The moderators have provided me with login privileges here to post my thoughts. So, until they come to their senses I’ll probably post the occasional short piece here while reserving my long-form writing for my own blog. For my first post I thought I’d re-post some brief comments I made on Facebook in response to Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic essay Is It Time For The Jews To Leave Europe? in the interests of generating some discussion about the piece.
It is a very long but thoughtful, and worthwhile read; measured and generally well-written. I do, however, have what may seem like a pedantic gripe with some of the language used to describe Muslim anti-Semitism.
There is the use of the passive voice to describe radicalisation, eg: “Merah, who had been radicalized in a French prison…”
There is the passing observation that Islamist anti-Semitism has its roots in European fascism, but without any apparent interest in why Muslim communities are so receptive to such poisonous ideas.
There are the repeated references to European Muslims as ‘disenfranchised’ – a misuse of language, since Muslims in Europe enjoy the same rights and protections as all other European citizens, including of course the right to vote.
And there is the phraseology – repeated multiple times in the article – which strongly implies that fault for the failure of Muslims to assimilate and integrate lies entirely with the host societies. To wit: “the inability of European states to integrate Muslims”; “the failure of Europe to integrate Muslim immigrants has contributed to their exploitation by anti-Semitic propagandists” and “could Europe’s economic stagnation combine with its inability to assimilate and enfranchise growing populations of increasingly angry young Muslims…” and so on.
Do such minor quarrels over language matter, especially in the context of such a wide-ranging essay with so many other obvious merits?
I think so. The clear impression given is one of Muslims as disempowered people lacking in choice and agency; infantilised individuals who are not moral actors. Goldberg does not, by contrast, detain himself with questions about how and why Marine Le Pen ‘became radicalised’, or whether the neo-Nazis of Jobbik are ‘disenfranchised’ – their hatreds are assumed, rightly, to have been freely chosen, and are thus the moral responsibility of those who bear them.
But I detect caution in the language used to discuss Muslim anti-Semitism, and a willingness to indulge – if only in passing – root cause explanations from victimhood and victimisation, specifically at the hands of Europe’s democracies. This subtly excuses – or at least mitigates – the moral responsibility of those who direct their bitter and occasionally murderous rage at Jews for being Jews. I am not sure if this is the result of a conscious decision or a reflex on Goldberg’s part, but it is a common and exasperating error, and it holds true in liberal analyses of Islamic anti-Semitism and fanaticism from the French Banlieues to the Gaza Strip.
The reason for this, I suspect, is that Goldberg is hostage to the same queasiness he identifies among some of the Europeans he meets – a reluctance to criticise a demographic which he perceives to be “in many ways a powerless minority”.
Anti-Semitism is not the inevitable consequence of life on the social margins. It is a conspiracist ideology, selected and not rejected by actors who could alternatively reject and not select it. If one wants to understand the resurgence of European anti-Semitism post-Holocaust, this aspect must be confronted.
It matters how we talk about these things, and Goldberg’s apparent nervousness on this score seems to me to be a blind spot in an essay which otherwise strives to discuss this disturbing phenomenon with an admirable clarity and frankness.