August 28, 2005

Withdrawal from Gaza

There have been so many different reactions from all over the world to the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of Samaria, focusing on different and often totally opposite perspectives. This is my personal response and, as usual, it is concerned primarily with the religious aspect.

If one is going to take a religious position, then I stand fair and square with the Hassidic Satmar anti-Zionists. They argue that the religious ideal of a return to Zion is in the hands of God. Any attempt to return to Zion formally and officially is, to them, a blasphemy which they reject totally. This doesn’t mean they do not continue to want have a presence in the Holy Land, but whether that presence is under Crusade, Ottoman, or Jordanian rule has never much mattered to them (except that under the Crusades they would have all been massacred).

I agree with the Satmar point of view only in so far as it removes religion from Zionism. Any return to Zion which is not Divine Intervention, is more political than religious, even if there is a religious motivation. Where we part company is that they see no value in the political whereas I do. And, of course, I am in no way supporting the crazies of the extreme and minute organization, Neturei Karta, who actively side with those who wish to demolish the Jewish State, even if in reality it is only a State for Jews.

The reason I oppose religion being used as the foundation of Zionism is that I find it offensive when people claim to know how God (or Allah) works. I find it offensive when people tell me they know when the Messiah is coming. For two thousand years we have been told the Messiah is coming tomorrow. Belief in the possibility that God might intervene in Human Affairs is essential to Jewish thinking, but it is not an idea that lends itself to human prediction. Yet every Tom, Dick and Moishe seems to know with certainty that this or that is the start of the redemption, or the end of exile, or the birth pains of redemption.

Zionism (as opposed to Ahavat Zion, the Love of Zion) is, for me, a political movement that grew out of Nineteenth Century nationalism. Herzl and his allies consciously detached themselves from Jewish religious thinking, even though some religious Zionists tried bravely to maintain a religious ingredient.

I totally support the political aims of establishing a Jewish homeland, negatively, to try to deal with the effects of anti-Semitism and to have a refuge in an antagonistic world, and positively, to help our traditions and religion thrive. But I do so politically, not religiously. When religion is added to a political situation it is invariably catastrophic.

Throughout Jewish history, "holy" as "land" might have been and remains, human life has always taken priority. Whether it was Bar Goria or Bar Cochba, those who fought in the name of Judaism for a religious cause have invariably lost, and manifestly with Divine approval.

So those settlers who thought that God would intervene to strike down Sharon or to prevent army intervention, or who swore that God was on their side, or invoked halacha to resist the withdrawal, were simply wrong and clearly God thought so too. Pure and simple. If the trauma of the withdrawal stops this misuse of religion I am pleased, though I doubt it will, any more than the death of a great Rebbe stops some followers believing he is the messiah.

Despite my disagreement with their opposition, on purely pragmatic grounds, I was really moved to see how strongly people felt and adhered to a cause, even if a lost one. The peaceful demonstrations were a positive example of protest that others would do well to follow. Of course, I did not feel anything but anger for those hooligans on rooftops in tzitzit and kippot hurling missiles and noxious material at unarmed police and soldiers. Their abuse of religious gear once again shows that appearances in no way indicate true religiosity. I hope they and everyone who abused the soldiers and policemen feel the full weight of the law.

I was moved by the way the Israeli police and soldiers calmly took the abuse and the blows and did not retaliate. It was a side of the Israeli military and police I had never seen before (having often in my youth been beaten by Mishmar HaGvul simply for peacefully protesting on and for Shabbat).

But I was sad to read the vituperation and profound hostility of several secular Israelis, notably Amira Hass, Amoz Oz and Uri Avnery. It was not their depiction of the withdrawal as an insincere stunt by Sharon to ensure he never gives another, they were never willing to consider that the Sharon they vilified might actually withdraw altogether. It was rather that hey were incapable of seeing a pragmatist, and yet only pragmatism will find a solution in the end. Only time will tell if Sharon has started something or not.

