Sunday, February 19, 2006

I Wore New

This has been niggling in the back of my mind for a while already and I have alluded to the thought before here. Aren't we Jews just too nice to be taken seriously? The Muslims stridently screech for what they want, as unreasonable as it might look. By none too subtly, regularly reminding us of what they are prepared to do if they don’t get their way, they are shamelessly pandered to by, frankly, everybody with a healthy respect for their own hide, not least Jack Straw.

We Chassidim do not follow the Olympics closely. Most, I dare say, are not aware the winter games are in full swing. Certainly there is little enthusiasm for the Hellenistic ideal. There is indeed little trace of the Adonis in the fellow who shared the showers with me this weekend in my local mikve. As he massaged soap over his generous limbs he wondered aloud to the equally gross Neanderthal studiously shampooing his forehairs in the next shower what the point of the Olympic games is. There was a kind of triumphant superiority to his repeated mantra; “What difference does it make to mankind that some skier from Austria can go faster than anybody else down a mountain?”

“Yes. Does he deliver emergency medicines at the bottom of a mountain?” That spark from chimp number two proved he had understood the profundity of the argument.

It was a scrawny little Gollum who earned my respect though. He had been washing himself quietly and doing his best to melt into the background as some people do when those with more lung than processing power take the floor. I couldn’t help noticing wryly that only in a Chassidic mikve could a forty year old man wash his hair with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and leave with his manhood intact.

“It is not about winning” he said and I smugly awaited the old canard about taking part. “It’s about losing.” He had everyone’s attention.
“Think about it. Let’s say each sport has a hundred competitors and you have fifty sports, that means by the end of the games you have fifty winners and four-thousand-nine-hundred-and-fifty losers. And look how well behaved and civilized that whole thing is.”

I think even the moulting bears understood. As I looked at that man his gnome’s forehead had turned into the dome of a learned man and his nondescript face had taken on the allure of a diminutive scholar.

There is, it is true, a certain dignity to being sporting and I do not feel our situation is dire enough here to warrant actively promoting a more active and forceful method of getting noticed. I am however worriedly watching the situation in Israel now with the new Hamas government being sworn in. Regardless of my positions on specific governments or policies in Israel I will not be able stand by and be silent as I see governments, who refuse to deal with terrorist organisations in their own countries, open negotiations with and support for a group who openly refers to the Protocols in its constitution.

In sport there is indeed dignity in losing but in war dignity is in victory or death in its pursuit.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Drawing Muhammad Out

I have a dream. Not quite a nightmare but still one that wakes me and leaves a feeling of angst and unease behind it. I am in a situation of potential danger. Say I’m in the path of a car and unable to move or something like that. The situation is dangerous but not intrinsically critical. As soon as someone sees me a simple action will remove the danger but suddenly I find I have lost my voice. I scream but no sound comes out. My rage and frustration come not from the idea of dying, I think I could cope with that but from the bitterness at being let down by a simple primal act like screaming.

The Internet has made it possible for the quiet voice from the back of the hall to become audible to anybody interested enough to go listening for it. People of a similar mind will soon pick up on it while those who disagree will soon pick on it and before you know it another voice has entered the fray. So where is the Muslim Shaigetz? Where is The Haramzada asking his community where the hell they think they are going with this cartoon business? Is there no dissenting voice, even anonymously? Are red beards better than black and white ones at keeping their subjects in check?

I don’t believe most orthodox Muslims or Jews really understand the concept of freedom of expression and speech at all. The idea you can hate what another says but defend to the death their right to say it does not exist in either of our cultures. There is no doubt in my mind that this crisis (even before it was hijacked by those diligently waiting in the wings for such an opportunity) has little to do with the actual cartoons just as I know that many normal and law-abiding Muslims are genuinely offended by them and that that does not change anything.

It is quite obvious if you hear the Islamic demonstrators speak that they have no idea how unreasonable their arguments come across to a western audience. “One and a half billion Muslims are offended because we do not allow pictures of the prophets already hundreds of years!” is the standard rationale or “How would you like to see baby Jesus with a bomb in his loincloth?” Then there are the others who come back with “Look how offended you are when we make a cartoon of Hitler in bed with Anna Frank.” If our society has not been able to bring home to these people why these arguments are correct but not valid for burnt out buildings and dead bodies then I personally think we should be out there braying for the head of the education minister on a plate.

Our lack of understanding is very possibly part of the reason we are unable to deal with their frustration. I notice that on the talk shows and other places where Muslims are represented the established media tends to choose the unthreatening and ‘normal’ looking spokespeople to represent the Muslim view. As an orthodox Jew I know how ridiculous it must look to the religious Muslim to see a bareheaded, comely woman and a suited, shaved and comfortably sanitised kufr sitting in a studio explaining that the radicals don’t represent the true Islam. So the atheist in a crumpled grey suit, a crew cut and glasses represents Islam by dint of being Arab and having stopped practicing? Gimmeabreak!

