Category Archives: Judaism

The world’s worst-kept secret.

My arms are growing out of my ass.” Don’t picture it. Just accept that this is the Russian way of saying you have two left hands. Or at least that’s how it’s translated to English. Live to travel, and travel to learn random facts of life. Or to pay EUR 1,30 for a coffee plus perfectly good cherry juice. Oh, and those stairs, the Potemkin staircase, birthplace of the 1905 Russian revolution, at least according to the movie; they sell selfish dicks there now. I mean selfie sticks. I am talking about Odessa. A city that is so hot, it’s pronounced ‘Oh Dieu, ca!’ 4th largest population center of a country that probably flares off about 15% of its national gas imports in commemorative eternal flames. As in, the hot breath of history. As in, you could roast marshmellows on this thing. Or minorities, as has been the case on more than one occasion.

IMG_0233There is nice place,” the gold-hearted baboushka I’m AirBnB’ing with confides. “For coffee. Mmm…,” she wracks her brain. Then it hits her: “McDonalds!” “I’ve heard of it,” I nod. “I’ll definitely check it out.” Out there, where the streets are literally, alliteratively, littered with heart-achingly beautiful porticos, nonchalantly abandoned to the grinding teeth of time. Or as they’re known in Brussels: real-estate developers. The beasts have yet to discover this city. Only a civil war can save it from such a terrible fate. Fingers crossed. If spirits had limbs all the Russians, Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Greeks, Tatars, Belarusians, Molds (folks from Moldova?), and Armenians who have lived here over the centuries will no doubt do likewise. I will not, I repeat not mention the electric tourist trolleys carting folks to and fro, dizzyingly about the Disneyfied parts of the old town. If there’s one thing I hate more than bermuda’d gawkers, it’s snobbery. I gawk better than most. I was not here first. The only prize I’m still in the running for is Who can sweat the most. Winning that, hands down. Down there, where the sidewalks sizzle.


1 Comment

Filed under Europe, History, Judaism, Multiculturalism, Travel

Def Leppard.

In all your travels, have you ever encountered the good lord Jesus Christ?”

One stammers. Different ways to find goodness. Different names for it too. God. Allah. Jehovah.

That’s not… I won’t even pronounce the name. That pagan idol. False idol. Devil worshippers. Muslims.”

I thought he was quoting a line from my next book about a Dutch rabble-rouser’s descent into lunacy.

Equating that with the good lord Jesus Christ is like calling an arm a leg.”

The hitchhiker puts him or herself at the mercy of whatever comes out of mouths of hands holding the wheel. Other body parts analogies may apply.

See, there are eleven commandments.”

One forgets what was said next. Bits and pieces and: “I wouldn’t have picked you up. That’s the goodness of the lord working in me. My son here, can attest to that. Ain’t that right?”

The teen in the back of the double-cab pick up has fallen asleep after handing me a can of 7-up. I hate that shit but needed some sugar after a day on the road. My feet were busted, so listen to John the Baptist here a little more.

I love my children. All eleven of’em. And I want them to love me back, and respect me.”

How old are you, if I may ask?”

Fourty-three. Been married twenty-two years now. My parents have been married fifty-four years. I’m not a quitter. My wife’s broken my heart a few times and I hers, but I promised her I’d stay with her and never leave her, and I’ve stayed with her and never left her.”

Good, good.

This here’s Wolf Creek Pass,” he says. “Brings you right over the top.”

Thank you.

CD’s scattered over the dash. Best of Def Leppard. Some Neil Diamond.

Israel’s never been defeated. From the Babylonians to… you know. Everyone’s tried to kill them. Chosen by God. No one could. That’s gotta tell you something. Right? A couple of years back. 2012. Everyone’s talking about the Mayan calendar. They’re gone. Disappeared. Who cares about a calendar? Decadent, devil worshipping. Sacrificing their kids. Israel’s still around.”

Almost in Durango now. I hear there’s a great train ride up the mountain. Let’s see.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Colorado, Durango, Islam, Israel, Judaism, United States

Mladic versus Bin Laden

The US operation in May 2011 that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden couldn’t have contrasted more with the low-key arrest a few weeks later of Ratko Mladic, a man held responsible by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for the siege of Sarajevo, and the Srebrenica massacre, the largest mass-murder in Europe since World War II, during the Bosnian civil war from 1992-1995.

