On the earlier cartoons controversy thread someone said it was ok to insult Muslims and not Jews because the former were not a race. The point being that while you cannot change your race, you can change religion. And thus insulting a set of beliefs is fine.
Insulting a set of beliefs is fine – people should have the freedom of speech to do that. But the above argument is based on a false presumption. I pointed out that:
Judaism is a religion like Islam. It was people like Hitler who saw them as a â€œraceâ€ and wanted them wiped out. Of course, he wasnâ€™t alone in seeing them as a race, as did many anti-semites in the UK and Europe.
The government designation of Jews as a race is predicated on that anti-semitism and is a technical measure more than anything. Otherwise the 1976 Race Relations Act made it illegal to disciminate against Blacks and Asians but not Jewish people. That doesnâ€™t mean you canâ€™t make fun of Judaism or Jews by the way – you still can.
Similarly Sikhs are designated as an ethnic group. This is not because they are, but to get around the legislative difficulties of allowing them concessions (like wearing a Turban at work). But you can still make fun of Sikhs and of Sikhism. As the case should be.
Katy agrees with that later:
Jews are a very loosely related people, or a nation – sort of like a very very loosely connected extended family. But they are not a race. I am not the same race as bananabrain, for example, although weâ€™re both Jewish, and neither of us is the same race as Jews of African descent.
Bananabrain posts a comment somewhat agrees:
this is, of course, because previously european anti-jewish feeling was something that could be mitigated by converting to christianity. of course, when jews started doing that after the enlightenment, people had to find another reason not to like us, hence the â€œscientificâ€ antisemitism of renan and others. we could change our religion, but we couldnâ€™t change our â€œraceâ€. nowadays this fine distinction is rarely understood. the thing also is that there are large numbers of jews who maintain that they are â€œsecularâ€ jews or â€œethnicâ€ jews without any vestige of the religious beliefs or practice (the aforementioned stephen fry for one) so is he still a jew, then?
I think the last point is particularly important and worth exploring. My view is that because Jews have been a religious minority throughout most of their history, they have developed a tradition of ‘a community’ that embraces their flock even if they are not practicing. That way the diaspora retains some semblance of togetherness. People are welcome to disagree or correct me if they think this is wrong.
Eventually the same will (or should) develop with Sikhs. British Sikh representation is still dominanted by religious fundamentalists who will push anyone not wearing a turban out of the conversation. According to them we don’t exist, even though their chums are busy claiming that Britain has nearly half a million Sikhs that need to be represented, with the aim of installing themselves in power. There aren’t any major issues that require British Sikh political representation anyway. That is the way it should be, given the faith (I use the word loosely) is extremely non-hierarchical.
But culturally, within the communities, the non-practicing are effectively shunned because they are not seen as proper Sikhs. My point is that though Sikhs are legislatively regarded as an ethnic group along with Jews, what actually needs to happen is that they need to see themselves culturally as an ethnic group, as the Jews do. That seems the only way to ensure all voices are heard.
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Filed in: Religion