Monday, December 18, 2006

The need to go anti anti-semitic
7 Days to Christmas

So far this series has tackled some of the obvious sufferings and deprivations experienced by the Palestinian people in the holy land, and hence, it would be the right time, I think, to look into that other age-old problem that has affected the 'other' section of people who, also, consider the holy land to be their home.

Anti-semitism has been largely considered to be synonymous with hatred for Jews, and the 20th Century, in particular, has witnessed some tragic instances where it was adopted as official policy and gave rise to the holocaust and the death of millions of Jews and others.

However, etymologically speaking, the term 'anti-semitism' suggests hatred for the entire semitic race, that is, people who speak the Semitic languages like, Amharic, Arabic, Aramaic, Akkadian, Ge'ez, Hebrew, Maltese, Tigrinya, among others. Semitic peoples and their languages in modern and ancient historic times have covered a broad area bridging Africa, Western Asia and the Arabian Peninsula whereas the word "Semitic" is an adjective derived from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the Bible (Genesis 5.32, 6.10, 10.21).

In Genesis 10:21-31 Shem is described as the father of Aram, Asshur, and others: the Biblical ancestors of the Aramaeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, Sabaeans, and Hebrews, etc., all of whose languages are closely related; the language family containing them was therefore named Semitic by linguists, according to an article.

But over the centuries, 'anti-semitism' has moved beyond its etymological roots and has come to be understood as a purely anti-Jewish phenomenon. The US Department of State, in its report on global anti-semitism, has stated that the phenomenon has four main sources:
* Traditional anti-Jewish prejudice that has pervaded Europe and some countries in other parts of the world for centuries. This includes ultra-nationalists and others who assert that the Jewish community controls governments, the media, international business, and the financial world.
* Strong anti-Israel sentiment that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.
* Anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by some in Europe's growing Muslim population, based on longstanding antipathy toward both Israel and Jews, as well as Muslim opposition to developments in Israel and the occupied territories, and more recently in Iraq.
* Criticism of both the United States and globalization that spills over to Israel, and to Jews in general who are identified with both.

I find it rather odd that criticism of the State of Israel has, also, been clubbed under 'anti-semitism' because it does seem like a gross generalisation of the definition. No government is perfect, and most governments adopt certain policies that inspire legitimate opposition. The State of Israel is no different in this regard, and in fact, some of the policies it has enforced in the occupied territories are downright brutal and deserve to be opposed. In fact, some of the fervent opponents have included Israeli organisations like B'Tselem, and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), for instance, files regular reports on atrocities committed by the Israeli military and settlers.

So where does this place the Jewish question? Is it still possible to oppose anti-Jewish ideologies and actions when there exists in the Middle East an economically and militarily powerful entity like the State of Israel in comparison to some of its neighbours?

Obviously, one option would be to exclude the policies of the State of Israel from any discussions on anti-Semitism, and perhaps, it would be relevant to include the sufferings experienced by the entire Semitic race. It would be a step forward but it may take some time for some rational discourse to take place on the subject, but for now, it's best to examine some of the anti-Jewish attacks that have taken place over the past many centuries.

The sad thing is that there are far too many instances of attacks on Jews, and history is full of these miserable accounts of discrimination and ghettoisation faced by these people who considered themselves to be 'the chosen people of God'. The real tragedy is that it was allowed to continue for so many centuries and had the blessings of both secular and religious authorities in the West.

It must have been humiliating to be considered a second class citizen in the countries where they lived, and not allowed to fully participate and integrate with their fellow citizens. Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, for example, gives us Shylock, a Jew, as the villain and though there are some powerful lines that elicit sympathy, nevertheless, we can't ignore the bottomline was that Shylock was the bad guy.

I've never fully understood why some churches advocated 'anti-semitism' even though there is no biblical justification for this kind of discrimination. They were called 'Christ-killers' despite biblical accounts of resurrection and forgiveness, and so it's rather puzzling as to why Jewish persecution acquired religious overtones. The obvious explanation is that the authorities realised that people did not know their scripture and used misinformation to push their own xenophobic agenda.

The Jews have suffered and deserve our fullest sympathy, support and understanding, and perhaps, a pledge that similar type of persecution will not be repeated on them and other ethnic races. It is necessary that such acts of brutality and discrimination do not occur because civilisation cannot move forward if cruelties of this nature are allowed to continue.

But if we are really serious about it, then, we will also consider that the fight against 'anti-semitism', must also include, the suffering, persecution, discrimination and humiliation experienced by other marginalised groups like Arabs in Palestine, the blacks, the low caste hindus, the girl-child and others.

There are victims everywhere, and our world is full of them. We cannot just look at one set of victim and believe our job is done for the day. We must look at the conduct of the entire human race, and weed out those dangerous attitudes that fuel discrimination.

If we are the most sophisticated creature God has ever made, then, we have to live up to our Maker's design. And behave like civilised creatures that have learnt the meaning of respecting others, and 'to treat others like we want them to treat us'.

Maybe Christmas is the best time to start.

3 comments:

Pragya said...

This series of essays is turning out very well, Ashish. The arguments are ver well laid out.

Pragya

June said...

Nice post. There are victims everywhere.

I was really riled up the other day when someone told me that Arabs are anti-Semitic and had to remind him that we are the children of Shem too and that such generalisations are the epitome of anti-Semitism.

Merry Christmas :)

Ashish Gorde said...

Thanks Pragya, it was an impulsive decision to start this series and now feel quite moved by it.

Thanks June, and yes, there are victims everywhere and that's what we must never forget. I'm glad you corrected this person about the real definition of 'anti-semitism'... so necessary these days!

And yes, Merry Christmas...!!!