William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.Ken Livingstone has paid a price paid by others before him, because he has broken the rule that you can not draw links between Zionism and Hitler.  Sometimes such links really should not be drawn, as when people say that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is just the same as what Nazi Germany did to the Jews.  This is patently absurd, and it is not helpful to the Palestinians, who desperately need their dire plight to be known and understood in an accurate way, not in some infantile caricature which flattens out all differences.  Obviously there is some overlap, in that a whole people is being victimised on the basis of their racial origin, but the differences are immense – the scale of the oppression and the killing was massively worse by many orders of magnitude in Nazi occupied Europe.  This should not give rise to complacency, as the sufferings of the Palestinians are taking place right now, those of the European Jews were stopped over 70 years ago, but nor should the differences be ignored.

The question on the current occasion is this: was Ken Livingstone right to make connections between Hitler and the ideology of Zionism?  The answer in terms of politics is easy: he was right to defend Naz Shah, who had been attacked merely for retweeting an image from Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein’s blog.  Should he have used the language he did?  No, as an experienced politician he really should have known better.  With print, television and radio media keen both to damage the Labour Party and to see anti-semitism as the motivation for every criticism of Israel (there is now a long, long list of Jews who are said to be “anti-semitic”, and Finkelstein is on that list), he should have chosen his words much more carefully.  As an individual interested in history, he had the right to say all that he did, and people who have actually read his words and checked them against the facts have not been able to contradict him.

In his 1981 novel The Portage to San Cristóbal of A.H., French Jewish writer George Steiner examined the issue of the ideological connections between Nazism and Zionism, through the mouth of Hitler himself.  The plot concerns the attempt of holocaust survivors to bring Hitler, who has been found alive and living in South America, back to Israel to stand trial.  When this proves not to be possible they try him in situ in the Amazon jungle.  He presents the defence himself, part of which is that the doctrine of the Master Race is taken from the idea of the Chosen People, and that the Promised Land inspired the idea of Lebensraum.  He also says that the Jews should thank him for his actions leading to the establishment of Zion.  As Hitler is given a lot of room to outline his defence there was obviously some shock when the book was published, including the predictable accusations of anti-semitism.  But to many critics, both Jewish and non-Jewish, it was seen as an important attempt to examine this sensitive issue.

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It would not have been possible, or even perhaps right, for the book to have been written by a non-Jew, and it strikes me that, even with a Jewish author, the book would be almost impossible to publish if it appeared for the first time now.  It is strange to be living in a time in which freedom of speech is seen as such a central part of the dominant culture, and yet there are so many taboos around what may be said, and one of these is that it is forbidden to explore the genealogy of Zionism.  In Leviticus, the scapegoat was appointed to remove the sins of the whole people.  By banishing the goat, the sins were also removed.  Europe and its child America had committed a grave sin by its inhumane treatment of the Jews over many centuries, culminating in the horror of the attempted Final Solution, and in 1948 Palestine was officially chosen to be the scapegoat.  Like the goats of ancient times it was a completely innocent party.  Now we have moved into a new phase: the guilt is now about what we have allowed to happen to the Palestinians in the intervening years.  This is something we can not look at squarely – we can only deal with it by pretending that the Palestinians are the guilty party.  The Palestinian goat has to carry all the blame, and we can not allow it back from the desert.  So how do we deal with feeling guilty about a scapegoat?  We have decided to designate a new series of scapegoats, made up of everyone who tries to point to the truth of the situation.  They will also be sent out into the desert with the label “anti-semitic”.  Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone are just the latest scapegoats: they surely will not be the last.

 

It’s not uncommon for Monotheism to be accused of being largely responsible for the parlous state in which we find the natural world, and I would like to suggest in this post that that is a little unfair. Certainly monotheism was the professed belief system of many of those who began to get us into this mess, and it continues to be the belief system of some of those who are still in denial about the scale of the problem. But it is also the belief of many of those eager to change direction, which shows that things are more complicated than first meets the eye.

For a start, monotheism is often meant as a short cut for Christianity, with Judaism sometimes mentioned, and Islam being included or not, according to the needs of the particular argument being made. But even if we say that we are just discussing Christianity, the latter is a complex accretion of Old Testament ideas, teachings of Jesus and Paul, with Greek attitudes to argumentation thrown in. After all, “I’m right, you’re wrong” is in the tradition of Aristotle and Plato, and doesn’t sound like Jesus at all. It doesn’t even sound like Socrates, which shows that an idea or approach can be lost in a single generation.

