Monday, June 09, 2008

JUDENHASS: My Biased Take On The Book

So, Dave Sim has come out with JUDENHASS, the work that some in the blogosphere seemed to be waiting with baited breath for over the last few months and are falling all over themselves to compliment (even if they're no fan of Sim due to his misogynistic tendencies).

While I was interested to see what this would turn out to be and felt it had potential to be a great work, I'm not going to be heaping praise on it. This comes with a bit of potential bias on my part, because one of the first pages I saw (through accident of how my copy tended to flutter open on its own) contained his quoting a hadith that had Muhammad saying the end of times would see inanimate objects yelling out to muslims to kill the Jews that were hiding behind them.

First of all, he is quoting a hadith. There are many hadiths. Unlike the Quran (or Koran, if you like...either spelling is just as good as the other), hadiths are not infallible. They have not been controlled and kept from being changed and perverted like the Holy Quran. Many were compiled after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

In fact, many muslims believe that false hadiths were planted by Cabalist Jews in what was more or less a form of psychological warfare. An Islam with its followers divided in arguments over religious texts would be less of a threat than a united one.

But the most important part, taken into account with the first point, is that it wasn't the full quote:

"Judgment day shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, whereas the Jews will hide behind trees and stones, and the tree and the stone will speak and say, 'Muslim, behind me is a Jew; come and kill him,' except for the al-Ghargad tree, which is a Jewish plant."

The end of that quote points to its likelihood of being false. Muslims believe that God has dominion over all. There can be no plant created by man that God doesn't have ultimate control over. In fact, many muslims tend to avoid saying man created anything; where a westerner might say man created a vaccine for polio, a muslim would say man FOUND a vaccine. Why? Because God created everything that was, is, and ever will be. Man just finds God's creations through his hard work.

So, it was with the misfortune of finding this quote before getting to sit down to read the rest of the book that I was already soured on Mr. Sim's approach. He already demonstrated ignorance in his attempt to create a book that he hoped to use to enlighten. God does work in mysterious ways, but I tend to doubt the ability of the ignorant to bring about enlightenment of their own intention.

It didn't help to read what I felt was a backcover full of pretentiousness:

"I decided some time ago that the term anti-Semitism (a 'coined' term of late nineteenth century origin) is completely inadequate to the abhorrent cultural phenomenon which it attempts to describe. For one thing, Arabs are Semites as well and the prejudice as it is generally understood certainly doesn't apply equally to Arabs and Jews."

Well, for one thing, I wouldn't really call it a "cultural phenomenon". But, putting that aside, many before Sim realized that the term was grossly misapplied. To people that have ever understood the word, rather than just having it introduced into their vocabulary by news reports, it has almost been comical to see how many times an Arab muslim or a Palestinian have been referred to as anti-semitic.

"It was in the early stages of researching this graphic narrative that I first encountered the German term judenhass. Literally Jew Hatred. It seemed to me that the term served to distil (sic) the ancient problem to its essence, and in such a way as to hopefully allow other non-Jews (like myself) to see the problem 'unlaundered' and through fresh eyes."

Ah yes. Semantics. That's always been the problem. The wrong choice of vocabulary. Through common use, anti-semitism has almost always been taken to be about hatred or prejudice against the Jews. But Sim's attempt to introduce judenhass into the vernacular is going to be what helps wrap peoples' brains around this problem?

It was at that point that I started to get the feeling that Dave Sim isn't so misogynist. He just has a God complex of sorts where he gives men a slight bit more benefit of the doubt in regards to their potentially being deities as well. I really get the feeling that he's writing this book because there'd be no hatred for Jews in the world if people just read his thoughts (or, more accurately, quotes of hate he's gathered from various literature).

The book doesn't start out on great footing in between the covers, either. His first statement is that he feels that ever creative person should do a work about "the shoah - the preferred Judaic term for the Holocaust - at some point in his or her life". It immediately creates a feeling that he's trying to force his opinion on the reader rather than attempt to enlighten them. I really think that's counter-productive to getting people onboard with what the implied intent of this book is.