Ratko Mladic © Surian Soosay

With a 25 million dollar bounty on his head Osama Bin Laden for nearly ten years lived under constant fear, one presumes, of getting blown to bits by American drone aircraft or, as it would pan out, shot in the head by a crack team of U.S. navy SEALs rappelling down helicopters in the dead of night.

Ratko Mladic, and others wanted by the The Hague, a mere 5 million dollars offered for his arrest, became the object of endless rounds of diplomatic wrangling, economics sanctions and postponed EU aspirations for Serbia, widely suspected of harboring him. Pakistan in turn continued to receive American military aid –some 18 billion between 2001 and 2011- throughout Bin Laden’s semi-comfortable residency there, four blocks away from a large military academy and a mere two hours drive from Islamabad.

A comparison between the way both men were brought to justice / crudely dispatched should of course be qualified by an appreciation of the differences or similarities between their respective crimes. The backdrop of Ratko Mladic’s campaign of atrocities in the Bosnian hills was a civil war raging in the European Union’s backyard, as opposed to Bin Laden’s brazen attack against U.S sovereign soil. It is doubtful the EU’s methods would have been equally measured in case of a spectacular attack on a EU capital.

While U.S. interest in preventing a repetition of 9/11 was clear and direct, international and more specifically E.U. attempts at stopping, and afterwards, preventing bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia were steeped in the desire for a stable hinterland, possible expansion as well as a delicate sense of shame, of not being able to prevent crimes reminiscent of those committed by Nazi Germany and its allies.

Europe’s softly-softly approach to catch Mladic runs eerily parallel to its ineffectual actions to stop the massacres as they were taking place. Dutch UN soldiers, poorly armed and without a clear mandate, more or less stood by, watching; or rather, fishtailing away from the scene in order not to see. While it’s worth remembering American muscle finally put a stop to the Bosnian civil war, initial foot-dragging in the arrest and prosecution of war criminals was in part due to American and other NATO partners’ reluctance to upset a brittle post-war peace process.

The lackluster pursuit of Bosnian war criminals becomes even more striking when one compares, uncouthly, the scope of the crimes and, more perversely, the number of victims. While Bin Laden’s attacks claimed about 3.000 lives, the siege of Sarajevo and massacre of Screbrenica alone took 18.000. Figures for the entire civil war range up to 40.000 civilians (not to mention about 57000 soldiers) on all sides.

Perhaps then, the cases are probably too different to speak of a European versus a typically American approach. It arguably makes more sense to speak of a Mladic versus Bin Laden method. Both cases offer lessons to be learned in the nebulous realm of persecuting war crimes, terror attacks, or more generally: anything ill-suited for national courts to deal with. Might Bin Laden have been apprehended in Pakistan using a mix of sit-and-wait, sticks-and-carrots? Might a couple of years worth of sanctions on the Afghan Taliban regime have done the trick? Would Europe be safer practicing extra-judicial killings, filling an un-closable detention camp on, say, Malta, with all kinds of baddies ranging from Irish splinter groups to Red Brigade terrorists to wayward Muslim pulpit bullies?

A realistic inclination lowers one’s expectations that a swift change can take place from international cowboy justice to a more regulated approach. Or worse still, whether Europe is able to hold on to common sense under pressure of its own brand of anti-jihadist firebrands. However, with Mladic and other’s transfer to The Hague an important precedent has been set. Impunity is on the way out. More importantly, it’s now been abundantly demonstrated that in order to implement justice, it isn’t necessary to place oneself outside the bounds of the law.

Leave a comment

Filed under Islam, Judaism

Judaism, Christianity, Islam: birds of a feather

Self-criticism is the mother of all dialogue

These days, Judaism and Christianity are often presented as kindred souls who stand for democracy and human rights, while Islam is cut from a wholly different cloth. This essay, translated from an article that appeared in MO * Magazine, March 30, 2011 argues that the books and practice of the three religions barely support this contention.

© illustration by Klaas Verplancke (

The Arab revolutions appear to make a mess of the stereotype that Islam and democracy cannot be reconciled, or that Arab countries are populated by sheer medieval zealots. What we’re seeing on our screens are pluralist revolutions: young and old, women en men, bearded, shaven, veiled and otherwise, seeking more control over the societies in which they live.

