symbols

The Lesson of Chanukah

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As most people know Chanukah is seen very much in the vain of a Jewish Holy Holiday which this year begins today, 16 Dec. and ends 23 Dec. But should it be seen in this way? I think not.

Each night a candle is lit, one more than the previous night until all 8 candles are alight.  The significance is to do with the time of the Second Temple and the re-dedication of the Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire for Jews but it can be seen as so much more I think.

By adding the number of candles lit during the 8 day period we get to 36 which in Hebrew is denoted by the letters Lamed and Vav which also mean the word Heart.  The candles could be seen to signify the flame that burns in all our hearts, the flame of life so to speak. Within the light of life burns our hopes and desires, the essence of self but because it burns in all of us, Jew and Gentile we are all linked.

Chanukah; a festival for all of us to reaffirm our celebration of life through light.

Blair, Bush, Obama and Cameron Surrender the West

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The inevitable result of a publicized decision to pull troops out of Iraq is coming to bear. The resultant power vacuum is being filled not unsurprisingly by al-Qaeda whose operatives have surged in to the Anabar region of Iraq.

Cue American promises that they will send help but not of the troop kind, what other kind might help in the present situation I’m not certain for sure, but help is on the way! What has got to be understood is that the less than convincing claim of victory by the West is seen very much as a defeat of the West by al-Qaeda and others aligned to the same aims; so begins what may prove to be a long and woeful Iraqi civil war.

Similarly, Afghanistan where the very same fate awaits. Coalition troops are to withdraw and on top of a series of strategic blunders the effect will be to hand the country straight back to the Taliban. The effect would seem obvious that these two regions that the West went to war over and lost many lives in an attempt to neutralize them as threats to our societies will once again be a threat to our societies. Only this time round a whole lot more dangerous I venture.

Blame for this impending shambles is not necessarily to be laid at the doors of Obama and Cameron, they just provided the finishing touches. No, its the prolonged moral misjudgement amply displayed by our political leaders en-masse who refused to acknowledge the true nature and extent of the threat posed to the West from the whole region, not just the isolated cases of Iraq and Afghanistan both of whom it must be said were (and will become again) terror-promoting regimes to be feared. Both wars were dogged by mission drift and western self-loathing. The military as well as the Western political leaders missed completely the complex and many faceted face of Islamic religious war against the West.

Further more, with impending capitulation almost complete the Western leaders then decide to lift sanctions on Iran, meaning they will march ever-more quickly toward their murderous intent of developing nuclear weapons. Although I’m sure its good for business with a whole new Iranian market opened up to Western companies just itching to sell them cars and stereos and all manner of other unspeakable vices (to be enjoyed by the rich and powerful behind closed doors only you know)?

But again the political ineptitude is utterly mind boggling with once more a failure to appreciate the effect of spilling yet greater amounts of arms and resources into an already fragile region. Iran with a nuclear weapon will equate to a nuclear armed Turkey and Saudi Arabia both of whom are intent on dominating the region. This isn’t to speak of the unthinkable threat this will pose to Israel who the Iranian regime would happily wipe off the world map. But still more confusing is that US Secretary of State John Kerry bizarrely suggested that Iran should step in to help with Syrian peace talks. This to me would appear that they are setting a kleptomaniac to catch a thief,I can only think it must have slipped his memory that Iran is Assad’s foremost patron in the region so how that’ll work I’m mystified.

Lest they forget our politicians should be reminded there are many splits and divisions in the Islamic world and particularly those factions committed to war on the West. If they are honestly going to wage war with these people then understanding and acknowledging the threat they pose would be a really good start.

End of the EDL?

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English: EDL Protest
English: EDL Protest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2013 will be memorable for many reasons for me; personally I have started my journey to a new life in the South East of France with the sale of my home in Manchester. The money is in the bank, I have a nice house on the outskirts of a town in Northern England and a house rented near Grasse from which to conduct my search for a new permanent home.

But what of one of the reasons I despair so much about Britain – the far right!

