Tuesday 29 December 2015

I did not speak out....

As I wrote in my previous blog - this was written in August 2014 but not posted. It is as relevant now as it was then. 
Some years ago I commissioned a calligrapher to write a version of the often-quoted poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller which hangs in my hall as a reminder. I have subsequently learned that there are many versions of this, he changed it from time to time to suit the audience but the message is the same. (I have also learned he perhaps is not quite as straightforward a person as I originally thought – who is?)
One version of the poem, at the United States Holocaust Museum, is here:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I walk past my version of this several times a day and it is much on my mind at the moment. Jews have fled many Middle East countries and no one spoke out. Christians have fled (and are continuing to flee) many of the countries and now Iraq is being ethnically cleansed – leave, convert or die. Where are the mass protests? Now that the Yazidis are fleeing as many have been murdered, women raped, kidnapped, forcibly married and used as slaves – the world is waking up a bit. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have died at the hands of other Muslims – where are the mass protests against this?

It seems that the world’s outrage is saved for Israel (and now extending to the Jews). Don’t think for one moment that I am of the “Israel can do no wrong” camp. Far from it – and neither are many Israelis by the way. The world seems to need Israel to be perfect when their own governments are anything but. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East where you are free to practice your religion, express your sexuality, genders are equal and all have equality before the law.

They all have freedom of speech and can criticize the government and the armed forces.  This includes the 1.7 million Arabs – mostly Muslim but some Christian - as well and the 12 Arab members of the Knesset. There have been Arab members of the Knesset since the beginning.

In the presence of neighbours, some of whom deny their right to exist and would like to drive them into the sea, they defend themselves. The world doesn’t mind that – as long as they don’t do it too well.

No one talks about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who have fled Middle Eastern states – Egypt (75,000) Syria (15,000), Iran (80,000), Iraq (130,000) and others - over the decades, leaving everything behind. They have moved on and made their way in Israel, the USA, Australia, South Africa and many European countries. They are not refugees: they are citizens of their new countries. They know that they can never go back and will not be compensated for the homes, businesses, properties that they were forced to abandon.

To return to Niemöller: when he says – “then they came for me” – for ‘me’ read everyone who is not speaking out now including the many millions of Muslims who are outraged by what is happening.

Friday 25 December 2015

Christmas Day – the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Christianity has been much in the news – so there’s a surprise on Christmas.  You would not be surprised to hear this from the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor from the Queen, as the Head of the Church of England but the Prime Minister’s comments are perhaps a little more unexpected.  They all set me thinking.

I quote from the Prime Minister, “As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope. I believe that we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.”

Absolutely – there is nothing discriminatory about that – I knew full well when I chose to come to this country that it was Christian but that I was free to practice my religion, free from discrimination and persecution. (Officially that is – anti-Semitism has always existed and is becoming more aggressive again – but this is still a good place for Jews. Of course I couldn’t argue with him – those religious roots owe something to their Jewish origins.)

The Queen, who writes her own Christmas broadcast said, 

"For Joseph and Mary, the circumstances of Jesus's birth - in a stable - were far from ideal, but worse was to come as the family was forced to flee the country. It's no surprise that such a human story still captures our imagination and continues to inspire all of us who are Christians, the world over.”  

Well said Your Majesty – suddenly we are all thinking about the scenes that have filled our television screens this past year.

And finally, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and I quote, 

Today, across the Middle East, close to the area in which the angels announced God’s apocalypse, ISIS and others claim that this is the time of an apocalypse, an unveiling created of their own terrible ideas, one which is igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression..... They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began.

My first thought was – and what about the Jews?  Well of course the Jews are not facing elimination from the countries in which ISIS is operating – Syria, Iraq, etc.  They’ve gone.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews have fled those countries over the past decades (members of our extended family fled Egypt in 1956 with a suitcase each and their passports removed, immediately becoming impoverished and stateless). Not all of them went to Israel – they spread out to many countries, including the UK. Of course, Jews are being targeted by Muslim extremists in Europe and elsewhere, but if this “elimination” that the Archbishop speaks of in the Middle East is successful will the next step be the elimination of Israel and the Jews?

I don’t know what the Archbishop is doing about rescuing those Christians he speaks of but one Jew is paying back the debt he feels: Lord Weidenfeld was part of the Kindertransport before WWII.  He has set up a fund and is actively engaged in helping Christians to escape. He said in July 

“I had a debt to repay. It applies to so many young people who were on the Kinderstransports. It was Quakers and other Christian denominations who brought those children to England. It was a very high-minded operation and we Jews should also be thankful and do something for the endangered Christians.”  Here is an article from the Catholic Herald
but there are more on the internet.

I wrote a blog in August 2014 about what was happening in the Middle East, the campaign against Israel which seemed to be gaining even more currency and the persecution of the Yazidis and Christians which no one seemed to be concerned about. I decided not to publish it – I am not sure why but I now regret that. I should publish that one first but today is Christmas Day so this one takes precedence. I will post it soon.