Sunday, June 19, 2005

Strangers and sojourners

There is an interesting article from Paul Johnson on Commentary, where he explores the irrational deep rootedness of anti semitism. Johnson writes:
The historical evidence suggests that racism, in varying degrees, is ubiquitous in human societies, so much so that it might even be termed natural and inevitable (though not irremediable: its behavioral consequences can be mitigated by education, political arrangements, and intermarriage). It often takes the form of national hostility, especially when two countries are placed by geography in postures of antagonism. Such has been the case with France and England, Poland and Russia, and Germany and Denmark, to give only three obvious examples... By contrast, anti-Semitism is very ancient, has never been associated with frontiers, and, although it has had its ups and downs, seems impervious to change. The Jews (or Hebrews) were “strangers and sojourners,” as the book of Genesis puts it, from very early times, and certainly by the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. Long before the great diaspora that followed the conflicts of Judea with Rome, they had settled in many parts of the Mediterranean area and Middle East while maintaining their separate religion and social identity; the first recorded instances of anti-Semitism date from the 3rd century B.C., in Alexandria. Subsequent historical shifts have not ended anti-Semitism but merely superimposed additional archaeological layers, as it were. To the anti-Semitism of antiquity was added the Christian layer and then, from the time of the Enlightenment on, the secularist layer, which culminated in Soviet anti-Semitism and the Nazi atrocities of the first half of the 20th century. Now we have the Arab-Muslim layer, dating roughly from the 1920’s but becoming more intense with each decade since.
Johnson shares some background on the modern middle east that will be useful in countering the suggestion one hears too often, that "it's always been that way over there." See his comments about the Mufti, Al-Husseini. He also makes an interesting comparison between medieval Spain hosting the Inquisition and squandering the wealth that poured into it from the new world, and the Arab world's squandering of it's oil wealth. To the second point, I have to add that while it's interesting, one can see the exact same formula for disaster acted out on a casino winner who has a terrible credit rating and who has never held much wealth. Unearned wealth is very often a curse. I'm tempted to think jealousy may have more impact on this particular streak of racism than it does in others. Repeated failure to out compete simply drives the hater ever deeper into irrational hatred. It's a cycle yes, but not one that can be laid at the feet of the victim. The hater needs to make peace with Providence and move on.

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