woensdag 24 december 2014

Is Islamic compartmentalization possible and desirable?

In the debate about the integration of groups of newcomers in our country it is frequently suggested that the model of social-religious compartmentalization, as existed in the Netherlands during the twentieth century, could be valuable once more. Especially for the integration of Muslims the creation of an Islamic compartment (‘pillar’) could possibly serve us, so it is thought. Because such a compartment, with its own schools, broadcasting companies and  political parties, would on the one hand allow participation in the general Dutch society, and on the other hand secure the religious and cultural identity of Muslims.

But it does not seem to work that way. In some places Islamic schools have closed their doors, the establishment of a Muslim broadcasting company is difficult, and Islamic political parties are scarse.

The question is why the establishment of an Islamic pillar is so difficult. Especially since at first glance there is much similarity to the position of the major drivers of compartmentalism in the nineteenth century: the Reformed ‘little people’ and the Catholics. Both groups were somewhat socially disadvantaged, derived their identity largely to a (sometimes very) orthodox faith, and lived quite segregated. Compartmentalization offered them opportunities to gain social influence and thus promote their emancipation in society.

The similarity between those (former) groups and current Muslims is certainly situated in the disadvanced condition, and in the orthodox character of the group faith. But perhaps less in the desire for emancipation, and the absence of that desire could explain why an Islamic pillar is not going to emerge.

Because emancipation can also mean dilution of the original group identity. In any case, that dilution has clearly struck the Christian groups. In parliament, for example, Christian parties around 1960 had 80 of the 150 seats, now only 21. Schools which are still Catholic in name often often are not very conscioius about their identity, and originally Christian broadcasters are now having hard times.

My point is that this dilution was perhaps not very threatening for the respective groups of Christians, because many of the professed Christian values, such as equality of people and justice, had already found their place in the secular environment. Maybe that emancipation and the associated dilution of faith traditions coúld only take place because similar values remained intact. Namely, embodied in the liberal-democratic state which you can safely say  is a product of the Western-Christian tradition.

It is exactly that reassurance that may well be missing for Muslims. Emancipation, namely within the frame of the Western rule of law, and the associated dilution of traditions could give them the feeling of keeping nothing to hold on. Because the liberal-democratic state has not grown out of their tradition, so inner kinship therewith is missing. Dilution then really feels threatening, because being bereft of one’s identity is not an option.

Meanwhile emancipation and ingrowth into the Dutch law nevertheless find place. But now on the basis of personal choices of individuals, not of a collective arrangement. Integration expert Frank Tubergen notes that religious involvement decreases among Muslims, and that (therefore?) integration is going all right.

Are (therefore) also Muslims going all right?

Also see Alcohol

vrijdag 19 december 2014

Another Judaïsm?

I’m Jewish, but often I wonder whether I belong to the same tradition as those who emphasize they are the chosen people and therefore claim the West Bank; or who dream of a Greater Israel; or who want to ban Muslims from the Temple Mount and, says former Mossad chief Shavit, in order to achieve that even want to risk a new destruction of Jerusalem and a new exile.

Anyway, I strongly disagree with these positions, and I’m inclined to see emerge in them the worst of what religion can be. In contrast, I would like to emphasize the good of the tradition to which I belong.

For me, the core of its focus is on learning. But saying this is not precise enough because, precisely in view of the excesses that I note, it appears that some forms of learning can be oppressive and meaningless. The good form of learning that I have in mind is contemporary learning that has a life-giving impact.

In the formative years of the rabbinical tradition (say, from the second to the eighth century CE) learning did have that constructive character. Such learning took the form of study of the traditional oral and written texts, with the intention to derive direction for the way the Jewish people could exist in those days. And that worked extremely powerful, thanks to the passion and intellectual ingenuity that were invested by the then rabbis.

Learning had impact. That’s in my view hardly the case with the descendants of those rabbis who ruminate their texts in jesjiwot. For them, it’s less about the struggle to obtain new answers – so about a creative, life-giving process – but rather about honoring the founders of the tradition. Therefore in my eyes they are victims of their own sacred cows, and not much inspiration radiates from that.

If we want Jewish learning in our time to have the same impact as the former rabbinic text analysis and discussion in their time, we will therefore have to find and deploy our contemporary forms. But if learning can no longer rely on text study and interpretation, what does contemporary, creative Jewish learning look like?

I believe that will be about our history. In the way Simon Schama learns and tells of the exile and Zionism. Or Bart Wallet about Dutch Jewry, or Leo Mock about the Jewish Middle Ages. Or, indeed, Josephus about the destruction of the Second Temple.

I search into that direction because of the effect I notice emanating from historians who manage to place all existing stories in a broad, nuanced perspective. That is beneficent and  space-creating, and thus guiding in a way that is similar to the learning of the rabbis.

Besides, I think the a-historical, classic study of fundamental texts not only for the Jewish tradition has had its day. That certainly applies also to Islam and Christianity. A-historical thinking is no option any longer, the turn is to multidimensional historical thinking.

That requires learning a lot indeed. But has Jewish tradition not always been good at that?

woensdag 17 december 2014

Nice and easy

There is a number of issues in the media that I can skip directly. And, if otherwise I have a tendency to spell the newspaper, that feels beneficial. These issues concern in particular sports and environmental matters.

Sports, because it does not interest me. So, especially on Monday I have relatively quickly finished with the newspaper. Nice and easy.

Environmental issues, because I think the importance of the environment is so evident that I can hardly generate any understanding or interest for the haggling or delay tactics employed left and right in this field.

