Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pogrom, really?

"Blood libel" and "pogrom"...how did those words creep into our national narrative? In reaction to reactions over the Tucson shootings one was used by a political commentator (who shall not be named here) and the other was used by a newspaper (again not named, though shameless). Both were over-reactions and both are connected by a theme ....victim-hood.

Both of these terms are part of the Jewish experience of the past centuries. Blood libel deals with accusations against Jews of murdering Christian children and using their blood in rituals. It was not only grossly false, but inflammatory...fueling anti-Semitic hatred and violence. Yet this week it was used to demonize statements made questioning the use of certain imagery in political ads. Libel is inaccurate since this was not a question of facts. Adding "blood" to the charge only makes it worse, and is claiming another's pain as your own.

Then later this week the term pogrom was used to describe the same criticisms.The paper airing this view said that criticisms of political speech by one side was part of an ongoing "pogrom" against the other side. Specifically that liberals were organizing a pogrom against conservatives. And this by the very folks who say that their speech had nothing to do with an act of violence against a political figure. A persecution complex is not valid political debate material.

Pogroms were government- approved or -condoned campaigns of violence against ethnic minorities ,usually Jewish,that were aimed at driving out or eliminating those populations that were deemed "undesirable". Usually the term referred to actions in the Russian Empire (where the term originated), but it was not limited to there. There were other instances of it and the worst was of course the Holocaust. Some times it was through incited riots, sometimes through prejudicial propaganda, and sometimes through direct government action. It is a terrible stain in world history. Many nations had anti-Semitic policies and attitudes (even the USA sadly), but the pogroms went far beyond this.To use this term about political criticism is inexcusable, in my opinion.

It also brings up the question..."was this just coincidence, poor choice of words, or a concerted effort to demonize legitimate criticism? "I don't know, but it does kind of validate some of the prior criticisms. If a person is criticized for being inflammatory and reacts by using more inflammatory words it seems to prove the point of the criticism, doesn't it? And if the words were simply chosen wrongly, innocently, doesn't it say something about the wisdom and discretion of the speaker/writer? If you don't know what a word or phrase means, please don't use it until you do some research.

And only time will reveal what the intentions of the speaker/writers are. Using this language implies the speaker/writer is feeling a victim and borrowing from others' more extreme pain. It also can be viewed as painting their critics with the colors of extremely vicious and hateful creatures of history.

This bears watching...and we would do well to watch our words....for we are all human and thus all fallible and capable of doing great harm with our words...May our words today echo the urgings of the President at the Tucson memorial, and be words of healing.

1 comment:

  1. When people use words like that to describe extreme occasions in history, such as the Holocaust, it minimizes the true horror of those occasions. It is very irresponsible in my mind and shows ignorance on the part of those using those terms.

    Reminds me of my college days and group of gals in our Christian group talked about being "persecuted" when other students mocked them for speaking in tongues in a dorm parlor with the windows wide open. This was in day when Christians were being truly persecuted and killed in horrible ways in the Soviet Union. Their misuse of the word made my blood boil.

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