Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Bottom of the class!

The IMF now tells us that Britain will suffer a worse recession than any other industrialized country. The roots of this lie far back in the past, more recently in the 1980s, when the decline of our manufacturing was justified as marking Britain's transition to a 'service economy', supposedly able to pay for our imports from primary producers (i.e. poor countries) and manufacturing economies by our exports of services such as banking and insurance. Our governments came to boast of the strength of the City, which would ensure our continuing prosperity.

The City having now collapsed into a black hole of debt, we must now accept a steep decline until the pound reaches a level at which our manufactures can compete with those of other countries and can attract investment in their future. If this is part of a process of reducing the gulf between rich and poor countries it will be a good thing. The danger is that it will happen so fast and chaotically that it will disrupt society, strengthening the appeal of extreme political movements. Hold tight for a rough ride!

What we must guard against is the idea that in a year or two we shall be "back to normal". In fact there was nothing normal about the past ten or thirty or fifty years, with the population of the poor countries growing and the average income in the rich ones rising at unprecedented speeds. We must now invent a new world economy and learn to live with a new idea of normality.


Yesterday was 'Holocaust Day'. When Tony Blair instituted this I protested because the word 'holocaust' is almost exclusively used for Hitler's attempt to destroy European Jews (racially defined). I thought it should be 'Genocide Day' and should be an occasion to remember the many peoples (usually defined by culture, not 'race') who have suffered such attack - in the past hundred years: Armenians, Gypsies, Ibos, West New Guineans, East Timorians, Tibetans, Cambodians, Hindus in West Kashmir, Muslims in East Kashmir, Rwandan Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, Palestinians... Hitler's genocide of Jews was bigger numerically than any other, but in terms of the percentage of the population killed it was less than the Armenian, Cambodian and Tutsi cases. The only total genocide in modern times was that of the Tasmanians, annihilated by British settlers.

There are many different forms of genocide - so much so that I wonder whether a single word should apply to all. The classic kind involved killing all the men of a tribe and taking the women and girls to be slaves and concubines, usually keeping prepubescent boys as well. The European colonial method, now applied in Palestine, and West New Guinea, is to drive people off their land and hem them in tighter and tighter, leaving a pitiable remnant like the Amerindians and the Australian Aborigines. The attempted total destruction of a people, applied by Hitler and first recorded as the Will of God (Deuteronomy chapter 20 verses 16 to 18), is relatively rare.

Murderous intent is not much different from murder accomplished. There can be no doubt that, if they had the weapons, Hamas would do to Israeli civilians what Israel is doing to Gazans. The human capacity for hatred is terribly great, and the only antidote is to teach people about each other's values, about the humanity of all human beings and about the need for the rule of law. There will never be peace without justice. If Palestinians have suffered more injustice than Israelis, that does not justify the murder of civilians.

Islam comes closer than Christianity to teaching universal humanity and justice. One of the commonest expressions in everyday Arabic is "kull'na bani Adam" - "We are all children of Adam". Christians are weighed down by their inheritance of the more tribalistic passages in the Old Testament, and by the idea that Christianity is the only way to salvation. The medieval notion of Muhammad as messenger of Satan is still alive and has now spread to many Israelis. The great Jewish prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah had a very different message, which needs to be listened to today if we are to put an end to the demonization of Arabs and Muslims, with all its dangers .

Thursday, 22 January 2009


The past month has felt very strange, and the reason was well put by Mark Steel: "And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing [of the attack on Gaza], as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: 'Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time's up? Come along now, haven't you got homes to demolish?' "

Anyway, the waiting is over and we have a new President. There is a hopeful aspect to the Palestinian disaster: it suggests that Israel may have inside information on Obama's intentions; they may realize that indeed time is up.

It has been a strange period for me, because at the end of the old year I cancelled my order for daily papers to be delivered. I have read a daily paper for most of my adult life, but I found that the British press grew more and more empty and introverted. The Independent is a shadow of what it was when it was launched, and the Guardian is not much better. As for The Times, I have never forgiven its takeover by Murdoch. It seems that now the only serious newspaper is Le Monde, so perhaps I'll take out a subscription to that. On the other hand, I find I can get plenty of news from Radio Four and New Scientist, and it is nice to have more time for reading books.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Gaza again and again!

Back to London yesterday for another demonstration - ten times bigger than last week's. The police estimate was 20,000, and you can safely double that, as usual, which means it agrees with my reckoning of 40,000. Anyway, the organizers had clearly not expected so many, so there were far too few stewards. Some of the demonstrators disobeyed instructions and stopped marching at the Israeli embassy. I just manged to squeeze through the resulting bottle-neck before it got rough and there were arrests. I deplore the violence, but I have to recognize it that the result was the number one spot on the BBC news. Terrible that people only take notice of things when they turn violent!

