Birmingham pogrom?

by Chris Bertram on October 24, 2005

It is difficult to get a clear picture of what went on in Birmingham (England) at the weekend. But what seems to have happened is that unsubstaniated rumours of a sexual assault by members of a particular minority that was already resented for its local economic success began to circulate, and that vigilantes then felt entitled to attack random members of that group and their places of worship. Two people have died so far. The BBC has a report here , and the Guardian has some of the background . A very worrying development.

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Crooked Timber » » Pogrom meme
10.30.05 at 5:51 am

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1

P ONeill 10.24.05 at 9:04 am

The BBC World Service seems to have decided to make 1430-1500 BST into a British race-relations segment. They ran a report from Birmingham and then a long excerpt from the Howe-Rivers fiasco last week, with analysis afterwards. Having only read about the latter, I had the impression that it was a clumsy stunt by Howe. Now having actually heard the spot, it may have been a stunt, but Joan’s reaction validated it. But as Birmingham indicates, white-“black” relations are only one of a set of issues.

2

ab 10.24.05 at 9:26 am

How the heck did the word ‘pogrom’ make its way into this title?

I guess Chris Bertram is too intelligent not to know the historical background of progroms, while also too sensible not too make a silly comparison between the Birmingham riots and a progrom. So why this title?

3

abb1 10.24.05 at 9:35 am

He called it ‘pogrom’, not ‘progrom’. What’s ‘progrom’?

4

DC 10.24.05 at 9:40 am

The opposite of antigrom, clearly.

5

Chris Bertram 10.24.05 at 9:47 am

ab: what is your objection?

The combination of mob violence, unsubstantiated rumour about crimes committed in secret by members of a minority, and economic resentment made the word seem salient to me. See also the Wikipedia article

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogrom

scroll down to the “modern usage” section.

6

JR 10.24.05 at 10:23 am

Chris Bertram-
If I may presume to speak for ab (who will no doubt correct me if I mistate his position):

Many Jews- such as myself- are somewhat sensitive when the names of the crimes committed against our ancestors and relatives are taken up and generalized to acts against other groups. The ghetto is where Christians forced Jews to live. The blood libel is a myth that Christians told each other about Jews. A pogrom is a riot of Polish or Russian Christians against Jews. The Holocaust (not “a holocaust”) is the destruction of the Jews of Europe.

Implicit in the use of the word “pogrom” to describe a riot against Pakistanis is the assumption that Pakistanis are somehow the new Jews. No. The Jews are the new Jews. Get your own words.

7

harry b 10.24.05 at 10:31 am

Are you saying, jr, that it would be objectiobale to use the term “pogrom” if, say, American, Armenian, British, or French Christians rioted against Jews? If so, you’ve a great deal of useage to object to. And, if not, why is it objectionable to use it when people riot in a similar manner against members of some ethnic/religious group other than Jews?

This seems like one of those cases in which the world would do better reading Grice than reading Lakoff.

8

sammler 10.24.05 at 10:36 am

I think the word “pogrom” here is at best misleading. Note that this is a struggle between two subcultures, not an attempt by the larger society to crush either one.

9

harry b 10.24.05 at 10:38 am

You might also want to complain to the editors of the OED (Shorter) for their second meaning of pogrom. But, I would add, that neither definition in the Shorter OED allows for Chris’s use: the second says “An organised, officially tolerated, attack on any community or group”. (We don’t run to the longer in my house, so for all I know that may allow his use). But anyway, there is no implication at all that Pakistani’s are the new Jews, at least not among English-speakers.

10

harry b 10.24.05 at 10:45 am

Sorry about the stray apostrophe. Rather undermines my attempt at pedantry, no?

11

Chris Bertram 10.24.05 at 10:46 am

Well if “officially tolerated” is part of the meaning, then I was clearly in error. (Though that doesn’t seem to be implicit in all the “modern usage” cases the Wikipedia lists.

Otherwise, it seems to me you are mistaken jr. Granted “The Holocaust” is the name for a specific event, but “ghetto”?? Are you offended when Elvis Presley sings “In the Ghetto” ?

12

Jim Miller 10.24.05 at 10:53 am

Question: Is the local government controlled by Labour in Brimingham?

13

Jim Miller 10.24.05 at 10:55 am

Sorry – Birmingham. (I have gotten too dependent on spell checkers.)

14

Jeremy Osner 10.24.05 at 10:55 am

I am but not for semantic reasons.

15

Richard Bellamy 10.24.05 at 10:56 am

Dictionary.com gives as its first definition:

“An organized, often officially encouraged massacre of a minority group, especially one conducted against the Jews.”