"The Shoah was done to Jews - and yes, to others as well. But the fact that "to others as well"has become a universal interjection when the subject of the Holocaust comes up, it seems to me, points to a central and malignant evasiveness on the part of non-Jews."

Really? I don't know, I'd think that homosexuals would prefer that their plight was remembered, as well. I'd, also, think it might be beneficial to remember that it happened to others besides the Jews for a pretty good reason:

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

Call me crazy, but if one of your concerns is making sure that nothing remotely like the Shoah ever happens again (and Sim expresses just such a concern), you'd want to remind people that it likely won't just stop with that group that they are unaffiliated with. You'd, also, not want to suggest that anyone making sure to include the others who suffered in the Holocaust is a passive carrier of judenhass.

There's a bit from Sim that perplexes me.

"Jewish remembrance of Shoah, distilled to its essence of 'Never Again' implies the self-preservation of the life of not only each individual Jew wherever he or she lives, but of all of God's chosen people wherever their collective continued existence is threatened"

"Never Again", when in reference to the Holocaust, would seem to quite obviously be about more than individual self-preservation. To include this bit seems to be stretching for original written content. For lack of a better term, it is a bit redundant and certainly pointing out the obvious. It really serves no greater purpose in the book. If Sim had really contributed much of his own actual writing to this book, an editor might have asked him to trim that out or rephrase it.

In addition to that issue with the quote, it always perplexes me when an outsider to Judaism refers to Jews as "God's chosen people" without some form of modifier. To put a modifier on it, though, would make it sound clunky and quite possibly lead to others wondering why he couldn't offer the phrase up without qualifying it. There's a chance that he chose to use the phrase just out of need for variety, seeing as how there's only so many ways to refer to the Jewish peoples.

Still, it came off weird, just as it would be strange to see a non-muslim refer to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the seal of the prophets or the Quran as a miraculous, infallible document in a way that implies it as fact. Again, pointing out to the reader that Jews consider themselves to be God's chosen people isn't likely to be a tact that rallies more to the cause of their defense. That makes it seem illogical to include the contention here out of anything but necessity.

In going over this book, which Sim seemed to profess was such an important labor to him, I can't help but notice how he seems to have done very minimal work on it. That isn't to say that the art isn't impressive. But in going over this book with a critical (somewhat cynical, given the circumstances) eye, I can't help but notice how often he does one large page of original work and uses it through at least 2-3 pages in some areas through selective copying and pasting. Given how much of the "narrative" is just Sim's cutting and pasting quotes, that's a bit apropos, yet still a bit disappointing.

Other than the above issues, everything else seems like a nitpick. Putting quotes around the illegal in an issue of illegal immigration in Palestine where two Jews were being deported for having quite illegally trying to permanently immigrate there by overstaying their tourist visas in order to make the British look as bad as their home country that refused their return is a stretch. Framing US Army Guards who returned a boat-jumping Jewish refugee to their ship when it docked for refueling in Norfolk, VA, as evil seems just as much of a stretch. It gives the book a bit of a feeling of a high school student writing a paper the night before it is due in class, scrambling to use any passable info possible to pad for length.

I really think that is one of the biggest problems I had with the quotes and history he uses here. I'm sure Sim could have easily used more hard evidence of how prejudiced members of our government helped to deny applications for immigration to our country from Jews. He could have used more of the dehumanizing quotes from members of the Nazi party. But quoting a cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt saying something "anti-semitic"? Really?

The Shoah was a terrible event. We can not be reminded enough that we can never let something like that happen again. In trying to do his part, Sim puts out a book for sale that is not only padded with ill-fitting quotes, notes and citations, but padded with stretching one image out for multiple pages (not panels). I've never seen someone take so many shortcuts while attempting to do something for the greater good of society. That he spent nearly as much time patting himself on the back for this book as he seemed to spend putting it together is such a shame.

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