I agree with their legitimate complaint that the lot of the average Palestinian is awful. The contrast of settlers with swimming pools and villas as opposed to Gazans without enough drinking water was telling (although Arafat’s cronies with their villas and swimming pools and billions in Swiss accounts is also an issue). But most of this has to do with the UN and the Palestinians, themselves. After 1967 Israel offered to rebuild Gaza, but UNRWA blocked it because the Arab world wanted to keep the Palestinians in camps as a tool to use against Israel. It’s hardly surprising that Israel built settlements to use as a tool back. You can't blame the settlers for the cesspit of Gaza City.

These secular Israelis, like all prejudiced people, just generalized about those they disagree with. Avnery even compared the settlers to Ghetto Jews and made Nazi comparisons. According to these secular critics, all religious Zionists are extreme. All religious Zionists hate all Arabs. All settlers were religious. Forget the fact that there are religious settlers and secular settlers, economic settlers and idealistic settlers. No, they were all religious fanatics.

These people delude themselves that the Arab world or the Left Wing world will like them or accept them more because they plead that they really belong with them, and understand them, and are on their side. They will be expelled or done away with just as quickly as the religious Zionists if they’re on the losing side to Hezbolla or Hamas.

They claim that the withdrawal spells the end of religious Zionism. It doesn’t and it won’t. Firstly, religious passion will be kept alive regardless of loss of land. It always has. Secondly, Zionism of any sort is about politics, and politics means accommodation. It always did. Zionism was prepared to consider Uganda, Partition, Withdrawal from Sinai; political Zionism is healthy precisely because it is pragmatic. It has a positive, passionate cause, unlike secularism.

My reservation is that when religious ideology mixes with politics it becomes a problem precisely because of its inevitable stasis and reliance on non-rational external justifications. This is what happened over the withdrawal. And there are too many dangerous, murderous extremists on the West Bank ready to scupper any deal who have been allowed to get away with blue murder, literally.

Yet I believe that this crisis might just teach the religious Zionists to try being more pragmatic, to reach out to try to bridge the gap between religious and secular in Israel. If it does, it might succeed in creating a healthy modern Judaism, rooted in Israel and in halacha—healthy because it relates to modern political and social realities. Then it can present itself as a viable alternative to the extreme ultra-Orthodox, non-Zionist world, many (though not all) of whom only use the State for their benefit, giving precious little back to the wider community beyond their narrow confines and interests.

Some of my friends argue that the gap between religious and secular is unbridgeable, the hatred is too deep and irrational. But I am optimistic. The religious world has shown both vigour and adaptability, and I believe that from a purely Jewish point of view this withdrawal will turn into something positive.

But as for peace in the Middle East, let us see how the Palestinians respond. If they show they can run their own affairs fairly, without corruption, and reign in their fanatics, then the pressure will indeed be on Israel to give more and rightly so. Otherwise, fortress Israel will retreat behind its fences and its walls.

As a PS, I believe that genuine peace with Egypt should have allowed the settlers of Yamit a choice. Just as Arabs can live as free and voting citizens under Israeli rule, so Jews should be able to live as free and voting citizens in Arab countries. Genuine peace means that Jews should have been offered the possibility of staying on as citizens in a Palestinian State. If the land is holy, it is holy no matter who controls it. But this didn’t happen then, and it hasn’t happened now. That is the litmus test. Until this happens, we know that genuine peace is a very long way off. But we must strive for it, and not wait for God. God helps those who help themselves and I don’t think we should rely on Divine Intervention as a policy. A spiritual reality, perhaps. A policy, no!

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August 22, 2005

Conversion American Style

The evacuation from Gaza is still going on as I write so I’d rather let the dust settle before I deal with it.

I am returning to the issue of conversion because the refusal by the London Beth Din and Chief Rabbinate to accept conversions carried out in Israel and elsewhere continues to rumble on and get worse. We Jews it seems have an amazing capacity to take a perfectly good and sensible religion and turn it into a total laughingstock.

Yet in the United States of America someone seems to have got it right and is actually trying to do something positive about it. The following advert has been appearing there in the Orthodox Press these past few weeks:

Not Every Intermarried Couple is Lost Forever

What happens when an intermarried couple decides that the non-Jewish spouse should have a universally accepted conversion?

Inaugural Conference on the Issues Pertaining
to Conversion in an Intermarriage

An unprecedented conference of Orthodox rabbis involved in outreach who wish to learn the halachic standards for universally accepted conversions.

