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Helen Thomas is an ancient journalist, employed by Hearst Newspapers in the USA. She has been White House correspondent for decades, incidentally, though not surprisingly given her ancestry, an opponent of Israel. She should have been pensioned off years ago, but her survival is due to the fact that she is such a character that she is indulged. Her outburst now on YouTube, that the Jews get the hell out of Palestine and go back to Poland and Germany where they came from, illustrates her ignorance as well as her prejudice. Most Jews in Israel today originated in the Middle East and have never been anywhere else. There is no fool like an old fool and her own words have betrayed her. The ensuing furor has forced her to resign at last.

Normally one would swat the flea and laugh it off. However as Goebbels famously said, big lies when told often enough are believed, and the anti-Semitic anti-Israel websites are abuzz with approval of her comments.

My initial response was to say that it’s a fair point, if she also agrees that all USA citizens return to their countries of origin and leave the continent to its indigenous population. Or that the Normans and their descendants in England go back to France. Let us indeed clear every person out of the Holy Land and then set up a universally recognized independent body (itself an impossibility nowadays) to take genetic, textual, historical, archaeological, and cultural evidence to show who has the longest and best claim going as far back as records of any kind exist. I am all the more confident now that the BBC reports that genetic evidence links most Jews to the Middle East. And since the majority of Israeli citizens came from Muslim lands, and of course anyone asked to move will also be financially compensated with compound interest.

To swing in a different direction, I regret that Geert Wilders has won such a significant number of votes in the Netherlands. But that is precisely because he is prepared to say unpalatable things about fanatical parts of Islam that manifest themselves today all over the place. And it precisely because other politicians are not willing to face reality that they lose credibility and right-wingers like him succeed.

He is wrong to think all Muslims take the text of the Koran literally. We also have texts of the Bible that need to be seen in context and have been reinterpreted subsequently. Every single religion I know of claims to be peaceful and only concerned with bringing God and love to the world. And every religion contains narrow-minded fanatics who believe that only they have the exclusive truth and intend to apply it to everyone else one way or another. And every religion in history that gets power ends up abusing it in horrible ways.

Every religion, when it starts up, has to prove itself against an earlier one and so systematically tries to discredit its predecessors, destroy them either physically or ideologically. That is the strength and the weakness of religion and I am delighted that in the West now we have restricted the role of religion and limited its excesses.

I am also pleased that Britain’s Home Secretary has announced she will require foreign spouses of British citizens to learn English before arriving. This will help the process of integration, something no British government has dared to consider hitherto. It won’t change things overnight. The USA requires integration, but it has its home-grown fanatics too. The last thing we need now is a Trojan horse of religious fundamentalism. Actually the horse is already inside the gates.

In theory, Islam is as good a religion for the mass market as any other. It is much closer to Judaism than Christianity. I believe in choice. But I also believe in freedom and in honesty. Of course we know not all Muslims are Jihadis. Of course we know all Jews are not settlers or supporters of Kahane. But it is as much a lie to pretend Islam has no problem with increasing Jihadism as it would be to deny that sectors of Judaism have been taken over by extremists of one sort or another. That’s the nature of the world we live in. It is the delusions of apologists that worry me. We Jews have to combat our extremists, and Muslims need to combat theirs and not pretend there aren’t any.

In the world of PR, my product is better than yours. Yours stinks; mine works. Religion ought to be above PR lies. But tolerance demands that each religion must accept responsibility for its own problems. Unless all religions can recognize and identify their own lunatics and act to isolate them, unless moderates of all religions work together to stop everyone’s fanatics, we will all be consumed.

We should strengthen the hands of those who genuinely want to work for cooperation and understanding. We cannot resolve all political issues. Of course most Muslims support Muslims, and most Jews support Jews, and most Christians support Christians and the vast majority want to live in peace. Just as most Englishmen optimistically will support England in the World Cup (I’m rooting for the USA because I think they have a better chance)! Christians, Muslims, and Jews are each internally divided. We cannot ask for unanimity, but we can expect realism and honesty.

15 thoughts on “Fanatics

  1. P.S. If readers want to know why I so detest religious fanaticism, they should see the movie "Agora" and they'll understand. It is based on real events.

  2. I am concerned that, in the UK in particular, the Left, including the intellectual Left, seems to support Islam willy nilly. The furore over the recent, and inept, flotilla events surpassed any condemnation of the thousands of people killed on a regular basis by moslem regimes. Darfur and Kurdistan don't even get a mention in the UK press any longer.

    Religious fanaticism, you are so right, is detestable. My take on Islamic fundamentalism is that there is a desperate desire among the young in that community for a heroic leader to steer them towards a new Golden Age with a powerful leader, where they can do away with Israel and rule the world; where they'll all have plenty. They have been brainwashed and well paid for joining jihadi groups and as there is little work for most of them in their own countries and huge population growth, they are probably encouraged by their families to join up. As we've said many times, the voices of moderation are few and far between.

    The Jewish fanatics may not be quite as murderous but their interpretation of Judaism is hateful. I would not give them a vote in Israel if they are not prepared to pay taxes, go into the military or work. On a recent visit, I was told that some of their children are rebelling and I can only hope it's true.

    Sorry about this diatribe, Jeremy. I'm really saying that I agree with you.

    Shabbat shalom.

  3. My thoughts exactly, though better expressed. However, there is something which bothers me. It's the thread of faith.

    Faith in God (in Judaism, say) implies a belief in His revelations. The existence of multiple faiths and therefore multiple sets of often conflicting revelations, creates a paradox for most people: These revelations can't all be true if they conflict.

    To resolve that paradox, we are generally led to conclude that only one version can be true – our own, if we have faith, or none, if we are Mr Dawkins.

