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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Vatican & Sainthood, Daniel Pearl, Ann Frank & the Mormons

One of the neuroses that accompany a peoples’ minority status is obsessive attention to the majority, for Jews it is a compulsion to view everything through what others think of them.  A second issue that creates disproportionate angst is the theological peregrinations of other faiths but more about both these points later.

It is clear that persecution continues to form us, but if Judaism has internalised these learned behaviours and today reacts without questioning our communal response, then we are truly diminished as a faith.  Unlike Islam, Judaism does not believe that our religion is perfected and therefore unalterable.  Unlike both of the missionary religions of Christianity and Islam, Judaism does not believe that we have to convince others of our worth in order to save either ours or their souls.

So the first issue is the soul. Humanity is still largely ignorant but there was a time when life was short, bleak and harsh (as well as uneducated) for the overwhelming majority of people. Death was often random and capricious. It reinforced the feeling that our collective existence was little better than an act of futility. Scholars vied with each other to postulate reasons for existence and they created stratagems that if they did not help to make us more secure, at least helped to allay our fears.   Gods and goddesses, jinn’s and demons, theatre and ritual all helped us to come to terms with the grievous state of our human existence. The soul was and is impossible to prove but it explained our good health and justified illness. Human beings could be defined by the club to which they belonged and because it could not be seen, touched or felt, the soul could be accessed as a means to excluding a not so intangible adversary.

If the soul is more than our feelings, our thoughts and our humanity, more than simply the result of chemical reactions and electrical connections then this metaphysical kernel remains of dubious ancestry.  It is nice to think that God breathes life into us and that that spark returns to him/her on our death but it is also problematic because it implies that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot are no more than vehicles for Gods greater plan.  If the immortal essence that is the soul can somehow be altered by our actions then a group is capable of saviour or damnation simply by its choices, or the caprice of others.  If the soul is unalterable then an argument may be made for genocide.  The idea of the soul has been abused by those who seek domination and control.  The soul is a relic of pagan society; a vestigial intellectual device which became the vehicle for the creation of a specious chosen-ness endowing the faithful with pristine qualities and unique advantages.  If we in the modern era are intellectually honest, we will declare this toxic instrument dead; a malignant superstition that should now be consigned to the history of a primitive humanity.

Two issues arise intermittently and we rarely if ever handle them in a way that honours us. As Jews, we are too often oversensitive and defensive.

Daniel Pearl was born to parents who practiced Jewish faith; he was murdered because he was Jewish.  His throat was cut for Al Jazeera. As an aside, humanity has not moved on from its love of gory spectacle.  We remain committed followers of the ultimate exhibitionism of the coliseum while the Islamic world rejoices in this public celebration of bloody barbarism.

Daniel Pearl was baptised in a Mormon ritual nine years after his televised murder. Ann Frank was baptised by the Mormon Church 67 years after her death in Auschwitz.  As individuals who may or may not believe that human beings possess a soul I do not understand why we take issue with either of these post mortem acts of conversion.  As a faith community we should simply dismiss them as without merit.

A joke is told of a Jew who forced to convert to Catholicism, adopts all of the rituals and behaviours of the church but cannot substitute his Friday night meal of roast chicken for fish. So with the impeccable logic of faith, he recites a prayer over the chicken and in his mind, the chicken becomes a fish.   Proxy conversions for the dead are offensive but essentially meaningless gestures of misguided superstition, unless we allow them to become something else.  If our faith competitors physically removed Daniel Pearls’ remains from his grave and re-interned them in a Mormon cemetery that would be an act of colonialism; of post mortem spiritual ethnic cleansing.

Islam is guilty of the colonial rape of our cultural and intellectual traditions and the radical Christian churches through their pronouncements on Jesus Christ’s Palestinian (Muslim) identity are similarly contaminated by this theological and post-historical abomination.  If history is no more than the creative output of the missionary bigot then history truly is at an end, but not as Francis Fukuyama envisioned it. The Protestant churches are increasingly embracing this revisionist neo-colonialism not just in rejecting Jewish identity but in assigning to Jesus an identity he would never have contemplated and this is the fight we should embrace.

The second issue is sainthood. The Catholic Church has declared thousands of its followers to be Saints. These are people who are usually defined by the Vatican (and not just Roman Catholicism) to be of exceptional holiness. Laying claim to possessing superior ethics or greater moral clarity is usually dependent on a Catholic view of human existence. Sainthood is a wonderful tool for engagement and a great way of advertising faith.

In the 21st Century, like post-mortem conversions they are neither a physical threat, seductively beckoning, nor are they of any relevance to the Jewish community. If they provide anything, it is a useful propaganda tool – a comparator. Saints and miracles are instruments of superstition; physical icons, the representative idols of an idolatrous theology.  It is not for us to tell Roman Catholics how to keep the faithful loyal to Rome. In fact, we also have our holy men, our tsadikim and we sometimes revere them as saints (Menachem Mendel Schneerson for example). What we need is a positive argument for staying Jewish, not a confrontational and therefore negative display of anger and fear.

