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August 26, 2016 / 22 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Justice for the Kurds?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Much ink has been spilled about the desirability or even the inevitability of a separate State for Palestinians, whose identity stems from the middle of the 20th century, but what has been much less discussed by the international community — and for the most part ignored — is a similar claim by the Kurds, a people with a truly separate ethnic identity as well as a long history.

A Palestinian state would encompass 5 to 6 million people, the separate identity of whom stems only from the middle of the last century. Until that time those living in the area of Palestine did not consider themselves Palestinians, but as part of the Pan-Arab or Pan-Islamist movement. A Palestinian identity was not regarded as distinct from the identities of other Arabs who inhabited adjacent regions. The concept of such a separate identity arose, among other reasons, partly as a response to the Zionist movement and the establishment in 1948 of Israel, which until then was called Palestine: all citizens, including Jews, had on their passports that their country of origin was Palestine. There is now a demand for a Palestinian state separate from that of other Arabs.

The Kurds, on the other hand, are a frequently forgotten people, numbering over 35 million, who have a distinct identity and who have been pleading, fighting and dying for an independent state of their own since the 19th century.

The Arab League with its 22 members, along with Turkey, and many countries and groups in the international community have passionately advocated that part of the disputed land in the formerly Palestine area become a Palestinian state. The same individuals and groups, however, have opposed the creation of a Kurdish non-Arab state, on territory it claims as its own, and with it is unwilling to cooperate in sharing, even as they discount Israel’s claims – from 1800 BCE, up to the Balfour Delaration, the British White Paper and UN Resolution 242 — to all or part of what they want as Judenrein [with no Jews] Palestinian land.

By any reasonable and objective historical and cultural criteria, however, the claim of the Kurds for political sovereignty is infinitely stronger than that of Palestinians. In contrast to the Palestinians, the Kurds have few friends in the international community. Kurdish nationalism emerged a century earlier than did Palestinian nationalism. Collectively the Kurds, who are not Arabs, live in an area usually referred to as “Kurdistan,” despite its uncertain borders. The Kurds make up a significant ethnic group that speaks its own language, part of the Indo-European language group.

During the late 19th century the Kurds made demands, mounting uprisings, and pressed for political autonomy in the areas in which they lived or independence free of any control by the Ottoman Empire or Persian authorities, each of which ruled Kurdish areas. Although the uprisings for an independent state in 1880 were particularly fierce, the Ottomans and the armies of Qajar Persia suppressed them.

After World War I, the Treaty of Sèvres in August 1920, the peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and the victorious Allies of the war, dissolved the Empire and replaced it with a number of new nation-states — Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and Turkey — but not by a Kurdish state. The newly created Turkey renounced all rights over Arab Asia and North Africa. Two Articles in the Treaty were relevant to the issue of the Kurds. Article 62 of the Treaty suggested the creation of an autonomous region for Kurds in the new Turkey. Article 64 proposed the later possibility of an independent Kurdish state “inhabiting that part of Kurdistan which has hitherto been included in the Mosul vilayet(of the Ottoman Empire).”

However, the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in July 1923 and put into effect in August 1924, ended the continuing state of war between Turkey and a number of the victorious Allies. Between the time the two treaties were signed, the monarchy in Turkey had been overthrown and a republic establish under Kemal Ataturk. The new Treaty defined the borders of the modern Turkish state and ignored the earlier proposal for a Kurdish state. Political machinations, particularly by the British who were concerned with the threat of Communist Russia, led to decisions by which the territorial integrity of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey were heightened to counteract that threat.

Michael Curtis

Islam’s Threat to Diversity

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Egyptian identity, like so many others made up of several layers, begins in Ancient Egypt, a civilization that flourished for nearly thirty centuries. Further layers derive from the Coptic Age, when Egypt in its entirety was an Eastern Christian society. Then there are countless layers from the Islamic and Arabic-speaking Egypt. There are still more layers deriving from modern Egypt, the founder of which, Mohamed Ali, ruled from 1805 to 1848, and whose kingdom continued for over a century after his death.

