Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Turkish Conspiracy Theory

I wonder if the Turkish Phantom deliberately crossed into Syrian airspace in order to precipitate a crisis which in turn would create the casus belli (justifiable reason for war) to attack Syria. Why? It would provide the excuse Islamist Turkey needs to invade Syria and with opposition support overthrow the murderous, tyrannical Assad regime. Of course it must be admitted that there is a possibility that they could get bogged down in an Iran/Iraq style war of attrition. But if the Turks win through as saviours of the Syrians they would show themselves to be the champions of the Muslim people.

Having gained significant street cred, the Turks might be hopeful that it could reignite excitement over Ottoman imperial ambitions – the idea being that the caliphate is safer in their hands than in those of any other Muslim nation

Time unfortunately is not on Turkey’s side because Iran is very likely to reach the potential for challenging them in terms of military power fairly soon and Egypt may not be too far behind.

The Egyptian military in coalition with the Turkish Islamists could, in the short term, forge an alliance that benefits both.  Iran with the nuclear bomb is a wild card which creates concerns for both Arabs and Turks because the Iranians have a superiority complex that is outside of their Islamic identity and even overrides it. On the theory that the enemy of your enemy is my friend, it could be used to unite all the other Arab factions.

So if Turkey does not have much time then precipitating a conflict with Syria could demonstrate its strength and its influence as the major player in the Near-East, significantly more influential than Israel. This will position it as the true Islamic superhero who will reassert Islamic pride.

In terms of developing a strategic relationship with its Arab and Muslim neighbours Turkey’s bluster does seem at odds with the relative insignificance of the provocation (not withstanding the tragedy of the probable deaths of the two pilots on board the Phantom). But Turkey went to NATO and invoked article 4 which provides for consultations by the allies when one of them is attacked or threatened. (see below):

The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.

All of this may seem rather extreme unless there is something further afoot. We could speculate that NATO was happy with the provocation that gives Turkey the chance to take care of the Syrian problem for them and this may demonstrate that it is in Europe’s advantage to accept Turkey as a full member of the European Community. Of course this would mean sacrificing Greece (the basket case) and Cyprus (partitioned since the Turkish invasion of 1974) for the sake of having on board an Islamic ‘power’ that can be its surrogate in the Muslim world.

Turkey can then be positioned as being integral to solving Islamic problems that Christian Europe and the USA cannot and will not become involved with. Clearly this will further enhance their prestige and increase their influence in the Muslim world.

The cream on the cake for the New Ottomans (having vanquished Greece, who were the first to gain their independence from the Old Ottoman empire in 1821), would be to reacquire Israel, which was also a part of their empire.

Speculation can also act as warning. With so much change and disruption across the globe there is nothing we can afford to ignore.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Arab Spring Revisited (Part 1)

Free elections bore a monstrous progeny whose racist, irredentist and genocidal theocratic beliefs were formed within an Islamic crucible and found its first fruits of the 21st Century in Gaza.

Similarly, the Arab Spring has proven so far, to be a poisoned chalice.  It may spell the end of any chance for a two state solution (replacing it in fact with a three state solution as HAMAS and The Palestinian Authority on the West Bank are almost certainly irreconcilable).  The Arab Spring has not only destabilised the Arab world; it has diminished any possibility for resolution because of increased Israeli fears and greater insecurity in the entire region.  Anxiety, frustration and the perception that a solution is receding cannot encourage dialogue towards a peaceful solution to the conflict.  Both sides assume time to be on their side. The Palestinians display a false sense of religious superiority and cannot appreciate that God may not only be on their side.  Many Jews feel that God is on their side too. This is the old chestnut that has always benefited no one but the undertaker. While we cannot prevent occasional acts of prejudice from seeping though into the dialogue a hegemonic agenda precludes any discussion based on equal rights and shared narratives.

In an Op-ed in Yediot Achranot written by Alex Fishman he refers to the Iranian revolution thus: “On February 10 the Islamic revolution was launched. A day before, on February 9, units from the Revolutionary Guard used lists that were provided by the two traitors to pick up a few hundred generals who hadn’t managed to flee. February 9, 1979 was the night of long knives in Tehran. That night, hundreds of generals were killed. The entire upper tier of the military echelon, which was the final floodgate and which could have served as an opposition in the future, was wiped out. The dam was breached, and the fundamentalist flood swept through Iran”.

