts of extreme bestiality, believe themselves to be fighting a just war.

Salman Rushdie does not like the word Islamophobia but at the same time he self-servingly (probably without realizing it) distorts its meaning and the way it is used. I return to this word below where I address a Sam Harris quote.

Salman Rushdie is telling us that it is “language that conjures it up”. The image is one of Islamic violence that has been smouldering for centuries like a vulcanic demon impatiently waiting beneath the surface of a bubbling geothermal mud pool for someone to chant the terrible magic words to unleash it.

Rushdie’s failure to reference any historical thinking, or any political-social understanding, is distressing and a little frightening. read more »