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Anti-Semitism, Demagogues and the Three Statements of Hatred

May 2, 2016

 

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The trouble with -isms is that they are dangerous tools in the hands of accusers. Dangerous because for the politician, the demagogue or the anonymous name-caller in the social media, there are no gradients. You’re either a racist or you’re not.

The same goes for hatred. It’s a definitive term. You don’t vaguely hate or mildly hate. You hate. Or you loathe. You might hate very much, but you don’t hate very little.

Which is a problem, because anybody who is honest with themselves will admit that there is in fact a spectrum.

Let’s take an -ism. Anti-Semitism. Do you hate “the Jews” so much that you would harm a Jew whom you meet in the street? Or would you personally do nothing, but approve the actions of other people who harm Jews? Or vote for a political party or leader committed to harming them? Would you deliberately avoid employing someone you knew was Jewish? Would you avoid their company, or find an excuse for not allowing them to become a member of your golf club or flower-arranging circle?

Would you avoid shopping in a store on the grounds that it’s obviously owned by a Jew? At a party or among like-minded people in a pub, would you blame the Jews for many of the problems in the country and the world beyond. And if you knew that anti-Semitism was so socially unacceptable that you were afraid to air your views, would you use the word Zionist instead of Jew, even though in your mind the two words were interchangeable?

Or would you do none of the above, but nurse a prejudice – without knowing where it comes from – that leads you only to seek opinions similar to yours?

Now substitute Muslim for Jew, and ask the same questions of yourself. And in the context of the last question, would you substitute the word Islamist, or extremist, for Muslim?What about blacks, whites, Asians, non-believers, Tories, Trots, fox-hunters, animal testers, smokers, cyclists, frackers, gypsies, gays, immigrants, Arsenal fans or fat people?

The sad reality is that anybody who has no prejudice – mild or strong – against any person or group of people is either brain dead, or lives in a cave separated from the rest of humanity.

But -isms don’t allow for shades of opinion or belief. You’re either an -ist or you aren’t. What is why they’re such powerful tools in the hands of demagogues.

Let’s now look at hatred. In the real world, are there grades of hatred?

Prejudice may not be the same as hatred, as I hope I’ve demonstrated. But in the hands of skilled politicians and demagogues, it can be fertile ground for breeding full-blown loathing. So let’s think about these words in the hands of politicians, or more specifically, at what I call The Three Statements of Hatred.

Here’s how it works. Consider these statements:

  1. I hate Jewish people because they have no loyalty to anyone but themselves
  2. I hate people in Israel who attack innocent Palestinians
  3. I hate Binyamin Netanyhu, because he’s a Zionist

Which of them is anti-Semitic? This theoretical hatred ranges from carpet bombing to precision-guided. Most people I know would regard only the first statement as being 100% anti-Semitic. The second statement could be anti-Semitic because there is an assumption born of prejudice that some Israelis kill innocent people. The third statement could be anti-Semitic if the person making it equates Zionism with anti-Semitism, or it could be political if the person sees Zionism as a political movement.

Complicated, right? Now it’s the turn of Muslims:

  1. I hate Muslims because they want to turn the world into a Caliphate
  2. I hate Muslims who mutilate women
  3. I hate Abubakr Al-Baghdadi of ISIS because he’s a murderous fiend

Now blacks:

  1. I hate black people because they’re lazy scroungers
  2. I hate black people who rape women
  3. I hate Robert Mugabe because he’s a tyrant who has ruined his country

Immigrants:

  1. I hate immigrants because they are taking our jobs
  2. I hate immigrants who don’t integrate into our society
  3. I hate Sadiq Khan (Labour candidate for London Mayor) because he’s a covert Islamist

Each of these statements is subject to the same range of underlying attitudes, ranging from outright, blanket condemnation of an ethnic group, a race or a social group to specific, targeted disapproval.

