A curious inversion…

I’ve taken the time to add another of Orwell’s essays, ‘Anti-Semitism in Britain’, to the sidebar and for no better reason that I consider it to be worth reading.

By way of a related matter, to my mind at least, an article of Mad Mel’s on which I previously commented includes this rather curious comment…

The Islamists, whose shrewdness and perspicacity are consistently overlooked by racist European liberals who believe that Arabs and Muslims are too backward to have anything intelligent to say…

Now one could, with some justification, spend a considerable amount of time discussing the suggestion that liberal disapproval of certain Islamic doctrines and values are animated by a racist view of the ‘backwardness’ of Islamic society, however that’s not what caught my attention. Rather its her reference to the percieved ‘shrewdness’ and ‘perspicacity’ of the ‘Islamist’ that I find extremely interesting.

Both these qualities or, if you prefer, character traits have a long and unduntinguished history as part of the common currency of anti-Semitic discourse in European society and form part of what is the classic Jewish stereotype; that of the guileful and avaracious merchant/financier whose miserly shrewdness, low cunning and business acumen marks them out as fundamentally untrustworthy and prone to intrigue.

These are qualities that animate the two most notable literary expressions of the Jewish stereotype in English Literature, these being Shylock, the chief protagonist of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, and, of course Dickens’ creation, the quasi-demonic ‘kidsman’, Fagin.

Each of these two characters has, at various times, held aloft as alleged evidence of  anti-Semitism on the part of the author, for all that, in the case of Fagin, there is considerable evidence to show that Dickens was anything but anti-Semitic in his views and the real origins of Fagin derive from a real person, a Jewish petty criminal named Ikey Solomon, whose faith was transposed wholesale into the character of Fagin without Dickens ever giving thought to how that might come to interpreted. What cannot, however, be denied is that both the characters of Shylock and Fagin have transcended their (likely) origins as derivations of the Jewish stereotype to capture the wider public imagination in such a way as to engender a ‘feedback loop’ and become archetypal expressions very of the anti-Semitic stereotype from which they stem.

There is, it would seem, a rather curious and highly questionable inversion taking place in Mad Mel’s comments, one in which she (a Jew) has (perhaps unconsciously) elected to transpose qualities and characteristics more traditionally seen as belonging to the Jewish stereotype and which have traditionally supported and animated the anti-Semitic view of Jews as being untrustworty and conniving onto her Islamist ‘opponents’ such that it would appear, in a strange bout of illogic, that she has deployed not only a racist stereotype against her opponents, but the self-same stereotype that has, throughout history, been deployed routinely against her own people, while in the same sentence she castigates European liberals for their alleged racism.

In short, it would appear that her comments belong to the school of thought which begins with the phrase, ‘I’m not racist, but…’ that Orwell highlights in two of the conversational examples cited his essay on anti-Semitism:

“Young intellectual, Communist or near-Communist: “No, I do not like Jews. I’ve never made any secret of that. I can’t stick them. Mind you, I’m not anti-Semitic, of course.”

“Middle-class woman: “Well, no one could call me anti-Semitic, but I do think the way these Jews behave is too absolutely stinking. The way they push their way to the head of queues, and so on. They’re so abominably selfish. I think they’re responsible for a lot of what happens to them.”

Speaking of curious inversions, while mooching around on a US-based ‘quotations’ website, which I won’t embarrasing by naming them, I came across one of Ken Livingston’s comments from his statement about the ‘concentration camp guard’ incident with a Daily Mail journalist;

To the Daily Mail group I say that no-one in Britain is less qualified than they to complain about anti-semitism. Their papers were not, as some have reported, guilty of “a brief flirtation” with Adolf Hitler in the l930s. In truth these papers were the leading advocates of anti-semitism in Britain for half a century. 

The curious thing being that site attributes this comment, which in incomplete and peters out after, “Their papers were not…” to Adolf Hitler.

One thought on “A curious inversion…

  1. Elizabeth Poole, in her book on media representation of Muslims, draws attention to the contradictory binaries used to portray Muslims, one of which is that they are both backward and a threat. At least Mad Mel has avoided that clumsy intellectual blunder. I suppose you could say she is the Islamophobic equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping. Or just a half-wit.

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