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An Emotional Response to Dead and Mutilated Bodies in Natanya and London, and in Memory of Srebrenica.


In one way it must be very comforting to be a Christian who believes in Original Sin and holds it to be a matter of faith that all humans are born essentially evil. This can explain how humanoids can set off bombs in the midst of civilians going about their daily business, who have nothing to do with them, have never lifted a finger against them and might be members of the very same religion or faith that they are.

The nearest Judaism comes to this is the idea that the episode in the Garden of Eden introduced us to the potentially catastrophic consequences of disobeying God. But according to the Torah it is only at youth that evil enters the equation. “The heart of humanity is evil from youth” (Genesis 8.21), not birth, which explains those young teens raping and murdering that we’ve been hearing about recently. We are born neutral with tendencies towards the good and the bad. This isn’t the place to go into the meaning of “Good” and “Bad” philosophically, so lets simply say that anything that affects an innocent human who has never directly harmed you is bad and, conversely, anything that helps, supports or aids another is good. Religious ritual “goods” and “bads” are of a different order and nature.

Of course we are born differently. Some of us have excellent brains, bodies, parents and bank balances. Others don’t have it so good. But crime, evil, knows no barriers and, equally, the most unlikely of backgrounds have produced the greatest of saints. It is part of our Jewish tradition that everyone is responsible for his or her actions, but naturally we do take circumstances into consideration both in evaluating and punishing people. Hence someone who battles against adverse conditions is regarded more highly in Judaism than the “Saint in a Fur Coat”.

But our Western society, thanks both to Freud and Paul (the founder of Christianity), is fixated on excusing as if evildoers cannot help themselves. What’s more, there is the great British tradition of appeasement that encourages Anglo-Saxons to refuse to face reality, in the hope that by being soft it will go away.

I am not saying, as some do, that all suicidal murderers are Muslim, although most of them currently are. After all neither Tamil Tigers nor Kamikaze Pilots were Muslims. Neither am I saying that most Muslim murders are only against the evil West, because homicidal maniacs of Islamic persuasion have killed far more Muslims than anyone else. But I am saying that Islam has a problem, just as I believe that Judaism has problems (of a very different order, of course), with extremism of various colors and shades. If one does not confront it head-on in one’s own backyard, then this spells disaster. And when one does wake up, it is usually too late.

But all I am hearing is, “Very sorry; awful what happened in London, but you must try to understand how we Muslims feel about Muslims being killed elsewhere” (guess where). And when asked about Muslims killing Muslims, the reply is it’s America’s fault, Britain’s fault. Many Muslims I speak to express this victimization excuse. They believe the world–Jews, Christians, Hindus, and everyone else–are all out to get them. Perhaps it sounds familiar. Didn’t Hitler believe Germany was victimized? Wasn’t he fighting against universal enemies? Doesn’t every teenager complain that no one understands him or her? And let’s be honest, mutatis mutandis of course, don’t we Jews try that line too on occasion?

According to a range of surveys and polls, there are thousands of militant Muslims in Europe and the USA who would rejoice in the disappearance of Christianity and Judaism tomorrow, and who secretly cheer on the lunatics of their faith. This is not being faced up to. This spells a future of more and more bombs going off in London and New York. And nothing that happens in the Middle East will stop this, any more than peace in Kashmir or the Philippines or even Algeria will. Unemployed, disaffected, emotionally insecure people will always turn to group-inspired fanaticism to find validation or Heaven or Nirvana or, of course, Hell.

There is an infinite capacity for self-delusion that affects 90-year-old English ladies who remain proud of spying for Stalin, and British Left Wing apologists who equate Allied bombing of German cities with concentration camps, or the setting off of bombs on the London Underground with the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq (and I am NOT saying there isn’t something to criticize in all).

Religion plays a part in all this, of course. All religions make a play for the insecure, and sometimes sad and lonely, souls. All missionaries pick up converts from them and promise them certainties and security and a sense of belonging in an otherwise cruel, uncertain world. According to a review last weekend’s Financial Times, suicide bombers often come in groups (in one case a whole football team) which reinforce each other’s sense of belonging and camaraderie in death for a cause. Despite this, religion has a great deal to offer in terms of spirituality, structure and purpose. Forgive me for repeating Jonathan Swift’s jewel that “we have enough religion to hate each other but not enough to love each other!”

A friend told me recently of a survey (but I forget the source) that showed that across all religions, 70% of believers are no more tolerant than the rest of society, but that 30% are much more tolerant. So I reckon at the lowest level of 30% there is a benefit quotient. This applies to all religions. We all know we have our fanatics, those who see things only in black and white, for whom there is only one truth and they are in possession of it. This is dangerous, in the context of Israel and Gaza as much as it is about rigid exclusiveness masquerading as Halacha in the Diaspora. What is the solution?

Each religious community must deal with its own problems and not hide from them. We Jews must too, in Israel and in the Diaspora, and so must Christians deal with their Jew-haters, and Muslims with their terrorists (sorry BBC, they are terrorists and worse).

This has nothing to do with making sure that Islamophobia is eradicated. Any automatic hatred of any group, regardless, is poison and indeed any hatred is evil. Torah does not command us to hate anyone, but to remember, to face up to reality, and take steps to defend ourselves. “Remember,” says the Torah, “what Amalek did to you” (Deuteronomy 25). “Remember,” says the prophet, “what Balak the King of Moab advised against” (Micah 7). Remembering means thinking and acting, as in, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it.”

Mealy-mouthed politicians concerned with the ballot box are no good at calling it as it is. This just postpones the danger. In Britain we have a lot of Chamberlains, but no Churchills. Religious leaders are almost always scared or reluctant to say it as it is, either because they want to keep their jobs or want to attract converts or want to use the hold they have over their followers for their own ends. This is why, just as economics must be balanced by morality and spirituality, religion must be balanced by thought, objectivity and critical analysis, and why dissenting voices must be recorded and heard. Heart without the head is as bad as “head without a heart”.

Anyone, Jew or Muslim who cannot see another point of view, who cannot see what is going wrong in his or her community, will be held responsible for the consequences, if not by man then by God.

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