….I know some folks who are
Are you xenophobic? Anti-Semitic? Is your family, your best friend, you partner? If so, why? If not, why not? While you think of some answers, I will explain why I’m asking. It starts with an Englishman. And by the way, we English invented the concentration camp, during the Boer War.
As you may know, Jeremy Clarkson is a British celebrity and ‘New Lad’, who reviews cars that go fast and writes books that expose the limits of his intellect. A little while back, he made headlines in the UK, following his comments about Muslim women who, he claims, wear a burka on top and a thong underneath. He seemed to believe this was worth our attention. Hundreds of TV viewers phoned in, to tell him to mind his own business.
A few days later, a Romanian friend of mine – let’s call him Marcel – expressed support for Clarkson, on Facebook.
I posted a reply to Marcel, telling him I disagreed, and we got into an argument. My position was this: Clarkson enjoys popularity and power, but had forgotten his responsibilities. In other words, if you’re famous you should watch your mouth, because you are also influential. Think of Lennon and his infamous ‘Jesus’ comments in 1966, think of Bowie and his Hitler salute outside Victoria Station in 1976. In short, unless Clarkson has something helpful to say, he should stick to talking about cars and not make provocative comments in a fractured world.
Marcel became increasingly hostile online and asked me if, during my recent 6 months in Sudan, I had ‘’turned Muslim.” Next, Marcel tells me he prefers Jeremy “to some asshole in a suicide belt.” I replied that such comments revealed a superficial grasp of international politics. Next, Marcel said he did not buy my “hypocrite shit” and suggested I should leave “comfortable Bucharest and move to Gaza.” Since the power of his argument was so overwhelming, I said goodbye and deleted him from my list of friends. With friends like that, who needs an enema?
Next day, Marcel emailed me: “Mike, sorry if you think I’m a dickhead, but like many Romanians, I am xenophobic, homophobic and I don’t much like Roma. I cannot help it.” I told Marcel we were wasting our time and should stick to talking about football.
Until that point, it had never crossed my mind that Marcel might be a dickhead. I just considered him a bit myopic, someone who needed to watch less TV and read more widely. I was wondering about all this when the story took a new turn.
The problem with them and the problem with us.
My friend Valerie contacted me. She had just had a nasty argument on Facebook with… Guess Who. This time Marcel had been making nasty anti-Semitic comments about a Romanian coin showing an Orthodox cleric. I won’t repeat them here.
It seems Marcel lost some more friends on FB and I’m not surprised, because it seems to me that racists and xenophobes are about as convincing as people who believe the earth is flat.
But I was intrigued by his antipathy to Jews and asked Valerie if she could shed some light on the issue, for two reasons. First, because she has family in Romania, and second, because I’ve encountered anti-Semitism in Romania quite a few times, over the years, even in young people. Puzzles me no end, that.
Anyway, Valerie reckons that anti-Semitism is rooted in Romania’s past, particularly the early days of the Communist takeover. She says her own parents suffered because of this and they ‘cannot forgive’. It still causes arguments at home.
It rings a bell, because I too know how it feels to be angry with a different tribe. In my case, I reckon the British government got what was coming in Northern Ireland. I say that, not because my great grandparents were Irish Catholics, or because Protestants spat on my Dad on as a kid in Liverpool, but because I’m pro-democracy and the British government, for 200 years, was not very fair to Catholics in Northern Ireland. But time moves on, the duty of the next generations is to build bridges, and I was never anti-Protestant. I played football with them every day, as a kid.
Which brings us back to Marcel. Why does an educated, middle-class Romanian adult think it’s OK, even cool, to slam Muslims and Jews, and anyone else who does not belong in his ‘civilised’ world? How do anti-Semites in Romania feel about the Israeli doctors who rushed to help the survivors of the recent horrific fire at the Giulesti maternity unit – would they say it was for the money?
There’s a twist too – Marcel asked me, when I was in Sudan, to bring some banknotes for his collection, because he is ‘fascinated by foreign countries’. Just not by the people who live in them, perhaps.
To conclude, and before any of you tell me to get out of your country, consider this: America can do without Sarah Palin’s down-home, disingenuous racism, the UK can do without the Nazi-mindset of the English Defence League, and Romania can do without xenophobia. It reduces us all and the country has enough problems. So, guys and girls, please, rise above.
By the way, I’ve invented a new word: Romaphobia. Remember where you read it first, here on the back page of FHM. Perhaps we’ll discuss it some time. Next month: why I hate Martians.
First published in ‘FHM Romania’ magazine, Oct 2010. Republished here by kind permission of SC Sanoma Hearst Romania SRL