Highlights of the conference:

The need for sensitivity when dealing with conversion in intermarriage

How universally accepted conversion can change families

Life after conversion: the community, the synagogue and the family

Addressed by the foremost halachic authorities and leading Gedolei HaTorah, including Harav Reuven Feinstein, Rosh Yeshiva, etc., etc.

All hotel, airfare and necessary costs for rabbis attending will be paid for.

So whereas London in particular seems to have adopted an unsympathetic and hard line, thank goodness other Orthodox communities take a different line. And it must be said that, almost universally, the American Orthodox attitude is pretty sympathetic, so long as there is a reasonable willingness to take on Jewish practice regardless of the original motivation.

But here’s an illustration of everything that’s wrong with the current British position. Quite coincidentally, the following email was sent to me via the popular Jewish web site,

Dear Rabbi,

I converted to Judaism in 1990, in London, taking lessons and supervision through the Orthodox community. At the time I was advised to do it this way, as I wanted to live with my then-boyfriend (who is now my husband of 15 years) in Israel. I was told never to tell anyone that the reason I wanted to convert was to marry.

I went through almost two years of suffering, being charged extortionate fees for tuition and frankly taken advantage of as a babysitter to the Orthodox family with whom I studied, a Shabbat goy and horrible experiences that I will not go into here. Quite frankly, instead of being introduced to the beauty and depth that is the Jewish faith, I was left feeling sad, empty and used. I eventually converted in Israel, after my future father-in-law "had a word" with his rabbi. You can imagine how frustrating and angry that makes me feel.

I am now married for 15 years and the mother of two sons. I harbour an extreme resentment towards the system through which I was converted, so much so, in fact, that I actually regret doing it at all.

Please can you explain to me why people with true and sincere intentions to convert get used in this way and also, if there is a way I can reverse my conversion?

I look forward to your reply with interest.

Mrs. C.K.

Now where do I begin?

Shall I comment on the sad state of a religion that it feels the need to encourage hypocrisy and humiliate people whose error was to fall in love with the wrong person and to assume they would receive an honest and fair hearing? Yes, the halacha requires us initially to warn potential converts of the demands and difficulties of leading a religious life, but it nowhere requires us to be rude, offensive, insensitive and downright obstructive. Certainly it does not require us to submit potential converts to humiliation and suffering.

We encourage lies and deception. "Don’t tell the truth, otherwise if you let out that there’s a Jewish partner in the background you’re sunk. So lie!" And, sadly, I know of several people who have done just that to get away with it.

I am not for one minute suggesting we make conversion an open farce. The halacha as it stands is fair and reasonable and does not exclude people married to or seeking to marry Jews from trying to convert, so long as they have come to really love and admire Judaism and a Jewish way of life. It is we who have made things unreasonable by being so rigidly offensive and restrictive.

Do I need to say how embarrassed and ashamed I am that as a result of our rigidity we have opened up a black market that allows corrupt rabbis to convert vulnerable or rich people for money, and thereby mislead many potentially wonderful new adherents to Torah? Is this religious behavior to be proud of?

As the correspondent has pointed out, all her experiences have done is to create anger and antagonism. And it could so easily have been avoided without in any way compromising Jewish Law.

Yet it must be said that if one blames the whole of a religion and comes to hate it solely on the basis of the behavior of some very, very poor examples, then one is bound to wonder what the nature of the original intention was. I agree that if someone retroactively shows no interest in living a Jewish life, the conversion is not worth the paper it was written on. But if we are responsible for pushing a woman to desperation, then we must share the blame.

I believe it to be a crushing condemnation of our religious leadership that it seems incapable of being sensitive and flexible on so many issues. Even if on occasion it speaks fine words of tolerance and universalism, somehow when it comes down to practice it is as narrow-mindedly petty and exclusive as the least enlightened examples of religious leadership anywhere.

Mrs C.K. doesn’t need to "undo" her conversion and leave Judaism. She was never really there. But her pain and anger is our reproach. Why the heck can’t Anglo Jewry follow the American example?