The revolts are a problem for the Geert Wilders of this world who still see a fundamental incompatibility between Islam and democracy, and the Judeo-Christian tradition, seen as a beacon of liberty and enlightenment. The anti-authoritarian revolutions indicate a rather more blurry picture: Israel and the West were all too happy with the dictatorships of Mubarak and co because it served their interests. Those who study the three holy books and how they’re practiced, find an ever-murkier picture.

Common roots in the square

Abraham rocked, as a collective spiritual ancestor, the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The three traditions originated from a kind of fusion between the philosophies of ancient Greece and the monotheistic innovations among the Late Bronze Age Canaanite tribes. The three have made God an eternal, supernatural creator, the source of moral and legal standards, omniscient, omnipotent, and at times a tad condescending or even bizarre -witness God’s wish to see Abraham only son sacrificed, psyche! This is obviously a God who demands total submission. Despite the large overlap, the faiths found themselves more often than not on a ramming course. Both between and among each other: Judaism, Christianity and Islam soon split into countless flavors of theology, philosophy and law. Nevertheless, some trends can be discerned.

Jewish learning

The halacha or Jewish law, handed down through Noah and Moses, plus interpretations and interpretations of interpretations, are applicable to all aspects of human life: marriage, divorce, sacrificial rites, dietary laws, as well as humdrum criminal law. According to these writings you may be stoned for, among other things, swearing, rebelling against your parents, or even witchcraft. Incest is punishable by death through molten lead poured down the gullet of the damned. Halachic laws are regarded traditionally as more or less hand-delivered by God and immutable. As such the Jewish scriptures are heavily reminiscent of the Islamic idea of justice, with its hard core of immutable, divinely inspired decrees.

Jewish practice

During the Diaspora, halakha ruled the various scattered Jewish communities as enforceable religious and civil law. However its sharpest edges, like the death penalty, fell into disuse in the early centuries of the Common Era. Since the European Enlightenment most Jews, at home everywhere and nowhere at once, appropriated a lot of the secularizing trends of their adoptive countries.

In modern Israel orthodox rabbinical courts still dominate the laws on family and personal status in a way that would be unpalatable to, say, secularist France. Marriage as a civil institution for example, does not exist. This results in a number of highly complex issues surrounding illegitimate children, marriages among secular Jews and between different religious communities. Hence a Canadian, recently converted to Judaism, was not entitled to Israeli citizenship because the Orthodox rabbinate did not accept his conversion at the hands of an unauthorized Canadian rabbi. The same Orthodox rabbinate hinders marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. Non-orthodox and secular Israeli Jews often end up marrying in Cyprus or elsewhere.

On another plain, discrimination against non-Jews, in the form of systematic underfunding of predominantly non-Jewish towns, is jarring. The Book of Susan Nathan, who chose to live in an Arab village in Israel, indicates that a strict separation between state and synagogue is far off still, despite the secular inclinations of a majority of the population. “We have to take the heritage of our ancestors back to the Israeli nation,” said the Israeli minister of Justice Yaakov Ne’eman in 2009. “The Torah offers a complete solution for all questions that concern us.”

New Testament: render unto Caesar

Despite the famous quote from Jesus, widely interpreted as a plea not to mix religion and politics, Christian churches throughout history rarely tended exclusively to the spiritual needs of believers. One thinks of the power struggle between papacy and kings in medieval Europe, countless religious wars, one more gruesome than the next, and churches’ frantic clinging to relevancy and control over rapidly secularizing societies of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Although the New Testament, unlike the Old one, does not lay any literal claim to worldly power, it hasn’t stopped Christian religious institutions from pretending over the centuries that it does.

Christian practice

The separation of church and state in countries with Christian majorities began only in the course of the nineteenth century. It is far from completed today. The program of the Dutch Christian theocratic party SGP, present in the national and European parliament, states among other things that states’ legislation and administration shouldn’t hinder the preaching of the gospel, but in stead promote it. “Man [is] the head of woman, and for women to serve in political bodies is perpendicular to their vocation.”

