Sarah Palin describes those who have blamed her for Jared Lee Loughner's Tuscon shooting spree as guilty of spreading a blood libel. Ms. Palin said that, "Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."
Palin is certainly right that comments and analysis that serve "only to incite" are inappropriate. She is not correct about the power of the words we use and how they impact others.
As Jesus teaches (Matthew 15:11), what comes out of a person's mouth renders them impure, i.e. there is impact both upon them and upon those around them, as there is in all cases of impurity. While I don't usually prove things with reference to the New Testament, in this case it seems entirely appropriate to do so.
And although it's pretty strange, her choice of analogies may have more merit than one might think. Of course, for that to be the case, one must also appreciate that in this case at least, Ms. Palin seems to think that she is Jewish!
First, let's be clear about what a blood libel is. In the briefest terms, it is the charge that Jews use the blood of non-Jews, typically that of children, for ritual purposes, especially the making of Passover matzah.
The charge, which originated among medieval Catholics, has also been used by Protestants and more recently by Muslims too, to provoke rage at Jews -- rage which on many occasions resulted in violence against Jews, and even their murders. That's what makes Palin's use of the term so interesting -- for the analogy to work, she must be the Jew!
I have no particular problem with people, including gentiles, analogizing their own woes to that of Jews, but does Ms. Palin actually believe that her life is in danger because of the journalists and political talking heads who accuse her of complicity in the tragedy in Tucson?
If she does, then not only does she seem eager to play the Jew, she seems to agree with her detractors about the power of words to inspire violence. It's amazing how the two sides, each so eager to cast blame upon the other, are so very much alike. Because her analogy, however unintentionally, drives home that point, I think it may be quite apt.
Ms. Palin's choice of analogies is also a good one because it points to a situation in which people need to cast blame upon others to deflect from their own sins. In the case of the blood libel, it was used not only to create anti-Jewish sentiment, but to justify it.
Jews, it was charged, deserved to be tortured and killed because of their evil deeds. So Jew haters created a reason for the hate, one which not only inspired increased hate but justified, in their own minds, the hate they already had for Jews.
That is exactly how the charges and counter-charges by Sarah Palin and her detractors are being used. So, while I share the view that the words and images we use do contribute to the culture in which we all live, there is a lesson for all of us in Ms. Palin's words: stop libeling each other!
I am not defending Ms. Palin's choices when it comes to symbols and metaphors. And I certainly think that there is plenty of responsibility which people can take even when they are not legally culpable for a terrible act. But as people are burying their dead and visiting loved ones in the hospital, no libel, no easy accusations which simply justify our own pre-existing beliefs, should be a practice on which we all agree, at least for right now.