Friday, December 10, 2004


Joseph Massad on Anti-Semitism

In an article in al-Ahram Weekly, embattled Columbia University professor Joseph Massad takes on the idea that Arabs cannot be anti-Semites because they are, techinically, Semites. Let's just say he's having none of it. I was going to try to pull out a paragraph or two but I think I would end up putting the whole thing up here, so just go read it if you are interested.

I agree with Dr. Massad. The English word anti-Semite means someone who is hostile toward Jews, not toward Semites. You can look it up. A word means what the people who use it decide that it means, not what its separate parts mean when analyzed logically.

Arabs who hate Jews can be called anti-Semites, whether or not they themselves are Semites. Sort of for the same reason that I can dial a number on a telephone that has no dial at all, only a keypad. Language ain't math.

\\Uncle Pitzer
Well if you want to make that argument then you turn the word "anti-semite" into Orwellian b.s. It's the same idea as the word "caucasian." If the biblical account of Noah, is in fact true, then everyone on Earth is actually caucasian, since the term is associated with Mt. Ararat (Ark resting place) and The Caucasus.

I also think your argument that you should not break the word apart to gather more meaning from it is totally wrong. I have to guess you suggested not doing that because it destroys your argument. Take a look at this, it's a Wikipedia entry for Semitic:

Semitic is an adjective which in common parlance mistakenly refers specifically to Jewish things, while the term actually refers to things originating among speakers of Semitic languages or people descended from them, and in a linguistic context to the northeastern subfamily of Afro-Asiatic.

Most people living in that region, especially the Palestinians, are descendants from the original Semitic tribes. If anyone has a true claim to being "Semitic" I think Palestinians have that. More-so than Jewish settlers from Europe/America/Etc.

In terms of the derived meaning of the word, I think Massad is wrong, arabs can't be Anti-Semites. I think if they want to clear up this stupid linguistic confusion they should just say "Anti-Jew" and be done with it...
I refer you again to the dictionary (and remember, we're discussing the word "anti-Semite," not other words you'd rather discuss).

A language, including the meanings of its words, is owned by its body of speakers. I'm sorry if that bothers you.

\\Uncle Pitzer
James, I think you have misread Uncle Pitzer's post or perhaps Alex's, or maybe even Massad's. The point is that no one using this term wants to clear up the confusion. This is the point about usage. Rewriting and renaming are functions of usage. Massad is attempting to deconstruct the current iteration of anti-Semite as a political term. Uncle Pitzer is pointing out just how narrowly this term has been constrained by current usage.

As for replacing anti-semitism with some more precise term, I would vote for anti-likudism or, perhaps by this point, anti-israelism. This latter term would be used in the same way the current fundamentalist Americans call leftists 'anti-american'.

Aunt Deb
Well anyway...

I didn't intend for this to become argument, about semantics. I understand the point you're trying to make Pitzer, and I realize that "anti-semitism" carries the meaning "anti-jew" (etc). My opinion is that it's misleading, in terms of derived meaning. Like Orwell says in Politics and The English Language:

" [Language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

I think there are better terms, which could be used- like what Aunt Deb suggested. Hell, even Massad himself suggests the usage is somewhat silly when he says, "First, I should state that I do not believe that anyone is a "Semite" any more than I believe anyone is an "Aryan", and I do not believe that Arabs or Jews should proudly declare that they are "Semites" because European racists classified them as such."

I think the biggest point he's trying to get across, however, is not what we're discussing, but what he closes his article with:

"Anti-Semitism is alive and well today worldwide and its major victims are Arabs and Muslims and no longer Jews. The fight should indeed be against all anti-Semitism no matter who the object of its oppression is, Arab or Jew."
well, i think i will weigh in on this, because (1) i am very happy that people are posting their thoughts on my blog and (2) whats the point of having a blog if you can't weigh in.

i think, james, that you can hardly separate these points out and say that one is the bigger point. saying that an arab cannot be anti-semitic because he is a semite goes no further in addressing the real issue than does labeling any criticism of israel as anti-semitic.

to delve deeper, to try to get at what is meant when we say these things, how do these words - "semite", "anti-semitic", etc. - frame the discussion and how do we destroy the constrictions that are the result of the way things are currently framed. i don't think we destroy them by saying that arabs can't be anti-semitic because they are semites.

we need to know what we mean by "anti-semitic" before we say that "we must fight all forms of anti-semitism." (just as we need to understand what we mean when we say "terrorism" when we fight the "war on terror.") and so, i'll say that what we are disussing here is important - just as much as, if not more, than taking a verbal stand against anti-semitism, whatever that is.
This is just rubbish, calling critics of Israel 'anti-semites' is like calling anti-rape activists 'haters of men'. Its irrelevant.

Anyway, the Columbia-style witchunts are spreading around the globe, even to liberal Europe:

ACTION ALERT: Demand end to SOAS student witch hunt

30 June 2005

IHRC calls on all campaigners to contact Colin Bundy, Principal at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and demand he retract a reprimand given to student Nasser Amin.

Islamic Human Rights Commission

30 June 2005

ACTION ALERT: IHRC demand end to SOAS student witch hunt

SOAS masters student Nasser Amin wrote an article in his university paper defending the right of Palestinians to resist occupation by violence. After the publication of the article Amin became the focus of a bitter witch hunt which resulted in him being reprimanded by SOAS University. The reprimand was published on the university’s official website without even informing Amin.

His article ‘when only violence will do’ was written in response to one published by Hamza Yusuf which said, in effect that Muslims in Palestine should ‘turn the other cheek’ when facing Israeli violent antagonism.

The Article was not extreme nor even unusual, and similar arguments have been used and promoted in academia e.g. by Professor Michael Neuman. The article was set in a context of open debate about the moral rights and wrongs of Palestinian resistance, and SOAS’s response is at best bizarre.

Amin has received death threats on Zionist websites, and calls have been made in parliament for action to be taken against him. This is not only unacceptable but has been fuelled by SOAS’s failure to defend academic freedom and moral discussion.

The incident is also being used by pro Israeli groups to justify a need for incitement to religious hatred legislation, clearly showing how this law, if passed, will be used against those criticizing the aggressive actions of the State of Israel.

Instead of defending Amin from this witch hunt SOAS announced they had issued him a public reprimand. They did not follow correct procedure or allow him an opportunity to defend himself; in fact, they did not even bother to contact him.

This is yet another example of Zionists bullying anyone who speaks out against Israeli oppression and institutions buckling for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic

IHRC calls upon campaigners to contact Colin Bundy, principal at SOAS and demand:

1) An explanation as to why Amin was issued a formal reprimand without informing him or giving him a chance to defend himself against the allegations.

2) He retracts this reprimand.


Write to Colin Bundy at:
School of Oriental and African Studies
Professor Colin Bundy
Director and Principal
Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square
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