Western secularism, individualism and women’s rights are relatively recent phenomena. In the U.S. there seems even to exist a certain return of religion in worldly affairs. Secularism is generally understood as protecting the state against religious interference. The Biblically oriented Founding Fathers aimed more or less for the opposite, namely the protection of a religious community against the secularizing, almost malevolent state. Today ideological heirs such as Sarah Palin are engaged in a culture war for Protestant piety and against “big government”. In the fight against moral decay and godlessness they see a greater role for religious symbolism and practice in schools, courts and legislative bodies. More religion at home is paradoxically paired with an almost belligerent stance against a religion perceived as laying too big a claim to worldly power elsewhere.

Islamic jurisprudence

Islam makes no distinction between moral and legal precepts. A frequently cited example is Sura 4, verse 59: ” Believers, obey God and obey the Prophet, and those in command among you.” Yet sharia; the rules contained in the Koran, plus Muhammad’s utterances as relayed by others, and interpretations, rarely served as the exclusive source of worldly rule. Soon after the establishment of the caliphate the first caliphs, governors and sultans began to promulgate laws on matters not dealt with by sharia such as financial transactions, taxation and trade.

In addition, compliance with supposedly universal religious law differs greatly from century to century and even Caliph to Caliph. For instance, twelfth-century Spain, with its enlightened science and religious tolerance bears little resemblance to the seventh-century Bedouin encampments where Muhammad was born. And what to think of the secular Tanzimat? This nineteenth century reform movement shook the Islamic Ottoman Empire to the core, from which later a hyper-secular Turkish constitution would arise.

Islamic enlightenment

Economic decline often goes hand in hand with religious and social stagnation. From the fifteenth century, and later with the advent of Western colonial domination in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, a deep crisis emanates. Local potentates brusquely import Western codified law, inspired or coerced by European powers. In an initial response Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, rails against European colonialism but for certain Western ideas in tandem with far-reaching religious reforms. Islam, as he saw, had to adapt to the independent modern nation states to be. The Islamic enlightenment of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with its strong nationalist dimension, is suppressed and radicalized by colonial governments and their indigenous authoritarian successors. Instead of reforming what Islam is, a plea ensued for a return to the kind of pure Sharia that never existed.

Towards a free market of ideas

Contemporary Muslim reformers are often caught between secular or nominally Muslim dictators and conservative clerics on whose silence the status quo is based. Until recently in any case.

It is still early to assess the impact of the current upheaval in the Arab world on Islam and politics. Perhaps paradoxically, political liberalization will initially bring more Islam into the public sphere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Only there, far from the torture chambers of Mubarak, Ben Ali, and others, can new ideas and interpretations develop. The coming debates will touch upon the place of Islam in modern society, but more broadly, the nature of Islam itself. A genuine free market of ideas, if you will. It would be naive to expect that this process will necessarily produce a “western” outcome. Nor the inverse for that matter. Egyptian and Tunisian Muslim Brothers refer ad nauseam to the Islam-democratic model that turned Turkey into a regional steam train over the past decade.


Judaism, Christianity and Islam have rarely been the best of chums. No single religion carries all or none of the blame. Jews and Christians never had it easy under Islamic rule. The odd Caliph enforced distinctive garments, imposed conversions and slavery, even the occasional pogrom. Researchers however, tend to agree that this was the exception rather than the rule. Christian violence against Jews, culminating in genocide at the hands of Nazi Germany and its accomplices, are a different matter altogether.

Jewish-Christian Alliance

The link between Judaism and Christianity, asserted by some, is a relatively recent phenomenon, not drawn in an obvious way from religious texts or history. It cropped up in the seventeenth century and has since adopted many different guises: Jews converted to Christianity, liberal efforts against anti-Semitism in the nineteen thirties, as battle cry against communism in the fifties…

Since the attacks of 9 /11, by terrorists claiming Islamic inspiration, the Jewish-Christian alliance alludes to a radical rejection of Islam in all its social and political aspects. Although this vision is rooted in American, Protestant and Puritan soil, its tenets are increasingly adopted by European politicians and pundits. They see Muslim minorities as a threat or contemplate electoral gain by such claims. The Judeo-Christian paradigm is reinforced by an understandable sense of contrition among Christians for past anti-Semitic excess – specifically the Holocaust. Finally, the alliance offers the perfect backdrop for the realpolitik engaged up by resource-poor, yet resourceful countries to the detriment of an oil-rich Islamic Middle East. Even though that approach faced major internal contradictions: the defenders of democracy and human rights were all too happy supporting military dictators that represented their interests. Today the people of the Middle East clamor for democracy and human rights, the Western values that the West itself had so far refused to defend.

