zaterdag 18 november 2023


Last week Eva Peek wrote in NRC newspaper that she was disappointed by how little we have collectively learned from the Shoah. Nearly eighty years of commemorations and reflection on complicity and the ease with which the extermination of Jews could take place at the time, have not led to “a widely supported, refined knowledge of anti-Semitic stereotypes”. She is  disappointed, because that’s what she had hoped for.

I must say, I don’t completely agree with Peek. I am not disappointed with what I come across in national newspapers and news channels (so I am emphatically not talking about social media). Good journalists could stop at comparing the number of victims of Palestinian violence (around 1,600, including fallen soldiers) with the number of victims of Israeli bombs (more than 10,000), and then zoom in on the imbalance. That certainly happens, but there is also a remarkable amount of attention for the destructive impact of centuries of exclusion and persecution, culminating in the attempt at total destruction. The traumatization that has been built up over generations and has grown almost into a genetic predisposition, in its ugly depth, also represents an imbalance that we have to deal with. Not only Jews, but also, or especially, those (Western) societies that have fueled the traumas for centuries. The apparently felt need – at least in the better journalistic circles – to mention this can explain why a relatively large number of fairly in-depth articles have been published in the past month about (the history of) anti-Semitism, as well as nuanced interviews about Jewish fears and traumas that appear to pop up life-size from nothing these days.

By comparison: in 1940 I would not have wanted to vouch for the ‘better journalistic circles’ in terms of views on Jews, certainly not for the confessional part of those circles. Jewish stereotypes were accepted at face value, even by the ‘right-minded’ people of the time. It seems that decades of commemorations are now providing a broader perspective here. On the other hand, classic anti-Semitism is rapidly spreading to other parts of the world, partly due to current events.

If you want to see or give comments: click on Disproportionate and scroll down.

zondag 5 november 2023

Two kinds of poison

Two kinds of poison bother me: CO2 in the air worldwide, and the anti-Semitism in the soil, traditionally the European-Russian soil but now steadily spreading to the Middle East and North Africa. The two poisons cause equal desperation, and I often don't know what to focus on. Around Dutch Liberation-day at May 4 of this year, confronted for the umpteenth time with the fathomless and inky abysses of the extermination camps, I wondered why actually I’m so concerned about the climate and a possible physical end of humanity. After all, wasn't humanity already morally bankrupt eighty years ago? Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly supported the occupation of the highway A12 and other disruptive actions by Extinction Rebellion (XR). Protesting against climate-threatening poison is always a good thing anyway, I thought.

At the moment the other poison concerns me more, mainly because of the speed and ease with which it is released. Our Dutch and European soil must be saturated to the brim with it, otherwise the eagerness with which anti-Israeli aggression flared up shortly after Hamas’ sadistic mass murder of Israeli civilians cannot be explained. As early as October 9, it was reported in one of the TV-shows that the mass murder was serious, but “that the Jews did ask for it to some extent.” On October 11, before the devastating Israeli bombings, the Palestinian flag was projected on the Rotterdam Eurotower by a department of XR. The obvious phase of understanding or compassion for Jewish Dutch people was virtually skipped, and (according to the Dutch paper NRC) “the switch was made immediately to a particularly aggressive form of solidarity with the Palestinians – often resulting in unadulterated anti-Semitism.” Katya Tolstoy, the outgoing National Theologian, says: “Because of the war in Gaza I feel a wave of anti-Semitism here, I know that from the Soviet Union.”

I knew that poison is in our soil – how could it be otherwise after hundreds of years of initially Christian-inspired and then secular anti-Semitic ideas? That is sunken socio-cultural heritage, so to speak. But that it is so flammable, in such large concentrations and so close to the surface, that scares me. And I also find it shocking that Extinction Rebellion is not the hygienic organization I thought it to be. Instead of fighting the anti-Semitic poison as it fights CO2, XR subsidizes its spread. Now that it appears that XR is just as blind to the social poison as the oil industry is to the greenhouse gas, the movement has become redundant for me. I think I know where my attention will be focused for the time being: on the anti-Semitic poison, that is, on the question of how the mechanism works by which one group can be blamed for literally everything, including the greenhouse gas.