The uses of “often” and “especially” give wiggle room, and I could see it used properly as EITHER an officially encourage massacre against any ethnic group, or a non-official massacre against Jews.

If there is neither state-sanction or Jews involved, there seems to be simply no reason to pick a word that has both connotations over other options that have neither.

What does “pogrom” give you that, say, “riot” or “race riot” or “mob violence” does not do better?

16

Ray 10.24.05 at 10:58 am

A quick google suggests that jr has quite a lot of ghetto ‘misuse’ to get offended about….

17

JR 10.24.05 at 11:00 am

Well, harry b, that may have been ab’s objection= a pogrom is generally state-sponsored, or at least state-approved.

And as it happens, Jews generally don’t refer to the English blood-libel riots of 1144 after the death of William of Norwich, or the riots in Blois in 1171, or any of the other dozens of riots in Western Europe, as “pogroms.”

Of course, Western Christians are more enlightened now. Here’s the Catholic Encyclopedia, explaining that the Jews probably didn’t actually drink the blood of St William of Norwich and other little martyrs: “It seems, however, quite possible that in some cases at least the deaths of these victims were due to rough usage or even deliberate murder on the part of Jews.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15635a.htm

But Chris, I’ve hijacked your thread, and I am heartily sorry for it.

18

harry b 10.24.05 at 11:10 am

In the context of that article the final comment you quote is absolutely disgusting, and amazing: Shorter New Advent “There were some grisly murders, and there is absolutely no evidence at all that Jews had anything to do with them, ever, but perhaps the Jews did them”.

I thought that Labour lost Birmingham to NOC in the spring elections. But someone from Birmingham might tell us what the hell is going on?

19

abb1 10.24.05 at 11:32 am

I’m disappointed by jr’s commentary here. It’s totally absurd. Even The Holocaust doesn’t belong to the Jews, Shoah does. Pogrom (погром) is a Russian word used in a variety of contexts; google “армянский погром” (Armenian pogrom) and you’ll get 600 hits.

20

Alison 10.24.05 at 11:35 am

I think it’s controlled by a con/lib dem agreement isn’t it? The leader of the council is a tory, and the deputy leader is a lib dem. Labour have most members (46) but the tories and lib dems have 70 between them

http://www.birmingham.gov.uk

I’m not sure about how it works, only that it is an appalling council

(don’t live in Birmingham but my parents and grandma do)

21

Matt 10.24.05 at 11:46 am

It’s not that often that I’m eager to agree w/ abb1, but here he’s certainly on to something. Russians use Pogram to mean rioting of many sorts. In fact, these days in Russia it has little connection to anti-Jewish riots at all. It’s certainly an important meaning that the many of these riots were allowed by the Russian government and that they were directed against Jews, but it’s just nonsense to think that this is the only acceptable way to use the word.

22

Kieran Healy 10.24.05 at 12:06 pm

Here’s the Catholic Encyclopedia

Oh yeah, that thing. Isn’t it the 1920 edition that’s online or something? Has lots of fun content about Protestantism, too.

23

Jonathan Edelstein 10.24.05 at 1:03 pm

Even The Holocaust doesn’t belong to the Jews, Shoah does.

“Holocaust” is not a generic term. The generic term is “genocide.” “Holocaust” refers specifically to the Nazi genocide of the Jews (as, e.g., “Porraimos” for the Nazi genocide of the Roma or “Metz Yeghern” for the Turkish genocide of the Armenians.)

“Pogrom” can be used to refer to any state-sanctioned interethnic violence; there are plenty of contemporary usages that don’t involve Jews.

24

Daniel 10.24.05 at 1:17 pm

I think the Gypsies would claim at least a minority stake in “Holocaust”, and probably in “pogrom” too. I’ve never seen the argument for Jewish ownership of these words being made anywhere other than the Internet, and the inclusion of “ghetto” makes me suspect that jr is just making a joke.

25

e-tat 10.24.05 at 1:24 pm

How is this a worrying development in ways that it wasn’t worrying last week, or last year when some people rioted outside a playhouse, or in 2003 when two girls were shot outside a hair salon?

Race is part of the equation in Birmingham – as with any city of a million people or more – and there have been tensions and violence for a long time, but not of the sort that this is being hyped as.

The current violence is not developing out of some long-simmering rage, some reaction to systematic or state-sponsored oppression. None of the combatants are acting on behalf of the state, nor of a dominant culture. The violence is more like hooliganism. The unfortunate circumstance of race fits neatly into the picture, but if these were white gangs, or football gangs, it just wouldn’t be getting this sort of sensationalist attention.