Finally, there are the many layers produced by Egypt’s geographical location as a Mediterranean society, more specifically, as an Eastern Mediterranean country with its opulent diverseness from trade.

This complex construct, which formed over millennia the rich and multi-layered Egyptian identity – a product of fruitful interaction and cross-fertilization among different civilizations and cultures – is today in grave peril, facing as it does systematic and deliberate attempts to destroy its very essence as represented in the many layers that make up its variegated character.

It is these layers that distinguish Egyptian society from various surrounding societies which seem to have a less-developed civilizational and cultural formation as a result of their one-dimensional composition.

The trend of political Islam is exulting as it stands poised to take over the reins of power in Egypt. However, the domination by this trend over the country’s political and cultural landscape poses a real danger to the multi-layered nature of the Egyptian people.

Because of the grip the conservative schools of thought have acquired over the minds of most Muslims today — with the rampant spread of the ideas of ibn-Hanbal and his disciples, ibn-Taymiyah, ibn Qaiym Al-Juzeya and all the Salafi schools – the spread of a cultural wave that is opposed to the non-Islamic dimensions of the Egyptian identity is a likely – and exceedingly dangerous – development. We are already hearing ominous mutterings about the ungodliness of “pagan” relics of Ancient Egypt, and threats to destroy the pyramids and other splendors of one of the most glorious civilizations in history.

We are also likely to see the spread of values opposed to the Other — whatever form “otherness” may take — representing yet another very dangerous threat to Egyptian diversity.

There is also the serious fear that the Islamic trend will redesign educational programs to promote the Islamic and Arab dimension at the expense of the other layers that make up the luxuriance that is Egypt.

This possibility is far from remote in the context of a legislative assembly dominated by a single trend. The mindset of the Islamic lawmakers who preside over the education committee is certainly opposed to religious or cultural diversity. There is no doubt that this trend will focus on magnifying the importance of the Islamic and Arab dimension while downgrading all the other dimensions that make up the richness of Egyptian identity. This is all that can be expected from a theocratic Parliament claiming a divine commission.

Unfortunately the trend to foster a one-dimensional identity actually began some years back as Islamic religious thinking came to permeate the minds of those responsible for the all-important sector of education in our society. Nowhere is the success of this trend more apparent than in the way the Arabic language and the Arabic literature curricula have evolved over the last few years. Instead of presenting literary masterpieces by such luminaries as Ahmed Lotfy el-Sayed, Taha Hussein, Abbas el-Aqqad, Abdul Qader el-Mazny, Salama Moussa, Tewfik el-Hakim, Naguib Mahfouz, Youssef Idris, Nizar Qabbani, Badr Shaker el-Sayab, Mikhael Na’ema an others, Arabic language and literature courses are now virtually indistinguishable from religious courses.

The well-known Lebanese author and intellectual, Amin Maalouf, rightly describes any one-dimensional identity as “destructive.” For in this day and age, a monolithic identity that attributes itself to a single source is bound to clash with the values of pluralism, diversity, analytic thinking, critical questioning, and acceptance of the Other, not to mention the recognition that the various civilizations and cultures have all contributed to the higher ideal of a common humanity.

There are those who claim that the Islamization of Egyptian society reflects “the will of the people.” But history teaches us that the will of the people is not always beneficial. Eight decades ago, the will of the German people brought Adolf Hitler to power, plunging mankind into genocidal wars and massacres that claimed more than fifty million lives. This example allows us to criticize the current cultural wave sweeping over Egypt – one that threatens to sweep away the non-Islamic components of Egyptian identity and to transform us into a society with a one-dimensional identity, like the desert societies that surround us. Even if the present state of affairs came about by “the will of the people,” we would do well to remember that, as Voltaire said: Even if repeated by a thousand people, a mistake is still a mistake.

