Religion

The Viking Conspiracy (Or, I’m Not Jew I’m Jew-ish)

Chances are, if you’re British, you’re white. Chances are, if you’re white British, you’re a gentile.

Chances are, if you’re white British and gentile, you don’t identify as descended from a particular ethnic group.Yet there is a chance, if you’re white British and gentile, you’re a Norman, Celt, Saxon, Viking or other tribe.You may be descended from a clan which invaded, raped, pillaged, burned, and settled. Let’s say Viking. You’re a Viking.

You still carry some Viking genes which mean you are fair game to be judged as a rapist and pillager, and if I happen to be descended from a tribe which used to fight with your tribe (let’s say I am), you are almost certainly genetically inferior to me. Obviously. Viking.

Because you are a genetically inferior Viking with untrustworthy rape and pillage traits, I hate you. I will discriminate against you at best, verbally and physically abuse you at worst. I may even murder you. Whilst murdering you because you are inferior, I will also claim that I hate you because your genetic kin, your fellow Vikings, are secretly controlling the economy and all political power in some sort of Viking Conspiracy. I will write inflammatory material to that effect in order to get more Viking-haters on my side.

While you and others of your Viking kind retreat further and further into insular communities in the face of my abuse and propaganda, no doubt to carry out the disgusting religious rituals I’ve read about which include drinking enemies blood, crushing babies and sacrificing virgins, I will use your caution and defensiveness as another stick to beat you with. I will blame you for not integrating with MY tribe enough, and in my kinder, more patronising moments, explain carefully why getting on a bus with your horned helmet on is an advert for your genetic Viking inferiority and you should just try and blend in more to avoid discrimination.

Vikings killed Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, who I and my fellow tribesmen worship. I hate you for that. VIKING.

Vikings are dirty. You have dirty blood. You’re aggressive and you smell. Your food is weird and gross. Who eats GOAT?

Your customs and rituals, even the ones that don’t involve enemy skulls, are weird and inconvenient to me. Such primitive rites have no place in modern society.Even worse, have you SEEN what the Vikings settlers are doing in Norway? It’s an international disgrace, depending on whose side you are on.

Sound ridiculous? I’ve heard similar or worse about me, my family, my genetic group.

Now and again my Jewish ethnicity crops up, and I’ve been meaning to write this for a while to put to rest some of the common misconceptions about what it means to be ethnically Jewish (from nothing to everything depending who you ask) and why it’s often a problem.

For example, a while ago Twitter was a-kimbo with anger or defence of a British exam question, “Why are some people prejudiced against Jews? Explain briefly“.

The debate appeared to be largely centered around “what’s the problem with teaching anti-semitism?“, and a little bit of “some Jews have their yarmulks in a twist, let’s explain their own history to them as if they don’t know“.

This is a good example of the sort of irritant I face as an ethnic Jew, because it’s typically about declaring what things MEAN, without looking at what they SAY (aka the reality facing ethnic and religious Jews).The question is not “briefly explain some of the historical contributing factors to anti-semitism in the modern world” or “why did the holocaust happen?” or one of a dozen meanings that people have given the question in order to defend it. It asks why some people are prejudiced against Jews. That’s a stupid and naive way of asking the question.

Here’s my rationale, which doubles as a rationale for why ‘ethnically Jewish’ should be as meaningless as ‘ethnically Viking‘:

    1. “Jew” is often used as a pejorative. I know, I have been on the receiving end. I use it with caution and would not expect to see it in the context of that question any more than I’d expect to see “why are some people prejudiced against Negroes?”. You can argue all you like about who gets to declare ownership of which words, but unless you’ve had it shouted at you accompanied by a thrown weapon, you may not have a rounded perspective.
    2. There are two types of Jewish, religious and ethnic. This confuses some people, and rightly so because both are constructs, but nonetheless, that is how it is. I’ll try and explain:

Jew Type One – Ethnic

Ethnic Jews are those descended from another Jew, i.e. a genetic descendent of the original Abrahamic tribes. These are the ‘dirty blood big nose black hair’ types (like me) that the Nazi Ayran Bad Guys feel are so inferior and tried to eradicate once upon a world war. It is as meaningful as being ethnically Viking, but impossible to escape. Some people claim the ‘inferior blood’ claim is outdated, but those people just haven’t met anyone who believes it. I have, plenty.

As a member of a narrow ethnic group I am more likely to be a match for bone marrow etc with other members of that group, so was specifically targeted by the Bone Marrow Register to join (which I did). When I fill in forms I’m White (other), which always raises questioning eyebrows. I shouldn’t have to feel awkward when filling in a form. I’d also be in line to be hauled off to the ovens should we fall into some sort of Nazi parallel timeline hole like that weird episode of Enterprise. No amount of “but I’m an ATHEIST!” pleading would save me, because it’s my genes…

…which is also bull because, get this, you’re only Jewish if your mother was. Hey, Jews and facists alike, that’s not how genes work, yo. But there it is, the traditional ‘rule’ that Jewishness is passed down only maternally. There are Jewish reformers who recognise the stupidity of this, have a read to get a better idea of the complexity. I have a slim understanding of the reform (and indeed the history), but my aim here is to explain what the hater-on-the-street thinks, and what information I was raised with, rather than the strict scholar interpretation. Or more simply put, the man with the weapon is the one who decides what a Jew is.

