Smelly dogs and open debate

Names are funny things. Some are funnier than others, though. David Bowie famously called his son Zowie and Frank Zappa named his kids Dweezil and Moon Unit. More than funny, those names have created walking adverts against drugs. But amusing names may have nothing to do with drugs, like those recently outlawed in Malaysia. “Hitler”, “Smelly Dog” and “Insane” were among a fairly long list of birth-names banned by Malaysia’s National Registration Department, reports revealed last week. The move was in response to a very high number of people wanting to change the names given to them to ward off the attention of evil spirits.  As someone whose second name easily becomes “Wally” (it’s no smelly dog, but it’s no picnic, trust me), I have to say that spirits may be scary, but when little Smelly Dog goes to school, I think the living are going to be more of a worry.  

A less funny name to give someone is “Anti-Semite”. It doesn’t roll off the tongue. And it’s a name any right-thinking individual would want to shun. Being anti-Semitic allies you with one of the most horrific forces of evil history has ever known and puts you at least on the same side of the fence as mass-murderers. From holocaust denial to ‘Jews control everything’ conspiracies and denial of entry to dull golf clubs, anti-Semitism, like all racism, is ultimately guilty of more than just moral repugnance. It is also jaw-droppingly, head-slappingly stupid.

Which is why the number of news stories last week about neo-Nazis holding rallies, committing crimes and generally being thugs is disturbing. One such story, linked to the current Israel-Lebanon conflict, reported how in Canada the Muslim Brotherhood enlisted white-supremacist radio host, Hal Turner for an anti-Israel diatribe. Mr Turner was an odd choice, mainly because he is clearly a Nazi (his personal charm-offensive apparently routinely uses phrases like “savage negro beasts”—and that is mild) and thus, one would assume, no friend of Arabs either. But then, racists are rarely the sharpest tools in the shed. It is stranger though, in a week when a Russian neo-Nazi, Dmitry Demushkin–head of the fascist group Slavic Union (“SS” in the Russian abbreviation) is suspected of bombing a mosque in Moscow.

Such groups are small, but they are growing all over the world. Genuine anti-Semitism exists. Which is why the equation of criticism of Israel or Israeli policy with anti-Semitism is not just unfair but dangerous. I resent that I fear criticizing Israel like I fear criticizing no other government on earth. And while I cannot blame Israeli authorities for my own cowardice and weak convictions, high-profile Christians United for Israel do not help with statements like: “We support Israel because it’s a key core value in Christianity.”  Great. So, to the name “anti-Semite” might be added “anti-Christ” for taking one side (but not another). But the pro-Israel lobby are not the only Christians guilty of silencing debate. Try using the term “chosen people” in any but the most ironic sense at a secular or religious liberal dinner party and prepare to hear the deafening sound of chewing turned into an act of aggression.

Which is why it has taken me 600 words of explanation and justification to whisper that, if it’s okay with you, I think that the Israeli response in Lebanon is disproportionate. Should I now start talking about their right to defend themselves and to exist (which I believe, despite it being the most over-used phrase in the media this week)? Or just wait for the backlash from both sides? Gosh, I do love a robust debate.

(This article first appeared in the Baptist Times on 2 August 2006)

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2 Responses

  1. Your a tool!

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