What is worrying is that so few resources are being directed towards dealing with intercultural tensions. The formerly Labour-run council squandered many an opportunity to address social and economic circumstances that includes ‘multiple deprivation’ in Handsworth, Sparkbrook, and elsewhere. Similarly, the money being thrown around Aston and Handsworth since the murders has not been sufficient to address the deeply embedded and not-very-nice conditions of existence. The former council – and by the looks of it, the current council too – were more interested in gentrifying everything in and around the city centre, with little regard for the histories, problems and ambitions of local and long-term residents. Neglect is the operative word. One hopes that a newly-found sense of self-determination, a la New Orleans, will develop in spite of governmental foot-dragging.

26

e-tat 10.24.05 at 1:27 pm

PS: read more from the local news outlets here

27

abb1 10.24.05 at 1:54 pm

‘Pogrom’ is not exactly state-sanctioned. Pogrom is when good traditional patriotic folks get sick and tired watching how some minority (ethnic, racial, religious, policical or homosexuals) is destroying the country, especially when the times are tough and this minority obviously created all these problems and is benefiting from them. So, the good folks can’t take it anymore and they know exactly what to do – they’ll come and kick the shit out of those bastards, break windows, burn a few houses – and, of course, loot. And now they are ‘relieved’. That’s all.

The state usually doesn’t mind its more loyal citizens getting much needed ‘relief’, but often the state doesn’t want it to get out of hand. The state might send the police to prevent more serious atrocities.

I think the Gypsies would claim at least a minority stake in “Holocaust”…

Bent?

28

powers 10.24.05 at 2:11 pm

I just finished reading through a Time magazine from 1971 or thereabouts which repeatedly refers to Pakistani atrocities in Bangladesh as a holocaust. Have to admit it seemed odd to see the word used in Time magazine like that.

29

Christopher M 10.24.05 at 2:24 pm

Well, unlike ghetto and pogrom, holocaust was a word in standard usage before the event occurred that gave it special significance with reference to the Jews. I suppose it doesn’t get much play these days because not a lot of people are slaughtering lambs and burning them whole as an offering to the gods. In my view, preserving the special verbal resonance of The Holocaust depends on not permitting the use of holocaust as a common noun to fall completely into desuetude.

Also, ninety-nine percent of the American Heritage’s usage panel found the phrase “nuclear holocaust” to be acceptable usage.

30

Christopher M 10.24.05 at 2:30 pm

jr: I don’t think you’ve hijacked the thread at all, as it seems clear that the original post aimed at drawing just the implicit, provocative comparison that you object to.

31

Jonathan Edelstein 10.24.05 at 2:51 pm

I think the Gypsies would claim at least a minority stake in “Holocaust”

The word they use for it is “Porraimos,” and as a matter of respect, I’d argue that this should be the preferred term.

32

Daniel 10.24.05 at 3:41 pm

Porraimos is a Roma word; not all of the gypsies murdered were Romani.

33

Another Damned Medievalist 10.24.05 at 3:50 pm

e-tat — I don’t think that anyone was saying that this is worrying in a different way — just that it’s worrying (or possibly, worrisome).

In terms of whether there is sanction by the state, there’s an argument to be made for a passive sanction, I expect — that is, if a pogrom takes place, and the state does nothing, it can be read as a tacit sanction of that activity. AFAIK, pogroms against Jews in Russia and Poland were sometimes of this variety, but at other times actively sanctioned by the state.

Interestingly, in such cases as occurred before the word pogrom came into English usage — for example the slaughter of Jews in Mainz during the First Crusade (I think it’s Mainz, but since I’m not checking, I’ll probably be wrong) — historians pretty much use words like “slaughter.”

34

matt 10.24.05 at 4:26 pm

Pogrom was also a word that existed before the events that connected it w/ Jews. It’s a normal Russian word. Many historically important pogroms were done against Jews, but it was and is a normal Russian word without special connection to violence against Jews in Russian.

35

Christopher M 10.24.05 at 5:09 pm

Matt:
I should have been more clear: I was referring to the history of the words in English. Unlike holocaust, ghetto and pogrom were adopted into English with their reference to Jewish history already established.

36

radek 10.24.05 at 7:20 pm

I think jr’s right but he’s arguing it wrong. If you focus on the words like pogrom then you just wind up in a debate about semantics which results in inconclusive Wiki and Google searches.