Unholy trinity

Interaction between three religions, each laying claim to universal truth, is inherently problematic. Nonetheless one shouldn’t eschew mutual criticism. An exchange of ideas between representatives of different religions based on knowledge of one’s own heritage, a healthy dose of humility, and devoid of demagoguery, benefits all. But most of all, self-criticism should be the norm.

Religions collide: from Catholics to Protestants, Sunnis and Shiites, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia. The recently, carefully spun politically correct “against Islam, not against Muslims,” ignores the often rather unsophisticated audience of populists. A politics of division based on a selective reading of history and religion is a dangerous game. It’s new, moral nor democratic. There is no alternative to the laborious, complex path of dialogue, or rather trialogue. A clash of cultures is not forthcoming. It has been going on for centuries. The challenge is to stop it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Islam, Judaism

Zelfkritiek is de moeder van de dialoog.

Islam, jodendom en christendom lijken erg op elkaar Zelfkritiek is de moeder van de dialoog 30 maart 2011 ( MO* ) — Tegenwoordig worden jodendom en christendom dikwijls voorgesteld als verwante zielen die staan voor democratie en mensenrechten, terwijl islam uit een heel ander hout zou zijn gesneden. Tom Kenis betoogt in dit essay dat er in de boeken en de praktijk van de drie religies weinig is dat die stelling staaft.

© Klaas Verplancke De Arabische revoluties lijken nogal wat clichés en vooroordelen overhoop te gooien. Zoals bijvoorbeeld dat islam en democratie niet met elkaar te verzoenen zijn, of dat de Arabische landen worden bevolkt door middeleeuwse zeloten, die met onverdraagzame ijver andersdenkenden bestrijden en trachten te vervolgen. Wat we op onze schermen zagen, waren pluralistische revoltes van mensen –jong en oud, mannen en vrouwen, en verdacht weinig baardmannen– die veel meer greep willen op hun bestuurders en hun samenleving. Dat heeft veel weg van democratie en is voor ons zeer herkenbaar.

Die Arabische revoluties lijken dus een probleem voor de Geert Wildersen van deze wereld die toch een fundamenteel verschil zien tussen islam enerzijds, onverzoenbaar met democratie, en de zogenaamde joods-christelijke traditie, die gezien wordt als het baken van democratie en verlichting. De antiautoritaire revoluties tonen dat het beeld veel en veel waziger is: Israël en het hele Westen waren immers wat blij met de dictaturen van Moebarak en co omdat die hun belangen dienden. Maar die tweedeling gaat om nog veel fundamenteler redenen niet op. Wie de betrokken heilige boeken én de eeuwenoude praktijken van de drie religies bestudeert, stelt vast dat de tweedeling op los zand is gebouwd.

Gedeelde wortels in het kwadraat Abraham stond als collectieve geestelijke voorvader aan de wieg van zowel het jodendom, het christendom als de islam. De drie tradities ontsproten uit een soort van versmelting tussen de filosofieën van het antieke Griekenland en de monotheïstische innovaties van Kanaänitische stammen in de late bronstijd. Gezamenlijk stellen ze God voor als eeuwige, bovennatuurlijke schepper, de bron van morele en juridische maatstaven, alwetend, almachtig, en bijwijlen een tikkeltje neerbuigend of zelfs bizar –getuige Gods wens Abraham’s enige zoon geofferd te zien, en dan weer niet. Dit is kennelijk een God die totale onderwerping eist. Ondanks de overweldigende overeenkomsten vinden de drie zich, vaker wel dan niet, in onderlinge strijd. En interne strijd: jodendom, christendom en islam splitsten zich al snel op in ontelbare geuren en smaken qua theologie, filosofie en rechtspraak. Desalniettemin zijn een aantal trends te ontwaren.

