I bet you are familiar with the following literary works: The Merchant of Venice, Oliver Twist and The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Oliver Twist, the boy who dares ask for more. Screengrab from a film
They are masterpieces which have been translated into countless languages and vivified in films and plays. I bet there’s some literature class somewhere that includes one of these books in its reading list.
Film Cover From the 2004 Film, Merchant of Venice
Literature often portrays the writer’s society, and in these three, it does depict one ugly bit, that of anti-Semitism.
A poster for the movie adaptation of Dorian Gray
The depiction comes in the description of the character, and the one thing you will notice is the horrid description of characters who have been identified as Jews. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the Jewish character is Shylock, who if you remember demands a literal pound of flesh when (the Christian) Antonio fails to repay money lent to him. In the end, he forfeits his demand and is forced to convert to Christianity.
And it is Shylock who gave this moving soliloquy:
He [Antonio] hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation [read Jews], thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies-and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same diseases, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge… (Act 3, Scene 1).
By law, there were no Jews in England during Shakespeare’s lifetime, 1564-1616. And that is because they had been officially expelled in 1290, by the Edict of Expulsion and allowed back in 1657. They probably could have seen the Expulsion coming, given the discrimination they had suffered prior. The Magna Carta didn’t apply to them, they were direct subjects of the King, who could thus seize their property at will, and they had already been required to wear a badge (yes, a la the yellow badges of Nazi Germany) to mark their Jewishness some 70 years before.
Much of the rest of Europe followed centuries later, and they found refuge in Poland, Netherlands, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and the Maghreb.
Jews were Expelled Across Europe, finding safety in very few places
But even if they weren’t official welcome in England, their reputation as ‘greedy moneylenders’ persisted; or maybe Shakespeare heard of the experiences of Jews in Italy and the rest of Continental Europe, where Jews lived in isolated ghettos in which they would be locked in by Christians (similar to Jewish Ghettos in Nazi-occupied territory).
Shylock is nowadays the name for a vicious loan shark, so you see his original depiction of the moneylender was powerful.
Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist also has such a Jew, the main protagonist, Fagin. It was written in 1838, and it’s clear anti-Semitism persists in Dickens’ society. By some counts, Fagin’s Jewishness is emphasized some 257 times in the 1st edition, though subsequent editions have been sanitized.
There’s nothing wrong with a Jewish character in a novel, but Fagin represents an ‘archetypical Jew’; he is described as a miser, grotesque, and leader of a gang of thieves who feels nothing for the children he has coerced into a life of thievery, including Oliver Twist.
Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is more forthright in its vituperative descriptions of a Mr. Isaacs, a Jew. He is ‘a hideous Jew,…smoking a vile cigar. ‘ ‘He had greasy ringlets’, ‘He was such a monster’, even though he had just ‘took off his hat with an air of servility’. He ‘was a horrid Jew’, a ‘most offensive brute.’
Their suffering in Europe came to a head in the Holocaust, but really, they had suffered a lot in between the Church Inquisition, the Alhambra Decree, and regular pogroms all over Europe.
And why were on the receiving end of society’s wrath?
Christian Europe was very intolerant of The Other, those who are not like them. Maybe be it could be because Jesus Christ was crucified at the whims of a Jewish mob, who preferred the thief Barabbas freed than Jesus.
Maybe it was because they stuck with the Jewish faith while Jesus Christ embodied a new relation between God and Man; either way, people don’t like different, so whenever things went wrong, it was the Jews who were blamed.
They were accused of poisoning wells during as the Plague ravaged Europe, they were accused of sacrificing children for their Passover and received blame for many other unfortunate events.
This scapegoating was perfected by Adolf Hitler, who in this letter, reduces Jews to an Alien race who leave a pernicious effect. In this more recent history, the Jews were blamed for everything that ailed Nazi-Germany, setting up the stage for their elimination.
World War II put an end to the industrial slaughter of Jews, and the creation of a state for the Jews, Israel, effectively enabled Europe to get rid of its Jewish issue; now the Jews could go be a problem in another backyard, far removed from Europe.
After World War II, The Communists became the new Other, as Communist Russia and US fought for global domination in a world win which the USSR became more cocooned as America spread forth its democracy.