By the way, I am of the opinion that the A12 should remain occupied. And the West Bank should not.

For another account of unconcerned anti-Semitism, see also Ironic

If you want to see or give comments: click on Two kinds of poison and scroll down.

zaterdag 28 oktober 2023


It is ironic, unreal and bewildering to read certain passages from the diaries of the German philosopher Heidegger, also known as the Black Notebooks, especially in these days when land and military action are at stake in the Middle East. The passages are presented as follows by the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy in his book The Banality of Heidegger:

► Uprootedness and therefore Bodenlosigkeit (lack of soil of one’s own) is a distinguishing feature of Judaism. The lack of ground consists in – or leads to – “being bound to nothing, making everything serviceable for itself (Judaism).” (Quote from Heidegger in this sentence: from‘Überlegungen VII-XI’, Schwartze Hefte 1938/39, p. 97).

► Because of this lack of a country of its own, Judaism writes itself out of human history because “groundlessness excludes itself”. (Quote from Heidegger in this sentence: from ‘Überlegungen VII-XI’ , Schwartze Hefte 1938/39, p. 97). Did Heidegger think, Nancy wonders, that Judaism could be helped in this self-destruction, for example by the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws?

► The contempt for the (then) lack of their own land is reinforced in Heidegger as, because of that lack, Jews do not know what it is to fight: “World Jewry(…)does not need to participate in military action, whereas we have to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people” (Quote from Heidegger in this sentence: from ‘Überlegungen XII-XV’, Schwartze Hefte 1939-1941, p. 262).

Heidegger would probably not have minded saying exactly the opposite in today’s situation. A bit like in the last century the anti-Semitic communists detested the Jews because of ‘their’ capitalism, and the anti-Semitic capitalists because they were all communists. 

Also see Heidegger and the Jews

If you would like to see or give comments: click on Ironic and scroll down.

vrijdag 22 september 2023

Kol Nidrei and other illusions

Sometimes it happens that people are open to someone else’s distress, at the moment it becomes clear to them that they injured that other. Such is the central thesis which the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas elaborates in his books.

Among the many injuries which people inflict upon one another, Levinas’s attention is primarily directed towards, what he calls, the ‘violence of thinking’. This violence appears where one person thinks for another and this other doesn’t like it. It is a kind of intrusion, Levinas calls it ‘imperialism’. The thinker can dwell in the euphoric illusion that he helps the other. But the injury which the other incurs because of the thinker’s obtrusiveness can vary from humiliation to the feeling to be pressed into a corner. When the thinker notices this he can be startled by his own illusions and adjust his behaviour.

When I talk with people about this Levinasian thesis, they often recognize the phenomenon and they can point to concrete experiences of it in their own lives. But at the same time they often ask: why are there also people who do nót let themselves be directed by the distress they cause with another; who just keep going their own sovereign way and do as they please with their obtrusive plans? What causes that one person may be sensitive for the injury being done to the Face (as Levinas calls it) and another person is not?

Every time again I find this an intriguing question and I don’t have an answer to it. Some Levinas-students think you can train this sensitivity. For instance by listening seriously to others and practising this competence. I think this is not a wrong suggestion, because by doing so you develop a kind of alertness regarding illusions in which you may be trotting on and transgressing borders. 

Actually, the value of Day of Atonement for me lies precisely in its contribution to that training: to bring to mind, via a specially marked day and an overwhelming liturgy, where and when I lapsed into error. To be able to do so we need a special language and Yom Kippur’s liturgy offers that language. From this perspective Day of Atonement may be regarded as a training in sensitivity, because a whole day long you are immersed in that language.

Yet, I keep being sceptical about the suggestion that we can get rid of our illusions by such training. For illusions are simply inherent to our thinking. So, as long as we don’t give up thinking (and I would not recommend that) illusions will keep popping up and with them the injuries which they cause. I certainly believe that reflection on the effects of our thinking and acting produces progress, also in our thinking. But at the same time I am convinced that we will keep being surprised by our illusions and unwantingly will continue to injure people because of them.