Well 2013 was a bad year for the EDL, it cannot be denied. They lost their charismatic leader Tommy Robinson in an exit facilitated  by the Quilliam Foundation and a BBC documentary. But the organisation’s demise could have come sooner, had it not been for one key factor, the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich.

The killing, in broad daylight near Rigby’s army barracks, gifting Robinson, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, a new impetus. In dire financial straits and concerned about neo-Nazi elements in his midst, the EDL leader had wanted a way out for some time, say those close to matter.

“Prior to Lee Rigby’s murder, the EDL was finished. It was physically dead…” said  Matthew Collins of Hope not Hate the anti-Fascist movement. The founder and leader, Lennon (Robinson)  had absolutely no interest, he was worried about going to prison. The EDL had radicalised people, however, people who thought they had no way of expressing what they didn’t like. So 2,500 people came out in Newcastle after Lee Rigby’s murder.

No such response to 7/7 and no response either from the numerous Muslim Organisations. The EDL gave people a branch on which to cling in what they thought were desperate times. But no longer I think. Social integration never really existed in Britain and the EDL spoke to those who believe that the country is being over-run by immigration, the EDL feeds those fears to its own ends based on hatred.

Since Robinsons departure the EDL has become quiet but insists it will go on, but how without the media friendly (well media worthy is probably more accurate) Robinson it is difficult to say. The EDL may pass but the ideology will not. The EDL has radicalised around 3000ish working class men into counter-jihadists who will be looking for a new home, new leadership at the very least. They may (re)turn to the BNP who have a political foothold in the European Parliament through their leader Nick Griffin or they may find solace in UKIP (unlikely though, these are working class men not high rolling bankers).

It would appear however distressing that the tattooed working class racist thug is here to stay and should the Muslim community remain separate; alien to some, then these thugs will persist and may go on to kill in kind.

2014 is probably the last year we will hear that chant of E – E – EDL! but if our French cousins are anything to go by then the far-right will re-emerge again and again in ever more nasty and ugly guises I fear. Helped in recruitment no doubt by the gutter press media and acts of plain stupidity in public by those in the eye of the media. Take for example yesterday where Nicolas Anelka made a goal celebration which appeared to be the quenelle salute made famous by the French comedian Dieudonne. The gesture is strongly linked to anti-Semitism in France. The perfect example of why tensions will be persistent.

The end of the EDL? I think yes. The end of racial hatred and the far right? definitely not I’m very sad to say.

Are they worth it?

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Publicité pour Twitter et Facebook sur la vers...
Publicité pour Twitter et Facebook sur la version hébreu de Wikipédia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Youth (yoof) culture in the UK to a large extent is informed in attitudes by Hip-Hop Culture, or certainly the gift-wrapped version we see on MTV, Virgin Music… Critics may be easily prompted to dismiss this version of ‘yoof culture’ as the ramblings of uneducated and lazy youth. But I point to the growing levels of violence practiced against the youth by older and wiser (?) generations and by youth on youth or gang violence mostly in our urban centres.

The State terror that drove Aaron Schwartz to commit suicide; the domestic violence that killed Kasandra Perkins; the communal violence that killed Trayvon Martin and fatally wounded Malala Yousufzai; have all become commonplace. Not UK violence but for sure the violence that we meet every evening on the 6 pm news broadcast. The message is clear, people of youth are violent! Its a crisis!

Education can and often does address the underlying causes of violence but is not the sole key to addressing this crisis.Teachers must help reclaim the public by affirming with youth that life is worth living. Pedagogy must wrestle with the fact that the worth of youth largely swings between being targeted as (new) consumers and being seen as a disposable population fit only for the prison.

Renewed societal values are absolutely central to the improvement in youth experience; by showing how racism, sexism, and economical exploitation shape the outcomes and therefore the values of the youth, teachers have an opportunity to use the past experience of youth to improve the possible future experience of youth. Some Feminists building on critical views of the traditional nuclear family have illuminated the complex ways that power and violence function in the nuclear family and heterosexual relationships. Yet the buck stops there – the family is to blame?

I think not, well not entirely anyway. We lack the language and values necessary to address the states of terror that have escalated into youth-on-youth violence.