These were the years of the Cold War, and the threat of the Red Scare felt very real to Americans, so much so there were Senatorial committees on the same. Hollywood probably made the fear of a Red invasion loom even larger, and movies to this day still continue to depict Russians/Eastern Europeans as the bad other, often the weapon supplier who can’t even speak proper English; of course there are exceptions in movies such as Angelina Jolie’s Salt (ito language skills), but those are topics for another day.
The Red Scare came in two phases, shortly after the Bolsheviks took over Russia & After WW2. It was more pronounced after WW2
Asia is where America’s dislike for the Soviet invasion came to life, in the countless wars America financed or put boots in, all in the name of containing these socialists/communists.
Things got heated in Asia only after Mao Zedong beat America-backed Chiang Kai Shek and his Kuomintang, who fled to Taiwan (the Republic of China that still claims to be the rightful rulers of the larger People’s Republic of China); that was in 1949, and with Mao allied to Communist Russia, weapons started flowing freely around Asia.
Especially in Vietnam, which had been fighting its war of independence against France since 1946. It became an independent state in 1954, but barely a year later, found itself in a brutal war in which Communist northern Vietnam fought against US-backed South Vietnam. This war against the communist north would last until 1975, when the US finally decided to cut its losses. In the end then, the communists prevailed, despite Agent Orange and napalm raining down on civilians and fighters alike.
The Korean peninsula was the other place the Communist advance had to be stopped, and between 1950 and 1953, the peninsula convulsed with the drums of war. A Vietnam was avoided here, and the peninsula technically remains in a state of war to this date, with the US apparently mandated to take charge of war operations should those arise.
Beyond Asia, Cuba was another target for America’s Containment policy, but try as they have, America’s CIA has yet to succeed in assassinating that communist Fidel Castro, the leader of the revolution. But they have tried some 638 times since 1959, when Castro overthrew America backed dictator Batista.
Fidel Castro in his younger, cigar smoking years. Once the CIA attempted to plant a cigar-shaped bomb in his collection.
In the era of the Cold War, when the bad other was the Communist/Socialist, anyone who so identified with those philosophies could be put down, and only a few people would whimper and the assassinated would be quickly forgotten.
Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, the first post-independence Prime Minister, sealed his fate when he sought the help of the USSR in quelling a mutinous riot. Mi6 agents sitting on their deathbeds suddenly seem to remember some sort of British intervention or CIA planning in the fateful handover of Lumumba to Katanga separatists who promptly executed him as was expected.
Ptrice Lumumba in Better Times
Lumumba, bound and headed for Elizabethsville (Lubumbashi), DRC, where he was executed
Likewise, Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara was easy game after all his talk about removing odious debts, the power of IMF and World Bank, and generally shunning foreign aid. These were the 80s, and WB-approved structural adjustment programs were shattering economies throughout the world and here comes this fool, challenging the powers that be with his Socialist/Marxist leanings; see who is he to end forced labor, allow people to own the land they work on, nationalize mines, build roads, and outlaw FGM decades before other nations follow suit?
Sankara emulated Fidel Castro, and had a penchant for the che-like red beret. He made too man enemies within with his marxist leaning policies
Just what gall does this man have, to challenge the dominance of former colonial master, France? Sankara and 14 officers were executed in 1987, and he was dismembered and promptly buried in a decrepit cemetery.
While other leaders have mausoleums, and countless statues to honor them, this dusty, littered graveyard is Sankara’s resting place, and will likely remain so until Blaise Compaore is unseated.
France supported the coup, and the man who led it was none other than Blaise Compaore, the dictator who still runs Burkina Faso. The first things he did was undo Sankara’s work, like nationalizing mines and land, so that slowly, the nation slid back to being the source of cheap labor it had always been. Nobody bothers Compaore, because is a ‘democratic’ leader, has been so for 27 long years, and le balai citoyen [Fre] will not bar him from ‘serving his people’.
All across the world, being communist/ socialist government meant that sooner rather than later an anti-communist rebel movement will pop up strongly supported by the ‘civilized west’, and if an opposition party came up with similar philosophies, the government wouldn’t be bothered that much if it chose to thoroughly crush such daring opposition.
