Fictional Reality

The line between fiction and non- fiction is less finely drawn than we sometimes choose to imagine or care to admit. Fictional characters uniquely clothed in our own numinous imagination take on substance and humanness which we ourselves weave around them. Fictional ideas, attractive and morally consonant, take root as an alternative but believable reality. Sometimes, political writing that claims to be non-fiction is just ‘made up stuff’, a morality tale, a fable,  yet its political clout is undeniable: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” an antisemitic hoax which purported to reveal a plan for world domination by the Jews stoked the fires of European anti-Semitism in the decades before the Holocaust. Indeed, it was studied as factual in German classrooms in the 1930’s. The power of the novel, unvarnished by political corruption, pales in comparison. There are exceptions, of course. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is said to have hardened opposition to slavery; Eva’s long, innocent ringlets and Uncle Tom’s patient Christianity , steadfast in the face of Simon Legree’s bestiality set in motion the war that led to slavery’s abolition. Most novels can’t be directly attributed to starting wars but fiction as life imitation is capable of instigating change, since good fiction is a mirror, sometimes deliberately blurred, holding a warped culture up to a more pitiless light than political correctness allows. Fiction can speak out, where bare-faced fact dare not, giving voice to the coerced silence that is a favoured weapon of the powerful.
Last year, while looking after a class for an absent English teacher, I picked up “Things Fall Apart”, Chinua Achebe’s response to “Heart of Darkness” where African culture’s advanced social institutions and artistic traditions prior to exposure to the juggernaut of white colonialism are contrasted with their subsequent culturally impoverished fate. How infantilising the experience of  such colonialism must have been, how it must have choked off  the adulthood of generations of parents, made children of them, made the coloniser into the adult, the colonised into the children of children. The fact that he chose to write in English was a political statement, an internalised form of resistance.
The current Palestinian narrative has to some extent been shaped by fiction and parallels between, for example, African colonialism and the status of the West Bank can conveniently and totally fictitiously be drawn for political advantage, which the world under the leadership of the UN has so very successfully done. Fictitiously, because there is very little by way of  historical, generational culture to overthrow. Amongst others, Ghassan Kanafani’s short stories with their far-left, revolutionary themes shaped a largely fictitious Palestinian story of victimhood whose very simplicity gained it wide acceptance, portraying Israel as a colonising and consequently hateful power, seeking to extirpate all traces of Palestinian identity. Those without the pen resort to the sword, but their infantilisation is no less complete because unless the Palestinians take responsibility for solving their own political problems, made all the more severe by a blockade of religious intransigence, blaming the Jews serves only to perpetuate their own sense of powerlessness.

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Clamour and Infamy

There’s a conference in town today. Well, not exactly ‘in town’, more in the suburbs. Bethlehem, to be precise. Beyond the wall where the cabbies can’t go. It’s going to be quite an event, this third “Christ at the Checkpoint”. Several days of conference, keynote speakers to include a prominent Muslim human rights activist, an influential author, several pastors from a variety of denominations, the president of Bethlehem Bible College and many and various luminaries within the Arab Christian community and beyond.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denounced “Christ at the Checkpoint”  in no uncertain terms…
“The attempt to use religious motifs in order to mobilize political propaganda and agitate the feelings of the faithful through the manipulation of religion and politics is an unacceptable and shameful act. Using religion for the purpose of incitement in the service of political interests stains the person who does it with a stain of indelible infamy.”
While it is true that at first glance, the Arab Christian minority has tended to draw the short straw in the political and spiritual street fight that passes for attempts at reconciliation here, the strength of the Establishment response is extraordinary. The subtext, smoothly oiled over with a veneer of spirituality is rather uglier, since it has drawn such pointed criticism from the authorities. There are varieties of opinion, it would appear, and as long as the principal tenets are adhered to, most notably, outspoken support for the concept of  “occupation”, participants can attend seminars, visit a checkpoint early in the morning to see for themselves how security is maintained and discuss with like minds. The hated face of Zionism (a minority view amongst many haredi sects) is not condemned outright, merely included in a litany of other unjust and unconstitutional practices. BDS is probably not far below the surface. The words of one of the organisers, Sami Awad, virtuous as they may be, earnest and passionate, carry with them a subtext which many find difficult to digest, namely, the Arab desire to share the rights of homeland in denial of responsibilities to it. He writes “For anything to move forward in the Holy Land, a relationship of trust and respect must be established  between the peoples. Peace is not just negotiated settlements between politicians. Peace is the process of building trust and respect… To be able to see each other with new eyes…understand who the ‘other’ is…appreciate their culture, heritage, the narrative that they bring to the table…
Superficially, what a worthy objective, but what sacrifice must be made, what concessions made to orthodoxy and truth in order to achieve it? Powerful theological weight is brought to bear to lend support to both hard and soft supersessionism, from hard-line Lutheran dogma that the New Covenant replaces the Old in its entirety, in other words, God had had enough of the Children of Israel in the first century and transferred all Covenant promises to followers of Yeshua Ha-Maschiach to a softer but no less pernicious doctrine that the Church has been unilaterally entrusted with the fulfilment of the promises of which Jewish Israel is the trustee.

This is all very fine, but why are dissenting voices suppressed? I cannot help but feel that this is no genuine fellowship, no Kingdom building, no real rapprochement as the pre-conference literature proclaims; instead a wolf, cunningly disguised as an inoffensive sheep which is cynical at best and propagandist at worst. I’d dearly love to nod vigorously with the peaceniks, but I fear on this occasion, I really can’t.

Minds Luminous

Jerusalem has a breezy insouciance about it. People seem, well, cleverer than average.  Conversations are vocabulary-rich, the complaining is erudite and sophisticated and people think and act fast. For its size, the school where I teach boasts a dazzling array of academic luminosity, beside which

my own modest achievements flicker shyly. 

The Nobel season is again upon us and it seems to become less surprising than ever to observe that a tiny nation comprising 0.2% of the world’s population has once more scooped a handful of the most prestigious academic accolades on the planet.  In chemistry, all three winners were Jewish, in medicine, two out of three. In physics, the prize went jointly to François Englert, and Peter Higgs. Englert is 80, a Holocaust survivor who holds a special professorial chair at the school of physics and astronomy at Tel Aviv University.

Is it a gene? Some think so, but I don’t really buy into the genetic dialogue – it would almost be as if God were cheating by giving the chosen people an unfair advantage. I have the rare honour of agreeing with one Nobel laureate, Robert Aumann, (economics, 2005) who suggested :

“Torah study is an intellectual pursuit, and honoring this ultimate value transfers to other pursuits as well….. Jewish homes have overflowing bookshelves.. Throughout the generations we have given great honor to this intellectual pursuit…Torah study makes the nation and its people of the finest and highest quality.”

So, that’s it. Reading and studying Scripture. Could it possibly be that simple, and yet so demanding? I get to meet a number of people here whose worldview is circumscribed by a quite linear interpretation of the Scriptures, as if it were somehow sacrilegious or worse, in bad taste, to argue about their meaning. No such scruples for the Jews. They set about dismembering flawed logic and fuzzy reasoning with all the vigour of  scores of generations who argued with God. It might be that it is this that gives them the edge intellectually. It is said that where you have one Jew, you have an opinion. Where there are two, an argument. Three, you have a synagogue. Contending with the Creator of the Universe, it seems,  has the great merit of sharpening the mind.