People with Jewish fathers sometimes call themselves half-Jewish. Some Jews reject that. Still, there it is and those Jews and those facists keep on insisting that Jewishness is an ethnicity, and governments keep protecting it as such, so we have to defend it as such.

Racist graffitiIn this way, being Jewish is like being black and why I get to bear the badge of “ethnic minority” if I want to. “Explain why some people are prejudiced against blacks” is a really dumb question too. Feel free to ask any bigots you know, they’ll give you some amazing answers. In the British documentary BNP Wives, one of the women explained that she hated blacks because her father’s body, when shipped back from Africa where he was stationed, was missing its wedding ring. Perhaps not what the examiners had in mind. I have outlined in my Viking strawman above the sort of reasons you might hear for why some people are prejudiced against Jews. Again, not what the examiners have in mind.

Jew Type Two – Religious

The second type of Jewish is “a person who has converted to the religion Judaism”. Doesn’t matter what your ethnic origin is, you are Jewish if you convert. There’s a ceremony and everything. It takes years to convert and from my own observations, even more years before you’re accepted into what we’ve acknowledged is an understandably suspicious and insular community (another factor leading to prejudice).

In *this* way, being Jewish is like being Muslim.

If the question was “why are some people prejudiced against Muslims?”, what would the answer be? Something something Bin Laden? This, that and the other oppression of women? You can’t explain why some people are prejudiced against a group without bringing up the negative things about that group, because those things are contributing factors to the prejudice along with ‘things the group hasn’t done/isn’t’. That’s how prejudice works and how stereotypes begin.

To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous, but that is not the answer the exam is looking for. I know, because the answer they are looking for is:

“We would expect [students to refer] to the Holocaust to illustrate prejudice based on irrational fear, ignorance and scapegoating,
says an unnamed spokesperson from the board that set the question. Referring to the Holocaust doesn’t explain why some people are (not were) “prejudiced against Jews”. Not even close. I’ll list a few of my fondest memories to illustrate.

 

  • I once had a fellow college student, a nice Christian boy, throw a chair at me during an in-class argument. He yelled “JUST SHUP UP, JEW”. Which bit of the Holocaust was he thinking about there?
  • When I was fifteen, a young man pulled a knife out and said “I heard you’re Jewish, is that true?”. My friends hissed “deny it”, so I did. He said “good, because I’m Muslim”. Which part of WWII was he inspired by? This was, by the way, the first time I’d heard that Jews and Muslims are supposed to be sworn enemies.
  • A few weeks after 9/11 a cab driver, during a chat about the tragedy and not realising my meaningless ethnicity, said to me quite matter-of-factly “if I got the call, I’d strap on a bomb and walk into the nearest synagogue”. Perhaps it was his “irrational fear and scapegoating” that lead him there. Be neat if you could summarise “briefly” for an exam. But to quote Ben Goldacre for the billionth time…

I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

By all means, teach kids about the Holocaust, about prejudice and about Jewishness (if you can find a sufficiently simple definition). But for goodness sake don’t ask them to reduce modern prejudice to a few dates and events. It is as meaningful to the question of why people are prejudiced against me as Viking history is to why they aren’t prejudiced against you. And whatever you do, don’t call me Jew.

Thanks to @dcturner for the original illustration.

Tracy King

Tracy King

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42 Comments

  1. July 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm —

    I apologize for my confusion, but the way I understood it, being Jewish cannot possibly relate to ethnicity (I know you addressed this already, but I still had to ask).

    Abrahamic? You mean, descended from Abraham? At this point I admit I know almost nothing about the Bible. However, again I was led to understand that Judaism is a religion. Yes, there are origins in certain parts of the world but just how specific are we talking?

    • July 23, 2012 at 9:23 pm —

      Luna–

      Jewishness is a bit of a complicated beast, at least to people who were raised in Christian societies (like the US, Europe, or UK). And it takes on a slightly different cast in the UK, Russia and the US. But…

      Tracy just said in her post how Jewishness relates to ethnicity as a construct and not necessarily as anything real. Just like race: in the US we call people of African descent “black” or African American, we call people from China, Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines “Asian” — and exclude people from the Middle East, India and Pakistan. This confuses the hell out of British people, who (if they are from the Indian subcontinent) might check “Asian” on the forms here and wonder why the lady behind the counter at the local employment office looks confused.