In 1979 Iran was also aligned with communists but once it gained power it executed its allies, consolidating its in-country rule.

In order to take control of Lebanon, Assad’s army had its list of 800 leading Christians who, in a single night, they visited and executed. Then Syria ended Lebanese Sovereignty.

I will not speculate on whether this can or will happen in Egypt. It is enough to note the pattern in Muslim society. Replacing one set of dictatorial kleptocrats with another set of dictatorial kleptocrats does not bring regional prosperity or peace.  There is no evidence of changed behaviour, other than a God obsessed self-belief that encourages reckless adventurism but delivers not a jot of improvement to those marginalised by society.

Democracy as pretence for staged Islamisation is what we fear most and what is happening throughout the Arab world. It seems that we have been here too many times before. We ascribe to others an essential goodness that is non-existent. And the Left is most to blame for this naive and foolish contempt for history.  When Iran fell, many liberals embraced the revolution and were vicariously giddy with the power of the new regime.  Even as the body count rose alarmingly they made their excuses and ignored the blood that was the cement of regime change. Far too many continue to do so to this day.  When America invaded and overthrew the murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein the left was outraged. Even as persecuted expatriate Iraqis argued that the evil dictator must go, the Left indignantly accused them of being no more than lackeys for American colonialism. And no one predicted the fall of Mubarak. As flawed as he was, the alternative is far worse.

Josef Joffe believes that a common enmity toward Israel is the only thing preventing the complete collapse of the modern Middle East.  Between Islamic modernists and Utopian reactionaries ruthless suppression constrains the political and religious freedoms of everyone living in an Islamic neighbourhood.

The “Days of Rage” in the Arab world have not provided evidence of delivering an “Arab Spring” – unfortunately, it may herald the beginning of an Arab Winter whose propensity towards violence heralds a new era of long term instability throughout the region and beyond.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Art and the Decline of Society

We went to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design – the pre-eminent art institution in the United Kingdom and reputed to be one of the worlds leading art colleges.

By observation, we confirmed what we already feared.  We have sacrificed art to mediocrity. The commercialisation of art means that the self publicist is more likely to be renowned for the notoriety of their creative output than they are for any meagre talent they may possess. 30 years ago I attended a posh first viewing at a Modern Art Gallery of what at its most polite was descriptively misdiagnosed as ‘naïve’ or ‘primitive’ art – it was not in the tradition of Henri Rousseau, my 5 year old son could as easily have mastered and therefore duplicated the canvases on display.

Art and poetry co-exists magically through the enunciation of light and colour, shade and silhouettes through the interpretation of images. But so much of modern art is pretentious nonsense devoid of artistic merit. Art must have more than the ingredients of a contemporary soap opera and a catchy title. So much eloquence to describe a simple canvas appears to be one of the symptoms of our art today. It is as if to paraphrase Disraeli, the exuberance of the critics’ verbosity is needed to mask the paucity and the poverty of the artistic offering. Linguistic hyperbole is good, but like a cordon bleu meal it soon loses its freshness in spite of its inflated purchase price. What shocks one generation bores the next and only longevity can make for great art.  In fact, the test of time is really the only honest predicator of greatness and because of this the con artist is able to sell his or her wares to a gullible public that is desperate to share fame with an identifiable and charismatic, even visionary figure. In a world of individuals made fabulously wealthy through the stock markets and technology, smart ideas and clever merchandising; even the wealthy art buyer can be sucked into the vortex of instant art by talentless hacks whose salesmanship is their art.