Tarek Heggy

God Bless America: A Response

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

I’m writing this as a short response to Tzvi Fishman’s (“Felafel on Rye”) recent blog posts on the 4th of July and Jewish identity.

Tzvi,

I want to start off by saying I agree with much of what you’ve written about Jewish identity and America. American Jews do face serious assimilation and identity issues as they waver between whether they are Americans or Jews first, and all that implies.

In the arguments I saw you have offsite about this, it is abundantly clear that some Jews seem to no longer identify with our daily prayers to return to Israel and to regain our national independence. But consider this, even in Yetziat Mitzraim (Exodus) only 20% of the Israelites left – obviously we should aim for more.

My criticism lies in that I don’t believe you offered enough ‘Hakaras HaTov” (acknowledgement of the good) for what America has given the Jews, and that bothered me.

My grandmother told me that we have to thank God for America, and for all it’s done for us.

Not that it hasn’t done bad by us at different points, or made mistakes, just look how its shamefully using Jonathan Pollard as a loyalty warning to Jews; but still, there have only been a handful of countries that have consistently been good to us and offered us refuge and freedom, and the USA is one of them.

Yes, being in an open society has exasperated the challenges that the Jewish community already faced. But it didn’t create them. It’s not responsible for them. The Enlightenment and assimilation weren’t created in America, it just more easily continued there.

If non-Torah observing Jews are assimilating and disappearing at super-fast rates, they need to consider why (though this sentence does answer the question). While Orthodox Jews need to ask themselves, why have they given up on our 2000 year dream to return home to Israel, while short-sightedly ignoring the very blatant lessons of Jewish history?

The Lubavitch Rebbe, in an answer to a question once said that the US could turn on the Jews overnight.

As strange as it sounds, for a period of time even Poland was once a place of refuge and religious freedom for Jews.

Just like in every other country, no matter how long we’ve been there (particularly ironic if you subscribe to the theory that Columbus and much of his crew were Jews), and how much we’ve given back, we’re still considered guests by our hosts.

So Tzvi, you’re right, America is not the permanent home of the Jews. And our identity is a very different one than America’s.

But also consider this, the Midrash tells us that Moshe Rabeinu refused to strike the water to bring about the plague, because the river has protected him as a baby.

All the more so, America, which has given us the freedom to keep Judaism – even if not all Jews were up to the challenges freedom brought with it.

On July 4th, I will have my frank and beer and proudly say “God Bless America” (TM Irving Berlin) – while I’m at home in Israel.

Stephen Leavitt

The Soul of the Stranger

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Israel faces a genuine dilemma about the best way to handle the influx of African refugees and migrants. Many people are already debating the policy decisions that will need to be made in this regard.

Of greater concern to me than the specific arguments in this debate, is the shocking naked racism and hatred for Africans that it has exposed across all levels and sectors of Israeli society. From elected officials to people in the street, from the highly educated secular upper class to yeshiva students to the working poor, numerous Israelis seem to share a lexicon and intellectual framework which denigrates and dehumanizes Africans, belittles their suffering, and trivialized their plight. This in and of itself should sound an alarm for all of us that something is seriously amiss in the core of our culture and society. When the tone set by such speech boils over into outright acts of physical brutality, how can we fail to realize that we must, as a society, engage in introspection and self-evaluation?

I hesitate to write the following lines because I believe everything I have to say should be self-evident. There is something inappropriate about writing a formal religious discourse about a matter of values that should be so elementary as to require no explanation. In light of the apparent need for this article I have elected to compose it; I do so with a heavy heart. I also regret that I have little novel to write. Most of what can be said on this subject should be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with Jewish texts.

The Torah tells us that God chose Abraham because he was confident that he would instruct his descendants to follow a path of righteousness and kindness (Genesis 18:19). The midrash (Devarim Rabba 3:4) takes this further, and says that there are three distinctive characteristics of the Jewish people: they are meek, merciful, and perform acts of kindness.