As we move into a more technologically-integrated society (Facebook, Twitter, Google+…), the pressing question is how to elevate the experience and contribution of the youth through these social networking platforms. The first task in answering this question is to challenge the notion that the youth are aloof and normalized to the violence in their midst. If we look closely at these social media hangouts, we find that youth are driven by two goals: the need to share information, and the need to be content creators.

Our next task, then, is to engage them in transforming their ingenuity and passion to share and create content that revises the modern world. Obvious blueprints have been offered. The revolutionary maneuvers of youth in North Africa have been realized through Twitter as a cabal for strategy. The Occupy movement illustrated how we can create webs of inclusion in a leaderless movement, and introduced the public speaking platform known as mic check. These ideas engender a generational attitude encapsulating a way of being. Of social awareness on a grander scale.

This isn’t however, the Marxist dream of a classless society. The economic, social and educational carnage youth face in the streets makes us culpable for failing to create effective institutions that integrate youth into society. If the future belongs to the youth, we must engage them by transforming the ideas of identity management on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram into community management by asking them to help share and create ideals we can live by.

“Look at the weak and cry, pray one day you’ll be strong
Fighting for your rights, even when you’re wrong
And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I’m gone
I am worth it?”
— Kenderick Lamar

What to remember of Nelson Mandela

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English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo date...
English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo dates from 1937. South Africa protect the copyright of photographs for 50 years from their first publication. See . Since this image would have been PD in South Africa in 1996, when the URAA took effect, this image is PD in the U.S. Image source: http://www.anc.org.za/people/mandela/index.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are things that we should remember of Nelson Mandela?

1948 was a symbolic date in many ways, not least because during this year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was being drafted and the very same nations writing this declaration were wholly supporting the South African Apartheid system. Nelson Mandela stood as a powerful personality against the Apartheid system, he stood for equality for the right of a black skin person to be judged equal to a white skin person and to a brown skin person.  He also stood for the right of the white and the brown skin people to have equality with black skin people.

Nelson Mandela embodied the notion of equality. He asked but 2 questions:

  1. Is it fair that because a person has white skin that they have more rights than those who don’t?
  2. Is it fair that because a person has black skin that they have less rights than people who don’t?

What remains of these questions about skin colour is found in the collective imagination. All nations must be sure to say collectively that their nation belongs to them no matter what colour your skin is, that each and every one of us has a role to play, that we have equality of opportunity and of responsibility.

There are un-countable millions who feel as I do that an educated population provided with equality of opportunity not judged on skin colour or religious practice has within its collective imagination the resources to overcome the challenges of harmful ideas and victimization.

Its all about Israel!

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The grave of Paula and David Ben-Gurion at Mid...
The grave of Paula and David Ben-Gurion at Midreshet Ben-Gurion close to Sde Boker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Great Quotes…

Eric Hoffer“The Jews are a peculiar people: Things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people, and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it. Poland and Czechoslovakia did it.Turkey threw out a million Greeks and Algeria a million Frenchmen. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese–and no one says a word about refugees. But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis. Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.”

Elie Wiesel: I marvel at the resilience of the Jewish people. Their best characteristic is their desire to remember. No other people has such an obsession with memory.

Benjamin Disraeli: “The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven.”

Leo Tolstoy: “What is the Jew?…What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. What is this Jew whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?! The Jew – is the symbol of eternity. … He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”

Winston S. Churchill: “Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe: “Energy is the basis of everything. Every Jew, no matter how insignificant, is engaged in some decisive and immediate pursuit of a goal… It is the most perpetual people of the earth…”

David Ben Gurion: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

John F. Kennedy: Israel was not created in order to disappear- Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.

John Adams: “I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations… They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews.”

