Thursday, August 10, 2006

Anti-Semitism

I never really said anything about the Mel Gibson scandal that recently was going around, but I thought this morning that I perhaps should, despite a certain reluctance. I'm taken aback by the malicious glee with which some people seized upon it; surely, whatever else one's response to such events, enjoyment is not a appropriate. Even if your very worst enemy turns out to be a clear anti-semite or a racist, this is not a cause for satisfaction; it is a tragedy to be mourned. Anyone's hatred for blacks, or Jews, or any other group lessens us all.

But I think there's a more serious danger, namely, seeing Gibson's anti-Jewish insult as some primitive disease to which we more enlightened types are immune. So I think it's useful to remind people that the fight against anti-semitism is not something that's ever over and done with, but an ongoing thing requiring the continual cooperation of Jew and Gentile alike.

There was a time when I didn't take anti-semitism very seriously. I grew up, in my teenage years, at least, in a context that, when Jews came up, was all Christian Zionism and Judeo-Christian Values; as the saying went, to meet Jesus's cousin, just shake hands with a Jew. Anti-semitism was part of the spirit of antichrist; it was a failure to take seriously the truth that Christ came in Jewish flesh. Indeed, the problem Jews have with this sort of subculture is not that it is anti-semitic but exactly the opposite: people from this background have difficulty wrapping their minds around the idea that Jews aren't, like the Amish, just very old-fashioned Christians. They find nothing problematic about the phrase 'Judeo-Christian' because they assume it's almost redundant; they are aware that Jews don't have quite the same views about Christ, and that this might be a problem; but they regard it as the same sort of problem caused by Catholic views about Mary.

So I never took the issue of anti-semitism very seriously; it was almost a joking matter. I was, although I didn't realize it, in a bubble. That changed when I went to Canada and heard people who prided themselves on their educated and progressive and liberal views saying nastily anti-semitic things, and heard news reports of Jewish graves desecrated and synagogues vandalized. I don't want to give the impression that it was all anti-semitism all the time in Toronto, since it was not; but it was common enough to make me uncomfortable, and bring me to the realization that anti-semitism was not simply a fringe occurrence, that it was not a mere relic of stupider days, that it was not found merely among neo-Nazi idiots. The war against it has not been won, with only small pockets of holdouts fighting on in marginal places; it has merely become less visible.

And the reason, I think, is that it is not a fight between people who are anti-semitic and people who are not. It is a fight against something that can insinuate itself anywhere if we are not vigilant. Anti-semitism and the like spring up like noxious weeds in the vast open-air garden of civilization; there is no way to conquer weeds once and for all, only ways to impede them and uproot them. And, like weeding, this is a task you have to keep up for as long as you garden. If you don't, the weeds will overrun the flowers and the fruits, because they'll start appearing even in unlikely places. If you do, there's no guarantee that the flowers and fruits will make it on their own, but at least you've given them a fighting chance.

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