Thursday, September 27, 2007

On Linguistic Irony

About a week ago, Eboo Patel, the creator of the Interfaith Youth Core, wrote a brief article for The Washington Post and Newsweek's On Faith project: On Muslim Antisemitism. In short, the piece discusses the voices in Islam condemning Anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

The title of the article caused my brain juices to percolate (always dangerous and slightly messy): Muslim Anti-Semitism. It seemed to me that that phrase was linguistically ironic, at the very least, considering that the world's Muslim population are, by and large,* Semites themselves.

The use of "Anti-Semitism" as "Anti-Jewish," which was the term's original, if etiologically confusing, meaning, obscured the meaning of "Semite": a label that covers Jews and Arabs alike.

To clarify, a Semite is "A person belonging to the race of mankind which includes most of the peoples mentioned in Gen. x. as descended from Shem son of Noah, as the Hebrews, Arabs, Assyrians, and Aram├Žans. Also, a person speaking a Semitic language as his native tongue." (Thanks, OED)

So, technically, to be anti-Arab is also to be anti-Semitic.

The whole thing reminded me of the conversation that I had with the Afghani cab driver about the nature of modern anti-Semitism.

All of which just made me realize how the forms may appear to shift, but, functionally remain the same. Which is really to say: think carefully about those unfair epitaphs you before hurling them at others.

*I'm using a broad definition of Semitism extrapolated from the reach of Semitic languages in the late ancient period. Using that matrix, the Middle East and Asia Minor are both considered geographically Semitic areas, where Semitic languages are still in use. This area is also the geographic area where counties with a Muslim majority are concentrated. It should be noted, for the purposes of intellectual honesty, that by numbers, the highest populations of Muslims live in South and East Asia (which also includes Iran and Afghanastan), but constitute a minority, proportionately, in those regions.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Only problem is Noah did not actually exist. So the extension of the class-concept 'Sons of Noah' is the null set. On that reading, being an anti-Semite ain't so bad: you are not hating any actual people. -TR

Anonymous said...

So calling someone who says something like this an ignoramous shouldn't be too offensive either. After all, one can't be ignorant of what one doesn't believe exists. Only problem is, denial of existence does not equal non-existence.

Anonymous said...

WHOA BUDDY, I am personal friends with Harley and was just ribbing her a little bit. If you want to take offense at something, take offense at my comment from a year ago when I said that religious indoctrination is a form of child abuse. Of course I am not saying that anti-Semitism is not that bad. Some of my best friends are jewish!!! Also, spare me the philosophy lesson. First off, one certainly can be ignorant of what one does not believe exists. (Exhibit A: creationist christians and biological evoluton.) Regarding your comment that "denial of existence does not equally non-existence," that follows from the fact that thinking some proposition P is true is not that same as P actually being true. Just like your thinking that some Invisible Man in the Sky has your back does not make it true. -TR

Harley said...

Aw, TR, so sweet of you to take a moment from your busy schedule to antagonize me.

You know you're always welcome back to Jewbiquitous.

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