The Torah reiterates on many occasions that Jews should be especially sensitive and caring towards the stranger in their midst, for we ourselves were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Rashi (Exodus 22:20) understands that the salient feature of a “stranger” is that he is displaced from his homeland. That is why he is deserving of special compassion, and that is the basis of the comparison between strangers in Israel and the Jews’ status in Egypt. Other rabbinic interpretations focus this message on the convert to Judaism, but Rashi’s simple reading of the verse stands: in a majority Jewish country, we must be especially sensitive to the rights and feelings of minority groups, because of our own unique history of oppression in alien societies.

Performing acts of kindness in a discriminatory manner is seen as a sign of corruption. The chasida (commonly translated as stork) is singled out as a non-kosher bird, even though its name means “the kind one,” because, according to our rabbis, it is kind only to its own species. The kindness for one’s own species is transformed into a perverse act when it is part of a pattern of abuse towards outsiders.

Above and beyond imploring us to perfect our actions, our rabbis were concerned with the nature of our speech. They repeatedly implored us to speak respectfully to, and of, every person. In tractate Avot, they reminded us to greet every person first and with a welcoming face, and that the most honored person is the one who accords others honor. The right path that a person should choose, they instructed there, is one which engenders the respect of God by those who observe it.

In tractate Yoma (86a) they went much further, singling out the public disgrace of God’s name as one transgression that cannot be atoned for, even through repentance on the Day of Atonement. What constitutes such a transgression? A person known to be devout and pious, who does not speak gently with others and conduct his affairs with integrity. Outrageous racist statements, parroted from the most disgraceful historical antecedents, certainly run afoul of this teaching.

Building Israel as a utopian Jewish nation should not entail inflicting suffering on others. Rambam (Hil. Melachim 12:4) writes that the sages and prophets did not desire the messianic era of Israel “in order to conquer the entire world, or to oppress the gentiles…,” rather only “to be free to study the Torah and its wisdom without persecution and interruption, and thus merit the world to come.”

Rabbi Aharon Frazer

Why The Newsroom is Good News for Republicans

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/why-newsroom-is-good-news-for.html

The last time Aaron Sorkin had a high-profile political television show, liberals used it to cope with the decline and fall of the Clinton Presidency and the long winter of the Bush Years. The West Wing was a coping mechanism for the death of a liberal dream, and so is The Newsroom. Both are an escape into fantasy to avoid dealing with the harsh reality.

On an episode of Seinfeld, George is stung by an insult but is unable to think of a retort, so he spends days trying to come up with the perfect comeback, until he finally thinks of it and travels around the country to get the chance to deliver it. The Newsroom, set in the past, and jumping in right before the political balance tilted toward the Republicans in the mid-term elections, is the same thing.

The Newsroom is Sorkin’s sad attempt to win an argument by rewriting history and coming up with all the comebacks that his side couldn’t think of two years ago. It’s the sad and pathetic spectacle of an ideology creating its own fantasy version of its reality in which it won the argument.

Unlike The West Wing, The Newsroom isn’t set in an alternate world in which the universe innately favors liberals. Instead it’s set in an alternate version of the past, in which liberals were smarter and won all the arguments that they ended up losing here. And the existence of The Newsroom is the greatest possible concession that the argument was lost.

There’s no reason for Republicans to look down on The Newsroom. It’s a safer outlet for liberal anger than Occupy Wall Street. It’s a miniature universe in which they are smarter, nobler and better than everyone else. Children have fantasy worlds like that. There’s no reason that liberals shouldn’t. Not only does it give them the security of believing that they really were superior, but it prevents them from learning any useful lessons from their defeat.

It’s never a bad thing when your enemies escape into a delusional state, to a world of their making in which they are in complete control of everything. It makes it more likely that they will cede at least some control over the real world. And it’s not only an admission of defeat, but of emotional and mental fragility. Adults don’t need to build fantasy worlds to escape the effects of their failures on their precious self-esteem. That’s for overgrown children who are used to getting trophies for just showing up.