Art has always been controversial but the essence of excellence demands that it is not enough to be creative. Any conman or con-woman can create a blank canvas and a black line running diagonally across its virgin surface. What defines a great work of Art is inspiration, technical ability and skill.  I cannot create art.  With practise I could perhaps achieve a minimum level of technical ability but even with my acute observational powers I will never be Picasso or Rembrandt, Hiroshige or Leach. An example of what it takes to be an artist could be provided by LS Lowry. We could observe his factory workers and note his technical skill but before a distinctive, muted style became his recognisable signature his skill proved that he was more than a pedestrian doodler. The same applied to Picasso. His output at the start of the 20th Century was monochromatic, it displayed a sombre elegance that made it essentially unpopular because you could look at his painting and feel as depressed as Picasso himself must have felt at that time.

And that is the essence of great art – it not only conveys it also infects.

I viewed the Honours Course Degree Show held at Central Saint Martins – there were two, perhaps three artists who appeared to possess any artistic ability.  We knew one young person who had attended Saint Martins for four years and he seemed to have regressed in his capacity to produce a work of art.

And art can take many forms but it usually expresses something which while it may not necessarily be aesthetically pleasing, its nature is by its creation an act willing us to remember it.

We have categorised and in our cleverness destroyed what makes art so important to us. Art celebrates the aesthetic achievements of Civilisation. In an era of global communications, video art can be fun and it can also be viewed on the internet at any time.  But it is on the same level as installation art: Tracey Emins’ bed and the Tate Moderns elephant droppings (lumps of clay decorously splattered across the floor at the end of one gallery). None of it expresses the technical skill of genius nor does it provide a hint to our human endeavours.  Much of contemporary art is a cop out by people devoid of individuality and lacking the discipline or the inclination either to study or to observe.

The Emperor’s new clothes syndrome, fear of being ridiculed; it could explain the dire straights to which the art world has been sucked in if it were not for the extent to which the learned professors in their colleges have dictated the fashion.

Film should be taught in a school of movie making.  Fashion, clothing design and furniture making are craft disciplines but at least they require an appreciation of the physical.  The issue becomes politicised when we exclude the decorative arts from fine art. Decorative art is classified as belonging to applied art. It is an unnatural Western differentiation between visual, non functional art and what is inevitably functional, culturally significant art (such as pottery, glassware, jewellery design, metal working and textile design).

Perhaps we need a third category; that which is instantaneous, spontaneous or randomly created.  A more appropriate demarcation between Fine and Applied art on the one side and our third, aforementioned category is that the latter is usually transient in nature and requires little of either imagination or talent to produce and of more importance, can be copied by any third rate mimic.  While it is unfair to include all film, all photography and all theatre in this bucket of slops it has been forced upon us by society’s insistence on catering to the lowest common denominator in Art. There can never be an absolute distinction in Art but by forcing us to define what is and what is not ‘art’ in a modern sense we have opened up a monstrous Pandora’s box to charlatans and charismatic clowns, none of whom have anything to say about real art.

Every day objects do become part of culture when they become an expression of the spiritual journey of the nation. If art represents the sum of human expression then it is also the marriage of art and culture.  For example a Japanese sword is imbued with the philosophy and the art of its society.  A portable Buddhist shrine, a Benin bronze or, a magnificent Etruscan Cauldron created in the 7th century BCE; artefacts from Oceania and Africa, these all represent design and art but also culture, the physical representation of the spiritual.

I do not object to the veneration of the material world. To aspire to be better or to aspire to create something that ridicules our inadequacies as it slaughters our pretensions, expresses the essence of what it means to be human just as to create an object of beauty is to capture the divine. Art is one of the driving forces behind human development. But conquest, domination and unbridled greed are also drivers behind the development of humanity and from humble survival based instincts they have developed their own moral code justifying every wrong we as a species are capable of inflicting on others.  Not everything we produce is beautiful but to represent an ‘essence’ is to influence and inspire.

Honest workmanship produces craftsmanship but it requires years of study, and one must internalise the techniques employed by the great artists that came before us. All of this can be found in the great museums and art galleries of the world. The art I have been witness to seems to have been generated in one of Stalinism’s academies for social submission and artistic irrelevance.  Self absorbed talentless hacks slap together a hodgepodge (I believe that the correct art term refers to a pastiche) of incomprehensible mediocrity devoid of talent or precision of purpose.

