More on Caroline Lucas’ Any Questions response on Mumbai

Further to David Hirsh on Caroline Lucas’ Any Questions response about Mumbai, Howard Jacobson has an interesting and apposite piece in today’s Independent and see also Petra Marquardt-Bigman on Jerusalem Post Blog.

From Jacobson’s piece:

“There is no hierarchy of the dead. The slaughtered are the slaughtered. This is not always what the slaughterers think. For those who kill in the name of religion their killing answers to deserts – a casual bullet in the face if you’re a poor Hindu, a more selective punishment if you’re American or British, a slow, luxuriating torture if you happen to be a Jew. In reward for which, their religion tells them, they themselves will be arranged according to degree in heaven: the more assiduous their killing in God’s name, the closer to His right hand they will sit. They are cruelly mistaken. No rewards await them in another world. Just as no restitution according to degree of suffering awaits their victims. In death there is no hierarchy.

So I mean nothing hierarchical when I talk about the Jewish victims of the Mumbai massacre. I sorrow no more for them than I do for the impoverished Bihari migrant workers waiting to catch trains home, innocent of any involvement in the mythical cause the gunmen had been brainwashed into believing they must kill for. I allude to the Jewish aspect of this tragedy, not because I am Jewish myself and know a little about the outreach programme in which the murdered Jews were involved – the provision of kosher food and a place of prayer for Jewish tourists in Mumbai – but because it bears on the blame game which, with the usual unseemly haste and ignorance, has already begun in this country.

“The Chabad Centre in Mumbai was a Jewish organisation, not an Israeli one. Its occupants were tortured and killed for being Jews, not for being complicit in the “strangulation” of Gaza, unless all Jews are held to be complicit in the strangulation of Gaza, in which case Caroline Lucas must be very careful where and in what language she lays blame. If she is right that the perception of a great wrong in Palestine motivates such murders as those in Mumbai, then it behoves her, as one who influences perception, to be scrupulous in her observations.

Scrupulous, I say, not discreet. I would not wish her, in caution’s name, to speak other than the truth. But truth is hard to find. I have visited Israel several times recently, making a documentary about Jesus, travelling in the company of Israelis of all parties and persuasions. The “Green” view is that there are good Israelis and bad Israelis, the good being those who oppose the occupation. Nothing could be more simplistic. I encountered extreme left-wingers who could not bear what their government was doing, but understood its sometime necessity; I met right-wingers who had no sympathy with settlers, and could not wait to live in peace with Palestinians; all wanted change, all were frightened, all loathed the naive, ahistoric sentimentalism that paints them as brutal invaders of a foreign land, and not as fellow combatants in a long and tragic struggle for safety and self-determination.”

Nearly 200 people died in the recent terror attacks in Mumbai. They included husband and wife Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holzberg, who ran a centre where observant Jews visiting Mumbai can pray and eat kosher food, along with Leibish Teitelbaum, Bentzion Chroman, Yocheved Orpaz and another unnamed hostage. There are reports that the Jewish victims were tortured particularly severely before they were murdered. During those attacks those of us who cared to see observed how, for the terrorists and some commentators, the distinction between Jew and Israeli disappeared completely. Perhaps the most obvious illustration of this was the murder of Leibish Teitelbaum, a rabbi and kosher supervisor of an orthodox persuasion of Judaism which doesn’t recognise the state of Israel in any way.

This is confusing. That’s because it’s confusing. For a way into understanding why, listen to Michael Walzer [MP3].

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions whether extremists could ever be defeated, Caroline Lucas passed lightly over the terrorists themselves to concentrate on the causes of terror. To the disappointment (slight or in my case deep) of an unknown number of Greens, and although it was known that the terrorists in Mumbai belonged to an organisation whose stated aim was to liberate and Islamise Kashmir and had been highly trained, probably in Pakistan, Caroline Lucas omitted these things from her reckoning about the causes of extremism. She mentioned only Israel and the circumstances of the Palestinians.

Going on past experience, it is going to be difficult to persuade Greens who don’t understand what was wrong with Caroline Lucas’ response. Caroline Lucas’ deep focus on Israel caused her to neglect the issue of Kashmir and Pakistan on Any Questions. It also caused her to ignore the fact that while the jihadis obscenely punished US citizens and UK citizens for the policies of the US and UK, when it came to punishing Israel the distinction between Israel and Jew completely disappeared. It is obvious, if elementary, that “you don’t bring peace through the barrel of a gun” (Howard Jacobson observes in The Independent that – I paraphrase – it’s more than a little funny when the barrel of a gun invigorates attempts to understand the terrorists, while ignoring the victims of terror and their responses). It is also elementary that there are underlying, poorly-understood political problems which must be solved as a requirement of peace. But the news that Jews who died in Mumbai were sought out, and not as Israelis but as Jews, rocked Jews around the world with insecurity and a sense of conspicuous Jewish life as a potential target. Just one example close to home – a Jewish friend of mine went to a wedding last weekend at which the guests were asked to consider themselves fortunate that they themselves had not been targeted as Jews.

To respond, then, to a question about defeating extremism by seeking in such a singular way to concentrate listeners’ attentions on the perceived iniquities of only Israel is not only wrong, it is oblivious. Two of the central objections of Greens Engage to the dominant narrative about Israel which emanates from the Green party is this singular treatment of Israel and the long  failure to even attempt to get to grips with the complex relationship between Israel and Jews, roughly half of whose global population is Israeli.

I think there is probably a place for Israel in an explanation of the radicalisation of these young men from Pakistan, and others who share their views.  Certainly Israel is used by jihadis – who view it as a Jewish and Western outpost penetrating into what they believe should be Muslim lands – as a pretext for terror. And there is certainly popular outrage stoked both by the occupation itself  (which is often outrageous), by the blockade of Gaza, and by the media coverage of these things.

But they are certainly not the main, let alone only cause, or even cause “in particular” of the Mumbai attacks worth mentioning on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions.

Separate but related, Eamonn McDonagh on Z-Word Blog comments on William Dalrymple in The Guardian. David T is horrified by Richard Silverstein.

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One thought on “More on Caroline Lucas’ Any Questions response on Mumbai

  1. Pingback: Israel and Palestine – who does the ‘solving’ « Greens Engage

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