Friday, January 06, 2006

Anti-Semitism: Please explain?

If pushed, I think that everyone would admit to some form of unconscious racism at some time of their lives. If an identifiable group of people seek a change in their social class, some resentment from other classes is to be expected.

Similarly, if there is a perception that one such group is more likely to commit crimes, take coveted employment opportunities or change the character of a neighbourhood, then you would reasonably budget for a spot of social tension. You don't need a degree in Sociology to know that race-related issues will come to the fore at such times.

On a more basic level, there are a thousand day-to-day experiences that must tempt everybody to make an assumption about someone based upon their appearance? Nothing in this observation is, of course, intended to condone it, but I'd suggest that an immunity from casual racism of any kind could be a working secular definition of 'saintliness'.

In international relations, I suppose there is a more dangerous equivalent. Take President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent version of Holocaust denial.

Hard to condone, I think you'll agree? But I suppose that, if you are president of a country that has major differences of regional policy and principle with Israel, it is not a huge surprise that you should resent the existence of one of the historical facts that helped bring about the founding of that state.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not making a comparison between the relative saintliness of someone who occasionally doesn't trust someone because their eyes are too close together, and the pretty-fucking-far-from-saintly argument that the holocaust was invented as part of a conspiracy to procure a portion of the fertile crescent.

But here is the question - and it's not a rhetorical one:

President Ahmadinejad's historical revisionism has resonances in Europe and the US. Why is this?

In a previous post, I've speculated that there is a narcisistic quality to some extremism. I used to work for a political magazine that featured Nazi Skinheads on the cover one week. Our circulation took a perceptible leap. I watched 'Downfall' last night on TV, and alongside the absurdity and tragi-comedy of the script, the visual aspect of National Socialism is still compelling.

There is something quite fetishistic about all of that leather, the swastika armbands, the goose-stepping and heel-clicking. But leaving the narcissism / fetishism aside, how does anyone in Europe or the US get fixated on Jews in this way?

I could quite happily get into an informed discussion of religious sectarianism in Northern Ireland, discrimination against black and Asian people in the UK, and so on. But anti-Semitism always stumps me.

As I say, this isn't a rhetorical question.


helen_of_romford said...

I'm not an expert but there appears to be an interesting essay on the subject behind a subscription wall at the online Britinicca.

However, I can speculate that Jews have always held themselves apart from other cultures, a practice always likely to arouse suspicions.

Equally, their status a Christ-killers within the superstitious Christianity of the Dark age through to the Middle Ages, meant that it was easy to whip up a mob as convenient scapegoats for any ill that befell a community.

"Got the wrath of God on yer 'ead- stone a jew mate, works every time".

finally and most importantly, the restriction on usury for Christians meant that Jews took control of the banking system which always led to considerable resentments when kings and upper classes found their behaviour constranied by their bank manager.

So again, resentment against Jews was official policy.

With such powerful prejudices buried deep in our collective culture, it's not surprising that those who seek an enemy find one conveniently programmed into their psyche.

Paulie said...

Sure. The history is fairly familiar territory. I'm not sure that I go for the notion that anti-semitism is programmed into our psyche - as you put it.

I've never been concious that anti-semitism is a temptation. I have as much of a base nature as anyone, but it no-one has ever been able to appeal to it with anything that I would be tempted to respond to as far as Jewish people are concerned.

And I'd admit that I've had to rationalise away slurs on other racial or ethnic groups. But never Jews.

That's what I don't get.