Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Blood Libel" Libel

At last, our political blogging and our actual expertise intersect. Prompted by a gentle reader, we will speak out for a change.

For the roughly 7 billion people who don't know, in real life SWNID's doctoral research was on the notion that Luke-Acts in the New Testament corpus was somehow antisemitic. Our conclusion was that the primary basis for concluding that was being rashly misunderstood, given all the factors of interpretation that ought to be brought to bear on the issue.

So, all that is to say that we are quite familiar with the use of the expression "blood libel" to refer to antisemitic falsehoods about Jews consuming human blood and such.

And so Sarah Palin has used the term to refer to the onslaught of accusations that her now infamous "cross-hairs" map somehow spun the windmills of Jared Loughner's mind toward political assassination.

And she's been widely criticized, by some even called antisemitic, for using the term in self-reference.

To that, we make a number of observations.

First, Palin wasn't the first to use the phrase to refer to the widespread blaming of intemperate conservative political rhetoric for the Giffords shooting. Multiple pundits and journalists had done the same. Of course, it's only wrong when Palin says it. Palin has replaced Bush as the object of leftist deranged hatred, of course. Whatever she does is simply terrible.

Second, those, like the writers of the Gray Lady, who make the phrase quite narrow in its traditional application are arguably misstating the history. "Blood libel" has been used to refer to all kinds of libelous statements about Jews being engaged in murder, not just to the weird accusation that they use the blood of Christian children to make Passover matzos. For example, as Matthew 27:25 has been historically quite commonly misinterpreted by Christians as exacting responsibility on all Jews for Jesus' death, that notion has often fallen under the general heading "blood libel."

Third, the extension of various expressions from one referent to a related one is common enough to hardly demand note or comment, let alone provoke umbrage. For instance, the expression "holocaust" was applied to the Turkish genocide against Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century, far before it was applied to what Hitler did to Jews. But before that, the expression referred to the sacred sacrifice of the whole animal in Leviticus, part of the Jewish Torah. There and back again with the references.

So, fourth, we note that the whole discussion to this point has been about finding fault with the way conservatives, Ms. Palin in particular, express themselves. No measure of counter examples suffices to show that everyone uses such metaphors, regardless of their political stripe, or that no one can show that Loughner was motivated by anything other than a schizophrenic's irrational collocation of absurd ideas, perhaps first and mostly prompted by his pathetically misguided conclusion that Giffords had rejected him as a suitor. This is, in the end, an attempt to elevate matters of taste and style to matters of morality. As such, these accusations display the utterly un-self-aware, uncritical belief of many on the left that their positions are so self-evidently true and right that those who disagree are ipso facto ignorant and evil. Sound familiar?

But that leads to what we think in fifth place. Palin and other conservatives are responding all wrong to this. SWNID has lots of experience with bullying, and the stylish way to respond to bullies is never to acknowledge them. But she took the bait. Dumb move. She lowered herself. She sounds whiny: I'm a victim of blood libel!

Of course, she took the bait to [mixed metaphor alert] throw red meat to her base. That's a missed opportunity. The smart move is to make a statement about one's indifference to the now-common mischaracterization of a conservative's statements. Palin could even say that she appreciates the honor of being the person the left most loves to hate most. Reagan responded to his vitriolic critics with humor, often self-depreciating. Never let them think they're under your skin.

Finally, those who don't read James Taranto should. His daily Best of the Web Today column has been devoted entirely since Monday to demonstrating just how ridiculously false every accusation in this whole sorry affair has been. Taranto normally provides a compendium of observations about news on the web, but this matter has prompted him to write about this single issue each day.

We think his singular attention is not misguided. Inasmuch as the discussion is about whether certain kinds of common political speech are acceptable from certain political figures, this discussion is about whether in a free republic certain kinds of ordinary political speech ought to be censored. We don't think we're about to lose our rights in Our Republic, but we think it's repugnant to offer such thoughts and expect them to be taken seriously.

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