Saturday, May 24, 2014

The personal, the political

Not a good news day. First, the young man in California who killed seven people because hot college women wouldn't go out with him. Then there were the three killed at the Brussels Jewish Museum, killed because, I suppose, anti-Semitism, although exactly which strain of it is yet to be seen. At first I wasn't quite sure what to say about either, beyond the generic, social-media demonstration of finding terrible things terrible. But as a woman who spends lots of time on college campuses (and who's dealt in the past with relatively minor, but still scary, versions of that man's attitude), and a Jew who spends a good amount of time in Belgium (including at that museum!), I may be slightly more unnerved than most by what are, to just about anyone, some awfully, well, awful news stories.

So. Re: the first, and Jezebel's already on the case, there's the bizarre Nice Guy entitlement angle. The women this man happened to be attracted to didn't reciprocate and, rather than, I don't know, pursuing other women, the guy goes and shoots a bunch of people in a college town. He was, it seems, fed up with being a virgin at... 22. So this wasn't even some kind of lifelong frustration at being someone intimacy has passed by - not, of course, that a 52-year-old man in the same situation would be somehow within his rights to respond in this way. Because the man who did this was rich and non-black, and because it's simply not done to talk about gun control, I suppose we're in for another national conversation about mental illness that also won't go anywhere. A crime like this seems as much about misogyny as insanity - clearly most committed misogynists don't do things like this, nor do most who are mentally ill. But we're probably not going to get a national conversation about Nice Guy Syndrome.

Re: the second, we can look at this as a reminder of why Jewish sites, especially in Europe, even the tiny little sites that only people working on their dissertations on obscure topics ever seem to go to, are so heavily guarded. Interesting that the NYT story about Belgian anti-Semitism describes Belgium as terrible, almost as bad as France. France is worse? Argh. I do wish, though, that some of the people I know within the American Jewish community, who have made it their mission to be critics-of-Israel, spent a bit more time recognizing and denouncing the tremendous global anti-Jewish sentiment that's also going around calling itself criticism-of-Israel. Not because these Facebook friends and such don't have legitimate criticisms of Israel - they do, if not all of them criticisms I happen to share. But there's just this sense I get that they're not seeing the wider picture, that "Israel" isn't just this country with some very serious flaws, but that it's also used as a pretext for old-school anti-Semitism, quite possibly including this latest tragic attack.

As for Belgium itself, I guess all I can add, personal-knowledge-wise, is that it would be a mistake to think of it as a uniformly anti-Semitic country. I've always been accepted, and I mean by people who know my background - that a white Jew in secular dress passes by unnoticed in Europe isn't all that interesting. And my impression is that racism and xenophobia in Belgium as in France are directed more at visible minorities at this point. That said, I don't know what it's like to live there - to live there as a Jew, that is - and have no experience with being a visible Jew (i.e. Orthodox) there or anywhere.


Ponder Stibbons said...

Not sure what counts as a "national conversation" but the Nice Guy syndrome is getting a lot of air on blogs, some newspaper (the Guardian, I believe) and Twitter.

Phoebe said...

Yes, feminist writers and bloggers are discussing this, and that discussion is getting picked up a little bit elsewhere. Not sure what the threshold is for a "national conversation."

There's also a conversation going about the unheard plight of the man who can't get laid. Which... seems especially ridiculous in this case, because apparently the murderer had been planning for 3 years prior. And 19 seems incredibly young to expect sympathy for not having yet found romance.