But Chris definetly set up his post to make the reader think this was about violence against Jews. He used the word pogrom. He wrote about “members of a particular minority that was already resented for its local economic success “. He mentioned that the attackers targeted places of worship. Then you click on the links and find out it’s about violence against Pakistanis.

So the underlying implication – through Chris’ use of a rhetorical device – is that the situation faced by Pakistanis in today’s Britain is the same as that faced by Jews in Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. It is not. And I can see how this implication can be perceived as offensive.

Sorry to be harsh, but that’s what it looks like from here.

37

radek 10.24.05 at 7:43 pm

“Pogrom was also a word that existed before the events that connected it w/ Jews. It’s a normal Russian word…without special connection to violence against Jews in Russian”

What the hell is the definition of “a normal word”? I guess “gjkggfsd” would be an example of a not normal word. Anyway, the words “ghetto” and “pogrom” have somewhat opposite etymologies.

As in, the former began as a very specific term, refering to the section of Venice to which Jews were restricted and evolved into broader usage (actually originally it meant “foundry”); to mean any Jewish quarter, to mean a section of a city inhabited predominantly by some minority, to mean “low income area”, to mean anti-shiek as in “Dude, that car’s so ghetto!” (antonym I guess would be “metro”).

Pogrom went oppposite – it originally had multiple uses but evolved to specifically refer to violence against the Jews. It could mean “to defeat” or “to hurt badly” – literally it means “to thunder upon”, after old pagan Slavic god of thunder, Grom (somewhat analogous to the Nordic Thor). In fact “grom” could still mean thunder, but all those uses are pretty archaic. A 17th century writer might talk about a pogrom of the Turks or Tatars or Cossacks or whatever in refering to an outcome of a battle, but in today’s Polish or Russian (I’m not 100% sure about Russian) “pogrom” specifically refers to violence against Jews.

So Matt’s wrong.

38

Matt 10.24.05 at 8:14 pm

Radek,
You’re absolutly wrong about “pogrom” in Russian. When I was living there it was regularly used for riot activities done by all sorts of people against all sorts of people. It was used by both normal people and the media to describe riot activity. It had no special connection to actions against Jews, and many people there now are at least a bit surprised to find out it has such a connotation in English. So no, in fact, here you’re wrong.

39

Joshua W. Burton 10.24.05 at 8:19 pm

Even The Holocaust doesn’t belong to the Jews, Shoah does.

Insofar as it doesn’t belong to the world, the Holocaust belongs to the Germans, not to the Jews nor to the other victims. Would anyone have the chutzpah to tell a survivor that Bhopal belongs to the Hindus?

40

Chris Bertram 10.25.05 at 1:49 am

So the underlying implication – through Chris’ use of a rhetorical device – is that the situation faced by Pakistanis in today’s Britain is the same as that faced by Jews in Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. It is not. And I can see how this implication can be perceived as offensive.

No, my intention was not to suggest that their situation is “the same”. But I did indeed intend to suggest that some of the same social and psychological mechanisms are at work in this race riot as have been at work in similar events in the past. Is that offensive? Why?

41

Anna in Cairo 10.25.05 at 2:32 am

Yeah, why *is* it offensive to point out historical parallels between attitudes towards Jews in Eastern Europe a long time ago, and attitudes towards modern minority groups facing various forms of racism? I just don’t get the outrage at all. An analogy does not necessarily suggest equality of scale.

I also never understood the need to appropriate some horrific words like “pogrom” and “holocaust” and restrict their usage to outrages perpetrated against Jews only. Why would anyone want to “own” such a term? The Nazi holocaust horrifies everyone, it was much greater in scale than these types of smaller events, but that does not mean that it was somehow unique in all aspects – and also, if we want it to STAY unique in its scope and horror, then we SHOULD see parallels in recent events – not discount them as being not worthy to be mentioned in conjunction with it – before they get out of hand.

42

Ben 10.25.05 at 5:45 am

“Would anyone have the chutzpah to tell a survivor that Bhopal belongs to the Hindus?”

Hey, doesn’t “chutzpah” belong to the Jews?

43

Martin Wisse 10.25.05 at 5:52 am

There are a couple of things going on with Jewish “ownership” of terms like the Holocaust or even holocaust.

One is an understandable desire not to denigrate the incredible suffering of the victims of the Holocaust by using it inappropriately, viz. PETA’s ongoing attempt to compare factory farming to the Holocaust.

But there also seems to be a desire with some people to make Jewish suffering unique, not so much examples of “man’s inhumanity towards man, but man’s inhumanity against Jews”.

44

Chris Bertram 10.25.05 at 6:09 am

Whoah! Let’s hold on a bit here shall we.