This culture of Hellenised, Jesus-ified Judaism subsequently took on Roman imperialism, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism and a host of other isms which have nothing to do with the core teaching, which I think is expressed more clearly in Islam and Judaism than in Christianity. This core teaching is that the Universe is the creation of a Divine Being, that humans thrive when they acknowledge this and give thanks, and that humans owe all to God, and have no gifts other than those loaned to them by God. You the reader are welcome to believe this idea or to see it as utter nonsense, but I am asking you to accept that whether or not you accept it as being true, this is an accurate description of what is meant by monotheism,

The question of how it all went so horribly wrong is a broad one, and in this post I want to point just to one linguistic cause, that of the word “dominion”. I am not a student of Biblical languages, but I understand that the word “dominion” as found in the English Bible has travelled the linguistic route from Hebrew to Greek to Latin, which is the same route traced above for the Christian religion itself. And each time a word travels from one language to another it may change in tone or meaning. It may be that the sense of dominion was weaker, or even not there, originally, and that the sense of stewardship was what was intended. After all, to return to the implication that monotheism means giving all worship to God alone, it is sacrilege for us expect servitude from the world around us. Stewardship, on the other hand, suggests continued responsibility, and a sense of humility. It’s the loss of this meaning that gives rise to the trouble. There are verses are in Genesis which describe humans, well “man”, being given dominion, but I find Daniel 7:14 particularly interesting:-

     "And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."

Dominion in the sense of ruling power is clearly not given to “man” in general (this idea has also been used by feminist theologians). What’s more, this kingdom should not be destroyed – it couldn’t be clearer, really.

The idea of dominion slipped even further away from that of stewardship, and when this idea was taken from the Middle East and the Mediterranean to Europe, it was Domination not Dominion that became the model of living with nature, and over the centuries it was Domination which described encounters with non-white people too. It became a central cognitive force within belligerent moves on Africa, the near and far East, the Americas and Australia. Within Europe itself alternative conceptions of human conduct were driven out, so that even after a sudden redirection, such as the French and Russian revolutions, there was no questioning of the concept of domination. Domination of nature became suppression and denial of nature in Stalin’s Russia, no hotbed of monotheism, under the disastrous control of Trofim Lysenko, where the idea could be characatured as being that potatoes could be ordered to behave as the Soviet State wanted them to behave. Mass famine followed. And over the decades, as religion has held less of a place in policy, industry and commerce, this contempt has spread far and wide, to secular societies and religious ones regardless of their connection with the Judao-Christian tradition. Look at India for one example of a religious society, but the damage does not become less in most secular ones.

So where do we go from here? For me it’s helpful to reject the concept of Dominion, and I have never had truck with the idea of Domination, and to return instead to the concept of Stewardship. There are idealists who think we can just leave Nature to do its own thing, but with the current level of human population this is hopelessly naive. Let’s never evangelise about our metaphysical belief systems, but evangelise instead about Stewardship, that Humans can be the gentle, compassionate gardeners and stewards of the whole Earth.

There was a field. It was nothing special, not really used for anything. A bit scrubby, marshy in one corner. On the far side there were a few beeches and oaks. Bumblebees explored the weedy plants near the gate. I think I heard a green woodpecker shouting in the trees beyond the field.

I was on my phone. Checking the news: politics, sport, celebrity. I sent a few jokes to a friend. I don’t know how long I was using my phone.

I looked up. There were diggers and lorries, tarmac all over the place. The field had gone. Houses were going up everywhere. But they kept two or three of the trees, which was nice.

Interesting to see archaeologists who support the Highways England scheme to blast a tunnel and a dual carriageway through a bit of Wiltshire south of Stonehenge resorting to an atrociously dishonest polemical technique known as the ‘amalgam technique’. It is a way of invalidating any and all opposition to a policy by tainting all opponents […]

Stonehenge and the Stalinist Amalgam Technique — The Grammar of Matter
https://www.cdc.gov/media/video/b-roll/images/covid-white.jpg

I listen to too many podcasts, and am always looking to trim the numbers. I recently unsubscribed from the Sustainability Now podcast, after an episode on the dangers of glyphosate. While I will kick Monsanto as hard as the next Earth-hugger, this seemed to be an uncritical interview with someone who, despite her scientific background, seemed unable to distinguish between causation and correlation. There was nothing that helped me to clarify my thinking on synthetic pesticides. I already know that they are dangerous physically, socially and economically. The whole concept of dealing with nature by poisoning it is problematic, and I hope to return to this at some point.

Eventually this interview landed in COVID-19 conspiracy world, and specifically the idea that the virus might have been developed in a Chinese laboratory. Our interviewee gleefully repeated this theory, which originates in hard American Right circles, and has been debunked, not least by American security services who would no doubt like it to be true.

