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A Dangerous Temptation

A Dangerous Temptation - The Lure of Hating Back, Hurting Back
By Elsa Schieder

My parents grew up in Nazi Austria. My father was nine in 1939, when the Nazis came to power in Austria (part invasion, but local support as well). After the war, he found out what had happened to the Jews �?including to the lone Jewish family in his village. Death.

In 1955, he emigrated to Canada. By then he had a wife and two small daughters. To show he wasn't anti-Semitic, my father chose an apartment in the middle of an Orthodox Jewish community.

As you may well imagine, my sister and I were not welcomed with open arms. My father could not hear that at all �?it was out of his range of understanding. According to him, people who have been the victims of prejudice know all too well how much prejudice hurts, and so could never do unto others what has been done to them.

My sister and I survived.

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My unusual experience has had a lifelong impact, however �?an acute sensitivity to how wrong and hurtful prejudice is, for one thing. Anti-racist movements, feminism, gay rights movements �?the importance of these movements was so very obvious to me.

But there was more I took with me, though this further impact took far longer for me to acknowledge and express.

I grew up just as the separatist movement was gaining momentum in Quebec �?a time when many French Canadians were against anyone not French Canadian. It didn't matter that I spoke French (with an accent), or that my ancestors were thousands of miles away when the British conquered the French, or that I had no English background at all. It mattered that I wasn't one of "them." Counter-prejudice, once again.

Now, looking back, I am amazed that it took me decades to recognize counter-prejudice as a powerful and damaging force. As a child I identified with the Jewish perspective. I felt, deep inside myself, that Jews had the right to be prejudiced against all Germans and Austrians. I knew I had not been born during the Holocaust. I knew even more deeply that six million Jews had been murdered. In high school, I completely understood the Jewish classmate who told me that he could not possibly take me home to his parents. It had nothing to do with religion. I was one of "them."

****

Quebec has changed over the past several decades. It's a mellower place. I no longer feel (very rarely, anyway) hostility coming at me from French Canadians because I am not French Canadian.

But I have become more and more aware of what I call the rage of the so-called righteous. Muslims in rage against anyone who dares do or say what they don't done or said. Blacks contemptuous of whites as "crackers". And so on.

I taught Women's Studies for years. It's relatively easy in our society to support the rights of the oppressed. True, many people don't want discrimination to change, and even more people deny it exists. But by and large, when one talks about prejudice and discrimination, one is talking about something where one gets a lot more support than if one also pays attention to counter-hostility.

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