vrijdag 29 november 2013


To call something ‘holy’ is one thing. To call two rather different things ‘holy’ is something else. One may wonder whether the latter is possible at all.

If someone says: “My car is sacred to me”, and two sentences later: “My family is sacred to me”, don’t we want to know what is really most sacred to him, for example, if he has to choose between his car and his family?

Curiously, there seems to exist in Jewish culture something like a double sanctity. On the one hand, the traditional texts are clear: the commandments of Sinai are sacred, the people must be a holy people.

On the other hand, there is no other non-Christian ethnic group or religion that with such fervor has welcomed the breakthrough of the equality of people and peoples and human rights. Indeed, precisely as ethnic group the majority of Jews, since the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century, closed the ideas of universal liberty, equality and fraternity in their hearts.

Christians did so as well. Indeed, those ideas came up in a Christian society. But the dominant trend within that group turned out to be that one form of holiness (the Christian) was exchanged for the other (the humanist or Enlightenment ideology). Large-scale secularization was the result, without the problem of the double holiness.

For most Muslims double holiness is also not an issue. Enlightenment ideas appear not to be particularly appealing to them. Certainly not to the extent to which Jews were and are enthousiastic for them.

You can say, the reason why Jews were so enthousiastic is because those ideas helped to end their actual subordination in society and made possible their emancipation. I think that factor has indeed importantly contributed to the Jewish sympathy for the Enlightenment ideas.

But I am convinced that Jews embraced universal enlightened ideas also because they recognized a type of holiness that reminded them of the sanctity of their own particularistic Jewish tradition. Consider the task of improving the world (tikkun olam) or the high value assigned to a person’s life in that tradition.

Which is not to say that these two types of sacred things – the universalist and particularist – pass seamlessly into one another. Therefore, the question remains : Can two things be called holy at one and the same time?

Also see Mission Completed and Holy Fire

donderdag 21 november 2013

The new Middle East

Until a few years ago, the mental picture of the Middle East in the minds of many Western people was roughly that of a black spot at the height of Israel/Palestine, surrounded by white or neutrally colored areas.

Such was the dominant image of the Middle East in the West : that of generally benevolent, peaceful, interesting populations with a cancer in their midst, namely Israel . If people had no family or friends in Israel, they didn’t go there on vacation, imagine. Destinations such as Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAEmirates, on the contrary, were interesting and accepted.

That things is not that black and white has now become clear to most people. Syrians seem to be capable of mutual violence which in coarseness and size exceeds the familiar Israeli-Palestinian conflict many times. Egypt appears less to be the nation of right-minded, tolerant citizens than they and we had always thought it to be. The country experiences ever more and bloodier clashes between Muslims and Christians and secularists. And the primitiveness of Saudi Arabia is visible through all the cracks of its tremendous wealth.

That’s why in the public mind gradually another photo rises to the surface. This more recent picture of the Middle East shows, in my opinion, on the whole area more black and probably paints Israel a bit more in shades of gray.

Not because there’s actually changed much in Palestine and Israel. The occupation of the West Bank and the humiliations Palestinians must undergo are just as outrageous and unacceptable as they were. But the perception of the whole area has changed: there is less of indications in black and white, there is more sense for proportions and recognition of the violence that is present over the full width of the Middle East, affecting all residents of the area.

Of course, even now there are conspiracy theorists who blame Israel for everything, up to the behavior of Morsi (or Sisi ) and Assad (or the rebels ) to it . But where tourism – apart from the jihadists – to Syria and Egypt has decreased or no longer exists, the number of tourists to Israel is rising.

Also see Delegitimization