The Newsroom is the kid that everyone hated losing his race for class president and creating a fantasy world in which he won the election and everyone cheered his obnoxious tantrums. It may not be good for him, but it’s good for us because it means he hasn’t learned to win. All that he’s learned to do is manage the emotional experience of defeat through delusional tantrums of superiority.

Propaganda that tells you that you won, when you actually lost, is corrosive; it inhibits any serious self-evaluation. And without some soul-searching and error-checking, the same mistakes are bound to be repeated over and over again. Seventeen years after the Clinton Presidency was nearly torpedoed by universal health care, his party’s successor, who defeated the woman who shaped the initiative, went down the same road, but with much less caution.

That kind of stupidity would not have been possible if the winners had learned any lessons from the past. But the winners had been living on The West Wing, in which liberal speeches and principles are all it takes to win. Where the good guys never lose, because the scripts are written that way. Rather than living in the real Clinton Years, many of them had been living in the imaginary version. Now, rather than remembering the actual Obama Years, they will remember The Newsroom‘s fictional version of them. And they will make the same mistakes all over again.

HBO, which has invested big in liberal propaganda, knows exactly what it’s doing. At a time when customers are dropping cable, particularly the high-priced packages, it is insulating itself with a built-in audience. Forget MSNBC or Comedy Central with their tantrums against real-life Republicans, on HBO, liberal audiences can go on safe safaris to see experienced liberal great hunters taking potshots at imaginary Republicans.

Daniel Greenfield

The Great Identity Crisis

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/great-identity-crisis.html

A moral crisis tends to go hand in hand with an identity crisis. It’s when you don’t know who you are that you’re most likely to take refuge in a political or ethical identity that provides you with the comfort of a false sense of superiority. When all other identities fall apart, you can always rely on being the better man, the better nation and the empty space with the moral high ground.

Societies that go multicultural tend to experience identity drift and take refuge in a self-definition based on values. Who are Americans? As generations of presidents on the left and right have told us, they are people who believe in American values. What are American values? They’re the values that Americans are told they need to believe in, in order to be Americans. Like tolerance, immigration, free trade, and respecting the right of anyone to be a member of the Communist Party or the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a time of crisis, nations and peoples have to choose to survive. But what is survival? Proponents of a values-based identity have argued that survival means the survival of our values. If we take Measure X against an enemy, whether it’s outlawing the Communist Party or waterboarding Islamic terrorists, then we have “killed our values” and we are no longer Americans. It doesn’t matter then whether an act saves millions of American lives, if it means we destroy our values, then we have killed the only worthwhile thing about us.

Physical identity and values-based identity are in conflict in a time of crisis when the question is asked, do we want to survive or do we want to be morally pure. A values-based identity appears to be superior, but it is actually the product of an identity crisis. And a nation or a people with an identity crisis is vulnerable because they no longer know who they are. Their identity has been replaced with an identity based on their superior values, values that require them to die rather than give up those values. And if they have forgotten who they are, then they are too afraid to risk their values-based identity by fighting back.

The problem is not a unique one. For example, Jewish assimilation dropped the ‘peoplehood’ aspect leaving behind a values-based identity. When liberal Jews express their identity, it is values-based, built around “Tikkun Olam”, or “Social Justice”. That opens up a hole for someone like Peter Beinart to crawl in with a crisis of Liberal Zionism, a conflict between values-based identity and Jewish survival.

Would you rather live as Jews or die as liberals? The determining factor here is whether you have a Jewish identity. Without a Jewish identity, there is only the posturing of values-based identity, and giving up the high “ethics” of bending over backward for the bad guys seems a lot like the death of the only identity such miserable people have. If all that matters about Jews is their “ethical values”, then to step down from the moral high ground by bombing a terrorist stronghold is suicide.

The first question is; “Who are you?” That’s a question that is asked to individuals and to nations. It’s asked directly in the form of a national dialogue, and it’s asked indirectly in the choices that are made in a time of crisis.