A theory, besides being true or untrue, also has a function: it moves discourse in a particular direction. This theory moves us towards the idea that we can blame the virus on the hubristic stupidity of a group of Chinese scientists, so our own behaviour is not responsible. Yes, stupidity plays a central part in this story, but while it is comforting to limit this stupidity to the scientific elite of an unpopular foreign power, the stupidity goes much, much wider. Is it really so unpredictable that a combination of environmental destruction, animal cruelty and unfettered global travel would lead us to this point? There is a clear message here. Covid-19 is both a blight in itself, but also a sign, a warning of something which could have been so much worse, something which may be to come.

The philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy is angry that some are suggesting that Covid-19 is a metaphor, that it has the function of pointing something out about the course that humanity finds itself on. Let him be angry – he is wrong. To say that it’s a metaphor does not detract from it also having a literal reality that makes people ill and in some cases kills them. It does not, or should not, detract from the compassion that we should feel for those affected by the disease itself or the chaos it has thrown up. But despite this, this virus is indeed a messenger. Who sends the messenger? Well that’s a metaphysical question. It could be Gaia, God, the laws of nature, a Karmic typewriter, or a host of other things depending on your outlook. That’s none of my business, but it is the clearest of warnings that we are doing it wrong. We ignore the warning at our peril.

On the day that a vaccine is announced, that is 100% safe, 100% effective, and will be made available to all regardless of means (unlikely but not impossible), will everyone breathe a sigh of relief and return everything to how it was? Let’s hope not.

Every act of speech or writing has assumptions behind it. In my wish to develop an environmental philosophical position, it’s only fair to declare these assumptions, in this case with a little biography. In early life I was drawn to left-wing politics, and was often found demonstrating outside South Africa House or at military bases, but it struck me that you can’t build a new world by shouting at what you don’t like, so I withdrew from this, and looked for a new frame.

I was drawn to Taoism, loving its acknowledgement of the natural world, and its seemingly accepting moral stance, but Taoism lacked explicit mention of something that had not disappeared from my thinking after leaving my Catholic childhood behind, that is God. Then I discovered Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam, and that seemed to answer this for me, particularly when I came into the presence of a living teacher. The emphasis on personal awakening was there, and in the concept of tawhid, (“unity” / “oneness”), the idea that everything is one was also emphasised. But I wasn’t hearing anything practical about sorting out the mess we were in, as all the focus was on purifying the self. But what if a purified self could carry on polluting, perhaps without even knowing that that is what they were doing? I had looked at Permaculture over the years, and wondered whether that could fill the gap. I wanted to lessen my own impact on the Earth, but as a naturally cerebral individual I have also decided that I want to find the philosophical underpinnings of my approach. In permaculture it starts off with simple ideas: Earth care, people care, fair share.  Through recent exploration of permaculture podcasts I have also become aware of the Regenerative Agriculture movement.  Regen Ag, to use its inelegant abbreviation, gives us the idea that we can simultaneously restore nature, fix carbon and feed humans. It has also been gratifying to discover writers with an environmental spirituality, such as Thomas Berry and the poet-farmer Wendell Berry. Is there something about berries, I wonder?

There are lots of other ideas worthy of examination: the concept of wizards and prophets, Charles C. Mann’s phrase, is an interesting one. Wizards believe all problems have a technical fix, whereas prophets focus more on what is wrong, and that the answer is to turn away from technological civilisation. Paul Kingsnorth is an example of the latter, and his writing is interesting but I think there is a more positive path. Then there are those who reject the term “the environment” which puts a gap between humanity and nature, so they prefer the term “the natural world”. My current thinking suggests we should use “the creation” which seems to have a power, obviously to those who believe in God, but perhaps also to those who do not. Some say that indigenous cultures have the answer to our problems, especially those which do not make a strong separation between humans and other beings. I am not happy about this, because I think there is a distinction, now more than ever, between the power of humans and other beings. We may be the same in essence, and it may be that the same respect should be accorded to both, but surely humans have to take a special responsibility.

There may be good critiques of all these movements and opinions. I would like to hear them and use criticism to move towards a practical outlook for saving the natural world.

The aim is for this blog to begin to contain more references, so that I don’t say “some people say…” without saying who they are. But the fact is I haven’t been collecting references, and I wanted to get started with these ideas, so that will come further down the road.

Islamo-Judeo-Christian culture is taking a lot of the blame for the current environmental crisis, and specifically, the way in which the Abrahamic religions exhort their followers to place themselves at the head of creation is held by some to account for the disastrous way in which humans have slashed and burned their way through so much of beauty and intrinsic value in the earth. But supposing this interpretation is all wrong? Supposing the truth is that this culture has been the source of destruction purely because it has been the most successful culture, and that if someone else had got there first then they would have done just as much harm? After all, currently, other cultures are doing just fine at wrecking the natural world.