Containing communism trumped over human rights, so America left its footprints in Siad Barre’s reign in Somalia, in Ethiopia, and in Angola, where Cuba had even committed soldiers.
This strong anti-communist sense persisted until 91, when Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika saw the collapse of the USSR, and with it, communism. China is still officially a communist country, but in reality it has a serious capitalist bent. The only other communist/socialist nations are Laos, Vietnam and North Korea, but communism is effectively dead.
With the fall of the USSR, America’s position as global leader became even more certain, which meant its new enemy would become the new global other.
The Muslim/Arab (The Terrorist)
In the early 90s, the Muslim/Arab became the new Other, and that is a title he still holds to this day. I say Muslim/Arab because there is often no desire to distinguish the two but let me clarify; the Muslim is a follower of Islam, and he could be of any race or ethnicity.
‘Arab’ is an ethnic identity, or more appropriately, a general identity for countless ethnicities. The Arab is often associated with Islam, even though there are Christian Arabs, and Arabs of other faiths.
There is a brief history of the happenings that shaped this tag, but I think the three most important events are the formation of the Islamic theocracy in Iran (this violently displaced vested interests), Soviet-Afghanistan War (US sponsored Mujaheedins who later rose against their benefactors) and the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing.
But the watershed event was September 11, 2001 when some 3,000 died in attacks blamed on Muslim extremists. That was the beginning of operation Enduring Freedom, and the Global War on Terror, and now virtually every other Muslim/Arab is often perceived as a terrorist.
I get this feeling that whenever a Muslim/Arab commits a murderous crime, his rampage is more likely to be framed as an act of terrorism while when a non- Muslim/ Arab, especially a Caucasian, commits a similar crime,it is not.
5 people were killed in the 1993 attacks, and it was declared an act of terrorism. James Holmes killed 12 people in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, but in court, he was charged with murder and attempted murder, even though he had a stash of handmade grenades and explosives at home, ready to be used.
5 people were killed in the Boston Bombing, and president Obama was quick to call it an act of terror. Meanwhile the Sandy Hook killing was chalked off as another mass killing, with 27 fatalities after Adam Lanza was done.
John Allen Williams, aka John Allen Muhammad, killed about the same number of people, and he went in on several charges including terrorism.
Maybe one last case that demonstrates this dichotomy in the description of terrorism is the case of Anders Brevik, who bombed a building in Norway before descending upon Utoya, where disguised as a police officer, he killed 69 people.
In Norwegian court, he was effectively charged for terrorism, but check on news about him and he seems to be consistently referred to as a mass-killer. I am certain that if Anders were a Muslim, the terrorist tag would have been slapped immediately.
Anders on the Left, a Hamas fighter on the Right. The question here is what makes one a terrorist?
I say that because of the Boston Bombing incident. Both Caucasians, the Tsarnaevs probably could have been regarded as lone wolf attackers by some local extremists (not terrorists per se), until it was discovered they are from the wrong side of Europe, Chechnya, and that they had converted to Islam.
By British law, terrorism is “terrorism is committed by a defined act designed to influence a Government, the public or an NGO for the purpose of advancing a religious, political, ideological or racial cause”
In other words, all the aforementioned acts, and countless others, should be acts of terror but it seems selective amnesia affects people when it involves Muslim &/or Arab-looking men. [By this definition, US, UK, France would be leaders in terrorism, considering their many covert and overt efforts to influence governments]
Terrorism Attacks in US between 1980-2005.
The chart above is a summarized FBI report, and it shows that the malignment Muslims generally face is disproportionate to the amount of terror they have inflicted in the nation.
But even when these cold facts stare at people, it seems that the Muslim is still treated as the other, the perceived terrorist bent on carnage. Globally then, we have become so inured to this caricature of a Muslim/ Arab person, so that it doesn’t matter much when they kill each other in their homelands, as these killings only reinforce their caricatured lifestyle.
Which is why a respectable magazine such as the Baltimore Sun could reduce the death of Palestinians (Arabs) as 70 Others in the ongoing Gaza-Israel conflict.
I think it is important to remember that the acts of a few gun-toting madmen shouldn’t be used to define a motley of people, coz then they become others and we lose all lose out.