Mark Twain: “…If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky way. properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

Live Together not Side-by-Side

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"The Naughty Step": or, Religion ove...
“The Naughty Step”: or, Religion overthrowing Heresy and Hatred III (Photo credit: Nick in exsilio)

In Britain today there’s a celebration which on the face of it is enormous fun, especially for children. Bonfire Night; a night when there’s a bonfire, fireworks and a communal gathering. What’s often (almost always) missed is the underlying reason for the ‘celebration’ – the conviction and death of a Roman Catholic (Guy Fawkes) for trying to overthrow the monarchy in 1604 by blowing-up Parliament.

The purpose of this post is not a lesson in English history but to point out the divisions in society.

400 years ago Roman Catholics were in the minority in England and were treated in most cases worse than the Protestant owned farm animals, so not even second class citizens. In fact even today it isn’t constitutionally possible for a Catholic to be the Monarch! Yup, that’s right 2013 and a Catholic cant sit on the crown thrown!

The point is that communities live side-by-side and not generally speaking together. The present day situation often revolves around immigrant communities, large and rapid in-fluxes of peoples who’s sole aim is a better life. The Protestant/Catholic question has largely been resolved, well in England any-way, Northern Ireland and Scotland may be peaceful places but I’m quite sure the tensions remain even today.

Its probably true to say that ‘birds of a feather, flock together’ and its to be expected that new immigrants will naturally coalesce into mini-communities centred on the familiarity with those from the home-land, and traditional customs. This is to be expected and initially at least accepted. However, the behavior of the native ‘do-gooders’ does seem to encourage difference, it encourages the whole-scale preservation of cultural practices from far away places. It might even be that these ‘do-gooders’ have a sense of neo-colonial social condescension flowing through their thoughts and ideas. Of course if this is the case then they are guilty of prejudice of an intellectual nature; I’m not sure which is more damaging the thug on the street practicing violence or the intellectual who constructs social barriers to progress.

The politically far-right has begun to take a-hold over some sections of society and intellectually they have been clever in claiming secularism for themselves.  They use the cloak of secularism to hide their ‘hate talk’. Yet it is also true to say they pick their causes, they will often march shoulder to shoulder with religious fundamentalists against causes such as same sex marriage or gay rights. Non-the-less when it comes to some religions the message is in no way complex; The Jewish and Muslim faiths come-in for some very pointed accusations from the far-right.

The realities of every-day life in a multi-cultural society play into the hands of these people, communities living side-by-side in mistrust fueled by the hate speak of the far-right lead inevitably to these divisions being exploited for the benefit of hate. Cultural symbols become a metaphor for religious and cultural intolerance. Those of hate who hide in the Churches and Mosques openly accuse and attack those who do not practice as they do. The phobias become pervasive, leaching into everyday society, the press, the media and yes even into everyday conversation. Difference becomes a topic of conversation, it becomes a main event, a reason to hate, to mistrust, not to live together.

The issue really isn’t the head scarf or whatever symbol is chosen, its the definition imposed by those who might wear and use it as a justification of their personal being and by those who do not wear it and point to their own justifications for its removal. The head scarf, the golden crucifix, the yarmulke… these become the very things that generate hate, the ideas become something obscured.

The dominance of a Protestant culture remains in the British legal system and it could possibly be argued that strengthening of this could actually lead to greater harmony. Those with conflicting views would have a firm rule to live by and if they cannot may seek out less difficult places to dwell. The cultural gaps that have been allowed to develop are where those who hate have come to exist, to thrive, to push out from. The cultural gaps are often defended as the places that freedom exists but is this so? Well, yes actually, but its the freedom to practice hate that gives them a bad name.

The current situation is difficult and set to become even more difficult with further removal of barriers to migration. The far-right I’m sure will gain more favor over the coming year after the in-flux of Romanians & Bulgarians. It seems inconceivable that the bonds of kinship will be broken on arrival in Britain (or France or Italy or anywhere else for that matter) and I’m sure it will provide food for the far-right that these people fail to integrate with immediate effect. I’m sure that they will fall prey to the emphasis on skin-colour, on religious difference, on cultural practices but most importantly that they are just plain different.

In my mind, equality, emancipation and universalism should be the goals of society applied evenly to all, the immigrants, the far-right, the far-left and those in the centre. Assimilation should be the aim of all peoples, to live together not side-by-side.