Monday, December 08, 2008

answering the apologists for mumbai

Howard Jacobson writing in the Independent replies to those like Caroline Lucas who have sought to blame Israel for the massacre in Bombay.

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. As it was after 9/11 so it has been after Mumbai – hearts going out to the victims, necessity of bringing perpetrators to justice, blah blah, and in the same breath the moral exculpation of those perpetrators in one of those acts of "understanding" which in fact understand nothing but give the speaker the opportunity to inveigh piously against our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel's presence anywhere. Even before the bodies had been recovered from the towers, contributors to Question Time were laying the blame for 9/11on us. After Mumbai, before the blood on the streets had dried, they were doing the same on Any Questions?. It's not the programmes' fault. They merely hold the mirror up to nature. Though you might ask how the BBC always manages to have the appropriately sanctimonious speaker on hand to remind us that, whatever the calamity in whatever part of the world, we in the West in general, and Israel in particular, are responsible. It was Caroline Lucas who, unlike the Bihari migrant workers, happened on this occasion to be in the right place at the right time. Caroline Lucas, should the name mean nothing to you, is the elfin leader of the Green Party. But she could, as far as attributing the usual culpability is concerned, have been anyone at that end of British politics. Reader, I could have gone on the programme and said what she said for her. To wit, Iraq and Afghanistan prove we can't bring peace at the end of a gun (though it would seem that "understanding" can be found at the end of a terrorist's gun), many people see the "war on terror" as a war on Muslims (a point that fails to distinguish between what people choose to "see" and what is the truth of the matter), and, in her actual words, "if we are to defeat extremism we have to go to the root causes of it – we have to look in particular at countries like Palestine". We are not unsubtle in this column. We understand that a simmering resentment will not always express itself rationally or fairly. In frustration, the angry often kill the wrong people in the wrong places. But to argue that Palestine fuelled the massacre at Mumbai, that the Hindu waiter shot in the forehead after serving water to a terrorist was paying for the inequities of Gaza, that he wasn't already, in the eyes of that terrorist, expendable enough as an unbeliever, as one who had stolen Kashmir, or simply as a spot of target practice en route to a mad and misguided martyrdom, is not only preposterous, it is irresponsible. I don't doubt that the terrorists' moral education included lessons about the vileness of Jews, along with lessons about the vileness of everyone else in the west, but we cannot be responsible for the lies people tell about us. Vileness of the Jews, note, not vileness of the Israelis. However carefully Caroline Lucas distinguishes between Jews and Israelis in her frequent newsletters and platform speeches on these and other "Green" issues; whatever her hurt at being accused of anti-Semitism when it is only a Jewish country, for God's sake, and not Jews themselves she abominates – it would appear she has not succeeded in communicating this nice distinction to the Mumbai terrorists. Frankly, my dear, they don't give a damn. 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. Whatever doesn't tell that story is propaganda – the institution of a falsehood into truth. And propaganda, by Caroline Lucas's own account, kills. Come the next massacre, when she is looking around for someone other than the perpetrators to blame, she might ask how much of their hatred she has stoked. When the world is a tinder box, it is a crime to play with matches.
This piece by Howard Jacobson is from The Independent.

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