Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Anti-Semitism: The logic behind the Word — Is it sound?

"Anti-Semitism" as a term, seems to have become a word too loosely used in the mass media and possibly everyday language, especially in the so-called "West", wherein not much thought is given to the literal lingual basis of the word.

A little bit of historical perspective on this term:

Wilhelm Marr coined the term “anti-Semitism” in 1879 in his The Victory of the Jews over the Germans, which appeared in 12 editions in one year. His publication blamed the Jews for threatening to dominate the German economy and destroy the greatness of Germany

Source: 19th Century Antisemitism

This fellow, Wilhelm Marr, at least seems to be contextualizing the term—that is, "anti-Semitism"—in a relatively less questionable linguistic framework, whereby he takes what he perceives to entail "Jews", and places it into the context of Jews vs. Germans, with the latter apparently being non-Semitic speakers. Thus here, on the basis of relativity, the anti-Jewish sentiment that was prevalent amongst sections of Germans, can to some extent be safely branded as "anti-Semitism". But today, within the circles of media outlets in the "West", any figure who so much as levies any criticism—rightfully or otherwise—towards a section of "Jews" is casually branded to a broad audience as being "anti-Semitic", while some of the very same personalities in the media who are quick to partake in such branding, are the most vociferous purveyors of anti-"Middle Easterner" and/or anti-"Arab" [a considerable section of whom happen to be Semitic-speakers] sentiments in the "West"; yet, none of these personalities will ever charge themselves with "anti-Semitism".

Not too long ago, Hollywood personality Mel Gibson was blasted in the mass media for babbling on about Jews being "responsible for all the wars in the world" while ostensibly under the influence of alcohol. He was widely accused of “anti-Semitism” in the U.S. news networks!

Don't know, but the last time the present author checked, Arabic language speakers and various groups in the African Horn were also considered "Semitic" language speakers.

Obviously not all Jews are Hebrew speakers, at least as far as their primary tongue is concerned, nor are all Muslims “Arabic” speakers. With that said, especially in "Western" mass media, both the nominally-identified right-wing & reactionary "Islamic" elements and/or public personalities and faceless “Muslims” have increasingly become the focus of negative publicity, and some media pundits & public figures go so far as to outrightly call for the systematic profiling of "Middle Eastern" looking and "Arabic" speaking folks, on the grounds of "national security". Given that these folks are for the most part ‘Semitic’ speakers, should this too, not be considered "anti-Semitism"?—Is doing otherwise, not be deemed blatantly hypocritical?

On this last note, the present author recently came across an article where someone accused Rev. Wright—the subject of much U.S. media attention throughout the progress of the Democratic party nomination process, particularly so at the beginning of May—of "anti-Semitism", and this is how it went:

“Reverend Wright’s views are an eclectic mixture of black nationalism, radical criticism of US foreign policy and conspiracy theories, with a dollop of anti-Semitism—or at least tolerance for the anti-Semitism of figures like Farrakhan—thrown in.”

Whatever the political leaning of Rev. Wright, good or bad, the little that the present author has come to learn about the man has gotten me to think about the premise of this charge of "anti-Semitism"the very least, raise questions about the basis for it. So, in pursuit of an answer, the present author decided to correspond with the author of the citation above, as follows:

I would like to first point out that I don't know a whole lot about Rev. Wright as a person, never met him, nor listened to much of his sermons—save for the few from which the now familiar controversial “sound bytes” were extracted and replayed ad nauseam in various news outlets, not to leave out that I'm neither his defender nor his opponent.

That said, much of what I just cited you on [above] doesn't appear to be an unreasonable observation of Rev. Wright, at least based on the little that I know of him. However, I do have a question about “...the dollop of anti-Semitism—or at least tolerance for the anti-Semitism of figures like Farrakhan—thrown in.” part of your assessment; what is this charge of “anti-Semitism” based on?

Rev. Wright for his part, as he appeared “live” on the various News network channels, clarified that he doesn't necessarily agree with Farrakhan on everything, notwithstanding his friendship with the latter—relating that to the audience by noting that no two people in a single room will share the same view on everything, and said this:

“Louis said 20 years ago that **Zionism, not Judaism**, was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter's being vilified for and Bishop Tutu's being vilified for. **And everybody wants to paint me as if I'm anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.**

He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century; that's what I think about him.... Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn't make me this color.” — by Rev. Wright, Courtesy CNN

Note: ** is for emphasis.

Rev. Wright goes onto to say something to the effect of the need for people to work together, despite religious [and presumably ethnic] differences. “Zionism” is certainly not “Semitism", nor “Judaism” is “Semitism” the last time I checked...or am I wrong about that?

“Semitic” in modern terms, is generally a reference to a language phylum that is said to be an offshoot of language super-phylum which has its origins in eastern Africa. Hebrew is generally considered to be a “Semitic” language, which would make its speakers—“Semitic speakers”, but so does the same apply to other languages that belong to this phylum; namely, Arabic, and various Ethio-Semitic languages like Amharic, Tigrinya, and so forth; therefore, speakers of any of these languages are by language definition, “Semitic-speakers”. Should it then follow, that criticism of any member of these people amounts to “anti-Semitism”? If not, why not? Also, while Zionists tend to be Jewish [whether as a socio-ethnic construct and/or religious construct], does that mean that all Jews are Zionists? Likewise, are all Jews necessarily “Semitic speakers”?

Perhaps I have gotten a little carried away with the line of questioning, but I hope the point is obvious. Therefore, please clarify the “anti-Semitic” aspect(s) of Rev. Wrights views.

In relation to the piece above, Zionism is obviously not Judaism, nor are all Jews "Zionists".

Now, unless the present author is missing something here, the subsequent failure of the author to fulfill that request, raises some serious questions about the validity of this charge of "anti-Semitism" and the level of care with which it was levied!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

A valid question, and too often, the answer is lacking. The charge of "anti-semitism" reminds me of the simplistic question often thrown out -- 'Were the ancient Egyptians black?" Generally those who ask don't bother to define exactly what they mean by "black" or "ancient Egyptians" but glide swiftly on to "debunk" what "Afrocentrists believe," while carefully avoiding specifying their definitions or any real scientific debate on the issues. It is all BS sound bites.

The whole approach is too often dishonest, cynical and bogus- setting up a shaky strawman the "questioners" can then go on to "debunk". The charge of "anti-Semitism" sometimes takes this cynical form, setting up rickety "sound bite" strawmen to be knocked down by noble "people of goodwill." There is much Rev Wright can be criticized for. Let's at least be honest about his claims and critique them accordingly.

Mystery Solver said...

anonymous writes:

There is much Rev Wright can be criticized for. Let's at least be honest about his claims and critique them accordingly.

There probably is; I don't know much about the man, other than to hear his side of the story, in that he cannot be deemed "anti-Semitic" for criticizing reactionary and repressive policies of the Zionist State -- a point on which alone, he would have been correct; any examples of valid criticisms of the man's endeavors?