Joodse leer De halacha of joodse wetgeving, overgeleverd via Noah en Mozes, plus interpretaties en interpretaties van interpretaties, zijn van toepassing op alle aspecten van het menselijke leven. Huwelijk, echtscheiding, offerriten, spijswetten, maar ook huis-tuin-en-keukenstrafrecht vallen hieronder. Zo kan je volgens die geschriften gestenigd worden voor –onder andere– vloeken, rebelleren tegen je ouders en hekserij. Op incest bijvoorbeeld staat de doodstraf, door middel van gesmolten lood ingebracht in het keelgat van de vermaledijde. Halachische wetten worden traditioneel beschouwd als onveranderbaar en door God overgeleverd. Op dat vlak leunen de joodse geschriften sterk aan bij de islamitische opvatting van rechtspraak, met zijn harde kern van onveranderlijke, goddelijk-geïnspireerde decreten.

Joodse praktijk Tijdens de diaspora dient de halacha binnen joodse gemeenschappen her en der als afdwingbare religieuze en burgerlijke wet. De scherpste kantjes, zoals de doodstraf, raken al in de eerste eeuwen van onze jaartelling in onbruik. Sinds de Europese Verlichting volgen de meeste joden, overal en nergens thuis, grotendeels de seculariserende trends van hun adoptieve landen.

In het hedendaagse Israël heersen orthodoxe, rabbijnse rechtbanken echter nog steeds over wetten aangaande familie- en persoonlijke status op een manier die onverteerbaar zou zijn in pakweg het seculiere Frankrijk. Het burgerlijk huwelijk bestaat bijvoorbeeld niet. Gevolg: een aantal bijzonder ingewikkelde problemen rond buitenechtelijke kinderen, huwelijken tussen seculiere joden en huwelijken tussen verschillende geloofsgemeenschappen. Zo kon bijvoorbeeld onlangs een tot het jodendom bekeerde Canadees geen aanspraak maken op Israëlisch staatsburgerschap. Het orthodoxe rabbinaat aanvaardde zijn bekering onder een niet-erkende Canadese rabbijn niet. Datzelfde rabbinaat doet ook moeilijk over huwelijken tussen orthodoxe en niet-orthodoxe joden. Israëlische joden van een andere dan de orthodoxe strekking en seculiere joden trouwen dan ook vaak in Cyprus of elders. In het buitenland gesloten huwelijken worden namelijk wel erkend door de staat. Discriminatie tegen niet-joden, onder andere in de vorm van systematische onderfinanciering van overwegend niet-joodse steden en gemeenten, geeft eveneens stof tot nadenken. Het boek van de joodse Susan Nathan, die zelf in een Arabisch dorp in Israel ging wonen, was in dat verband verhelderend, om niet te zeggen schokkend.

Kortom, een strikte scheiding tussen staat en synagoge is nog veraf, ondanks de vergevorderde “ontsynagogisering” van het merendeel van de bevolking. ‘We moeten het erfgoed van onze vaderen terugbrengen naar de Israëlische natie’, zei de Israëlische mininster van Justitie Yaakov Ne’eman nog in 2009. ‘De Thora is de complete oplossing voor alle vragen die ons bezighouden.’

Nieuwe testament: geef aan caesar wat van caesar is Ondanks het beroemde citaat van Jesus, doorgaans gezien als een oproep om religie en politiek niet te mengen, beperkten de christelijke kerken doorheen de eeuwen zich zelden tot de geestelijke behoeften der gelovigen. Denken we maar aan de machtsstrijd tussen het pausdom en de katholieke koningen van het middeleeuwse Europa, de ontelbare bloedige religieuze oorlogen, en het krampachtig vasthouden aan relevantie en controle over de ontkerkelijkende samenlevingen van de negentiende en twintigste eeuw. Hoewel het Nieuwe Testament, in tegenstelling tot het Oude Testament, geen letterlijke aanspraak maakt op wereldlijke macht, heeft dat kerkelijke instellingen er eeuwenlang niet van weerhouden te doen alsof dat wel zo zou zijn.