Today there were again cringing interviews with apologists for Israel - never with Hamas! They talk as if history began at the very earliest in 2001. What the public doesn't realize is that Zionists don't want to be loved; they need Israel to have enemies, because their founding myth is that Jews are always and everywhere at risk and can only be safe in a Jewish State. Their definition of Jews is explicitly racial, copied from the one used by the Nazis: it depends not on what religion you follow but who your parents and grandparents were.

Zionists have succeeded to some extent in spreading hatred of Jews, racially defined, to Muslims, against all the principles of Islam, which ignores ethnicity and respects all monotheists. The painful truth is that anti-Jewish sentiment has Christian origins. Once the Jewish Christianity of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, a theology of rejection developed, seeing Jews as followers of the Devil, who "killed their God" and sacrificed Christian babies. For thirteen centuries, European Jews and Muslims suffered together from Christian persecution and sought refuge together in Muslim lands. The Zionist programme put an end to this long history of understanding, destroying the ancient Jewish communities in Iraq, Egypt, North Africa and Yemen. Western support for Israel is also paradoxically destroying Christianity in Palestine and in the whole of Oriental Orthodox Christendom.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Gaza again

Poor Palestinians! They are so bad at presenting their case. And how good the Israelis are! Have you noticed how many of them sound English or American or Australian or South African? It is because that is where they really were from before they came to colonize Palestine. It is all part of the plan to make Israelis seem like 'us', while the Plestinians are 'them', the 'aliens', the 'enemy'.

Anyway, here is what Hamas should be saying: "The Zionists came to settle in our country, without asking the permission of its people. Sixty years ago they drove three quarters of a million of us off our land and out of our homes, and they never accepted responsibility, let alone offered us the right to return or to claim compensation. Those of us from the South were driven into this large concentration camp of Gaza and forty years ago they sent in their settlers so that we could see how well they lived and how they filled their swimming pools with our water. Then they pulled out those settlers and expected us to regard that as a concession, though in fact it saved them a lot of money and made it easier to target us. They assassinated our leaders, and when we won an election they locked up most of our MPs and treated the opposition as if it represented us. When we retaliated with our home-made rockets they tried to starve our people into submission. When we respected a cease-fire they broke it on 4th November and accused us of breaking it. Now they have sent in their helicopters and tanks. They know that we have almost nothing except our human resources, yet they bomb our schools and our university and will not allow our students to take up their scholarships abroad. All we ask is to be recognized as human beings, treated as equals and allowed to talk about our future in the framework of international law."

I suppose the reason they don't say these things is that they think we know their history and don't need to be told it. In fact most English and Americans don't even know the history of their own countries. We do not realize that every Arab has heard about the Caliph Umar's guarantee of religious freedom to the people of Jerusalem, about the Crusades, about The Sykes-Picot agreement to divide the Middle East between Britain and France, about the Balfour Declaration, about the terrorist campaign of the Zionists after World War Two...

Monday, 5 January 2009


I went to the demonstration in London on Saturday, protesting against the invasion of Gaza. It filled Trafalgar Square. I was glad to see Jews for Justice for Palestine and other Jewish groups. I believe Israel is doing terrible harm to Jews all over the world by trying to implicate them in its action.

At the last Iraq-War demo I went to a couple of years ago, people threw children's shoes on to the road in front of Downing Street. This time they threw adult footwear, echoing the recent shoe-throwing against Bush - a nice instance of rapid cultural evolution!

On the BBC next morning there was a phrase about "ugly scenes" at the demo. I walked all round Trafalgar Square and saw nothing ugly, nor did I see anything on TV. On the contrary, people were surprisingly good-humoured considering the suffering that we were protesting against.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

So much for celebrity!

My wife forwarded to me the following:-

"A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes

During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by, then a middle aged man, noticing the musician, slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, then hurried on to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till without stopping. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen, but he soon looked at his watch and resumed walking, lest he be late for work.

A three year old boy paid the most attention. He stopped to look at the violinist and continued, turning his head as his mother dragged him along. Several other children looked at the musician, but their parents forced them to move on. Only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About twenty gave the musician money while passing. He collected $32, and, when he finished playing, no one noticed or applauded. No one knew that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days previously, his performance at a theater in Boston was sold out. The seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. It was organized by The
Washington Post, which arranged for Joshua Bell to play incognito in the metro station as part of an social experiment about our perception, taste and priorities."

Suppose it had been Madonna!