Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Purple Hearts

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

Monday, July 11, 2005

Divided we Stand

Yes there are times when I am proud to be a Londoner! I proudly express my admiration for the London emergency and security services for their low-key but highly efficient major-crisis plan that swung into action following the atrocities on our underground and bus network. Of course London has had the benefit of time, since watching 9/11, Madrid and all the other terrorism it has been our misfortune to have to learn to deal with. Still the plan was innovative, radical and obviously well thought out and I raise my black hat to whoever devised it.

Requisitioning all the buses from the area and turning them into makeshift ambulances for the walking wounded freed up the paramedics and the specialised teams to deal with more of the critically injured on the spot and must be recognized as a stroke of genius. Careful control of how and when the bad news leaked out spared the mass panic that the other cities had to contend with and probably helped the intelligence services monitor the terrorist’s reaction to the lack of one. Londoners showed their typical grit by displaying their stoicism to the world’s cameras instead of the cowed and hysterical pictures we had gotten used to after New York, Bali and Madrid. Maybe the difference was only in which pictures were chosen for broadcast but the calm and restrained image that was created did much to save the capital from potential chaos.

I think Tony Blair deserves our praise. He managed well in a time of extreme difficulty and his quiet determination probably helped set the tone that did London so proud. Once the sheer horror of what has happened passes on into history I am sure he will learn to derive some comfort from video reruns of his G8 statement and the glower on French President Chirac’s face as he was forced to stand aside to allow Blair, the upstart who had just swept the Olympic rug from under his feet, to again address the world while his gallic hands clutched his crown jewels for comfort. I wonder whether one could not detect just a tad of jealousy that once again Paris had been passed over in favour of another in the Pax Americana.

The BBC did itself proud too. After years of struggling with the English language and devising a whole lexicon of new words for describing people who kill civilians for political ends without taking sides they have found a new one for the London bombing. They are called terrorists! A polite letter I posted on their website asking for clarification of the difference was removed “because it contains content that other readers may find offensive.”

The Haaretz newspaper reported that Ariel Sharon had asked ministers not to equate the bombing in London with those in Israel. Of course, not everybody listened to him but at least we were spared the gloating of Raanan Gissim that so jarred after September 11. And if the Sun newspaper decides to mention all the cities that were hit by terror and did not see fit to mention Jerusalem we are not really surprised even though covering up titillating details is not what that particular paper is famous for.

Cherie Blair, her friends in the left-wing establishment and their newspapers I would not allow off so lightly. The PM’s wife opened her big mouth a couple of years back to say about Israel, "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress." She was implying that it was Israeli policies that encouraged and nurtured the hopelessness that allowed suicide bombings to occur. While she apologised for her remarks (or for the fact they were published), they and her cause were taken up by papers like the Guardian and others who considered she had fallen foul of the Jewish American lobby but what she had said was in fact common knowledge and the opinion of most British people. Her words also did profound damage to Israel’s image even in the eyes of some British Jews. I do not know whether it actually was suicide bombers that caused the carnage here last week but I certainly did not see Jack Straw stand up and say it cannot have been because the Arab youth in the UK enjoy freedom and good living conditions. As Rowan Atkinson says, in his part as the devil welcoming a group of atheists to Hell, "You must be feeling a right bunch of wallies now."

Terrorism, activism, militantism, call it what you like, it is a scourge and it is here to stay. We can probably contain it, we can certainly learn to live with it but we will not eradicate it. The clash of civilisations will not be ended by the arrest of some sorry-arsed residents of Bradford or even the elusive and charismatic arch-activist. When we all realize that it is a common problem to all non-muslims; French, British, Israeli, German and American, and that truths like this may be said whether they are considered PC by today's standards or not, then we will have started to win the war.

Monday, July 04, 2005

My True Love

Love is not a word I can comfortably and unselfconciously use . In the school I went to it was a kind of swear-word that you scratched into the horrid pale brown wall of the freezing cold toilet cubicle in the playground. This does not make it easier for me now, married for well over a decade and having to weigh the options in so stark a fashion, but there it is. I am in a predicament. I need help and the only one I have to turn to expects from me in return something I am not sure I can give.

He is prepared to give me everything I want. He promises me material wealth and comfort with everything I need to ensure my success and wants only one thing in return; my love. He will not tolerate that anyone else should come first in my attentions, not even my wife. To be perfectly frank, that kind of love is not only something I cannot imagine experiencing, I have to wonder whether I would be comfortable feeling it, let alone displaying it publicly. His implied threat, of course, is that I will lose it all if I cannot convincingly demonstrate that I can. Tempted as I am by the offer of all the luxury and the promise of a quiet worry-free life I am not sure I can in good faith promise to deliver the goods.

Childhood memory does not start abruptly. Most people cannot put a date on their first memory but there are things that you remember you always knew. He was like that for me. He has always been there in the background, the benevolent uncle and bringer of gifts, for as long as I can remember. He pissed me off enough in my childhood, mostly for not always giving me everything I wanted, but then again I was not always the easiest of children. He has always been close to me though and held in a measure of esteem and warm friendship. Still it is difficult for me to change the perceptions that have built up in my mind over time. He was always a kind of symbol for me, of the world that existed before me, the elders and Rebbes, parents, grandparents and uncles. His transformation into the object of my affections was never going to be a breeze anyway.

I have to be honest with myself too. I can do it and I can do it convincingly enough. My real concern would be then living with the people around me. I have only to imagine walking down the street, once word has gotten out about my new lifestyle choices, and I feel my cheeks start to warm already. It just isn’t me. I can’t imagine being the person people whisper about furtively. I cringe even more in anticipation of those who will be effusively supportive and broad-minded. So I think I will politely and regretfully decline the kind offer and blame my continued lack of fulfillment and tranquility on those who taught to me allow all these obstacles to get in the way of me doing as I see fit

If only I had been more at ease with the concept of love and had been trained to recognise it when it is offered and to accept it graciously, I might now feel more comfortable accepting the deal being offered to me. I was not. I was taught to fear Him and anticipate His anger rather than to bask in His warmth. So, together with all my friends I will continue to pray by rote and ignore the true meaning of the words of the Krias Shema (Deuteronomy 11:13-21).