      So. I am, for example, ethnically speaking, Jewish. It doesn’t mean anyone thinks my family or King’s or anyone else’s is literally a direct descendant of a dude named Abraham and his family. Odds are Jews of the regions in Europe have had genes juggled around a lot, even with the endogamy. There are also people who converted, and whose descendents were classed (and classed themselves) as Jews.

      Now, the thing that confuses Christians / gentiles a lot is that you can convert to being Jewish, so it seems like a religion. (And it is). But unlike Christianity, or even Islam, the Jewish religion has been associated with a specific ethnic group and people, who also identify as such. (There’s an old joke that you can be considered Jewish even if you are an atheist, pagan, Buddhist, but not if you are a Christian, and then we have the Marranos…)

      In one sense Judaism has preserved a much older conception of religion and ethnicity than is current in the world today. That is, the religious innovation — the stroke of genius, if you will — on the part of the early Christians was allowing people to convert even if they weren’t Jews first. The Jewish people had conversions too, of course, but it wasn’t something that was encouraged and truth to tell it still is not. (You can’t just say “I believe the Torah” and be considered a Jew, whereas Christians can say “I believe in Jesus” and whammo, you’re done).

      Anyhow, the point is that Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism all invented at some point the idea of conversion regardless of ethnicity / tribe. (Buddhism, for example, was particularly successful in this regard, as it was wildly popular in China, Japan, Korea and the nearby cultures but never took off the same way in India, where it was invented). That set the stage for religions that “sell” better. And it also made religion a matter of conscience, rather than where you were born and to whom.

      The Jewish people (and a lot of others) never really cottoned on to this. Lots of reasons, historical and accidental, but hey, that’s the way the dice roll sometimes. (I’d say that Judaism, at the time, actually was more similar to Roman / Greek traditions, in many ways. Temples, sacrifices, that kind of stuff. Christianity said you could dispense with a lot of that, and crucially, the location of the church didn’t matter, whereas the location of the Temple does, which is why religious Jews place a lot of importance on visiting the Temple Mount and praying at the Wall).

      Then there’s the cultural part of it. Woody Allen is great example here: he’s not religious but he has a bunch of signifiers that say “Jewish” to an American audience. (Ms. King would have to tell you who the British version is; the signifiers there will differ somewhat). But there is an identifiable Jewish culture that exist(ed) in Europe and the US. For example, I know a wee bit of Yiddish, which was the language my grandparents spoke and people still use in NYC even if they aren’t religious. Yiddish is probably a big marker for Ashkenazi Jews, for instance. Not all Jews speak Yiddish; but every native Yiddish speaker is Jewish. (Well, OK, I’m sure there were and are a few who are not. But not many).

      does this clarify things? Odds are not …. :-)

      • July 24, 2012 at 10:58 am —

        Jesse,

        Well actually it clarified things A LOT. Thank you! My granddad on my Father’s side was Jewish. I’m of pure Eastern European descent (Romanian, Russian and Slovakian). Not a hint of anything else. Thus kids in school told me I “look Jewish”. We never practiced religion and what’s more I didn’t even meet my (nonreligious) dad until recently.

        Since then of course I learned that Judaism is a religion, not an ethnicity. Yet I’ve heard this ethnicity debate recently. So thank you for clarifying! And I agree with Tracy (now I get what she meant)- it’s a construct.

      • August 20, 2012 at 8:22 pm —

        The only time I ever consider ethnic background of interest or concern would be in medical situations.
        As was mentioned in the article, donation of tissue being mentioned, also of known genetic propensity of certain diseases in certain ethnic populations.
        As an example, rheumatoid arthritis is quite common in Ashkenazi Jews. So, if someone exhibited rheumatoid symptoms and also stated that they were of Ashkenazi descent, one would lean more toward an initial diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis than Lyme disease. That means less testing, quicker diagnosis and more rapid definitive treatment.

        Beyond medical issues, I really don’t care WHERE someone’s family came from in the past, don’t care about what faith they do or do not follow (unless they attempt to force their faith or lack thereof upon others) or what pigeon hole some others place them in.
        I only care if that person is a decent person, when it comes to associating with them. If they aren’t, I’ll not associate with them. If they are, I’ll associate with them, regardless of ancestry, faith, lack of faith or physical characteristics.

  2. July 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm —

    Great post, made points which needed to be said. I am curious about your characterisation of anti-semitism being based on a belief in Jewish ‘inferiority’ though.
    It seems that a lot of opposition to Jews has been on the grounds of a fear of Jewish superiority- particularly things like quotas for Jews at US and Soviet Universities (which lasted until the 1960s in the US and longer in the USSR) or the worry among that financially proficient Jews can control the world’s banking system.
    It seems that globally the most murderous prejudice arises when the majority population feels that they are about to be outcompeted by a more successful minority group, as happened with the Chinese in Malaysia, the South Asians in East Africa and of course the Jews in Eastern Europe.