The nice thing is that scepsis as to the possibility of countering illusions also got its place in the liturgy of Yom Kippur. Namely in the Kol Nidrei, where we direct our attention to promises (to conceive of as euphoric intentions or illusions) which in the future we certainly will break.

Far from offering a license for randomly making and breaking promises – as this text has been interpreted by malevolents - the Kol Nidrei herewith testifies of realism and of a deep insight into the treacherous nature of human thinking. From this perspective the pronouncing of the Kol Nidrei is to be seen as a training in sensitivity.

Yom Kippur may be the heaviest training in sensitivity of the Jewish yearcycle. But immediately afterwards it gets a continuation, in a lighter style, with Sukkot. The tent (Sukkah) which is open to all sides, as Abraham’s tent was, according to Levinas is a model of sensitivity and as such, for him, of human conscience.

donderdag 23 juni 2016

Poverty of ideas

Already for a long time they were very annoying, those short fuses, the abuse in digital space, and the violence on the streets. But those fuses are so repulsively short now that everyone seems to get bothered by them.

With some benevolence one could derive this from the commotion surrounding the resurgent debate on racism and integration. In it nuanced positions seem hardly to exist anymore, and little is needed to be reproached for being a ‘dirty racist’ or a ‘cancer Negro’ or ‘goat fucker’.

I recognize myself in the sigh of writer Sana Valiulina as she cries out: why is interaction so mediocre in our society? And the echo of this lamentation from the Brussels teacher Bruno Derbaix: why is it so difficult to talk about ideas? He arrives at this question by his reflection on the attack in Zaventem which involved one of his pupils. “My pupil Najim Laachraoui was not a bad boy. As a teenager he dreamed of a society that would appreciate Islam”.

Prior to his sigh Derbaix asked the following questions.

To Najim: why did you exchange your ideal of a peaceful ‘perfect religion’ for savagery and destruction?

To ourselves: why did we for nearly forty years allow Wahabism to become so dominant in the mosques, bookstores, the neighborhoods. Why didn’t we realize how dangerous that was for the well-meaning Muslims?

To our educators: why didn’t we give more resonance and resources to the forces that strove after change in education?

To our Muslim intellectuals: why didn’t they make more efforts to give room to that other Islam on the Internet, in the mosques and in the public space?

And then comes the – in my eyes – fundamental question: “Why is it so difficult in this society to talk about ideas? Why is there in the schools, in neighborhoods, in the universities so little space to exchange ideas, to confront our differences with each other, to conduct a dialogue. How did we let create a world where there is so little discussion about religion except in terms of stereotypes and templates?”

Or do I now mix up two entirely different issues in an unduly way: the verbal violence which Valiulina is talking about and the really physical violence of Derbaix? One could  say: these are indeed completely different things.

But I’m not so sure about that. I think it is at least remarkable that Valiulina and Derbaix from the different angles of verbal violence on the one hand and physical violence on the other, arrive at the same fundamental question: why are many conversations so flat, whence the inability of our society to talk about ideas? That’s no coincidence.

Valiulina herself attempts to reply to her question, and she lays the blame for the observed inability with neoliberalism. Her reasoning is as follows. Neoliberalism focuses on rationality and on the creation of as much wealth as possible. As long as you  strive for that, you are ok – according to that ideology. You do not have to worry any longer about moral issues or the irrational side of life. Surrender to the system is all you need, and above all: don’t make things more complicated than they are.

Surrender to the system thus implies: don’t ask big questions anymore. And in return be rewarded through the attractions of our affluent society, like endless consumption opportunities, social media, festivals and trips to the other side of the world. Material abundance instead of wealth of ideas.

But, says Valiulina, the deepest human questions come from man’s dark, irrational side. Which require elaboration and ideas, but indeed they are ignored by neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has nothing to do with art, literature and psychoanalysis – as we can notice in recent years in the Netherlands – and that explains the defective opportunities to talk about emotions and irrational motives. They go underground and express themselves in the primitiveness of nationalism, fundamentalism and racism.

