The everyday language of hate

It wasn’t so much what a young woman called Naz Kahn said about Jews a few weeks ago that triggered my flight or fight response. It was how she said it.

To recap: Ms Kahn is a recently appointed woman’s officer in the party, Respect, which plays backing band to Bradford West MP George Galloway’s political PJ Proby.

A few days before her elevation — and as reported by the JC last week — Ms Kahn had gone on to one of the party’s Facebook pages and, in response to a video called “The Palestine you need to know”, written the following: “It’s such a shame that the history teachers in our school never taught us this but they are the first to start brainwashing us and our children into thinking the bad guy was Hitler. What have the Jews done good in this world??”

There are still some Respect Party followers who retain a concern about the Fuhrer and in response to these Ms Kahn later added: “No, I’m not a Nazi, I’m an ordinary British Muslim that had an opinion and put it across. We have worse people than Hitler in this world now.”

Later on, when chided by someone else, the petulant Ms Kahn wrote back. “Stop beating a dead horse. The Jews have reaped the rewards of playing victims. Enough is enough!! A phrase comes to mind, ‘treat others in the same way you would like to be treated’. Allah-hu-Akbar!!!!”

I know an ideology from a knee-jerk, and this is the latter. Kahn thinks that maybe Hitler wasn’t as bad or as unreasonable in his treatment of the Jews as school teachers have insisted. Drawing a line from Germany during the years 1933 to 1945, to the modern Middle East, she sees a common pattern in Jewish misbehaviour, which is played down by the official “brainwashers”.

“What have the Jews done good in this world?” clearly means “The Jews do only bad”. The Jews haven’t suffered as much as they say they have, but insofar as they have suffered it’s their own fault and, in any case, they have gone on to inflict equal or more suffering on others. That’s “the Jews” as a group, not “many Jews”, “some Jews” or “a few Jews”.

Of course we can say that this is more or less exactly the argument that would be made by a neo-Nazi and is being made by the Golden Dawn party members who now sit in the Greek parliament. And we can castigate Ms Kahn as an antisemite and demand that she be cast out.

But that’s too comforting. Look again at her language. It’s the everydayness of it. To Kahn this is nothing but the plainest common sense. This is the psychology of “we all really know this about the Jews”. These are the things she says to people she knows and they say back. They don’t often write it, but it’s the common currency of their political exchange. It is routine antisemitism that doesn’t know it’s antisemitism.

My worry is that, for many British Muslims, who do not encounter Jews very often and know little about them, this is what really they believe. They think for scriptural and cultural reasons that the Jews are obstinate and greedy people who are always spoiling things with their adolescent cleverness — and above all, are always, always, always AT IT.

It’s the Muslim boy who makes a video about Tom Holland’s Channel 4 documentary about the birth of Islam and complains that Holland “talked to some Jews”. It’s the moderate Muslim leader who sends a seeker of a non-Zionist to the whiskery oddballs of Neturei Karta.

There is surely often a problem with how Jews and others see Muslims and generalise about them, and we’ll return to that some other time. But, for the moment, let us reflect on the implications of living alongside hundreds of thousand of people who believe Jews have done no good in the world.

Last updated: 7:45am, November 4 2012