zondag 31 januari 2016

Have Jews more to fear than other people?

One could think so. A skullcap on the head of a teacher in Marseille was sufficient grounds for an, otherwise neat, 15-year-old Muslim to stab him down. Muslim women are sometimes attacked because of their headscarves. However, that they are stabbed for that reason, I have not heard of in Western Europe.

But there is much to compensate that thought. Such as the observation that Jews are no longer the proverbial strangers they were always held for. They are now one of the many ethnic minority groups, rather a bit more integrated than other groups. Xenophobic extreme right now has to divide its attention between all those groups and therefore from that side it is relatively safer for Jews.

Indeed, in recent decades danger has been added from the side of extremist Muslims, see above. But their violence is not directed exclusively against Jews. It has also targeted cartoonists, pop concert and terrace visitors. Whether one is secular, Jewish, Christian, even Muslim, it does not matter anymore.

Also at the level of national communities Jews gain company. Where around 2005 it still was ‘unheard barbaric’ to build a security fence as Israel did, at present the list of names of countries that build walls is almost endless. Like those on the border of Tunisia and Libya, Iran and Pakistan, the US and Mexico, Botswana and South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and much more. The feeling of security that for Israel is linked to borders is not as anachronistic yet as was generally thought.

Thus, as to the wall, the international community can no longer that easily condemn it. Of course Israeli policy in the West Bank can still rightly be condemned, so from that perspective Israel and Jews remain unabatedly vulnerable.

But it could well be that the moral aspect in the  relations with Israel will weigh less heavily as the terror continues rampant in the Western world. In such circumstances a sense of kinship with Israel is more obvious. After all, Israel has been fighting since its inception - ie prior to occupancy - against terror.

That may explain why, for instance, there is a lot of attention lately to the Israeli way of securing aircraft. According to The Economist, the, until recently controversial, Israeli approach is more effective than the American. “Americans search for weapons, Israelis search for suspects.” The latter implies an approach whereby suspects or just nervous people are often subjected to humiliating search. Frustration of attacks along that way has proven more successful than by luggage control.

Would trendwatcher Adjiesj Bakas be right when, along with the ‘Surinamisation of love’, he sees coming the  ‘Israelisation of society’? Whether life will be nicer because of that, that’s a good question – but now for everyone.

Does everybody become Jewish?

dinsdag 19 januari 2016

Wittgenstein and Virtue

It is no secret that Ludwig Wittgenstein had no particular warm feelings towards Judaism. But in the meantime he practiced philosophy in a way that strikes me as being Jewish in character.

That may have to do with the capricious character of his later writings, but I also find it in another area, that of his views on virtuousness.

Virtuousness has a rather antiquated sound, but there is much written right now on virtue ethics and virtue theory. The subject seems to meet a need, probably as a result of the secularization of society and the void which – rightly or wrongly – is associated therewith.

What most books about virtue have in common is an emphasis on the formation of good character. But otherwise the preferences of the many authors can vary from classical Greco-Roman virtue ethics, through Christian morality to Eastern virtue theories. With as a point of agreement that they all pretend to be universally true.

Except for the Jewish view on virtues, which seems to have no universal pretensions. At that point the agreement with Wittgenstein’s position is striking.

In his explanation of Wittgenstein, Bert Keizer tells what the philosopher intended to do: to show that meanings of the same word can be as different as interpretations of,  for example, the word ‘house’: a Bedouin by that word imagines a tent, a child his tricycle, an Eskimo his igloo and a Dutchman his bricks. To the word ‘virtuousness’ a similar multitude of interpretations is associated, in Wittgenstein’s view according to Keizer.

Therefore for the later Wittgenstein it is impossible to arrive at a clear concise characteristic of virtuousness that would be universally valid. In this he differs from the mainstream thinking about virtue in the same way as the Jewish tradition does.

Also see Levinas and Wittgenstein

woensdag 13 januari 2016

Does everybody become Jewish?

“It’s not impossible,” the philosopher Samuel IJsseling writes in one of his posthumously edited texts, “that in Europe a form of Christianity arises with some resemblance to the attitude of the Jews.”

That attitude he described a little earlier in the text, using an observation by Amos Oz. “Nowhere in the world,” says Oz, “you find so many Bible-knowing atheists as in Israel. Faith here has given way to admiration. Admiration for the stories that are told and interpreted over and over again. Here God is first of all a word, a character in an ancient story. Admiration also for rituals and celebrations, and even for the law that is at least partially maintained”.

The above text suggests that the life-orientation of the Christian world moves somewhat to that of the Jewish world. This is intriguing, especially since according to the text this would be the case for two, often mutually contradictory, groupings in European culture. On one hand the group of secularised people, who said goodbye to the Christian faith, but like many atheist Jews continue to cherish its cultural and historical aspects. And secondly, the Christian believers who do not secularize. They too come to stand closer to the Jewish world, namely by the fact that they allow certain aspects of their religious orientation that truly can be called Jewish.

To start with the latter: for a long time Christianity has been marked by a kind of  unearthlyness. It cherished supersweet stories in which angelic virtue was cultivated as the highest (and unattainable) ideal. That approach seems to slowly give way to a more mature attitude to life in which, for example, the reality of violence, including that of the very own tradition, is better acknowledged.

Some of that I found in the statement of Frans Kellendonk that the religion of heaven has to become the religion of the earth. Or in Jean-Jacques Suurmond who said, on the occasion of Blood Book of Dimitri Verhulst, that you should be glad that the Old Testament tells no tales, for “precisely a sweet utopia makes people grab a Kalashnikov”.  Recognition of the violence of one’s own tradition can teach you to deal with it appropriately. By the way, I am afraid that all this does not apply to the growing group of evangelical Christians.

Then there is the other, first mentioned tendency: that of secularising people showing kinship with Jews who cherish their tradition in the first place as cultural heritage. IJsseling’s own wanderings are perhaps typical of this group. From being a Catholic priest he developed in pagan direction by becoming an admirer of Greek and Roman polytheism. Later, the plurality of divine characters and moods of this pantheon, from envious to engaging and from loving to vindictive, made him, appearing from the above quote, in a new way responsive to the plurality of voices of the Hebrew Bible.

Whether or not that pluralism is religious in content does not matter anymore with IJsseling and the group he represents. More important in the context of this column is that ex-Jews and ex-Christians increasingly appear to have an attitude in common. Which could be summed up in what Tamarah Benima calls ‘mercurianism’, after Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, including associations like “speed, eloquence, travel, science, but also cunning and deception”. You could say that everyone becomes a bit more Jewish. Or the reverse: Jews become a bit less different.