With this statement Valiulina does have a point, I think. But the trouble goes back further than the rise of neoliberalism around 1980. I remember already from before - from my student days – that I disliked the fact that good conversations could take place only late at night and after some alcohol. Ie conversations in which ideas could flow, the entire reality could be addressed and not just a superficial part of it.

Apparently it’s been much longer that in our society, behind the facade of economic and civic life, a completely separate parallel world lies hidden in which more complex – and often obscure – motives dominate. We knew this already from the stories of SS officers who conducted big horrors during daytime, and during evenings and weekends were so charmingly busy with their family and children. Some of it is to be found in the pattern Minister Asscher saw behind the abuse on the internet – he could just click through to the cozy family snapshots of the abusers.

Valiulina points to the existence of those dark parallel world, and she says that we do not only not know how to cope with it – such appears from the abuse and violence. We also prefer to flee in consumption, festivals and trips.

We will yet have to get used to it: talking about the things that really matter. And then also discuss them in a sensible way.

Also see Parrhèsia

woensdag 15 juni 2016

A fresh glance

Sometimes you need outsiders to remind you of who you are, or to see old familiar things in just a bit sharper way.

However, some outsiders are more effective in this than others. When it comes to Europe, and to a ‘European identity’, the Argentine Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis, recently posed the question: “Europe, what happened to you?”.  On the occasion of his receiving the Charlemagne Prize, the Pope suggested that Europe can be summed up as in essence a champion of humanism, freedom and charity. Thus, Europe would manifest itself at its best in the aesthetic idyll of lovely Madonnas and crystalline baroque music.

Fortunately, the pope added that most of all he ‘dreams’ of this idyll. It must be, because apart from the fact that Europe currently is conspicuously drifting between human rights and pragmatic politics, European history already centuries earlier shows a lot of mutual fighting and murderous treatment of slaves and immigrant populations. So much so that recently the newspaper wondered in an opinion article whether asylum seekers know what kind of murderous continent they are entering.

So I don’t think of Bergoglio’s presentation of Europe as adequate. More striking I find a viewpoint of the Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter, who relates baroque music in a surprising way to violence. About seventeenth-century Europe, when the two went together, he says: “Everything in Baroque music was focused on perfection and harmony. But the same nations that were so engaged in that beauty, elsewhere in the world without scruples slaughtered whole tribes. That was perfectly acceptable. Baroque music highlights the hypocrisy of Western high culture. I’m afraid that disease will for some time still be with us”.

To be able to phrase it this way, you need to have a fresh glance.

Also see (Un)purity

maandag 13 juni 2016

The tragedy of a well ordered country

The murder of nurse Linda van der Giesen could possibly have been prevented.

Already for a while Van der Giesen was threatened by her ex-husband. She invoked the police several times. The police understood the danger, and could have come into action but did not because the police protocols required building a dossier first. Without that the police’s case could be rejected by the Prosecuter and the Court. So, in this case, the protocols prevented adequate and timely action.

The problem at hand here can be summarized as follows: sometimes our thoroughly regulated society prevents us to do the right thing in a given situation. For example, to say no to energy wasting nonsensical actions that the rules dictate; or to indeed  just perform that single sensible action, even though it is against the rules.

In our orderly country the creation of more rules is often the standard response to the finding of something wrong. Such is currently on the agenda after the discovery of fraud in the Amsterdam city council. In response, all sorts of rules and controls are now being built into the work of the council. While decades of experience with this kind of rules  indicate that it is a waste of money and energy. To the frustration of many employees.

What doés work, and what actually is most desirable, is that employees would act attentively and adequately, whether it be policeofficers or Amsterdam civil servants. But by enforced compliance with rules that effect is reached only marginally. For that something completely different is required than rules.

In the police organization there is a beginning of awareness to this. Leon Kuijs, chairman of the Police College, puts it as follows. “Police officers are now taught to take responsibility for what they have done, but there comes a time – and it will not take long – that we will be accountable for what we did nót do. As, for example: you could have known this or that, because you should know everything. Why did not you see it?”

Hiding behind rules will be a lot harder then, and that seems like a good thing.