  3. July 23, 2012 at 3:38 pm —

    My freshman dorm floor had 1 girl who practiced orthodox Judaism, my roommate who practiced reform Judaism, 1 girl who practiced Islam, and 1 girl from Philadelphia who described herself as “Palestinian” and went out drinking a lot.

    There was considerable conflict across the university between the Muslim student group and the Jewish student group. Signs were taken down, opposing tables were set up, offensive signs were posted.

    My floor mates had some conflict as well, largely with the girl from Philadelphia who insisted on posting graphic and violent signs of Palestinian massacres on her door along with anti-jewish and anti-israel sentiments. It created a hostile environment for her Jewish floor mates, but something about freedom of speech?

    As a person who was in the process of letting go of my catholic religion it was stunning to me to witness the lengths that 18 year olds would go to hate each other for such superficial things. These are people who would probably have gotten along if an inherited allegiance to places many of them had never been and people they did not know had not stood in the way.

    Centuries old conflict played out in microcosm on a college campus, but without the violence. And I know it is culturally insensitive but the whole time I couldn’t help but think how stupid it was.

    None of these students were responsible for the things they were fighting about. The individuals were completely erased in the process of creating a larger conflict between groups. And I wonder now, if my school had had a more active sports program would that have provided a cleaner outlet for their dislike? Would school rivalry have taken the place somewhat of fighting within the university over our parent’s religious practices?

    At some point do our brains just need to see someone else as “other” and dislike them for it?

    • July 24, 2012 at 8:18 am —

      FYI, the conflict between Palestinians and Jews is not “centuries old.” It’s very much a product of 19th century colonialism and great power politicking. Prior to 1948 the average Muslim in north Africa probably never gave a thought to whatever was going on in the Levant.

      It’s important to remember that often when people write about “ancient hatreds” they are just plain wrong.

      Take Yugoslavia. The conflict there was also very much a product of the Serbs and Croatians electing fascists to power. Tudjman and Milosevic were not inevitable, and just eight years prior they had the Olympics in Sarajevo.

      “ancient hatreds” is often a way for CNN commentators to avoid a real examination of the sources of conflict.

      • July 24, 2012 at 11:21 am —

        I agree. For example, the Israel/Palestine conflict is all about land. Modern Israel was set up by the UN in 1948 as a safe haven for the Jewish people. This was a good initiative, but unfortunately it became too popular. Israel is constantly growing, and now the surrounding Palestinians find themselves squeezed into ever smaller and tighter areas.

        I don’t know how to solve this, but one thing we need to right now is to realize that everyone in, on both sides, are just people caught up in a conflict that they didn’t choose to be in. (Most of them were born into it.)

        But here it is: I’m siding with (the state of) Palestine against (the state of) Israel, since Palestine is clearly the weak party here.

        BUT! I’m siding with BOTH the Israeli and Palestine PEOPLE. I want them both to find peace somehow, and I don’t want any of them to be harmed. People are more important than states or religions.

  4. July 23, 2012 at 4:29 pm —

    Sure, let’s stop teaching kids why people hate. We’ll just try to solve the problem without understanding what causes it.

    • July 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm —

      Here is You >U is the point *

      • July 23, 2012 at 8:44 pm —

        Stupid misuse of arrows on my part…sorry. I think you missed the point. What I believe the author is trying to communicate us that we should avoid oversimplifying why people hate. That it may actually be counterproductive to box all of antisemitism into a lesson blurb about the Holocaust.

  5. July 23, 2012 at 5:27 pm —

    While my parents will identify as Jewish, I myself am atheist/agnostic (depending on how much time you have for me to explain).

    My point here is, *I* eat goat. I like goat. As do some of my Jamaican friends.

    • July 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm —

      I have a nice recipe of curried goat… :-)

      • July 29, 2012 at 12:48 am —

        Goat is kosher, if that matters to you. There’s even a Passover song about it.

  6. July 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm —

    But… aren’t you a pirate? You look like a pirate. (“Funny, she doesn’t look Jewish.”)

    “It is a marvelous thing, to be a Pirate King.”

    =}

  7. July 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm —

    Great post which added to my mental stewing about the issue of human loyalty today. Loyalty is an interesting human attribute that in some respects appears to be reasonable or even rational given how humans tend to associate and interact with other individuals, and to what degree we value friendship, or the ability to trust a person, or to what degree one may need to be reasonably loyal to an employer. On the other hand it seems to me that individual human loyalty toward a religion, ethnic or racial group, organization, or institutions of higher learning, where there is little or no reciprocal relationship or trust, seems quite irrational or often like complete folly. The Penn State apologists spouting off in the media today after hearing their beloved Penn State football program has been hammered sound just like the apologists for religions who’ve covered up or committed horrid acts, or one race makinig excuses as to why they hate and harm another race, and on and on. Yep, funny stuff loyalty.

  8. July 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm —

    Decades ago I read the book “I Am Alive” by Kitty Hart, probably the most harrowing book I have ever read, detailing the author’s experiences in Auschwitz.

    Years later I saw her on a film clip confronting some neo-nazis. After all she had been through I was surprised that she was still around, and came across as a cheerful and rather nice old lady.

    Rather than being cowed or angry, she treated the neo-nazis with derision and genuine laughter while telling them, “You’re not Nazis! I’ve met real Nazis!”

    An amazing lady. Mockery is often the best response to hate.

  9. July 23, 2012 at 11:22 pm —

    As the question is from an exam, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that it is merely one which is intended to trigger a broader discussion on the issue?

    The way the question is phrased seems unproblematic to me, it’s clearly asking students to explain why anti-Semitism is so prevalent in society. Presumably they would have been taught about the factors which led to discrimination against Jews (Christianity and Islam, being an out-group with no ‘ethnic home’; and later anti-Semitic stereotypes of wealthy bankers brought about by discrimination against Jews in employment etc.)

    I’d imagine one could also mention issues of what being ‘Jewish’ means and how the persecution of those who identify and were identified as Jews throughout history have led to shifting conceptions of what ‘Jewishness’ is.

    Of course these responses will be necessarily simplified (given that they’re only required to write a short essay), but that doesn’t mean that the history and origin of persecution isn’t important.
    To the contrary, the history of Germanic tribes (or Vikings, as you put it) becoming the dominant culture/ethnic group in Western Europe and her settler colonies is a very strong reason why people with this ‘ethnic makeup’ are not currently discriminated against, whereas a minority, traditionally persecuted out-group like those who identify or are identified as being Jewish are.

    • July 23, 2012 at 11:46 pm —

      Tracy has taken the trouble to explain why that question is problematic, i.e. it begs for negative stereotypes to be rehashed.

      It is not up to us as non members of the oppressed minority to debate that, it is our job to listen carefully and try not to repeat that mistake ourselves.

      A mistake that I myself might well have made before reading this post, but then I am a Klutz and not a good wordsmith.

      • July 24, 2012 at 12:02 am —

        Whilst it’s true that negative stereotypes may be ‘rehashed’, they are only done so in the context of explaining their origin and the history of their use.

        No one is stating that these stereotypes are accurate or that they should be promoted. What is being explored is the fact that some people held and do hold these beliefs and it is important that we understand the origin of them, and how they are used to promote violence and hatred.

        Why can’t we, as non-members of an oppressed group, discuss these things? The understanding of history and the origin of ideas is a vitally important thing to have, and no part of it should ever be swept under the carpet.

        • July 24, 2012 at 6:09 am —

          The question is so clumsily worded that it could equally well be question 1 in a Hitlerjugend entrance exam.

          Remember that we are talking about impressionable young people here.

          In discussing such ideas we need to beware of giving them a validity that they do not have i.e. any validity at all.

          I have commented before on the total intellectual bankruptcy of the Nazi race theory and the utter inability to come up with a way to even identify Jewish people.

          I would like to think that all those people did not die completely in vain, but we never seem to learn.

  10. July 24, 2012 at 12:01 am —

    One of the main walls I come up against when trying to talk about Judaism to people who aren’t in the tribe is explaining the fact that the ethnic and religious can be completely unrelated. I know it’s not a simple concept but it’s astounding how many people who seem to want to understand can never get that point.

    • July 29, 2012 at 12:52 am —

      Judaism isn’t the only religion with an ethnic / religious split. I’ve met enough ethnic Roman Catholics who grew up in the tradition, but are no longer true believers. In fact, I recently ran into one in Santiago. He was going meatless for one of the RC fast days, because it was part of his culture, rather than in response to the religious imperatives that motivated the fast.

  11. July 24, 2012 at 12:57 am —

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    Amartya Sen wrote a great book ‘Identity and Violence’ on the problems of identifying multiple shifting identies into a single one. Jewishness is not a single thing, it easier to do violence against caricatures so I think many want to define it by a single set of characteristics and reduce a people to that single one identity. People have done the same thing with black, the Apartheid regium had a terrible time trying to come up with some sort of consistent definition of black and white, failed utterly. The olympic commity is having the same problem with gender, and these are biological defintions, not shifting social ones.

    I am 1/2 Jewish, or as I think of myself Jewish and have had a fair number of arguments over maternal Jewishness. I have a simple thought experiment on this: consider two children who get accidentally swapped at birth, one goes to an orthodox Christian family the other an orthodox Jewish. 20 years later the mistake is discovered. If you want to stick to maternal definitions what that means is that the one child, who knows nothing about Juidism, its foods, traditions, language is Jewish and the one who does isn’t. That for me cheapens whatever it means to be Jewish, and makes it meaningless and absurd.