I would like to argue that not only is the concept of being steward of the earth not inherently harmful, but that at this point in the environmental emergency it’s the best approach we have. Having been one of the laziest of all bloggers, I would like to explore this idea in a series of posts to be published over the next few months.

Tonight this house is full of running and laughter.
One day, a cold, dry wind, blowing through broken windows,
Will be its only sound.

We mumble through life assuming that those around us will always be there. So we take them for granted, and we take ourselves for granted, until we are awakened by a rude shock.

Today, this week, this year, I want to live with the intensity of a poor man who has accidentally been given a brief but wonderful holiday of a lifetime. I will seize with glad amazement all that life gives me, I will appreciate those in my life, I will awaken myself from my stupid slumber.

Please join me.

Is it reasonable to examine the links between Hitler and Zionism?

Source: Goats, Zionists and Anti-semites

The Syrian situation is so confusing, but so horrible that I decided to try to understand it, using only mainstream British media sources.  This is what I have gleaned.

There are various forces in Syria.  Some of them are Bad.  Some of them are Good.  The Bad ones include the Assad government, which had shown its murderousness even before the Arab Spring.  Many Syrians recount stories of oppression and torture dating back years.  The Islamic State people are also Bad.  Despite the name, many of them are ex-Saddam forces with little sympathy for or understanding of religion.  Others are foreigners including British people, some of whom have only recently read “Islam for Dummies”.  The British ones were told that house prices were cheaper in IS territory than in Portsmouth, and that they might even be given a house if the former occupant had been driven out or worset.  Like Assad, IS forces are cruel and murderous, and unlike Assad they do it as openly as possible.  It would be better to call IS “Daesh” because it is insulting in Arabic and they don’t like it.  But “Daesh” is hard to say, and it is easier to call them what they would like us to call them, to share online the videos they want us to share, and generally to behave the way they want us to behave.

The Good people include the Kurds, who are Brave and True, a bit like the Gurkhas.  We can trust them, and if they defeat IS they might sell us their oil cheaply and then almost become European.   Some of the Kurd groups have had success in stopping the advance of IS, despite obstruction from our NATO allies in Turkey.  The anti-Assad democratic forces are also Good, though they are weak, divided and in disarray.

Then there are the moderate Jihadis.  They are like the extreme Jihadis of IS, but their extremism is less extreme.  They have links with Al-Qaida and the Taliban, but both of these groups are less extreme than IS.  The less extreme Jihadis are fighting against Assad, IS and the pro-democracy groups.  We are giving them weapons to use against the first two, but they mustn’t use them against the latter.  They haven’t promised, but they have been told not to.

As for allies, Assad has Iran and Russia.  We have told Iran not to get involved because Iran is Bad, and unlike Europe and America, Iran shouldn’t have any say on what happens in the region..  Russia is involved, but we are a bit scared of Russia so we don’t say that much.  Russia says it is only attacking IS, but no doubt they are lying and saved at least a few bombs for the moderate Jihadis.  We are a bit peaved about this, because we needed agreement to bomb IS, but Labour was too cowardly to attack them directly, despite the great success we had in bombing Bad people in Iraq and Libya.  This means that now Russia and not the West will get the credit for attacking IS.  They particularly want to push IS out of Palmyra.  The worst atrocity of the whole war has been that IS blew up ancient buildings in Palmyra.

The West is allying itself with the Iraqi government.  It is extremely corrupt but we have to support it because one of our gifts to Iraq was Democracy.  It has a lot of oil, but this is irrelevant.  The west also supports the Kurds, again not because they have some oil but because they are Brave and True.  The West is also supporting other pro-democracy forces, and the moderate Jihadis who are opposing them.  Hopefully the moderate Jihadis will forget that they are opposing the pro-democracy forces.

IS doesn’t have many allies, apart from a few nutcases in Birmingham.  But it does get a lot of serious money from oil Sheikhs in the Gulf who are our close friends in the region.  It also gets inspiration for how to treat people it doesn’t like from our even closer friends in Saudi Arabia, who have a lot of oil.  IS has had some of its wounded fighters treated by Israeli military hospitals.  This is good because it shows that Israel, despite having made no contribution to the instability in the Middle East, is prepared to use its resources to help some people when they are hurt.  Israel is a Democracy and is Good.

The best way forward at the moment would be for the West to increase bombing against IS and to give more arms to groups opposing Assad so they can also do more bombing.  This way there will be peace, and all the refugees will want to go straight home, which will mean we won’t have to do anything else for them.  This is good because we don’t really want to do anything for them anyway.  After that, everyone will be happy.