Christelijke praktijk De scheiding van staat en religie in landen met christelijke meerderheden komt pas op gang in de loop van de negentiende eeuw. Helemaal voltooid is zij nog niet. Het programma van de Nederlandse christelijk-theocratische partij SGP, aanwezig in de Tweede Kamer en het Europese parlement, stelt onder andere: ‘Wetgeving en bestuur mogen de prediking van het evangelie niet hinderen, maar moeten deze bevorderen. De man [is] het hoofd van de vrouw, en zitting nemen van de vrouw in politieke organen strijdt met de roeping van de vrouw.’

Westers secularisme, individualisme en vrouwenemancipatie zijn betrekkelijk recente fenomenen. In de VS lijkt er zelfs sprake te zijn van een zekere terugkeer van religie in wereldlijke zaken. Secularisme wordt meestal opgevat als de bescherming van de staat tegen religieuze inmenging. De Bijbels georiënteerde founding fathers van de Verenigde Staten beoogden min of meer het omgekeerde, namelijk de bescherming van een religieuze samenleving tegen de seculariserende, haast kwaadaardige staat. Vandaag voeren hun ideologische erfgenamen zoals Sarah Palin een cultuuroorlog voor protestantse vroomheid en tegen “big government”. In hun strijd tegen moreel verval en goddeloosheid zien zij een grotere rol voor religieuze symboliek en praktijk in scholen, rechtbanken en wetgevende instanties. Meer religie in eig

Op incest staat de doodstraf, door middel van gesmolten lood ingebracht in het keelgat van de vermaledijde. en land gaat paradoxaal genoeg gepaard met straffe standpunten tegen die andere religie die volgens hen te veel aanspraak maakt op wereldlijke macht elders….

islamitische rechtspraak De islam maakt geen onderscheid tussen morele en juridische voorschriften. Een vaak aangehaald voorbeeld daarvan is soera 4, vers 59: ‘Gelovigen, gehoorzaam God… en gehoorzaam hen die met de autoriteit belast zijn.’ Toch diende de sharia –de in de Koran vervatte, overgeleverde uitspraken van Mohammed én rechtsgeleerde interpretaties– nauwelijks als exclusieve bron van wereldlijke rechtspraak. Vrij snel na de oprichting van het eerste kalifaat begonnen kaliefen, gouverneurs, en sultans wetten uit te vaardigen die niet door sharia behandeld worden. Dan gaat het onder andere over financiële transacties, belastingen en handel.

Naleving van zogenaamd universele religieuze wetgeving verschilt ook sterk van eeuw tot eeuw en zelfs van kalief tot kalief. Grosso modo heeft het twaalfde-eeuwse Spanje, met zijn verlichte wetenschap en religieuze tolerantie weinig uitstaans met de zevende-eeuwse bedoeïenen-kampementen in de Arabische woestijn waar Mohammed geboren werd. En waar plaats je de seculiere Tanzimat? Die hervormingsbeweging zette in de negentiende eeuw het Ottomaanse Rijk –waaronder grote delen van de Arabische wereld– in rep en roer.

Islamitische verlichting Economische achteruitgang gaat dikwijls hand in hand met maatschappelijke en religieuze stagnatie. Vanaf de vijftiende eeuw, en ook later met de komst van westerse koloniale overheersing in landen als Egypte en Tunesië, ontstaat er een diepe crisis. Op bruuske wijze voeren lokale potentaten westers gecodificeerd recht in, geïnspireerd, onder druk gezet of gedwongen door Europese mogendheden. In een eerste reactie pleit Hassan Al-Banna, oprichter van de Egyptische Moslimbroeders, tegen Europees kolonialisme maar voor bepaalde westerse ideeën en verregaande religieuze hervormingen. Islam, zo luidt het, moet zich aanpassen aan de vurig gewenste onafhankelijke natiestaten. De islamitische verlichting van de negentiende en vroeg twintigste eeuw, met nationalistische trekjes, wordt de kop ingedrukt en geradicaliseerd door koloniale overheden, en hun autoritaire inheemse opvolgers. In plaats van een hervorming van wat islam is, komt er een pleidooi voor het soort pure sharia dat nooit heeft bestaan.