  12. July 24, 2012 at 5:44 am —

    So as I logged in for the first time now I wanna get this out of the way: I LOVE this website, it’s fascinating, funny and very educational!

    On the topic of this post:
    While I largely agree with what you’ve written, I do feel that you’ve missed one more type of Jew(-ishness), the Cultural Jew.
    I do identify as culturally Jewish although my religious views are clearly atheist, simply because I’ve grown up in a Jewish family and learned all the traditions, stories and in-group jokes. This European Jewish culture has formed me at least as much as the Swiss culture that I’ve also grown up in.
    Sure, these days my philosophical and religious stances have different sources and I don’t hold to many values that Judaism preaches, and I’m glad about that, since some are incredibly archaic, but the cultural aspect still shows quite often. For example, when I joke about my mom being a typical “mame”, all my non-Jewish friends (except the ones who’ve known me for a long time) just give me a blank stare, because they just don’t know that concept.

    TL;DR:
    You can identify as in some way Jewish while being an Atheist and recognizing that the ethnic thing is bull.

    • July 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm —

      Welcome. Skepchick is a great place. For me it has been a process of letting go of assumptions, getting angry and defensive, ranting, getting chastised, getting angry, laughing, learning. Nothing is simple here, but that is why I keep coming back.

  13. July 24, 2012 at 5:47 am —

    I think that exam was, pretty unambiguously, “briefly explain some of the historical contributing factors to anti-semitism in the modern world” — but it was a GCSE question, so it was expressed in simple language. And funnily enough, I reckon this block post would have got you a high mark.

  14. July 24, 2012 at 6:07 am —

    There were two typos in my previous comment, so since this is moderated, how’s about I have another go? –

    I think that exam question was, pretty unambiguously, “briefly explain some of the historical contributing factors to anti-semitism in the modern world” — but it was a GCSE question, so it was expressed in simple language. And funnily enough, I reckon this blog post would have got you a high mark.

  15. July 24, 2012 at 8:42 am —

    I personally started using the term ‘Jew’ instead of “Jewish person” after I heard that the term ‘jew’ brings up a lot of anti-semitic websites. Using ‘jew’ as an adjective is common for them – your final sentence is “don’t call me Jew” (instead of “don’t call me *a* Jew”) so you’ve identified this ‘adjectivizing’ as an issue.

    So I dunno felt I should do my part to use the term like its supposed to be used, a proper noun.

    Of course I don’t go around and make it a habit to label people.

  16. July 24, 2012 at 10:02 am —

    As a Norwegian, I’m probably mostly of Viking ancestry, but I know I also have som German ancestors a few centuries back. Does this mean I’m partly responsible for more recent actions of the German people? Such as, say, the election of Angela Merkel? Or the 8.5% vote to the Pirate Party in the latest Berlin elections?

    These labels we put on ourselves… It’s all so confusing.

    Perhaps still slightly on topic, I’m about to start reading Terry Jones’ “Barbarene”:

    http://lillemaane.com/katalog/barbarene.html

    Sørry, Nørvegian article. Here are some more Anglo-Saxon ones:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terry_Jones'_Barbarians
    http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Jones-Barbarians-Alternative-History/dp/056353916X

    (The Nørwegian cover is just much better. I humanizes the barbarians in exactly the way the Romans didn’t want. The other cover shows and axe and flames, which is what the Romans want us to think about.)

  17. July 24, 2012 at 10:54 am —

    Btw, great article Tracy!

    I like your straw Vikings. This is a great way to put things into perspective.

  18. July 24, 2012 at 11:39 am —

    Sound ridiculous? I’ve heard similar or worse about me, my family, my genetic group.

    Actually, Jews are not a “genetic group”, more of a culture. What you think of being “the genetic group of Jews” is actually at least eight sub-populations with fairly large overlap with non-Jewish populations.

    Behar, D. M., Yunusbayev, B., Metspalu, M., Metspalu, E., Rosset, S., Parik, J., . . . Villems, R. (2010). The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people. [10.1038/nature09103]. Nature, 466(7303), 238-242.

    Pay special attention to figure 3 dealing with population structure inferred by admixture analysis.

  19. July 24, 2012 at 11:54 am —

    As the Viking parent of two Jewish children I love this article.

    I think my answer works, make Jewish Vikings.

    • July 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm —

      I can imagine Lewis Black telling a story about Jewish Vikings.

  20. July 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm —

    I’m really sorry that you’ve encountered such nasty racism, but after something that happened to me today I can well believe it.

    I work in a NICE office. One where people are tolerant and open minded. A friend of mine works in the same office. He’s half italian and looks it. When I pointed out to another colleague that I think it’s time for him to get this hair cut (because I’ve been ribbing him about this all week) the colleague said “yes he is starting to look a bit like a jew”.