The self possessed hedonist may enjoy his or her moment of artistic fame but if politics and fashion is all our art colleges are capable of churning out then instead of world class art, we now have mediocrity from which we must draw our individual and collective inspiration.  To aspire to be great we must strive to produce great art and while great art may share the stage with mediocrity it is to our extinction that it beckons.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Refugee Solution

First published on The Times of Israel:

Refugees are only a symptom of the greater issue of identity and who controls it. In Israel the ultra-orthodox establishment has power over birth, death and everything in between.  If they cannot control the refugees they will use them to unite their followers in the uncertainty that the unfamiliar creates.

As a community the ultra-orthodox can only thrive if they are able to define their own path, disconnected from every other sub-community.  This is why political influence is so important to them. As a means of patronage one need only consider that every restaurant wanting a Kashrut licence has to employ someone whose job is essentially to stand around and criticise and be paid to do so to appreciate that there is a vast industry of protection in operation.   Traditional guardians of morality and human conduct have discarded their sacred role in safeguarding society from its excesses in order to endlessly compete with each other in order to create their own vision of society or for the mundane motive of gaining employment at the expense of a society with which they share nothing but ill conceived contempt and increasingly, loathing.

So many different ultra-orthodox sects compete with each other to be more strident in their opposition to the secular ocean around their particular fundamentalist island (to paraphrase Shimon Peres) that they have lost sight of the environmental damage for which they themselves are responsible.

The ultra Orthodox political leadership has come out against the refugees, but it is the yuppie Ramat Aviv Gimmel crowd that has been most vocal. Where there should be a compassionate religious voice there has been silence or hostility.  Because identity is controlled by the religious establishment except where it is formed in opposition to or in conflict with that institution the ethical debate has been hijacked by the extreme Left which is anti-Zionist and therefore unable to contribute to the debate within society in any meaningful way.  The refugee issue should be a national discussion that is tied in with how the society views itself. It is hijacked by the extremes on both sides. And yes, there is a problem.  A “massive influx” of north African refugees have poured into the country, standing on street corners with hopes of being picked up for cut-price (illicit) labour jobs, they have taken over the cheapest of slums and while that may be a tradition for all new immigrant groups it would be naïve to consider that it did not create it’s own problems.

The border fence will stop this influx and yes, it has to be done because Israel cannot be a safe haven for everyone.  But the refugees could be dispersed throughout the country. They could be integrated into Israeli society.  It is the failure to discuss compassionate solutions that is at issue.  All we will read about is the religious view, rape, alien invasion and crowds milling around looking for work.  This is where the danger lies - it has not been addressed because society will not discuss it.  The issue has been sensationalised for political purposes.

Racism in Israel is primarily a response to ongoing conflict but also to a failure by government to drive home an inclusive future vision.  The State of Israel at 64 years of age is a toddler amongst the established nations of the world.  The Jesuits have an expression: “Give me the Child and I will give you the Man”.  It means that through education and the media we are informed and shaped.

What can we do to stop the rot that has infected society? 
  1.  Next time a football team chants racist abuse from the terraces, ban the club from playing against any other club for a minimum period of three months.
  2.  Tighten up the law on hate speech to reflect classic characteristics of Jewish identity.  By this I mean tolerance and a broad synagogue.  No Member of Parliament should be able to talk of a segment of society as a cancer. That is the characteristic behaviour of a demagogue. It is hate speech.
  3. There are imams in Israel that quote the Koran and use it as vindication for ridiculing the infidel and disseminating hate. This is acceptable in the Muslim world. Israel is not the Muslim world. Incitement is incitement irrespective of its source.
  4. State Television and Radio remain effective means for teaching values as defined by society. Use them to discourage prejudice and educate against odium.
  5. In contradiction to the above: Disengage the State from financing religion – people who have to work to survive have less time to practice prejudice.
I live in the UK there is a perception that we are less prejudiced than any other state in Europe save Scandinavia. It is a curious observation that they both counterbalance their tolerance of bigots with an outpouring of Jew hatred and are actively spreading their poison into other nations.

