Anti-Semitism as Radical Chic

Yikes. Before the release of the movie recounting part of his life, Muhammad Ali apparently appeared at a banquet and told an anti-Semitic joke — “What’s the difference between a Jew and a canoe? A canoe always tips.”

That’s bad enough, but as Glenn Reynolds points out, what is truly disgusting is The Guardian’s Charlotte Raven who recasts this rather pathetic joke as some sort of expression of radical individualism. Raven writes,

The timing of this incident – a matter of months before the release of a film depicting him as an anti-racist icon – suggests to me that this was no unfortunate faux pas. I think Muhammad Ali knew exactly what he was doing. In refusing to fall into line with the identity thrust upon him by the Michael Mann biopic, he was offering a timely reminder that his brand of subversive politics will always resist definition.

Leave it to the European Left to present anti-Semitism as a subversive act. Give them a few years, and they’ll be writing about how burning crosses is a postmodern rebellion against the iconography of patriarchal cultures.

Is Jorn Barger a Racist?

Dave Winer wrote something on his web log yesterday which I had been thinking, but hadn’t gotten around to reading — in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jorn Barger’s RobotWisdom web log has really descended into a rather bizarre mix of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories involving Israel.

Last December I mentioned that I was a fan of Robot Wisdom and visited it regularly, but Barger’s posts have become so bizarre that I rarely visit the site anymore.

The Israeli embassy made a minor error in releasing estimates of how many of its citizens were missing or dead in the attack, for example, and Barger has spun that into a huge conspiracy theory in which Israel allegedly knew about or even planned the attack and evacuated its citizens from the building beforehand. The average “X Files” episode had more credibility than that.

Barger had always flirted with the line between anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic, and in my opinion completely crossed over that line a few days ago with his, “Leading White-House hawk Wolfowitz is also highest-placed Jew” link.

It’s bizarre to see someone who is otherwise so intelligent go off into this sort of nonsense.

Was the Holocaust Unique?

A few days ago I noted that NOVA was going to run a special on Holocaust denial. The special turned out to be very good. It recreated part of the libel trial in Great Britain that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against author/scholar Deborah Lipstadt.

Lipstadt refuses to debate Holocaust deniers saying that their position is so illegitimate that it does more damage than good to take them on. Thankfully, overall the NOVA piece did an effective job of simply slamming the inanities of the denial position by showing just how intellectually bankrupt it is. I think this is important, because I think people like Lipstadt don’t realize just how deeply the denial-like mentality has spread. I remember several history classes in college in which the instructor maintained that there simply was no way to evaluate historical statements for their truth value — “The Holocaust happened” had no more or less truth value than “The Cubs won the 2000 World Series.” To say either of these statements is true or false, my professors said, is meaningless.

Don Larson had a different tack wondering why there is so much attention paid to the Holocaust despite the fact that there are other 20th century states that murdered as many or more people. The Soviet Union and China, for example, killed far more people than died in the Holocaust. Why the special attention to that particular act of genocide?

First, of course, we simply know more about the Holocaust than any other state-sponsored mass murder in this century. Even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, former Communists in Russia have managed to keep a lid on the more sensitive Soviet-era records. For China the case is even worse with speculation often having to take the place of documentary evidence. We know that upwards of 30 million people died as a direct result of actions taken by the Chinese Communists during Mao’s reign, but we still only know the broad outlines.

On the other hand, thanks to the Allied victory in World War II the documentary evidence for the Holocaust is overwhelming.

There is an ideological reason, and that is the claim that the Holocaust was a unique event unlike anything that happened at any other time in world history. In one sense, of course, the Holocaust was unique. Although somewhat derivative of socialist ideology, fascism was a unique ideological force in the world and combining that with a vitriolic anti-Semitism that could lead to plans to entirely wipe out an ethnic group on the scale that the Nazis attempted to do has very few precedents or antecedents (though I would argue they are there, from the Turkish slaughter of Armenians early in the century to the racial violence in Rwanda near the end of the century).

Neither China nor the Soviet Union’s massacres ever had the sort of pure ethnic motivations that the Holocaust had (yes Stalin wiped out millions of Ukrainians, but largely for political reasons — Stalin was never motivated by the sort of racial hatred that Hitler was).

