Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Words that shouldn't be used

There are few people in this or any country who can say something and have it reverberate in a way that produces countless articles posted on a slew of websites. Sarah Palin, yet again, has accomplished this feat. This time it's not "death panels," or "refudiate," or "palling around with terrorists." This time, it's uttering the words "blood libel," a phrase that goes way back and is one of the old myths that characterizes the Jewish people in a highly negative light. It goes without saying that there is absolutely zero truth embedded in the phrase, the accusation that Jews take the blood from a young Christian and use it for Passover matzo. Zero truth. It's this phrase that is said to have led to the pogrom in Kielce, Poland in 1946. Poles killed their Jewish neighbors, neighbors who survived the Nazi onslaught.

I believe that Palin borrowed the phrase from the day prior, where the Wall Street Journal had used it in a headline, as did a couple of other right-wing commentators, one of which was apparently Andrew Breightbart (sp?). My guess is, neither Palin nor whoever wrote the speech for her bothered to look the phrase up and simply used it because of how it sounds, and because the combination of blood with libel, they thought, conveyed what it was that they were thinking, which in my view is, that Palin is being falsely accused for what happened in Arizona on Saturday. The problem is, "blood libel" is not a synonym for 'false accusation.' So it doesn't work the way, I think, the Palin people think it works. Furthermore, because I am assuming that Alaska is not home to many Jews, and knowing Palin is not well-traveled nor intellectually curious, my hunch is that neither she nor her handlers are familiar with the myth. So to her knowledge, using it was neither here nor there.

This brings me to the point of this posting. Historically, using words like "holocaust" outside the context of what happened during WWII is largely considered inappropriate. When Alan Grayson used the word in 2009 on the floor of the House to describe the U.S. health care system, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC asked him three times during her interview with him if he felt using that word was appropriate. He finally climbed down from it, although at the time, I didn't have an issue with it, and I don't recall seeing much fervor over it in the press. The word 'holocaust' was in existence long before Hitler. The term was only assigned to the destruction of European Jewry in the '70s, with President Carter leading the way. This information is documented on the U.S. Holocaust Museum's website. My point is, if using the word "holocaust" outside the WWII context is not appropriate given its sensitivities, then we need to look at all words and phrases that should not be used outside of their acceptable contexts, regardless of how much drama they add to the argument.

If nothing else, perhaps Palin's inept use of the term has educated a few people today, given all the attention the media is paying to it. Education, especially when it comes to minority suffering, is always a good thing. It helps to open up dialogue among the few and the many and allows the majority to better understand the minority and where they are coming from. Putting to sleep long-held stereotypes is helpful, and if it happens through accident and happenstance, so be it. My guess is, Palin learned something new today. Unfortunately, I don't think she'll be going away anytime soon.

1 comment: