Hatred, it turns out, costs money, and just as hatred can be handed down from generation to generation, so can its financial costs. The Economist reports on the legacy of anti-Semitism in Germany:
A new academic study finds that people who live in areas of Germany where persecution of Jews was most intense are less likely to invest in the stockmarket, even today.
The relationship has very strong historical roots. People who live in districts from which Jews were likeliest to be sent to concentration camps under the Nazis are 7.5% less likely to invest in stocks than other Germans; those who live in districts where pogroms occurred during the Black Death (back in the 14th century) are 12% less likely to do so. Surveys also show residents of such districts are less likely to trust the financial sector. […]
The effect of this distrust is that German savers in such districts earn lower returns, because they have lower exposure to the stockmarket. “The legacy of Jewish persecution—distrust of finance—has hindered generations of Germans from accumulating financial wealth,” the authors argue. In other words, “Persecution of minorities reduces not only the long-term wealth of the persecuted, but of the persecutors as well.”
This news shouldn’t surprise. Anti-Semitism appears and flourishes among those who don’t quite get modern life, who jump to simplistic but powerful seeming generalizations about cause and effect in a complex world. The world of the anti-Semite may be dark, with all-powerful, string-pulling Jews controlling everything behind the scenes, but the simplicity and clarity of that picture outweighs the darkness: the anti-Semite thinks he understands the world, and that helps ease the pain of feeling tossed about by incomprehensible forces.
But the clarity is false. The anti-Semite is still baffled, confused and at sea; he or she just doesn’t know it. It’s not surprising that someone laboring under these conceptual handicaps would make foolish life choices and bad investment decisions. Even more alienated and embittered because those poor choices have real consequences, the anti-Semite feels more victimized than ever, and attributes the natural result of his or her poor choices to the scheming Jews who make sure that no gentile will ever get an even break.
The linkage of anti-Semitism with a general distrust of finance could also explain one of the mysteries of our time. Radical jihadi groups boast about their intention to purge the Islamic world of the decadent legacy of Europe, but they’ve made an odd exception. There is one kind of ‘boko’ (western knowledge) that is not ‘haram’: the anti-Semitic filth spewed by European tyrants and demagogues in the last 150 years has found a ready audience among the most radical and anti-western of jihadi groups. It’s an anomaly that we don’t think enough about; why is this piece of western ‘knowledge’ so attractive and compelling while everything else coming from the west is suspect?
The ‘suspicion of finance’ that the researchers found in the historically most anti-Semitic areas of Germany may offer a clue. A common idea among jihadis is that the pervasive role of finance in the west is one of the worst things about it; lending at interest, forbidden in many forms of Islam, is after all the basis of modern commercial life. The association that anti-Semites make between “the Jews” and the role of finance would be the kind of simplification that would appeal to jihadis trying to analyze a world that they can’t understand but that frightens and, they fear, dominates them. Linking “the Jews” with western finance helps jihadis build an all-embracing picture of a shadowy and powerful enemy, and offers the illusion of insight and mastery. The radical (and in some cases, not-so-radical) Islamists who swallow Western urban legends about Jews feel, as so many anti-Semites have felt in the past, that they have discovered a hidden key that opens the door of understanding. It is an expensive and disabling error, but an attractive and glittering one. In any case, the unreflecting credulity which makes crude forgeries like the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion so widely popular in Islamist circles today is itself a sign of cultural decadence and intellectual blight.
The popularity of such ideas among large swathes of Middle Eastern opinion has many more consequences than making peace between Israel and its neighbors more difficult. It makes both economic and political success less likely; in the Middle East as in Europe, failure and anti-Semitism go hand in hand.
Interestingly, in the times when Islamic societies were wealthier and more technologically advanced than Christian Europe, those societies were noted for their tolerance of and openness to Jews. It is both sad and revealing that Islamists seeking a return to this ‘golden age’ of Islamic power and prestige think that they should adopt the anti-Semitism of the European Dark Ages rather than the urbane tolerance of their own glorious past.