Unlike delicate social issues such as income distribution, radicalization and integration – often with multiple historical dimensions – the direction we have to follow regarding the environment is clear-cut. There is nothing difficult about it. One can hardly be fast enough in closing coal plants, stopping the plastic soup, building wind turbines and installing solar panels.

At times I suspect my generation of thinking: After us the deluge. That’s very cynical of course. But that does not necessarily keep the next generation from saying, “The deluge? Never!”. And from using consequently, with strength and conviction, all resources that are available already for a long time to turn the tide.

vrijdag 12 december 2014

David Pinto

If I were David Pinto I would have turned it around. Pinto wrote last week in Trouw: “Islam can learn something from Judaism”, and then wonders whether presenting the Jewish tradition as an example to Muslims would not easily go the wrong way.

It’s true: there are many punishments in the Torah which can be described as barbaric and which were abolished as a prescription. For example, the punishment of stoning of a Jew who does not respect the Sabbath, no Jew would get it into his head to apply that. Unlike the gruesome punishments that are actually executed by Muslims today, to fellow Muslims and others.

But a lot of the other things that Pinto designates as negative in Muslims are indeed also to be found in (ultra-)orthodox Jews. Think of gay hate, misogyny, or hatred of everything non-Jewish.

This makes Pinto's argument a bit weak. Apart from that, in fact it sounds rather pedantic to set your own tradition as an example to others, even though he’s partly right.

Therefore, I am inclined to turn it around. By this I mean that I would not in an offensive manner shout “Look at me!”. But instead I would keep ready the argument of the de facto abolition of barbaric punishments for the situation that bystanders put away the Jewish tradition as primitive and barbaric, for example, with reference to “all the violence and primitive laws in the Torah”. At such time, the answer is in place that Pinto gives: look how is dealt with it, that no longer exists in practice.

And if then someone says “But what about all the violence in Israel?” Then it is sufficient to let the Torah out because there are already enough ‘normal’ historical explanations for the tragic situation: two traumatized peoples colliding in the same region, an unequal balance of power, geopolitical interests.

But unfortunately – also for Pinto – we will also have to admit that unnecessary, additional hardening of the conflict is caused by a hard core of settlers who actually take their inspiration from the Torah.

Also see Moderate is abusive language

donderdag 4 december 2014

National Thinkshame

The phenomenon ‘thinkshame’, on which I give workshops, can not be explained simply. It often takes quite a bit of effort to get the phenomenon into the limelight, though I now know that stories of participants about their own experiences with it have the greatest enlightening effect.

But at this moment in my attempts at explanation I am societally down the wind, because thanks to the national Dutch Blackface discussion it is easier to recognize the phenomenon thinkshame, as well as the strength of its impact.

As a starting point for this piece I take the elusiveness of the discussion and the irritation it evokes with many people. By this I do not refer to the irritation of pro-Blackfacers and anti-Blackfacers about each other, but to the annoyance of many that such a discussion exists anyway. As Bas Blokker wrote: “In every conversation about Blackface there comes a time when someone says: ‘What a drag this is, let’s talk about something really important. I do not understand why we make such a fuss about it’”.

And it’s true, in such a case as the Blackface issue no major financial, economic or geopolitical interests are at stake. But yet as a consequence of the fuss people are arrested at the arrival of St. Nicholas, death threats fly back and forth, and the issue is being assessed by the Board for the Protection of Human Rights against the Equal Treatment Act.

If the issue is really that unimportant, Blokker wonders, why tempers run so high? At this point, the phenomenon thinkshame has a remarkable explanatory power. Because what happens if you let yourself get caught by other people’s grief and if you are embarrassed about the initial enthusiasm of yourself (for example, for that cozy, old-fashioned Blackface you know from your youth) – what happens then is not necessarily reasonable.

Anyway, that shame is not reasonable, because what’s wrong with the propagation of love for a popular custom? There máy be something wrong with this, so thinkshame tells us. Good intentions are not always decisive. You may have your good ideas and good intentions. But all that has no value anymore at the time that someone else is hurted by them, and you in one way or another are convinced of the authenticity of that injury. Than the other suddenly determines your playing field, even if it is – for your feelings – nothing about. There you experience a certain loss of autonomy. Yet it does not feel wrong, since there is réal contact.

But if then you start acting according to that shame, and you’re going to actively work for change of the custom in question, then the issue of the proportionality and reasonableness of your actions continues to arise. What you do then cannot always adequately be explained by the primary content of the issue. On the contrary, a sense of disproportion can keep accompany you.

Both issues – the strange shame and the subsequent action, which sometimes feels as exaggerated – can only be explained by the fact that you’re touched by the sorrow of someone else, precisely about something which you think is so nice. Any different reasonableness ricochets off at that. Blackface = black sorrow. That shock – that’s the essence of thinkshame.

For example, as writer Robert Vuijsje puts it in an interview. Vuijsje is known as an abolitionist, he wants to abolish Blackface and when he is asked the question: “Your wife is  black and your children are colored, when did you think: Blackface is not done any longer?”, He replies: “My eyes opened when a year ago I saw the Antillean Dutch artist Quinsy Gario being addressed on TV. I had never before seen my girlfriend – she has Creole parents – as truculent as on this subject. Not long afterwards I called the only black kid in my class at primary school. I even sat next to him. Whether he was called Blackface, those days, and whether he hated the St. Nicholasfestival. Yes, he said. I had never noticed. I realized then that it is not about how Í experience and have experienced it, but how black people experience it”.

In this way, the strange – however annoying – suddenly becomes clear enough.

Also see Summary of The Shame of Reason and Something small