Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Not a pleasant topic

I have been going back and forth about whether I should say anything about the recent stuff about antisemitism in the LJ fandom community which turned into a huge sprawling kraken of nastiness. I kind of wasn't going to, because I'm not really in fandom, so why should I get involved and attract a portion of the horribleness to myself? Still, browsing stuff the other day I came across a really powerful essay on the topic by synecdochic. synecdochic is a Big Name Fan who is also a pro writer, and knows LJ better than pretty much anyone else on the planet. And she gets to the heart of this issue, expressing it in far better terms than I could ever manage.

I'm not going to collect a whole list of links to people making unbelievable crass remarks. Other people have done that better than I can, and for me to get involved at that level would just be stirring the muck. In summary: one Jewish fan posted to her journal complaining that the major fannish events fit in with the Christian holidays and clash with the Jewish ones. Somehow this was read as her accusing the organizers of one such event of being deliberately antisemitic, and there was a general outcry of "But we're fandom! Nobody in fandom is antisemitic!" The ensuing controversy, which was about two thirds storm in a teacup LJ wank and a third actual political discussion as far as I can judge, got absolutely out of hand when it was repeatedly and conclusively demonstrated that in fact, yes, there are antisemitic elements within fandom.

I have to say, I am not shocked and horrified by this discovery. There are a lot of people who are involved in fandom, and furthermore there is a community norm of people not only adding to their friends lists, but becoming rapidly intimate with total strangers based on enjoying their fanfic or analytic writing. Some of these strangers then turn out to be antisemitic, or at the very least incredibly insensitive. There is no excuse for any of it, but the very fact that it's surprising is evidence of naiveté. Ironically, this naiveté can exacerbate the problem; fandom is supposed to be a wonderful open-minded welcoming diverse community, and in many ways this is true, but just because people from disparate backgrounds enjoy bonding over an appreciation of gay sex, it doesn't mean that everyone in the community is completely free from prejudice. But because many people who are outsiders in their general lives have found acceptance within the fandom community, they find it hard to deal with the idea that there may be unsavoury elements within their new social group. Therefore, blatantly racist remarks are often greeted with frantic denial, and the deniers can end up defending or even siding with the racists, even though their intentions might not be directly racist.

This kind of thing leads to the targetted getting quite badly hurt, and feeling literally unsafe in their virtual communities. I'm not talking about the "therapy culture" sense of not being allowed to say anything mean in case you upset people, I'm talking about people who are actually scared, and with good reason, because people they thought were their friends turn on them in a way that attacks the core of who they are. And a way which is a threat because it reflects the real life attacks that they may face as a member of a sometimes despised minority.

There's the level of antisemitism which involves calling Jewish people nasty names. Yes, this did happen in the course of the controversy. And no, LJ is not the only place where that goes on. But there's also the level of antisemitism which is resentment that Jews get all these imagined advantages as a result of sympathy for what happened in the Holocaust. I only wish I could say that statement is an exaggeration or a caricature, but people seriously and literally complain about this. Some facts, then:

The Holocaust continues to affect people now. People who personally have to live with the traumas, people who lost their entire families, people who have been forced to spend their whole lives in countries where they don't feel at home, people who have been brought up by traumatized parents. I can't even begin to describe the cultural losses which make the whole Jewish world immeasurably poorer, even without the direct personal effects. It is by no means ancient history, and it's incredibly insulting to tell those affected to "move on" or "stop whining".

Antisemitism still exists today. Some of it comes from those who explicitly identify as neo-Nazis (yes, they're still around too!) but a lot doesn't. There are plenty of Jewish people who are not personally much affected by antisemitism, but that doesn't make it ok that many people are. And it's not just nasty words in LiveJournal kerfuffles; it's the whole sordid story of institutional and personal discrimination, vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries, and even personal violence all the way up to racist murder. Let me spell this out: someone I know personally was killed for antisemitic reasons in 2003. It happened in Germany under the auspices of an American organization, which is by way of saying that antisemitism isn't confined to far-off barbaric countries any more than it is confined to ancient history.

Antisemitism isn't wrong only because the poor Jews suffered in the Holocaust. Antisemitism is wrong because it's racist and cruel. When people protest about antisemitism, they're not asking for Jews to be given special consideration because of what happened in history, they're asking for Jews to have the basic right to go through their lives without fear and abuse.

Yes, there are some Jews who are unpleasant or evil people. That doesn't justify antisemitism. Fighting antisemitism doesn't mean nobody is ever allowed to criticize anyone Jewish, as racists often allege. Fighting antisemitism is purely and simply part of the fight for justice. It might not be your fight, and that's fine; there is so much suffering and injustice in the world that everybody has to pick which causes they are most dedicated to. But it's still wrong to obstruct those who do support Jewish causes by complaining that it's not fair that Jews get all these "special" protections.

I assume all these things are pretty obvious to anyone likely to read this. But since they are not as obvious as they should be in the general world, I think it's a good idea to reiterate them. Anyway, read synecdochic's piece (and if you have the stamina, the intelligent but long discussion of it). She also has some good stuff about the rhetorical uses and abuses of the concept of Nazism, the misapplication of Godwin's law and the like.
Tags: political

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