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August 14, 2005

Jogging in the Parks

These have been heavy weeks, out there in the open world as well as in our own navel-gazing community. Despite the imminent arrival on Sunday of the fast of Tisha B’Av when both our Temples were destroyed, a little voice inside me tells me its time to lighten up. Besides, the relentless battle against age, flab or the poisons we have inflicted on our bodies continues regardless. The rabbis who introduced the laws of mourning for this time of the year didn’t for one minute think one might run for pleasure (or vanity), so they forgot to ban it, thank goodness.

So I’m going to share some reflections on jogging with you; in two very different cities and parks. And by way of introduction may I start with music. Now that was indeed banned as a sign of mourning during the Nine Days, but it was public performances, celebrations and parties. I doubt they meant those ubiquitous MP3s. Bach, Beatles, Beethoven, Belz, Chopin, Carlebach, Charles, Mahler, Modzitz, Mozart, Verdi, Vivaldi, Viznitz, randomly shuffle into each other as I jog along with my iPod. It’s a sign of our times, the easy access to all sorts of different sounds and experiences. Each person’s collection is a sort of biography of sounds that conjure up the past and all sorts of associations, some loving and some painful. You could admire such eclectic taste that combines the classics with pop with Hassidic. At least I have a Jewish devotional element in my collection.

You might say it’s a reflection of the dumbing down of modern culture that one has one’s favorite musical choices as a sort of muzak background as one exercises. There are Talmud Classes and Bible lessons and language courses and audio books, all available to save time as we commute or just relax. But one is bound to wonder what degree of study one is capable of either stuck in slow-moving traffic or sweating up a hill. Or, for that matter, how much of the music one really hears without concentrating on the score and the details of the composition. "Lollipops" Sir Thomas Beecham used to call these snippets of familiar tunes that keep recurring on quiz shows or Classics FM.

The fact is that, as any jogger knows, musical accompaniment, radio or homework coming through little earphone buds connected to a holder on one’s arm, or in a bumbag or pocket, is the new uniform of the exercising classes, the must have accessory, even for rabbis.

Exercise is, in its way, a sort of religion, with its daily worship routines, its special garments and heartbeat phylacteries, its myths and traditions and shared sense of community. Like religion there are all sorts of degrees of devotion and commitment and inconsistencies and hypocrisies and superstitions. And the religion varies according to country and location.

In London I jog around Greyhound Hill in Hendon. The air is clear and fresh and one can see for miles around, to Harrow on the Hill, beyond Mill Hill up the M1 and the main railtracks north. Early in the morning or late at night the feral foxes dash from cover to cover and hawks flutter above, while crows and magpies forage noisily for carrion. You’ll find solitary walkers of dogs and couples speaking some Eastern European language walking briskly to work or back home from the night shift. You will pass the occasional serious runner, grimly set in a humorless, clockwork motion that takes him or her away rapidly past you in pursuit of their time targets. In summer the eager tennis players start early and go on late into the dusk, and the drug dealers hang out in their usual spots as customers furtively enter the park, sidle up, transact and hastily depart. In summer the courting couples occupy the long grass. One passes them all on one’s solitary progress.

In Central Park, New York the experience is altogether different. The summers are hotter and steamier—-if you don’t want to encounter temperatures of 100 degrees, you’re best running before 6:00 in the morning. And the winters are far colder with the howling winds coming in off the Hudson—-then it’s least painful around midday. The runs are five miles longer. But if your timing is wrong there’ll be processions of cars speeding around spewing out noxious fumes, and even though there are lanes for joggers and cyclists and cars. Even under the best of conditions the air is far heavier and dirtier than Hendon’s.

There are surprising varieties of terrain, wild canyons towards the North and the ramble below Turtle Pond. To the south lie the more manicured areas from Strawberry Fields on 72nd Street, the boating lake and down towards the little ponds, the zoo, the winter skating rink, the rockeries and the shops of Fifth Avenue. And of course there are the special areas of the park, which you’ll want to avoid because they are where the drug dealers and the casual gays meet and do their business.