I have a friend who was born in Nigeria but raised in England. He sounds far more “British” than I ever will. He is impeccably well dressed in his suit and tie, a solid, middle-class Englishman. It has not prevented him from being stopped and searched in the City of London.  A black person is randomly stopped and searched four times as often as a white person here in the UK.  Similarly, he is sentenced to a prison term four times as often as a white person is for the same offence.

It is what is in our hearts that creates us. Our minds merely interpret our fears and our prejudices.  Judaism is a religion that teaches us to control our emotions as well as to celebrate them in a positive manner that benefits society and not just the passions of the individual.  

Israel is a refugee nation and that in itself creates tremendous pressures and growing pains but Judaism is a system of ethical inclusion and a road map for how to integrate the other into society. The ultra-orthodox community are incapable of externalising this strand of Jewish belief because they are themselves fractured in their identity. Like all fundamentalists their in-fighting and rejection of normative Judaism makes them incapable of relating to anyone else not like themselves.

The refugees amongst us can be a vehicle for good if they are assimilated into our society. Their identities can reinvigorate ours.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Avigdor Lieberman and British revulsion

Did anyone miss the significance of the statement by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the Movement Rabbi for British Reform Judaism?

On Wednesday, 16th May 2012 The Movement for Reform Judaism released a statement from Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner referring to the presence in the UK of Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister for Israel, as undesirable and inappropriate (my words).  He had been invited to an event organised by JNF UK.

We have a number of issues here. The first is the Foreign Minister’s perceived  right wing extremist views, the second is the perception that he is someone who is outside the consensus of mainstream Israeli society and the third is the perceived wisdom in the learned Rabbis’ statement that advocacy on behalf of Israel is most effective when its case is made rationally and compassionately.

Rabbi Laura has made a series of assumptions but her own voice has not been equally strident in her opposition to views enunciated by our perceived enemies here in the UK, in Israel or overseas.

Leaving aside the provincial, the narrow UK-centric argument that we should only be concerned with the impact of the presence in London of the number three person in the current Israeli government because we are uncomfortable with his perceived views, we first need to address the perceptions to which I referred earlier.

I state here that my views on the Right Honourable Avigdor Lieberman Foreign Minister for the sovereign state of Israel are irrelevant to this article.

What we know about Avigdor is that he has expressed views that will sit comfortably with constituents whose experiences and history is one of minority status and persecution or those to whom experience has been deliverance from catastrophic threat at the price of enormous loss.  Such people will in most cases be suspicious of false prophets and be especially militant in their opposition to concessions without measurable and commensurate reciprocity.

Foreign Minister Lieberman is Russian by birth.  Only a fool would deny the history of Russia in World War 2 between 1941 and 1945 when it lost some 14 million soldiers and civilians, or approximately 13% of its population over a four year period.  And even that figure could be underestimated by as much as 40% i.e. 20 million killed.  By comparison, Israel, in its war for survival in 1948, lost 1% of its population to the Arab aggression over a one year period and Britain lost almost 450,000 people or less than 1% of its total pre-war population in a 6 year period between 1939 and 1945. 

The measurement of death by numbers is an obscene game that denies any equivalence between narratives when in ethical terms even one death should be too many to contemplate. While we should not need to quote numbers, any discussion that fails to internalise the impact of war on society is beyond idiotic.

That kind of trauma creates an inherent fear that will not easily be shaken off.

And as a Jew living in Comrade Stalin’s Russia or living in the shadow of his legacy today, anti-Semitic prejudice has not made a Jewish reliance on the goodwill of third parties a natural response to threat situations. In fact an instinctive will to survive would necessitate the opposite view. 

Similarly, 1400 years of Jewish second class status under Islam and ethnic cleansing under Arab hegemony does not create a natural affinity towards those whose most common trait is aggression and violence towards those with whom they disagree. Jewish history may be bleak and even dystopic however to discount its impact is to renounce empathy as sentimentality and understanding as inconvenience.  This may be a common post-Modern view of society but it disenfranchises Israelis and it denies Jews everywhere their history on the pretext that it is not consistent with a Western trend towards appeasement.

Avigdor Lieberman founded Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home), the political party he leads today. He has a constituency of 1 million Russian immigrants and a significant number of their offspring. His party message resonates with many within the Mizrahi (Near-Eastern Jewish) community, particularly those whose racial memory has been seared by contact with Arab racism and Arab religious persecution.

