Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Benzion Chinn and the Elders of Zion
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an anti-Semitic classic, dealing with a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. It was endorsed by that great American hero Henry Ford, who helped publish a translation of the book in this country. More recently there was an excellent documentary, Protocols of Zion, by Marc Levin on the book and its continued influence, particularly in the Arab world. Levin was inspired to make this documentary after having an Egyptian taxi driver explain to him that the Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks.
I was perusing the Wheaton Public Library this evening through their Judaic section when, to my surprise, I came across a copy of the Protocols. Naturally I was greatly offended to see this compendium of falsehoods. Long ago I appointed myself, with unanimous approval, as High Comrade of the Young Elders of Zion and I can assure you that we are absolutely nothing like what you read about in the Protocols (and if we once were then we have certainly reformed our ways and eliminated all Protocol Jews.)
As you can see I do not have a bulbous hooked nose. Our organization offers nose jobs, as part of our health package, to all our Jewish employees. We are also far better dressed. Taking over the world, like mathematics, is a young man's game, no one older than thirty. We are not an exclusively Jewish organization; we have a proud gentile faction, the Shabbos Goys, for the gentiles who run around and do stuff for us in an unstoogelike fashion. It should be noted for the record that the Protocols is a Czarist forgery, plagiarized from several earlier anti-Semitic works.
All joking aside, the proposition of a public library openly having a copy of the Protocols on its shelves posed an interesting challenge to my liberalism. As a good old fashioned fighting nineteenth liberal, the notion of censorship is completely odious to me. I recognize the sort of Pandora's Box one opens with censorship. If I exercise my liberal indignation against the Protocols, other liberals might choose to come after Ann Coulter's books (not that I would consider this a bad thing). Next on the chopping block could be the Bell Curve, which argues that blacks really do have a problem when it comes to performing in standardized tests, and before long the mobs might be coming for this humble blog. As a historian, I see the Protocols as one of the most important primary source documents relating to modern anti-Semitism and the perfect history 101 lesson on how to turn texts against their authors. I wish for young aspiring historians to be able to easily be able to get a hold of this book. (Internet editions are also in abundance.) That being said I recognize the danger of having this book on display as if it were just a regular book. By allowing this book on the shelf, the government of Montgomery County is saying that this is a book of opinions alongside other opinions. You can be pro health care or against it, pro the war in Iraq or against or believe that there is a secret cabal of Jews pulling the strings behind all of this. If I am to engage in the public discourse of free citizens then I need you to give me the benefit of the doubt about my beliefs and intentions. I may be wrong in my beliefs (As I tell my students, much of history is the story of very smart people with really bad ideas.) and it may be that what I propose will lead to utter disaster. You must still assume that, despite my wrong ideas, I came by them honestly and that I mean them for the best. I cannot prove that I am not part of some sort of dark conspiracy. You just have to give me the benefit of the doubt and let my ideas stand or fall in the free marketplace of ideas. At the very least hate literature like the Protocols should not be treated any better than pornography. If the library is not going to leave pornographic material out where the young and impressionable can easily find it and form their own opinions about it then they should not be leaving hate literature out on the open shelves.
I took this copy of the Protocols over to the two librarians at the side desk to show them what they had. The two ladies were very kind to me. To my shock, neither of them had ever heard of the Protocols. (I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing.) I politely explained to them that I was opposed to censorship and did not want the book removed. I suggested a number of possibilities. The book could be put on some sort of reserved section for anyone who specifically asks for it. (Much the same way that stores keep their pornography behind counters and people have to ask for it. No I have never tried to ask for some.) Another idea would be to create a separate section for hate literature and put the Protocols there. (Whether this entire section should be behind lock and key is another issue.) It turns out that the book was catalogued under the Dewey decimal system under anti-Semitism and therefore ended up right next to Judaics.