But the main difference is the people. On any morning or evening in New York you’ll encounter hundreds of joggers and runners and cyclists (from high speed multicolored pelaton teams of Tour De France wannabes to laboring stragglers on cycles for hire) of all ages, sexes, sizes and degrees of fitness or just bloody-mindedness. There are toned and attractive young athletes, huge fat women, wizened ancient men and all the shapes and ages and varieties in between. It’s a huge popular people caravan, and on Sundays it’s almost constantly head to tail. It’s never the solitary neurosis of lonely long distance runners that it is in London, where no one wants to know or care. It’s a New York social of heavy breathing, wordless communication, sympathy, sharing the bodily pain, partners in crime.

Yes, once again, it’s like religion, no pain no gain. To master anything, to achieve anything, is a struggle. But it always helps if you’ve got other crazies to join in with, to salute as you pass or commiserate with as you toil, or to share the relief at the end, united in a strange faith that can feel meaningless and pointless and unnecessarily painful most of the time.

It’s like going into a boring synagogue out of a sense of duty or because you’ve been invited. You don’t really want to be there. You know you wont understand a word of the service or enjoy anything the rabbi says. It’s going to be painful but it must be done. And then you notice others like you are suffering and you nod at an old acquaintance and you feel a little better and of course by the time you get to Kiddush at the end you’re quite enjoying it!

It’s all worth the effort in the long run, so long as you know when to stop!

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August 08, 2005

Rabbi Kook's Legacy

The huge Jerusalem yeshiva, Merkaz HaRav Kook, is nowadays the Alma Mater of the religious Zionist movement and is associated with the settlers and those demonstrating against the planned removal from Gaza, more than any other (and there are, of course, others).

The yeshiva was founded by Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook (1865-1935), but it was his son, Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982), who turned some of his father's ideas into a political platform when, immediately after the Six-Day War, he came out publicly against any territorial concessions, and emerged as the spiritual head of the movement, attracting thousands to hear his words of strident, apocalyptic nationalism.

I studied in Merkaz in 1961 when it was still in its old building in the centre of town in Rav Kook Street and I shared a rented apartment in Rehov HaChabashim just opposite the Ethiopian Monastery up the hill. There were very few students there at the time. It was run down and neglected. I went there because I wanted to be in Jerusalem and I was attracted by the extra curricular lectures and classes given by the Nazir, the Nazirite, a friend and associate of the "original" Rav Kook (and father of the present Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rav Shear Yashuv Cohen). He talked about philosophy, mysticism and ethics and was regarded by most at the time as the one really creative mind of the old Kook movement.

Rav Kook the son, Zvi Yehuda, gathered around him a coterie of faithful ideologues who seemed to be in a world of their own and most of the yeshiva at the time ignored them and him. They preferred to listen to Rabbi Shapiro (who later became Chief Rabbi and is one of the rabbis presently insisting that Israeli soldiers refuse orders). Indeed, at that time, very few people other than his faithful bothered to turn up to hear Rav Zvi Yehuda talk at all. When I was there, he was regarded as something of a wild man living in cloud cuckoo land. But after the Six Day War he blossomed and became an icon. Proof, I guess, that is not "the man who maketh the hour" but rather "the hour that maketh the man".

Rav Kook’s ideology—indeed, that of Nachmanides, Yehuda HaLevy, the Maharal, Rabbi Loewe of Prague and many others--was that the Land of Israel is sacred and its original sanctity was reiterated during the Second Temple (Makkot 19a, etc.). The Land, the Torah and the People formed an inextricable bond ("The threefold rope cannot easily be broken." Ecclesiastes 4:12) that was the very essence of Jewish peoplehood. It was this emphasis on Land that was controversial--not its position as part of the "three", but the extent to which it was considered obligatory to inhabit the Land, and the impracticality of such an ideal.

For many, including the most extreme Hassidic sects, Land was inextricably bound up with the Messiah and nothing should or could be done practically until the Messianic era. In fact, to this day, this really differentiates the Ultra-Chareidi world from the religious Zionists, although many Hassidic sects are happy to compromise and take advantage of the very State they profess to disapprove of.

Rav Kook, the father, believed that anyone building the Land of Israel and a Jewish State, regardless of his or her religious practice, was helping to fulfill a Divine command. He regarded them as the elite of the Jewish people. Whereas the Chareidi world regards Torah as the absolute priority (sometimes I think over God, too) and takes the halachic line that human life comes before land. Chabad Lubavitch are the exception, but then they are the exception to about everything in Judaism.

