Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Gladiators

They were two Lubavitchers, a Bobover and a Satmerer, a woman about to make Aliya and a backpacker. A group of Jews united by chance in a place far from chassivilisation, now frozen together in time, forever seared into our collective memories as the victims in Chabad House, Mumbai.

I cannot begin to imagine the horror of their last hours. A police doctor who examined the dead remarked that the Israeli corpses evinced signs of having been exceptionally savagely tortured before being executed, to the extent that he could not bring himself to speak of the depravities he had remarked. The terrorists were probably aware that Chabad House did not represent the state of Israel and that, like all Chabad Houses in the world, it would house Jews of all denominations and persuasions. That on any given day it could contain anybody from a peacenik who had travelled to be a human shield in Saddam's Iraq, to a Golani on holiday and from a street musician junkie to a shy Chassidic mashgiach. The instructions they had received, to kill whites and westerners and especially Israelis, was sadly not an expression of blind hatred for Jews, it is likely that they had never met any Jews before. But from a cold strategic point of view the amount of media coverage dead Jews get is completely out of proportion to their number. And in this gruesome war, deaths on TV are a means as well as an end

It is a cruel irony that the main grievance of those who had directed and ordered this butchery -objection to the crusade like export of the miniskirt and fruit flavoured condoms under the guise of democracy- is one they share with the Chassidim. It is in the methods they use to combat it that the Jews and Muslims differ. Indeed, if you talk of a clash of civilisations then the finest warriors of both sides clashed in Chabad House, Mumbai.

Our side's weaponry is well known to me. Like any religious Jew who travels I have basked in Chabad's hospitality and kindness. I admit, to my shame, that like many of my Central European Chassidic friends I used to treat them with a little disdain; their wide fedora hats symbolising for us slightly wacky cousins who sometimes embarrass us a little with their exuberant religiosity. They often acknowledge it good-naturedly. However, after spending some time with them in their cultural oases I have been humbled by the true asceticism of these young families and more by their utter assurance that spreading God's love to lost Jews and making a kiddush Hashem is the real answer to all the problems of the world, from decaying society to Islamic terrorists.

It is a chilling irony that the network of Chabadpoints around the world is perceived by international terrorists as equal to an Israeli embassy. Ironic because I too, as a British Chassid, would probably prefer to be represented in a time of crisis by the apolitical local Chabad chapter than the Israeli embassy. Chabad has turned itself into a well oiled machine. While the other Chassidim, fearful that the permissive society would catch their young, enclosed themselves inside a greasy cocoon and banned anything that might open a window out, Chabad set up their training camps and sent scouts out into enemy territory. Instead of oppressing the strangers and misfits among them, Chabad nurtured the professionals and intellectuals that were joining and set to utilising their strengths. Their exemplary handling of the Mumbai crisis speaks for itself. Their media presence was uniquely professional and reliable. In the midst of the confusion and carnage they were cool and collected and even when the tragic loss of life became apparent, true to their crusade, their spokesman nobly called for an end to hate and extra prayer.

The equally well oiled machine they faced came armed too. With the very latest in high tech weaponry, an extreme indoctrination into the justness of their cause and, allegedly, a large amount of halal cocaine. They set to practicing their murderous craft with a vengeance. The kindest of hearts, the most endearing smile, the most attentive ear even the most helping of hands, stand no chance when up against the cutting edge of fanatical evil. It cannot be easy to torture, kill and mutilate a pregnant woman and a grandmother, scholars and rabbis, kind and gentle people who had dedicated their lives to spreading goodness and love to everyone they met, but they soldiered on the brave warriors of Allah the Merciful, and from their point of view they were victorious.

It is a scary irony that the Judaism that secular Jews in Israel, the USA and Britain hijacked to make it synonymous with the modern permissiveness that the fundamentalist Muslims so detest, is most easily recognised on my community. So it is we, the Chassidim, who not only are exposed to the petty hate on the trains and buses, while the secular Jews politely disregard our discomfort behind their copies of the Guardian, but are now also so handily easy to pick out in the crowd by any sniper or suicidal maniac who happens to be operational.

It is amusingly ironic to me that despite this, and despite having in the past many times slipped out of the garb when it was practical for me, I now wear it with even more pride than ever. I belong to The Army of God, and if it is my fate that one day I die for it, I will do so gladly rather than give in to a force that is evil to its very core. So base that it forces us to side with the USA, Britain and Israel in order to help defeat it.


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