My wife Amy was so frustrated when she heard Sarah Palin’s now widely discussed blood libel remark that she immediately felt compelled to capture her feelings in written words. She authored this piece and circulated it to family and friends before reading the flood of other commentaries that have since appeared. I feel that it is a unique reaction that deserves to be more widely read and I share it here with her permission.
I just read something this morning, which has impacted me to the core. It is a quote from Sarah Palin, which carries with it so much intense power (at least for me). Here is a link to her quote:
Palin has chosen to use the expression “blood libel” to refer to journalists who would draw a line between incendiary political speech and action (namely hers) and what has happened in Arizona to Rep. Giffords and to the others who so tragically lost their lives or were wounded by the shooter. Here is a link to some basic information on this term:
Her use of this term is either demonstration of extreme ignorance (ignorance of the dangerous kind) or monumental manipulation – or both. That she would use this expression specifically in the case of a targeted shooting of Representative Giffords – WHO IS JEWISH – makes it ironic and painful. But what is most painful to me is the misappropriation of this expression (knowingly or unknowingly). The blood libel was a heinous false accusation that was (and in some cases is still) foundational thought in the violent persecution of Jews for centuries. To misappropriate this term and remove it from its historical context is to weaken or destroy its meaning.
I truly believe that there are words and symbols that hold so much historical power that it is egregious to use them in other contexts. To use them in such a way makes them de-legitimate, and weakens or denies the cultural and historical memory of those who have been so wounded by them. I believe that it is only by continuing to connect these types of words and symbols to their history that we have any hope of learning from the past and educating future generations about what is good, and right and just in the world.
It is true that some words and symbols have been hijacked by history – the swastika is the example that most quickly comes to mind. Although a symbol of beauty and strength found in ancient and some modern cultures around the world, I believe that the Nazi use has made it irrevocably connected to genocide, at least within a Western context. I am saddened that the symbol, which had such beautiful connotation in non Western cultures, has become taboo in much of the world. But I believe that it is right that this symbol no longer be used in a Western context except in reference to the atrocities of WWII. It has become a mark of hatred and evil – which must be remembered as such. When the symbol no longer causes a pained emotional and physical response in people (again, in a Western context), it will sadly signify that the history of the Holocaust is no longer relevant.
My heart breaks for what has happened in Arizona; and it aches that in the aftermath of this tragedy a term with such horrific and history-specific meaning would be tossed around with such disregard. Sarah Palin has now single-handedly introduced this term to millions of people who will never before have heard of it. The majority of these people will infer a general (and incorrect) meaning, and will not bother with investigatory research. It will simply become an expression that enters public consciousness and gets mindlessly regurgitated by the masses. And as such, it will begin to lose the very power needed to keep alive the memory of centuries of religious persecution. She has violated the humanity of us all.