There is something beautiful about passion--passion for life, passion for love and passion for God. I have always admired Rav Kook, the father, as the greatest spiritual mind of the twentieth century. His writings are so poetical, universalist and humanitarian, as well as powerfully and intensively Jewish. He would be my hero if I had one (apart from my father!).

But I have to say I cannot really get worked up about the passion for land. Its not the Land, as such--after all, I love the Land of Israel with a passion and there’s nowhere I'd rather live if it were up to me. It’s the notion of state and political nationalism (secular Zionism in a way) that I have difficulties with.

I guess it’s all connected to my jaundiced view of politics and politicians. When ideologies are turned into gods, then I part company. Everything I value about religion is concerned with the relationship between humanity and God that makes people better, and makes the world a better place to live in. Other things come lower down on the priority scale. Even Torah, to me, is a means to this end.

So is the protest at withdrawal from Gaza religious or political? If it’s political, well there is a debate, and frankly I don’t have the military expertise to know what’s right, although it has always struck me that occupation is an evil, even if sometimes it’s a necessary evil. If it’s religious, then, with all due respect, there are other religious viewpoints and it becomes a matter of which club you belong to. And I have never been much of a joiner. So long as Judaism does not have a totally unambiguous, indisputable position then, as far as I’m concerned, there’s always room to disagree. And if one ignores other points of view, then the borderline between conviction and fanaticism is a very, very fine one.

Important as the Land of Israel is to us, Moses (and God) were willing to allow the two and half tribes to stay and settle outside the Land of Israel (Numbers 32). Were they traitors to the Jewish people? I don’t think so.

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August 01, 2005

Caution: Religious Fanaticism Can Be Dangerous

In my weekly email to subscribers I sent a copy of an email I received that claimed to be an open letter to Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, by young Muslim fanatics, followers of Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza:

Mr. Ken Livingstone:

You seem to think that you, personally, are not to blame for the bombings in London or for alienated Muslim youth in Britain. I think it is about time that you realized that you are a source of the problem, as much as the others you blame.

Mr. Ken, we have learnt from you that it is legitimate to use indiscriminate violence in pursuit of a just cause. You yourself said so when you praised the IRA bombers nearly twenty years ago (of course, at that time you were not mayor of London). You have, through your own example, taught us that the way to publicize grievances is through violent means. If we are violent, we will be heard. If we are silent, we will be ignored. You, in your pursuit of power, have shown us how legitimate it is to ignore traditional ways of democracy and party politics and how other forms of gaining power and influence are more effective. You have been a wonderful example of how important self-promotion is and knowing who to appeal to the grass roots for support.

We are the new generation, the children of Muslims who have suffered at the hands of your left-wing socialist values. Most of our parents were imported into Britain to work in industries the British workers no longer cared for, and when those industries collapsed they were abandoned to poverty and hopelessness in cold inner-city ghettos, made to feel unwanted and unwelcome.

You and your political allies in London socialist boroughs first classified us as a race. The result was that thousands of Muslim children were given over to black Christian foster parents instead of white Muslims because your left-wing anti-religious ideology failed to understand that we are a religion, not a race.

As a lapsed Christian, you simply do not understand what we stand for religiously. You delude yourself into thinking that because you throw us a few sops and buy our votes by being anti-Israel you can continue to insult our religious values through your support of homosexuals, women’s equality and pornography and other abominations in the eyes of Allah, May He Be Praised. You yourself stand for everything we despise in a post-Christian, godless, secular world deprived of spiritual values and rooted in Marxist materialism.

We Muslims know all about Marxists. They used to be our fiercest enemy until the Soviet Empire came crashing down thanks to Muslim fighters with Allah’s (MHBP) support in Afghanistan.

You, Mr. Livingstone, are just like left-wing Israelis who actually believe that if they are nice to us we will be deflected from our ultimate goal of evicting Western influences from Dar El Islam. No Sir. We want to purge the West of its loose morality and replace its ineffective failed religions with the only true, dynamic, growing monotheism in the world today. This is our mission. We will employ the means we deem fit to achieve it.

