Harry Potter and the Myth of Anti-Semitism in Fantasy Literature
#1
It seems the grungy head of false racial defensiveness is raising its gnarled face to stir the pot in the chambers of literature and imagination among both Muggles and Wizards.

Yet another defense of Harry Potter against ridiculous allegations of anti-semitism has caught my busy little eye. At first I could not help but laugh at the silliness of the idea that J.K. Rowling's goblins perpetuate some sort of anti-Jewish stereotypes. In fact, in one of the most resounding attacks on Harry Potter Dana Goldstein inexplicably suggests that J.R.R. Tolkien's literature also promotes racial stereotypes.

When ignorant people see the things they hate in the stories they read, they immediately leap upon a soapbox and proclaim to the world that there must be an evil source of stereotypes that are anti-semitic, anti-black, or anti-someone-who-has-been-hurt-by-racism.

Racism undeniably exists in copious everyday quantities throughout both the Muggle and Magical world but goblins are hardly cardboard cutouts of Jewish people. The goblins have had a bitter history with magical humans, there is no denying. But when I check my history books I cannot find any references to Jewish uprisings against their European oppressors prior to the 20th century. The Jews were often caught between oppressors and other other oppressed peoples, especially in eastern Europe, where they suffered terribly in Cossack uprisings.

Goblins on the other hand are a species unlike no other. They have a long history of working against the safety and security of both the Wizarding community and Muggle lands. Some among us (Hermione Weasley comes to mind) argue that the conflict between Wizards and Goblins has created long-standing hatreds and prejudices between both peoples. While that may be true, the fact is that the Ministry of Magic has worked to integrate Goblins into our world in as fair and humane a way as possible.

Goblins have their own ideas about what laws they should be subject to, and how those laws should be enforced. But as was established through negotiations with the Ministry, Goblins are expected to abide by Wizard Law when doing business with the Wizard Community.

Some people have argued that when Harry Potter concluded his agreement with Griphook during the Second Wizarding War (the details of which have not been fully disclosed by Mr. Potter) Griphook was well within his rights to attempt to repossess the Sword of Godric Griffyndor because Mr. Potter was at the time an outlaw living beyond the protection of the then instated Wizarding government. Hence, Mr. Potter was subjected to the law of Goblinry and he was in no position to appeal to the Ministry of Magic for intercession.

This is a rather fine legal point but it is one that has been used to abuse the stories that (admittedly) distort the events of both recent and distant memory. There are certainly many griefs that lie between Goblins and Wizards but the one grief that even we Wizard folk should defend is the ridiculous allegation that Goblins must be a mockery or allusion to the Jewish people.

If we were to assume that J.K. Rowling's literature were entirely imaginary then it would follow that her themes of racism and segregation would require opposing parties among both the oppressed and the oppressors. The Wizarding world surely has its differing points of view. But the arrogance of some Wizarding families cannot be without its consequences and those consequences, it is argued, have been borne out by the hatred that some creatures have occasionally expressed toward Wizards. Should the Goblins be any different?

Simply economic theory explains why the Goblins have become wealthy through their control of Gringotts: who in the Wizarding community would YOU want guarding your gold and family heirlooms? It's not easy to defeat the Goblins, as any student of Magical History should well know. They are fierce enemies who will fight on till the last. The Ministry has never treated them as a conquered people. We do not enslave Goblins because, quite honestly, it is simply not possible to enslave Goblins or drive them into ghettos or otherwise mistreat and abuse them.

I don't mean to disparage the Jewish people (for they have certainly made many positive contributions throughout history) but they are nothing like Goblins. If they were, they would have risen up against their enemies many times through history over the most minor of disagreements. By comparison with Goblins, the Jewish people have historically been very peaceful and productive members of the Muggle community.

It simply takes gross ignorance and prejudice to accuse a writer like J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling of being anti-semitic. Perhaps such narrow-minded critics have felt the sting of racist attitudes so often they are too easily misled into mistaking situations that feel familiar but are intrinsically different as expressions of racist ideas.

Those who have special gifts may often times find themselves singled out for abuse of the worst sort, even extortion at the threat of being exposed to the greater community simply for being "different". I can feel a certain sympathy for people who by their own nature and gifts and are members of a select order that is misunderstood and maltreated by other members of society, any society.

Such narrow-mindedness should be stamped out, it is true. But we must also remember that not every hurtful remark is intended in the way it is received. We must not mistake simple rhetoric for rabble-rousing.
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