If we perceive that the party he heads is secularist and supports a two state solution then to not talk to him is short-sighted. It does not encourage pro-Peace deliberations or religious freedom in Israel, something that I would have imagined to be of some importance to Rabbi Laura.

To discount the significance of his constituency is as insolent as it is impertinent. To assume that he lies outside of the mainstream of political consciousness or that attitudes held by a significant number of frightened citizens is of no importance is to display a worryingly fantasist approach to the Near East.

And finally, to state that “Israel advocacy is most effective when its case is made rationally and compassionately” is not born out by Britain’s relationship with Israel or by Israel’s deteriorating relationship with Europe where a burgeoning Muslim population abetted by the fascist left (the “red-green coalition”) has long since sacrificed its Jews to renewed fear and insecurity in the name of appeasement and conditional co-existence.

But arguably the greatest error Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner makes is that she ignores the inconvenient fact that Mr Lieberman is the foreign minister of a sovereign state called Israel. She may disagree with him but to refuse to engage in dialogue with him is to miss an opportunity to influence him. To discount his position within Israeli political life is presumptuous at best; in all probability, it marginalises, if not negates the influence of the Reform Movement both here and in Israel.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mira Awad. Boycotted by Arabs.

Mira Awad. Israeli, Arab, and Woman; Boycotted by Arabs.  We must understand the real intent of the campaign to boycott Israeli goods ‘produced in the territories.’ It is a staged separation of Israel’s Jewish population from Israel’s Arab and other non Jewish citizens.  The separate development demanded by Arabs, mostly Muslims in Israel, for ‘Palestinians’ i.e. for non-Jewish members of Israeli society is in its essence: voluntary separation and apartheid.  The Arabs demand separate administrative control, separate educational institutions and in the creation of a separate identity demand partition between different ethnic and religious groups in Israel. And then in a show of ultimate chutzpah they accuse Israel (and the Jews of course) of Apartheid.

There have been three stages of the war waged between Israel and her enemies. The first – the attempted physical annihilation of the Jewish 'entity', failed.  After 5 wars we entered the second stage. This was a war of attrition on all fronts, a war of terror.  Thousands died but this also failed to force 'the Jews' to flee the State of Israel en-masse; it failed to break the morale of the people. The third phase is what we are now experiencing on a global scale. It is the international campaign to delegitimize the state as it seeks the dehumanisation of the Jewish citizens of that state.   Just as a war of attrition was waged against the Jewish people in the decades and centuries that preceded Jewish self-determination in Palestine in 1948, so the denial of our history and the creation of a narrative that divorces us from our past is likewise, an ongoing process that has been waged against us since the Roman occupation.

Actress and Singer Mira Awad is being boycotted by Arab pro- Apartheid activists living in Nazareth (Israel). The culture and the values of the Arab world as practised today are deception, dissimulation and bigotry and their fellow travellers, residing in Israel cannot accept that a Jewish entity (the Nation State of Israel) can control their lives. In their eternal hatred rooted in historical superiority they are incapable of declaring their allegiance to a non-Islamic flag.  Their alleged pan-Arab identity forbids them from subsuming their ethnic prejudice within an Israeli identity even when it grants them liberty, equality and fraternity (the national motto of France).

This isn’t about politics nor is it about ‘natural justice.’  The theology of Palestine is hatred backed by religious scripture.  The PLO is considered to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian (i.e. non-Jewish) people. While it is committed on paper to a secular state, its Islamic identity negates the difference between politics and religion.  The genius of Arafat was that he was able to exploit sentiment in both religious and secular believers, his ambiguity of revolutionary rhetoric allowed the European and subsequently the American Left to sell its soul to the Islamic cause.

Israel must marginalise the bigots and show up the haters for the damaged goods they bring to any debate. It must attack the problem even as it fights for its survival.  Israel’s most urgent task is integration of all its citizens into the national mosaic.  It cannot do so while Arab bigots in Nazareth boycott ‘their own kind’ for associating with Jews.