You think you can court the older generation of Muslim leaders and invite them to talk and ask them to help you remove the so-called "terrorists" from London, but they are old ineffective men who were cowed into submission and were grateful for whatever handouts the White Empire condescendingly granted them or careerists with their own agendas.

We no longer want handouts. We want our rights. Our rights are to be governed by Muslim values and Muslim Laws, not yours.

You have taught us how to use the Law, the European Court of Human Rights and the freedoms you so cherish, to fight for our own ways of dressing, eating, and education. We have begun to get you to change your laws to ensure you respect our religion. In due course we will fight for the right to be governed by Shaaria, not secular, religionless law.

You have pretended you wanted a free and open society and that was why you allowed so many political refugees to come and live in London safely. This is why even we called you the Mayor of Londonistan. You thought that what some called hate-filled sermons should be tolerated in the name of free speech. And now all of a sudden you have changed your mind. Why? Are you worried about the Olympics?

Now it becomes clear that the only freedoms you want are yours, not ours. You want to limit the right of Muslims to honestly declare who their real enemies are and who the ultimate jihad must either win over or exterminate. You want force what you think is true Islam into your own conception of it!

Tolerance is the tool of the weak. In Islam we have seen that, historically, weakness leads to defeat and retreat. Only strength wins and conquers. You have heard Omar Bakri, a resident of London for twenty years, this week declare that he does not condemn the bombs in London. Now let me assure you, he is revered by many young Muslims in Britain, not a minority as you seem to think. You think that suicide bombing is a product of political injustice. That is why you keep on blaming Israel, something we are very grateful for but incidental to our mission. The fact is that Africans suffer far more injustices and oppression but only Muslim Africans resort to suicide bombings. That is because we understand, if you do not, that this is a religious issue. This is a tool in our jihad. But, of course, as you are deaf to religion so you cannot hear this! No Sir, you Christian or secular British would never become suicide bombers. You are not passionate enough in your devotion to religion.

We are well on course to take over all of Europe as we so nearly did before. Our numbers increase while Western decadence leads to a falling birth rate. We fight while you retreat. We reproduce while you abort. Ultimately we will bring the morality of the Koran to the West, in stages. Meanwhile, use of violence is an important tool in weakening opposition. It removes the will to fight. Look what we achieved in Spain. We will do the same in Britain.

Your English left-wing corrupt values are like dust. Marxism has failed everywhere, there is no ideology capable of standing up to us.

The West is weak and appeases and loves the underdog. At the same time your need for oil supports corrupt Arab regimes, where most of our support comes from, precisely because they believe that funding us atones for their sins. We despise the weak and the dishonest. They are the first to go. So thank you for blaming the Jews. It all helps our cause. But you are next on our list.

I am not interested in either the provenance or genuineness of this letter. I am interested in the arguments. They ring true. And there is really nothing new in this type of argument. It is common knowledge. Perhaps the only question is how widespread this sort of attitude is or whether it is truly only a minority in Islam today. There are voices that declare that the challenge we face is not Islam against the West, but one form of Islam against another, or moderate religion versus extremists.

However such views are pretty typical of religious fanaticism, all religious fanaticism--the fanaticism that bombs abortion clinics and murders doctors as much as that which supports extreme Islam. It is the strength of fanaticism, or fundamentalism, that it is single-minded, refusing to countenance another point of view, and that it attracts young people regardless of background or circumstances.

We have seen in current Judaism how relatively easy it is to “convert” young people to an extreme position. We may be fortunate that our sort of extremism does not normally lead to killing civilians, although in the cases of Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, exceptionally, it did. But the views of Kahana's Kach party and other religious right-wing political movements are not very different from those expressed above. That is why I so detest fanaticism and why it so important that we fight to ensure its influence is counteracted in our communities.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am making no claims of equivalence. But I am saying that religious fanaticism is something we must be on our guard against as we approach the fast of Tisha B’Av, which records the disasters which were caused by our own fanatical extremists. Even more so as we are currently trying to cope with the withdrawal from Gaza which again divides us, with some who oppose it calling for soldiers to refuse to serve, civil disobedience, and even Kabbalistic death penalties! In themselves they may be harmless and fair expressions of democratic protest. But in the hands of fanatics they could become dynamite.

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