Monday, June 22, 2009

James Carroll on European racism and anti-Semitism

Interesting Big Picture thoughts by James Carroll, who wrote a well-regarded book on the history of Christian anti-Semitism, Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History (2001). This is from More than mere lunacy Boston Globe 06/22/09:

For all of Hitler’s neo-paganism, the Holocaust did not spontaneously spring up out of the Teutonic forest. The District of Columbia may have been carved out of the heart of tidewater slave-holding, but that crime had roots beyond the American South. Indeed, what [Holocaust Museum killer] von Brunn’s act dramatizes is that race hatred in Western culture is elliptical, and has two foci: anti-Semitism and white supremacy. In ways that are rarely understood, the former generated the latter, which then curled back as anti-Jewish genocide. Aggression of one group toward others is built into the human condition, but we are speaking of something more deadly than that - an effervescent lethality that is peculiar to the culture that comes from Europe.

What we call "racism" can be traced to the 15th-century Iberian [Spanish] idea of “blood impurity," a biological fault that set Jews apart from Christians. Jewish unworthiness was no longer in their religion, but in their physical makeup - an inherited inferiority. That idea combined at about the same time (1492 a marker) with assumptions of innate European superiority over the “savages" encountered in first-wave colonialism. The new European imperialism (unlike, say, the imperialism of ancient Rome) depended on the ideology of absolute ranking by race.
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