vrijdag 8 april 2016

Humanly spoken

Humanly spoken, in these difficult times one’s attention has to be with the victims of all this misery. And of course, with what we can do to prevent attacks. And fortunately, over the whole that attention is there.

But that does not prevent me to be interested in the underlying, almost philosophical shifts brought about by ever closer creeping terrorist violence.

Take this question of Leonie Breebaart in Trouw: “Is it really so bad that the Dutch sympathize more strongly with the victims in Brussels than with those in, say, Nigerian Maiduguri, where last week 22 worshippers were killed in a mosque?” And the sober reply from philosopher and ethicist Rutger Claassen: “What is close affects you more”.

That obviously has never been different, but for a long time we dared not say that aloud. From the sixties and seventies, at least for the progressive part of the Netherlands, solidarity with the oppressed was supposed to be limitless and global, without distinction as to geography, nationality or religion. Right now Breebaart asks: “Is not that a very abstract idea?”

Not so long ago it was considered unacceptably hypocritical to deplore one victim (eg a Belgian) more than another (eg a Nigerian). Right now Breebaart states: “But doesn’t it work just like that? Doesn’t there remain a tension between the idea of solidarity and the feeling that you have for people you know?” Say between thick and thin relationships.

As to me, these observations confirm an already very old Jewish truth. Namely that closeness and ‘the particularistic’ matter, and that relationships within your own community, or close in some other way, are of a different quality than the relationships you maintain beyond. Warmer, more intense, thicker. And that they are allowed to be so, without you being indecent to the rest of the world. That’s the way it may work indeed.

Until recently it was risky to formulate those thoughts, in a world where a noisy elite was universally oriented and put away all ethnocentrism and particularism as hopelessly outdated. That elite is resetting itself – and I hope it will not go into a neo-nationalistic direction but towards the recognition that charity begins at home. Because that seems to me an act of commendable realism.

What concerns me is that the spectrum is shifting in its entirety. For the West, I think that’s ok, it may very well return a bit of its haughty universalism. But Israel for a long time already is particularistic enough and could give some more attention to universal values. However, the recent Pew Report points into a different direction: a quarter of the Israeli population would want to trade democracy for theocracy and 48 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement ‘Arabs must be put out of Israel’.

That does not feel right.

Also see Countries without borders