The second question is; “What do you live for?” The answer to this question is determined by the first question. What we live for derives from who we are. Self-knowledge gives purpose, and purpose gives self-knowledge. A lack of identity is also a lack of purpose. And a lack of purpose betrays a lack of identity. A nation adrift has lost its identity; it lacks direction because it has no starting point.

A thing that does not exist for its own sake has no existence. It has no existence, because it is not survival-based. It is well and good to dedicate yourself to higher causes and beliefs, but if they do not begin with your own existence, then they have no more substance than you do. You can volunteer for a thousand causes, but if you don’t care whether you live or die– then you have nothing to contribute to them.

Daniel Greenfield

Guard Our Freedom

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Cutting-edge technology is a double-edged sword. Under the mantle of progress, and with increasing ease, we are losing greater and greater slices of our freedom. Opponents of the proposed Biometric Law say they worry about how secure a database housing the biometric information of all of Israel’s citizens will be. That fear was recently confirmed when a Saudi Arabian hacker succeeded in breaking into supposedly secure Israeli websites. If the Foreign Ministry’s database, along with the Israeli credit card base, were broken into, it is safe to assume that the biometric database will also be compromised.

The possibility of breaking into the database is simply too strong of a temptation for powerful interest groups and tycoons, who are sure to find a way to get to this data. The same is true for the crazy idea to computerize the elections. If there is a stage in the vote-counting process during which a candidate or his representative cannot physically check the voter slip, it is exactly at that stage that the election will be compromised. There is no way around the fact that when election results are transferred in electronic files, election fraud becomes a simple task. In the U.S., the idea of digital voting has become so controversial that it is no longer a political debate – but rather a legal issue.

But my opposition to the Biometric Law goes a lot deeper than that.

Many years before the invention of computers and the unraveling of the genetic code, an argument developed in the U.S. around the question of identity cards. America’s Founding Fathers did all they could to ensure that the American Constitution would protect individual liberties at any price.

For the Founding Fathers, liberty superseded all other values. They engraved it on their flag and fought for it. It is liberty that gave them the most important thing of all: a goal and sense of national purpose that fueled the creation of the American nation. The founding fathers understood how easy it is to slide down a slippery slope whereby liberty slips away step by step, without anyone noticing.

Distrust of governmental authority is a value that the Founding Fathers engraved through every line of the Constitution and American culture. It is for this reason that the simple question of requiring citizens to carry identity cards became a judicial matter in the United States. Americans said, “No way am I going to let the state treat me as a number on its list, and require me to identify according to this number. My identity is exactly that – my identity – and it does not belong to anyone else.” For the Israeli citizen, this sounds absurd, for we grew up in a culture far removed from this type of liberty consciousness.

Does all this seem irrelevant? Let us do a little test, so that you can see how easy it is to lose your liberty:

If the Biometric Law proponent, Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit, pushed through a law requiring every one of you to go to a certified tattoo center and ink in a number on your shoulder, would you agree to that? Of course not. Even thinking about this brings up horrifying memories.

But if the tattoo centers used invisible ink, would you then agree? In that case, I think many people would agree. The law is the law, right?

If they were to tattoo you with invisible ink and offer you some perks in return – cutting lines, property tax breaks, and more –would you agree? In my opinion, more than half would agree to that – and maybe even more.

Now for the final question: If instead of ink they use a biometric technique that marks you without touching you, and on top of that they give you the perks previously mentioned – are you then willing? I’m confident that the overwhelming majority of people would agree to that.

Look at how, with amazing ease, they have shut off all of our warning lights and closed our eyes. The master of the house has chiseled our ear into the doorpost like a biblical slave, and just like that we’ve made a soft landing into a life of servitude.

The Saudi hacker is not the real issue. The real issue is how easy it is to lose your liberty without feeling a thing. So guard it with the greatest vigilance, and do not give anyone your biometric information. As for the Saudi hacker, if his attack has at least awakened us to understand this danger, he has done us a great service.

Moshe Feiglin

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/moshe-feiglin/guard-our-freedom/2012/03/14/

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