The difference between the first statements and the second is the use of two words: “because”, which allows condemnation for a generic reason, and “who”, which targets behaviour that might not necessarily characterise the whole group. The third statement reverts to “because”, either on the basis that the subject’s behaviour is objectionable, or because he or she is deemed to symbolise the characteristics of the group in Statement 1 or the sub-group in Statement 2.

The likes of Donald Trump rarely use Statement 1. In fact, they rarely use the words “I hate”. But they do use Statements 2 and 3, because they know that they will reach those who use Statement 1 in everyday life. In other words, by criticising individuals and subsets of larger groups, they appeal to those who have prejudices that could be described as anti-Semitic, racist, Islamophobic or fascist. All the while they retain the ability to deny that they are racist or anti-Semitic, while appealing to people that actually are.

Now remove the words “I hate”, “because”, and “who” from the statements and we get, in the case of the last set:

  1. Immigrants are taking our jobs
  2. Immigrants don’t integrate into our society
  3. Sadiq Kahn is a covert Islamist

And voila! We have a set of assertions that are highly likely to send a message that we should therefore hate immigrants, and Sadiq Kahn in particular. Meat and drink for Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, who leave it to their listeners to draw the final conclusion.

Even if they qualify these statements with “who” and “because”, in the minds of their audiences, the qualifiers disappear.

Thus, Donald Trump’s statement about Mexican immigrants,

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best [sic]. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

becomes, in the minds of his followers:

“Mexicans are drug dealers, criminals and rapists”

What of Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, who has been suspended by the Labour Party for alleged anti-Semitic remarks? In this transcript of a BBC interview, he’s talking about Naz Shah, the Labour MP also suspended from the party because of her allegedly anti-semitic tweets from 2014:

“She’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over-the-top but she’s not anti-Semitic. I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years; I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians but I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic.

“It’s completely over the top but it’s not antisemitism. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

“The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians; and there’s one stark fact that virtually no one in the British media ever reports, in almost all these conflicts the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now, any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes but it’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government.

His logic seems to run thus:

– There has never been any anti-Semitism in the Labour Party

– Hitler supported Zionism, therefore Zionism must be bad

– Naz Shah made offensive comments in reaction to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians

– Criticism of Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism

– Therefore Naz is not anti-Semitic just because she’s opposed Zionism

– And what’s more, Zionists are war criminals, just like the Nazis

Sort of…..

Based on his words alone, Livingstone can’t be accused of being anti-Semitic, never mind an apologist of Hitler. What you can say is that he was extremely dumb to quote an historical “fact” that is not only of questionable accuracy, but is also a non-sequitur. He shows himself to be a man who is quite prepared to use dodgy history – the idea that Hitler wasn’t mad in 1932 but went mad afterwards is quite ludicrous to anyone who has read Mein Kampf – to fit his political world view. Like his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, he is a man who sticks to his principles. Like many politicians, he chooses only the facts that support those principles. But on this occasion he chose badly.

His approach is very different from that of Donald Trump. Trump, in my estimation, is an opportunist totally focused on personal electoral success. He sensed a groundswell of discontent, and is prepared to say anything necessary to tap it. If it increased his chances of election, he would happily reverse his position on just about any issue. And if elected, he wouldn’t feel bound by any of his campaign promises.

So it seems to me that the true demagogue of the two is Donald Trump. He uses the Three Statements progression, whereas Livingstone is merely guilty of a clumsy framing of long-held convictions.

Either way, it’s clearly the season for wonky inductive reasoning on both sides of the Atlantic. It will be interesting to see Trump explain away his wilder campaign statements if he’s nominated for the presidency. On the European side I look forward to hearing Jeremy Corbyn declare victory in the upcoming council elections, and the Brexiteers claiming that black is white in the referendum debate.

Whoever ends up as winners and losers, the art of reasoned argument is dying. Nowadays, it seems, you can only get widespread attention if you employ the tactics of the shock-jock. And if disapproval breeds prejudice, and prejudice is repeated enough to become respectable, then it’s only a short step to the Three Statements of Hatred. And from there, all manner of destructive possibilities lie.

From → Middle East, Politics, UK, USA

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