Even so, I wonder how useful these distinctions are in the broad picture. Sociologist RJ Rummel has done intensive research into this area documenting what he terms democide — murder committed by the state. In his book Death By Government, Rummel estimates that in the 20th century states murdered about 170 million people at a minimum (the figure could be as high as 300+ million).

Rather than hold important the individual causes behind murders committed by fascist Germany or imperial Japan or even the democratic United States (although Rummel does explore such motivations), Rummel’s analysis suggests that it is political power itself which is dangerous. He summarizes his findings by revising Lord Acton’s famous maxim; according to Rummel, Power kills, and absolute Power kills absolutely. As Rummel puts it, the underlying motivations that states give for genocide and state-sponsored murder are certainly important to understand, but “power is a necessary cause for war or democide.” (And of course, to the victims of state terror, the motivation is less important than action — the Czechoslovakian prisoners of war massacred by the Soviet Union are no less dead than their counterparts murdered by Nazi Germany or those hacked to death in Rwanda simply because the ideological underpinnings of the murders in each case differed).

Although the 20th century saw a mind boggling array of improvements in standard of living, when it comes to state-sponsored murder, the trend was actually regressive. Gerald W. Scully has estimated the percentage of people murdered by states for several centuries and the results look like this,

Century Percentage of

world population

murdered by states
13th century 8.9%
17th century 4.7%
19th century 3.7%
20th century 7.3%

Rummel’s numbers are even worse because he put the percentage of people killed by states in the 20th century at 9%, but his figures end with 1991, and there were significant state-sponsored murders after this period that aren’t included such as the massive racially motivated 1994 killings in Rwanda.

Although the Holocaust was certainly a unique historical event that (hopefully) will remain unprecedented, the sad fact is that state-sponsored murder on a massive scale was rather commonplace and unexceptional in the 20th century.

Democrats Appease Racial Intolerance

    On August 14, USA Today ran an interesting article (“Lieberman says loyalty questions hurt”) on Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman’s reaction to anti-Semitic statements made about him. The story is interesting because it is fascinating to see how far Democrats are willing to acquiesce to racial intolerance when trying to court African American votes.

    How unfashionable anti-semitism is among whites can be seen by the fact that the only white individuals who made anti-semitic remarks directed against Lieberman were fringe white supremacists — the sort of folks who tend to hate Catholics as much as Jews.

    On the other hand, anti-semitic views seem to have a much stronger grip in African American communities. In a recent poll, 40 percent of African Americans interviewed said they agreed with the statement that Jews have too much power in America. Wow.

    That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising that two representatives of prominent African American organizations quickly raised questions about Lieberman begin a Jew. First, Lee Alcorn, head of the NAACP chapter in Dallas, told a radio talk show host that,

I think we need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level because we know that their interest primarily has to do with, you know, money and these kinds of things.

    To its credit, the NAACP moved quickly to suspend Alcorn, with NAACP head Kweise Mfume calling Alcorn’s statements “repulsive.”

    Louis Farrakhan, who in the past has referred to Jews as “bloodsuckers” also weighed in saying that he questioned whether Lieberman would “be more faithful to the Constitution … than to the ties that any Jewish person would have to the state of Israel.”

    The surprising part is Lieberman’s reaction. According to the USA Today story, Lieberman actually plans on sitting down and talking to Farrakhan about, in USA Today’s words, “the issue.”

    So rather than strike out against anti-semitism and in favor of racial tolerance, Lieberman is going to sit down and talk with a man who once told American Jews they were “wicked deceivers of the American people…You are the synagogue of Satan, and you have wrapped your tentacles around the U.S. government, and you are deceiving and sending this nation to hell.”

    After Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush visited Bob Jones University, which prohibits interracial dating, Democrats and the media had a field day. Here was the Republican’s racial intolerance on full display for all to see. But apparently the rules are different for Farrakhan who can question the loyalty of the Democratic vice-presidential nominee based solely on the fact that he is Jewish and, far from being excoriated by the candidate and the party, buy himself a seat at the table for his outburst.

    Just like the Republicans, the Democrats are more than happy to embrace and exploit racial intolerance when taking the moral high road means the risk of alienating core constituents. For this it should be ashamed.