THE HIDDEN STRENGTH OF LANGUAGE

I was just browsing at two of my most frequent stopovers, Eschaton and DailyKos (I just signed up at DailyKos, and I have placed both sites in my link roll). Now, I must preface this post by saying that I don’t always find these two sites to be the most enlightening (they seem to place too much stock in the current Democratic Party for my taste), but they are valuable clearinghouses for progressive news and analysis.

Anyway, I happened upon a particular thread in the Kos comments section, and you can view the thread here. This thread touches upon something that’s bugged me for a long time: it is the way the term “anti-Semitic” is used in this country. As the original commenter aptly points out, Palestinians are Semitic, while many Israelis (white Europeans and U.S. expatriates, or children of the same) aren’t Semitic. This is important, because the term “anti-Semitic” is often hurled as a blunt object at anyone who criticizes Israeli policy toward its neighbors (or U.S. policy toward Israel).

The phrase of one commentor is noteworthy: “Just stop worrying about the accuracy of the term and recognize that when people say anti-semite they just mean anti-jewish or anti-Israel and not anybody else. It is what it is.”

Really, now? So we can accept an inaccuracy that serves the political needs of one group at the expense of another group? More importantly, doesn’t this approach inherently place a lower value on the Palestinians? If only Israeli Jews are allowed to be (even inaccurately) labeled as Semites, aren’t we assigning a certain anthropological invisibility to the Palestinians? This is, I think, akin to repeating without context the racist historical canard of white European “Discovery” (i.e. only white Europeans can ‘discover’ a place, even if brown people have been living there for millenia).

Methinks one should not engage in such linguistic bigotry if one considers oneself a progressive. As to the latter commenter’s assertion that we should leave such loaded language alone, I heartily disagree. The ongoing political war with the Bushies and their zombie followers in the electorate is proof positive of the need to be highly vigilant over the use of language.

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