    So we can easily end up praying to our own ancient God that idolatry and superstition will end, simply seeing others' religions as just so much superstitious political huff.

    It is all right to preach live and let live – and I do – but fundamentally, any faith (=spiritual object+religious dogma) can only it seems look down on (and deny) all other faiths if its own "revelational integrity" is to be maintained. (unless all the revelations are true in different parallel universes, but let's leave quantum religion out of this 🙂 ). This result is not such a good recipe for peaceful co-existence.

    So how do you square this particular circle? Isn't there a danger that by pulling too hard on the thread of faith and deciding (as I and many others have) to cherry-pick and metaphoricise (sorry!) our revelations, in our case the Torah, that the whole pullover will unravel, leaving us and by similar reasoning, most other faiths out in the cold?

    Dawkins would say yes.
    Help me to say no please, Rabbi.


  4. Dear JerryK. I'm not the Rabbi but I have my own theory. I believe that being Jewish is like being a member of a club. Your membership entitles you to take pride in the good of your people and be ashamed of the bad. It does not entitle you to look down on anyone else's beliefs unless they are evil. If you choose to go the the clubhouse, that's fine but the same rules should apply whichever clubhouse (orthodox/reform etc.) you belong to.

  5. Leila:
    Thank you for that diatribe.
    There is indeed a lot of turbulence in the extreme religious groups in Israel (actually where isn't there turbulence in Israel). I believe change will come, but the wheels turn slowly!
    Shabbat Shalom,

  6. JerryK:

    Yes, of course you are right, cherry picking seems to be a favorite human pass-time.

    I completely reject the idea of a single absolute truth for everyone. Indeed, as I argue elsewhere, "truth" in the Bible is almost only empirical. Where the word "truth" is used in the case of Abraham choosing a way to teach his children, it should be translated as "correct path" rather than "true path". Otherwise its an anachronism since the modern usage only dates back to Aristotle.

    Even if you would suggest that God should be that absolute truth, the impossibility of agreeing on a definition (let alone a name) for God makes it a practical impossibility. In Judaism we have multiple "truths". Emergencies allow us to disobey certain rules. What is right for a Cohen is wrong for an Israel. We are, in theory, in the fortunate position of believing, unlike Christians and Muslims, in the righteous of other religions and alternative ways to God.

    But you wouldn't know it, the way our fundamentalists join the others in declaring theirs is only one truth. There are things that are true for us. But not necessarily for everyone else.

    But of course these ideas were formulated in a pre-democratic world where there was one law that applied to every citizen and the distinction between religion and state was inconceivable.

    We do indeed tend to cherry pick–Marxists, Atheists, everyone does, but you don't judge a rule by those who disregard it. The law is so important to reaffirm our core values, and of course the Oral Law to reinterpret those Biblical and other rules that are no longer relevant (like killing Canaanites).

    Shabbat Shalom,

  7. As a Muslim, I love reading this kind of thought from believers of all religions. Everyone is free to keep his/her faith. What we need is balance in seeing our own and others. I dislike the extremist attitude of "us,better" vs. them, worse" coming from anywhere. We, as a species, have too many common and shared problems to waste time and energy fighting one another. Followers of the Abrahamic religions have to focus on what's common between them, "common word" in the Koranic expression. We believe in God, everyone his way, and focus on the good of His creation!

  8. Mohamed Shedou:
    Thank you so much for posting your comments here. It is so important to hear from outside of one's own little world. We tend to lose perspective. Long live communication.

  9. Mohamed I agree! When Rabbi Rosen was my children's headmaster at a Jewish school – he used to speak before assembly and tell the children "You are as good as but no better than others". My children remember that until today. They luckily received the same message from home but for many it was a turning point in their lives.

  10. Jeremy, spot on with your words "every Religion that gets power ends up abusing it in horrible ways"

    I sent the extract below on exactly this point to my Synagogue Magazine (Wimbledon London) this month
    James Leek


    (Extract from pages 185/6 of The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – the main actor in this novel has been commissioned by a mysterious benefactor to write a book researching how religion captures people’s hearts and minds. Here is the introductory page he wrote.)

    “Generally speaking, beliefs arise from an event or character that may or may not be authentic, and rapidly evolve into social movements that are conditioned and shaped by the political, economic and societal circumstances of the group that accepts them.
    A large part of the mythology that develops around each of these doctrines, from its liturgy to its rules and taboos, comes from the bureaucracy generated as they develop and not from the supposed supernatural act that originated them. Most of the simple, well intentioned anecdotes are a mixture of common sense and folklore, and all the belligerent force they eventually develop comes from a subsequent interpretation of those principles, or even their distortion at the hands of bureaucrats. The administrative and hierarchic aspects seem to be crucial in the evolution of belief systems. The truth is first revealed to all men, but very quickly individuals appear claiming sole authority and a duty to interpret, administer and, if need be, alter the truth in the name of the common good. To this end they establish a powerful and potentially repressive organization. This phenomenon, which biology shows us is common to any social group, soon transforms the doctrine into a means of achieving control and political power. Divisions, wars and break-ups become inevitable.”

  11. Another relevant quote comes from Thomas Jefferson, writing to Jewish religious leader (as well as politician, writer), Major Mordecai M. Noah:

    "Your sect by its suffering has furnished a remarkable proof of the universal spirit of religious intolerance, inherent in every sect, disclaimed by all while feeble, and practised by all when in power. Our laws have applied the only antidote to this vice, protecting our religions, as they do our civil rights, by putting all on an equal footing."

    He also warned that "public opinion erects itself into an Inquisition", so we need to work on that front as well as the legal angle.

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