Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Watching the meeting between the Muslim leaders and Tony Blair with the other government leaders really got me thinking. I was imagining in my minds eye how it would have looked had their current problem been ours. Suppose, instead of just producing the occasional isolated nut like Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, the settlers had started an organized campaign of killing or suicide bombing. We would all, naturally, be quick to point out that there is no justification in the Torah for this and indeed the Torah categorically forbids it! I suspect after the tenth incident nobody would believe us and all our protestations would fall on dead ears, just as the statements coming from the Muslim Leadership do now.
Of course the Chief Rabbi and his board would be joined by some others like, maybe Rabbi Gloria Nuerberger and the Editor of the JC, in a BBC studio to explain in our name that we profoundly abhor what was happening in the name of our religion. Then the Chief Rabbi would explain learnedly why it could not possibly be the Torah that was justifying such acts. Meanwhile in our home we would be laughing up our sleeves (ever so discreetly while the cleaning lady is around) at how all of a sudden he represents our religion for us while we do not consider the foods he eats to be kosher and we would not allow him to officiate at one of our weddings.
Let us get real. The people we saw nervously avoiding looking at the multitude of international TV cameras as they rang the bell at Number Ten do not represent the religious Muslim youth either. Whom they might represent, however, are the normal people of Arab origin who live in the capital and I believe it is important that we do extend our hand in friendship to them. Nobody knows better than we do what it feels like to be in a country where you don’t feel welcome. Furthermore our interests and theirs are much closer to each other than most people would imagine.
It is true they have duly earned our skepticism. The fact that their condemnation, of all the atrocities perpetrated in the name of Islam up till now, had to be drawn from them like pulling teeth speaks for itself. Still I believe that many if not most UK Arabs (it is impossible for me sitting next to one on the train to know if he is a Muslim or not) are against suicide bombings in principle. I was indeed very gratified to hear the one woman delegate at that meeting declare to the cameras that she roundly condems any suicide killing whether they occur in Iraq, Palestine or London. I dare say they don’t actually lose much sleep over what they might see as the occasional suicide bomb in Israel, but then, how many of us lie awake at night for the innocent citizens of Bagdhad? The fact does remain that the Muslim population of London is here to stay and so are we. We could bear a grudge and live under increased pressure for the next few years or we could extend a hand in friendship to those that are brave enough to take it.
The anti pullout movement in Israel came up with a scheme, actually borrowed from the architects of the Orange Revolution, for using the colour orange to symbolise their resistance to the disengagement plan. Far too late, supporters of the plan replied with blue ribbons to publicly counterbalance the enormous mass of orange-everything that seemed to spread like fire across the land. Indeed fashion outlets are complaining that it is becoming difficult to sell any orange clothes as people see the wearing of it as a political statement. What a delicious irony that the ones standing for withdrawal are the ones using zionist blue. I am a staunch supporter of such symbols because they tell me where I stand. When I am next to a group of teenagers wearing orange headbands I would of course not mention my personal opinion that disengaging is probably the smartest thing Israel has done since engaging, while I would be happy to say it to someone with a blue ribbon on his car aerial.
It is a shame that Londoners have not come up with a symbol to signify friendship. Something like an Our Nation England campaign, dedicated to creating better understanding between all the different ethnic groups in London. Their logo could be a purple smiley face to show that sex, colour and religion don’t matter. Anybody wearing that symbol would have singled him/herself out as someone who was willing to be friendly to anybody else who was interested too while the monies collected by selling the articles could be used to further the cause by organizing events where getting to know the other could happen. I believe giving people the opportunity to break out of the mold and come forward as a moderate might bring surprising results. It would certainly be more helpful for London and Londoners than all those inflammatory and divisive statements our Mayor Ken Livingstone is so intent on making.