It reminds me of how laughable it is to us when our Chief Rabbi in his western suit and carefully nurtured Episcopal appearance goes on the record saying what an inspiration John Lennon was to us all. Not particularly offensive to me personally, I happen to like Lennon, but for many Chassidim “Imagine there’s no heaven …and no religion too” seem to have been far too much of an inspiration to him. So our comfortably assimilated landsmen smile and nod their heads appreciatively of how cultured and normal all we Jews are while my community looks on in bewilderment.

I remember too having my teeth set on edge by President G. W. lecturing the Muslims after 9/11 as to what real Islam is about. With his especially stern but earnest face carefully practiced he patronisingly explained that the fundamentalists do not represent Islam. Who was he trying to convince? Them? Are we westerners so arrogant that we don’t see how ridiculous it looks to a scholar who has been studying his religion for fifteen solid years to have an ex-oil executive who runs a ranch tell him what the nature of Islam is?

To be really honest we should admit that there is no logic to religion, much as the western kufr wishes to convince us there is. To a believer in the absolute truth of his cause the values of free speech and pluralism are pure rubbish and we might as well admit that. Two and two are four and I don’t accommodate the opinion of those who think it might be 177. If there is one God and He said, “See there should be no graven images of me” then what the Danish minister of culture thinks is largely irrelevant and the west would do well to understand that. The only question is how the believer should juggle his conviction with the threat of the legal system’s.

Until the understanding of our western values system and its inherent advantages develops within their community, and it will because it is in human nature to want to be free, western governments should take into account that it is impossible to force-teach abstract concepts and should stick to firm and fair enforcement of the law. Peaceful demonstration is legal so it has to be allowed but calls for violence should be dealt with harshly and decisively. Freedom of speech is not just designed to allow bloggers to cock their hoops at their establishment; it is a cornerstone of the western civilisation that has never before been questioned in the UK in two centuries. I, for one, do not want to go back to thought control under the Imams, the Rabbis, the Archbishop or the Prime Minister and I am utterly convinced Haramzada does not either.

Meanwhile the Danes have promised to print cartoons of the Holocaust that the Iranians are promoting in retaliation. While it kowtows to terrorist pressure it does also fall under the category of freedom of expression and in my opinion prostitutes have to agree to serve any client who wants to come (or doesn’t) and screaming can be part of the show.

And just for the record I personally find four of the cartoons absolutely hilarious.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Pavlov’s smile

My hands are freezing in the biting cold and the wind blows sharply and painfully against my ears, so ridiculously exposed beneath my big black hat. My obligatory navy-blue suit trousers do not offer half the protection of thick denim or corduroy so my legs beg for some added padding while my torso, under an overcoat, a long jacket, tsitsit (a fringed woollen shawl worn under the garments), a shirt and a cotton t-shirt vest, simmers gently. A group of my friends, all dressed identically, are walking a little ahead and I watch as they walk four abreast, laughingly oblivious to the other users on the street.

I observe a young lady out walking her dog step off the pavement into the road, all too aware of the startled jumps and scared avoidment she can expect if she tries to pass the group. She is wearing sneakers and pants and a simple winter jacket and she does not look at all cold. My friends say pork keeps you warmer than beef does. I wonder to myself whether they can pick out the vegetarians from the crowd by their shivering but do not bother to make the point. I acknowledge her as she rejoins the footpath and passes me. I smile to her. She looks surprised. She self-consciously shakes the lead of her dog and walks on looking back at least once I suspect although I do not check.

A tall Pole, new to the country judging by his typical haircut and brandless sneakers, warm as toast in his down-filled jacket and long woollen scarf, edges slightly away so as not to pass me too closely. His head and eyes, however, follow the orbit of our arc, watching me as we pass. I wonder to myself what would happen if I were to smile to him but do not bother as his eyes are by now fixed firmly on the retreating figure behind me. Maybe he thinks she is looking back at him?

A young couple walk past holding hands and laughing. I know them. I see him every morning rushing to catch the bus as I make my way to shul. He works for London Transport he told me and she is a trainee nurse. This morning they are walking unhurriedly together as if on cloud nine, completely impervious to the sub-zero temperatures. I smile to them and they smile back.

His nose is reddened by the cold and his big black hat sits high on top of his head leaving his ears exposed to the elements. He rubs them every two minutes in a futile attempt to warm them. I have often wondered why the Jews on the Hill wear their distinctive clothes as if the function of identification with the group were more important than protection from the elements. His long overcoat and dark pants and shoes actually look right for the time of the year if not the century.

He is walking behind a group of Chassidim who only acknowledge my existence to ensure that Rover does not come close to them. Do they really think I live with a vicious canine threat in the house? I have tried to explain so many times that he won’t hurt them, to no avail. I step off the pavement as I pass them neither expecting nor receiving thanks. He is dawdling slightly behind the other group and leers at me as we pass. I ignore him and continue.

I do sense someone staring at me as I walk on and I am sure he is turning back. Did Rover frighten him? He did not seem scared. Maybe he was interested in me or he wanted something. I turn back and catch the eye of a tall blonde hunk. He smiles to me and I smile back. It feels like a good day. Then a mixed-race teenage couple stroll into view and block him out. Damn them.