As is no doubt clear from the exchanges above, I think that it is pretty silly to say that terms like “pogrom” should be reserved for Jews. And I think it can be entirely legitimate to compare persecutions today with sufferings in the past.

But what’s making me nervous here is that we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the German killing of Jews in WW2 was something special: the programmed and industrialized slaughter of millions on the basis of wacky theories of racial identity by what had hitherto been thought of as one of the most civilized nations on the planet. By all means let’s remember — indeed emphasise — the lessons for humanity in general. But I strongly reject the suggestion, promoted by bodies like the Muslim Council of Britain, that events to memorialize the Holocaust should be generalized to include all and any instances of alleged genocide.

45

Jonathan Edelstein 10.25.05 at 2:38 pm

Anna,

Why would anyone want to “own” such a term? The Nazi holocaust horrifies everyone, it was much greater in scale than these types of smaller events, but that does not mean that it was somehow unique in all aspects

Why should absolute uniqueness and fully shared “ownership” be the only two options? Obviously all genocides can be compared and contrasted. There is no such thing as an event that is completely unique in history; all events have parallels elsewhere. At the same time, genocides differ in methods and ideology, and they impact their victims differently from the way they impact the rest of humanity. As such, each genocide is unique within its category.

That’s why there are specific and generic terms. The generic term, “genocide,” defines a category that includes the Nazi Holocaust. As an event that falls within the category of genocides, the Holocaust can be compared and contrasted with other genocides and crimes against humanity. At the same time, the use of specific terms, such as “Holocaust” or “Shoah,” is a recognition that the Nazi genocide had an impact on Jews that was qualitatively different from its impact on humanity as a whole. In light of this, I don’t see what’s illegitimate about the reservation of a specific term for the genocide committed against Jews.

I don’t insist on the historical uniqueness of the Nazi genocide, but I do insist on Jews’ right to their own collective memory, and it’s the objections to the latter that I don’t understand. I’ve seen it argued that Jewish opposition to the genericization of “Holocaust” is a symptom of “Jewish exclusivity.” I’ve even seen it suggested that Jews are somehow “racist” for insisting on their own historical memory. I fail to see why that should be so; we are part of humanity, certainly, but a distinct part.

This, of course, leaves the issue of the proper specific term. I argued above that I favor “Holocaust” for the Nazi genocide of the Jews and “Porraimos” for the genocide of the Gypsies, but Daniel pointed out that “Porraimos” isn’t a word that all the Gypsy victims can share. As such, I’m coming around to abb1’s view that “Holocaust” should be a semi-generic term for all the Nazi genocides, and that “Shoah” should be the specific term for the Nazi persecution of the Jews. That there should be a specific term, however, is something I will insist upon without apology.

46

hasty 10.25.05 at 9:20 pm

Johnathan,

The generic term, “genocide,” defines a category that includes the Nazi Holocaust. As an event that falls within the category of genocides, the Holocaust can be compared and contrasted with other genocides and crimes against humanity.

The term “genocide” does define a category that includes the Nazi genocide, but not one that includes all holocausts (e.g. a nuclear holocaust), and why should we not be allowed a word to compare and contrast those? (A reductio of your argument could be expressed by substituting the term “20th century event” for “genocide”.)

At the same time, the use of specific terms, such as “Holocaust” or “Shoah,” is a recognition that the Nazi genocide had an impact on Jews that was qualitatively different from its impact on humanity as a whole. In light of this, I don’t see what’s illegitimate about the reservation of a specific term for the genocide committed against Jews.

Why can’t “the Holocaust” serve as your specific term of special recognition for the Nazi genocides, while leaving the generic “holocaust” for others to use?

47

Jonathan Edelstein 10.25.05 at 9:53 pm

Why can’t “the Holocaust” serve as your specific term of special recognition for the Nazi genocides, while leaving the generic “holocaust” for others to use?

I don’t have any problem with this, as long as the distinction between capital- and small-H holocausts is made clear.

48

Anna in Cairo 10.26.05 at 6:28 am

I don’t see why either recognizing that the Nazi holocaust targeted other groups besides Jews, or using the word “holocaust” for other atrocities, should have any effect on Jewish collective memory. The event of the Nazi Holocaust still exists in historical record, is widely known and recognized, and remains one of the greatest examples of evil in terms of scale ever perpetrated by a government in a purposeful fashion. Also, using the word “Nazi” before it makes it perfectly clear.

I guess I just don’t seem to be able to make the leap between how important it is to remember it (which I agree with) and restricting terms so that they ONLY refer to it (which I just don’t get).

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