    So I’m sorry. I’m heard about much of what you touch on in your article before. I just hope that doesn’t mean I’ve missed the point. Racism frustrates me with its pointlessness. Having become part of a marginalised group (I’m trans) I have come to learn what it is to be part of a minority and have the majority feel like it can lecture you about yourself and your experiences.

    I’m a complete and utter white mongrel with an archaeology degree in the UK. Maybe that’s why I think racism is pointless – because I live on an island where NO ONE is native.

  21. July 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm —

    I should start this post with the simple fact that we’re all from Africa ( http://tinyurl.com/ble6bb7 ). Generally i think that nation states and borders are terrible human inventions that separate the people of the world and it’s in their nature to produce racism. So, in my opinion try all you want but with nation states around there will still be racism around. I don’t mean to say that it’s useless to be against racism, i just think that being against racism while supporting the existence of various barriers that separate the people of the world is meaningless.

    I have a friend who’s a neonazi (he doesn’t agree with that term) and i occasionally hear him making anti-semitic remarks.
    I have discussed this with him several times and here’s some of his arguments…

    “The Jews killed our saviour Jesus Christ”. (Yeah, you probably don’t get that one in the US do you?)
    Another thing that he says is that they have their clutches all over the world economy and sights a bunch of conspiracy theories.
    Lastly he looks at most recent developments in Israel (Palestine etc), the lobby of Israel in the US etc.

    To be truthful it’s extremely difficult to argue with that last part, and i think that that’s the reason why i fail to convince him that he shouldn’t be anti-Semitic. Only thing that i can say is that the people are not responsible for what their nation might have done but that’s not something that an extreme-right winger like him can easily agree with.

    Overall i think that if the most well-known example of nationalist socialism which is nazi Germany wasn’t known for its horrendous acts on the Jewish people that not many people would hate them now! The nazis or nationalist socialists (as my friend considers himself) simply feel that they have to give an answer to the world about that and that answer can’t be “it was wrong” because they’ll feel that their whole ideology is wrong. Their answer can only be: “There was no holocaust”, “They deserved it because…” etc.

    • July 28, 2012 at 8:29 am —

      Why the fuck are you friends with an anti-semitic racist neo-Nazi?

      • July 28, 2012 at 10:37 am —

        This is a very difficult and overly complicated question to answer.

        Here in Greece we had for decades (like most western countries) relatively moderate political parties governing the place which the supreme majority of people voted for in the past. The Conservative party (New Democracy) and the socialists (panhellenic socialist movement). Also, there were some parties that didn’t get many votes but almost always made it in the parliament: A relatively moderate extreme right-wing party, a communist one and a leftist one (syriza).

        When the economic crisis struck Greece the two moderate political parties (socialists and conservatives) made a coalition government with the extreme right-wing party.

        Europe has a tradition of nationalist socialist dictatorships: There was Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, and in Greece there were various such people.

        There’s racism amongst Europeans which sometimes makes the people that are the target of that racism respond by using racism. European propaganda dictates that there are the good countries and the p.i.i.g.s., the lazy p.i.i.g.s who don’t work enough etc etc.

        Also in Europe there’s a very bad treaty that was signed which transformed some countries into huge immigrant ghettos ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dublin_Regulation ). With this treaty essentially the country from which an Immigrant enters Europe is responsible for that immigrant. The result of this is for example that if someone from Syria wants to get to Germany (to get away from the local conflict) enters Europe through Greece (most likely point of entry for most people running away from recent wars) and is caught in Germany he’ll be returned to Greece! For future understanding of racism in europe it should be noted that this is also a huge problem for Italy and for Spain.

        It has been argued by many economists that the troika (Greece’s current combo of lenders) have tried to save Greece by implementing the wrong solution which is simply austerity! When implementing only austerity to a shrinking economy you’re not saving it – you’re killing it. In Greece a lot of people are newly poor, myself being relatively wealthy i’m still having serious trouble paying for the most recent taxes. So, the average Greek makes lots of sacrifices for what he knows to be a wrong policy that leads nowhere. There’s simply no hope, there’s only negative feelings: rage, disappointment etc.

        The conservative party and the relatively moderate extreme right-wing party which (as i’ve said) together with the socialists formed the previous government was seen by most right-wingers as: traitors, thieves, and/or imbeciles etc.

        With all of the above (plus more which i won’t mention right now) the neonazi group Golden dawn ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-plSgq461Pw ) managed to get into Greek parliament by getting 7% of votes. One of those votes was my friend. So, don’t imagine someone with a swastika tattoo or someone chasing immigrants down the street etc , my friend is just an average previously calm person that was pushed into the lap of neonazi group Golden Dawn by (as i explained above) various reasons. He could (in a few months) become disillusioned with them (as easily as he was swayed by them) and vote for some other non-moderate party (for example: Syriza), that’s just how volatile the situation is right now here in Greece.