To re-engage with Society on others terms is to accept their theological prejudices. We can only ever lose that fight, irrespective of the value of our arguments. To re-engage with Society on our terms is to force our competitors to justify their behaviour as we showcase our own.  The choice is between perpetual victimhood and asserting our equality in society.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Israel Holiday

“We caught a bus to Tel Aviv, which doesn’t sound too bad if you say it quickly!” (Thanks to Mrs Blogger for this quote). A warning to the day tripper, the Jerusalem Central Bus Station like its Tel Aviv counterpart was built with the intent of improving the flow of traffic.  In fact as transportation hubs they are both of them, as advertisements for Israel, disasters, the Tel Aviv Station being unmitigated in its experiential quality.  Ascending an Egged bus is an unforgettable act of sheer will; an act of aggression that tries the patience and the humanity of the aggressor and the victim.  It is a pickpockets paradise, (don’t expect any warning, either signposted or over the intercom).

First the theory:  Purchase tickets at the cashier’s office, stand in an orderly queue and wait your turn. The buses always run on time.  Now the reality:  Buses operate in contempt of timetables; people pour in from all sides, from adjacent bus stops, they even enter the station from the road and then push to the front as the buses arrive. They endanger lives and they are contemptuous of security (which by the way appears to be breathtakingly lax). Only concerted, relentless and unscrupulous determination rewards the traveller with a place for which they have already paid.  I witnessed two families (one, a Finnish family with three young children) bewildered as the maelstrom of human flesh engulfed them. It was probably terrifying for the children lost in the crush of legs and abdomens but not moving forward.  A little girl was screaming and people were shouting for the rabble to let her through.

The solutions are simple. The question is why the will is absent?  The two bus stations represent a public relations canker. The indifference from those running the stations is a blot on Israeli society. For this alone, the excuse that pushing is Middle Eastern is at least racist and at best a spurious excuse for slovenly inaction by a third rate transportation monopoly provider and it places Israel squarely in the developing world at its least attractive. It is a reminder of the pockets of third world maladministration and human contempt that intermittently pierces ones consciousness.  It is offensive and it is wholly unnecessary.

Travelling should be a positive experience that reinforces the voyagers’ recollections of a memorable holiday.  But most Israelis if they can afford to drive will not approach the bus station, and certainly not if any travel is involved.

Information booths are a farce. Companies do not offer help in journey planning unless the entire journey is provided by their company alone.  Ticket sellers sometimes know what they are doing.  They randomly provide travel information (I guess it depends on how they feel or who you are). Bus drivers sell tickets which of course delays travel.  Basic maths knowledge appears to elude them, which creates further delays as they multiply 6 by 4 on their phones calculator app.  Pickpockets operate with impunity.  It is not the problem of the Bus companies after all.

In Britain, A former Deputy Prime Minister was known as “Two Jags” because in spite of his solid (Left wing) union background he liked being driven around in one of the two official Jaguars with which he was provided, even if the journey was barely worth the flick of the ignition key. Israel’s parliamentarians have embraced the greed of their parliamentary perks too, and they have left the people to their own devices for far too long. It is time they too pushed their way onto an Egged bus.

I have been shocked, angered and disgusted by the total indifference shown by the State of Israel for those of us who are unfortunate enough to have to take the buses.  The question that must be asked is whether this is part of the contagion of elitism that has for far too long been endemic to all parts of Israel’s political classes (and that includes the radicals).

So in summary, pickpockets, a panicked public and an apathetic driving fraternity create an environment of chaos.  This alone is reason enough to advise tourists to stay clear of the two cities if, they have to pass through the two central bus stations.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Qatar urges “Judaization” probe

The arrogance of our enemies should be our greatest concern.  In a world of hyper-individuality the group becomes the victim of identity fascists.  They arrogate the right to pass judgement on others without possessing knowledge and with even less concern for the truth; they are able to do this simply because it fits neatly into established prejudices or prior political conduct.  And yet we appear impotent to respond to a narrative that is religiously offensive and historically colonialist.

The Nazis and their collaborators adopted the term “Judaization” to describe the accession of individual Jews to positions of power within the German State and its satellite dominions.  Where-ever fascism metastasized the term “Judaization” was used to sow fear amongst the ignorant and hatred amongst the prejudiced.  Where-ever Jews gained equality and therefore empowerment there were always people who felt threatened. Acceptance negated domination, if Jews successfully escaped persecution a new cause would need to be found and a new narrative created to justify it.

For sixteen hundred years Jews were ethnically cleansed by Christianity because the Church was incapable of accepting our equality or, like people of black skin, our humanity. For one thousand three hundred years Islam ridiculed us, it despised our weakness and in stages it ethnically cleansed us from our religious heartland.

But in post Renaissance Europe and in the Islamic world ‘Reason’ became a threat to the hold of both Church and Mosque on the peasantry and therefore the reins of power inevitably slipped from the grasp of the aristocracy controlling those religious institutions. If emancipation meant empowerment for Jews then it would inevitably follow that the lower classes would also succeed in freeing themselves of their shackles.  Marx was right to refer to religion as an opiate but I have no argument with opiates – used intelligently they can be a force for good.  A life of moderation in everything may not deliver great works of art or Nobel Prizes but contrary to Marxism's extremist world-view, it is the path to peace.

So when The Left in its mendacity adopts the terminology of Islamic colonialism to justify (once more) ethnically cleansing “The Jews” from Judea and Samaria or “The Jews” from The HaGadah HaMaaravit (The West Bank – the Jordanian colonialist term for its previously conquered territory); or when The Left adopts the revanchist ideology of Islamic colonialism / Nazi racism to once again justify ethnically cleansing the Jews from any part of Palestine, or even, from Jerusalem; then please, do not be surprised when the Anti-Left Wing narrative starts describing the anti-Israel Left as the Neo-Nazi Left.

When one adopts the tactics and terminology of Evil, one cannot complain when one receives the moniker of evil personified.