Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Musings on freedom

Jewish date:  9 ’Av 5771 (Parashath Wa’Ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  The Fast of ’Av (Judaism)


It is 9 ’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and I feel the need to discuss two conversations I had recently with people who shall remain anonymous.  I am also not picking specifically on them, for I have heard similar arguments elsewhere.

One of the conversations was with someone who reacted in alarm to me protesting for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount.  In this conversation, it was questioned whether the majority of Israelis really felt as I did and whether I should be promoting an idea that might be strongly against what they think.  There was also a fear of what other countries might do if I was actually successful.

The other conversation was with someone who was shocked I went up on the Temple Mount.  The person I was talking with was concerned of how the Arabs would react to me being there, presumably negatively.

Both of these conversations disturb me, because there is something in each of them which is fundamentally against the ideals of freedom of religion and a democratic, civil society.  Freedom includes being able to promote ideas that other people disagree with.  Freedom includes being able to do things that other people disagree with.  And everyone is supposed to have these freedoms, not just a few.  It should not matter if someone believes something that everyone else on the planet thinks is wrong; in a democratic society, that person is legally entitled to advocate and live by his/her belief, just as everyone else is entitled to advocate and live by their own belief.  This is especially true when no one is advocating anything out of bounds for a civil society, such as incitement to murder.

There is also the implicit notion that one should not try to challenge the status quo.  I have no idea where the idea that the status quo is sacred and inviolable comes from.  Considering that our lives and beliefs are radically different from our ancestors thousands of years ago, not to mention we are currently living in an era of rapid change, I would say the status quo has been challenged and changed, over and over again.  Now, one could conceivably argue that some aspect of the way things are now should not be changed, but no one is going to say outright “Violation of freedom of religion is the way things are supposed to be, and we should continue violating freedom of religion”, because that is never going to fly.

The conversation on visiting the Temple Mount is also disturbing, because the other person was putting the blame for anything which goes wrong on the wrong party.  If a Jew goes up on the Temple Mount and prays, that is an exercise in freedom of religion.  If a Muslim reacts to that in a way unacceptable in a civil society, such as by throwing rocks, the fault is entirely the Muslim’s.  Blaming and persecuting the victim only gives the perpetrator of the crime the message that committing the crime was acceptable in the first place and encourages further crimes.  There is a very simple solution to this:  do not let them get away with this.  Ever.  This is what the police and the military are for.  In America, the government managed to enforce integration.  If the government here is not willing to enforce religious tolerance, I am going to start looking for a different party to vote for that will.

Both conversations also contain an element of fear.  Appealing to fear is an emotional argument, not a rational argument.  Neither person actually told me that I was actually wrong with regard to freedoms and legal rights.  But is there anything to really fear?  I would be lying if I claimed certain thoughts had never crossed my mind, but on the whole I feel very safe.  Muslim antagonism has goaded Israel into becoming an extremely well-armed and secure country.  Security personnel are everywhere.  Even on the Temple Mount, I did not feel particularly scared.  Yes, being followed around by a policeman is annoying, but only an idiot attacks when a policeman with a big gun is around.  (And, yes, I am presuming that Muslims in general are not idiots.  Just because people believe in something I think is wrong or are my enemy does not make them stupid.)  There are also police with big guns in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, ensuring that the Arab shopkeepers behave themselves.  (Not to mention attacking Jews would be a horrible business decision for anyone trying to sell to Jewish tourists.)  And do remember my trip to Silwan, in which there were police and guards with guns; I was much more scared of the roads, which were so bad that I found myself praying.

I am also not scared of other countries who are hostile to Israel.  According to Wikipedia, there are 1,410,000,000 Muslims on Earth (low estimate) and 5,818,200 Jewish Israelis.  That means that we Jewish Israelis are outnumbered by Muslims over 242 to 1.  If they really wanted to destroy us, they could invade en masse and overwhelm us.  Yes, there would likely be a huge loss of life, but for one person to fight off 242 is extremely difficult and unlikely to occur outside of a video game.  For one person to fight off much smaller numbers that 242 (say, 12) is itself extremely difficult.  If the Muslims have not hit upon this simple strategy after all this time, they either are too stupid to live or they do not really care enough to wipe out Israel.  I consider the latter vastly more probable.  The Muslims already tried to wipe out Israel a few times, and obviously they failed.  The low-level jihad going on now simply does not cut it fighting a war and is more of an annoyance than anything else; to be sure, it is an annoyance that kills a few people from time to time, but there is no way it is going to destroy the country.  So long as the low-level jihad keeps going, the Muslims have an enemy they can blame for all their troubles and they can claim to be fighting against.  If they were to ever succeed, they would not be able to blame Israel for all the evils of the world anymore, which would be very inconvenient.  And as long as Israel does not wipe out the terrorists, the situation remains more or less stable.  To put it in Orwellian terms, jihad is peace.

The person in the latter conversation tried equating modern violent Muslims with the Jews who fought against the British.  I am not proud of some of the things those who fought against the British did, but that was a war, the goal of which was Jewish survival.  Please keep in mind that the Arab-Israeli War started in 1929, and the British in Mandatory Palestine were doing everything they could to get out of the original intent of Palestine as a homeland for the Jews, including caving in to Arab violence.  There never was any intent to wipe out the British or take over the United Kingdom.  Not to mention the war against the British has long been over.  What Muslims are fighting today against Israel is not a war in the Western sense of the term; it is a jihad, the goal of which is the destruction of Israel and the domination of all non-Muslims by Muslims.  These are not comparable situations.

The person in the latter conversation also tried claiming that the more extreme Jewish groups are just as bad as violent Muslims.  Poppycock.  Judaism, unlike Islam, has no sanctions for terrorism or jihad built in.  There have been Jewish terrorists, but these are rare.  Think about it.  When was the last time you heard about Kahana’ Ḥay killing anyone?  Can you ever remember hearing about them killing anyone?  Contrast these with Islamic terrorists, who are in the news regularly killing innocent people.  I have also heard of Ḥaredhim rioting from time to time, but burning tires and clashing with police is not the same thing as terrorism.  You are never, ever going to hear about Ḥaredhim setting off bombs and murdering people.  Nor are you going to ever hear about them trying to engage in conquest, starting wars, or committing genocide.  I have heard plenty of criticism of Ḥaredhim being paranoid and antagonistic towards outsiders, but that does not qualify as terrorism, and it is not morally equivalent to terrorism.  Claiming that they would be the same is attacking them for something they have not actually done and might well never do; this is not morally justified, since one could make the same claim about anyone else.

In short, I have been given no reason to cease and desist from Temple Mount activism.  I also know the situation is not hopeless.  People can and do act to change the world.  I am living in a country which is unprecedented in the history of Earth.  Already the movement is growing and the issue of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount is gaining government interest.  May it be the will of YHWH that this movement reach its logical conclusion, the rebuilding of the Temple, in our days.


’Aharon/Aaron