        I must say though that i’m not too optimistic, i don’t see any of the factors that i described above going away soon as i don’t see anyone actually wanting to help my country, everyone in Europe is only out to help themselves in my opinion. Actually if Europe doesn’t decide to change the “only austerity” neo-liberal bs policies i wouldn’t be surprised if more neonazi groups get elected into parliaments all over Europe.

        Finally i’d like to say that it’s my opinion that neonazism and extreme right-wingers in general feed on hate so only love and rationality can ever change their minds. I don’t think that stopping being friends with him would change anything for the better.

        So, there it is, you’ve got your answer.

  22. August 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm —

    When I read that exam question, my first instinct was that it meant “What do people say and do to justify irrational and hateful behaviour?”. I would have expected answers including discussions on logical fallacies, all using examples of people targeting Jewish people (the most fully organized and well known of those actions being in the Holocaust). One could rephrase the question they asked to what I wrote with “… to the Jewish people?” added, if the question was looking for those examples specifically.

    Apparently you believe this question was designed to get answers of reasons the Jewish people may be lying or in the wrong, is this correct? I can see that interpretation, but I don’t think it’s fair to assume your interpretation must be the correct one. Writing a question like that, with the assumption that only nut jobs actually think there is a Jewish Conspiracy, I can see how one would fail to consider the other way the question would be interpreted. Do I think the question was poorly worded? Definitely! But I don’t think one can assume the worst of intents.

    Also, I think your Viking analogy is not excellent. I consider myself of Viking decent, I’ve had people tease me about it (jokingly of course). No, no one hates me on the street or due to rumors of it, but saying “why being ethnically Jewish is just as meaningless as being ethnically Viking” seems a silly statement, because to a lot of people do claim to be descendants of the Vikings. No, my ethnicity is not “Viking” as they scattered about and formed countries, so instead I’m ethnically Swedish. Once a people settle a country and name it, their identifier changes. Their descent from Vikings, however, is not denied or forgotten.

    After saying all that, I do agree with your main initial point, which was: if you’re not blaming the descendants of Vikings for what they did, why blame Jewish people for what they allegedly did? These people are filled with fear and hatred, so it doesn’t surprise me that their logic is Swiss cheese. I would not use the meaningless of being a Viking as my argument, though, instead I would focus on the fact that Vikings are still around, albeit with another name, so why are they exempt from this judgement?

    Also, can’t decide if it’s funnier if you used the horned Viking hat with irony, since Vikings didn’t wear those, or if you used it honestly because that is the unresearched stereotype that ignorant people believe. Either way, excellent example of how little people care to know about the target of their discrimination.

  23. August 20, 2012 at 8:43 pm —

    Overall, the vast majority of people think that I’m a really nice guy. Most believe that I wouldn’t hurt a fly.
    Animals trust me, babies love me. (Really, I’m being serious.)

    However, like everyone else, I DO have a dark side.
    Were I present when that chair was thrown, the young man would’ve been hit by the chair he threw. Very little in this world would instantly enrage me faster than his action, save for someone actively trying to harm a child or an elderly person.

    When that young turd pulled the knife, I’d have conversationally asked him if he liked his knife. Then, I’d advise him that if it stays out, he’d no longer posses it, but WOULD possess a dislocated elbow and shoulder. I’ve done it before, I have no problem doing it again. ESPECIALLY under those circumstances.

    That cab driver would’ve found his life rather challenging, as I’d have gotten his name, cab number and notified the police (or if abroad, the US embassy would’ve gotten a contact report). In either instance, he’d be the center of attention by intelligence agencies for quite some time, as he made a direct threat and referenced association when he mentioned “if I got the call…”

    I dislike violence, but over 27 years of military experience has taught me how to get such distasteful things finished quickly.
    Those who saw me in action always related how they’re “glad that you’re on OUR side”.
    I dislike violence, I do my best to avoid it, but I’m quite proficient at it, when necessary.
    I far prefer to be a nice guy though.

  24. August 21, 2012 at 8:37 am —

    “You can’t explain why some people are prejudiced against a group without bringing up the negative things about that group”

    Complete nonsense. It is a trivial matter to explain prejudice in terms relating to those who hold those prejudices.

    “my genetic group”

    Pseudoscience. There is no such genetic group.

    “It asks why some people are prejudiced against Jews. That’s a stupid and naive way of asking the question.”

    No it isn’t. The fact that some idiots on the internet got in a flame war over it proves nothing. What it might show is the poor level of English proficiency and reading comprehension today because of the dumbing down of educational standards.

  25. October 8, 2012 at 10:38 am —

    I’ve always been upset with anti-semitism, but as a white male with non-Jewish, English ancestry through both parents, I have to say that I would’ve never been able to actually *feel* what it is like to be on the receiving end, until I read the ‘viking’ story, and couldn’t help but react a little emotionally to it — even though I knew it wasn’t ‘serious.’ It was quite a learning experience.

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