Naar een vrije markt van ideeën Hedendaagse islamitische hervormers zitten vaak geklemd tussen seculiere of zelfs nominaal islamitische dictators en conservatieve geestelijken op wiens stilzwijgen de status-quo berust. Of toch tot voor kort. Het is nog vroeg om de impact in te schatten die de huidige omwentelingen in de Arabische wereld hebben op islam en politiek. Politieke liberalisering zal paradoxaal genoeg in eerste instantie meer islam in de publieke sfeer brengen. Dat is niet noodzakelijk een slechte zaak. Alleen daar, ver van de folterkamers van Moebarak, Ben Ali, en anderen, kunnen zich nieuwe ideeën en interpretaties ontwikkelen. Die gaan dan zowel over de plaats van islam in de samenleving als de aard van het beestje zelf. Een echte, vrije markt van ideeën, zo je wil. Het zou naïef zijn te verwachten dat dat proces noodzakelijk een “westerse” uitkomst produceert. Het omgekeerde is al evenmin waar. Egyptische en Tunesische Moslimbroeders krijgen er maar niet genoeg van te verwijzen naar het islam-democratische model dat in de laatste tien jaar van Turkije een regionale stoomtrein maakte.

Holocaust Het is zelden peis en vree geweest tussen jodendom, christendom en islam. Geen enkele religie gaat hierin vrijuit. Joden en christenen hadden het zeker niet gemakkelijk onder islamitische heerschappij. Hier en daar legden kaliefen onderscheidende kledij op, gedwongen bekeringen en slavernij, of kwam het occasioneel tot pogroms. Onderzoekers neigen echter naar de consensus dat dit veeleer uitzondering was dan regel. Het geweld van de christenen tegen joden steekt daar met kop en schouders bovenuit. De antisemitische misdaden van nazi-Duitsland en zijn handlangers vormden in deze een gruwelijk orgelpunt.

Joods-christelijke alliantie De koppeling tussen jodendom en christendom die door sommigen wordt gemaakt, is dus relatief recent, en ze vloeit niet op een evidente manier voort uit religieuze teksten of de geschiedenis. Ze werd pas voor het eerst gemaakt in de zeventiende eeuw en heeft sindsdien heel uiteenlopende gedaanten aangenomen: tot het christendom bekeerde joden, inspanningen tegen antisemitisme in liberale middens in de jaren dertig, een strijdkreet tegen het communisme in de jaren vijftig… Sinds de aanslagen van 9/11 –door terroristen die zegden zich te inspireren op de islam– houdt de joods-christelijke alliantie een radicale afwijzing in van de islam in al zijn maatschappelijke en politieke manifestaties. Hoewel die visie groeide op een Amerikaanse, protestantse en puriteinse bodem, wordt ze steeds vaker overgenomen door Europese politici en denkers allerhande. Zij zien moslimminderheden als een bedreiging en/of proberen met die bewering electoraal garen te spinnen. Het joods-christelijke paradigma wordt ook versterkt door een begrijpelijk gevoel van berouw bij christenen voor antisemitische uitspattingen – vooral de Holocaust. Ten slotte biedt de alliantie het perfecte kader voor de realpolitik die rijke maar grondstofarme landen voerden ten opzichte van het olierijke en islamitische Midden-Oosten. Ook al ging die aanpak gepaard met grote interne contradicties: de grote voorvechters van democratie en mensenrechten waren wat blij dictators militair en financieel te ondersteunen zolang die hun belangen vertolkten. En nu komen de bevolkingen op voor democratie en mensenrechten, de westerse waarden die het Westen zelf weigerde te verdedigen.

Onheilige drievuldigheid Interactie tussen drie godsdiensten die allemaal een universele waarheid aan de man brengen, is per definitie problematisch. Wederzijdse kritiek moet kunnen. Een uitwisseling van ideeën tussen de verschillende religies gebaseerd op kennis van het eigen erfgoed, een gezonde dosis nederigheid, en wars van demagogie, komt iedereen ten goede. Maar vooral zelfkritiek moet het uitgangspunt zijn.

Religies botsen: van katholieken tot protestanten, van soennieten en sjiieten, van antisemitisme tot islamofobie. De recente, zorgvuldig gesponnen, politiek correcte nuance ‘tegen islam, niet tegen moslims’ gaat voorbij aan de dikwijls nogal ongesofisticeerde achterban van populisten. Een politiek van verdeeldheid gebaseerd op een selectieve lezing van geschiedenis en religie is een gevaarlijk spel. Het is nieuw, moreel, noch democratisch. Er is geen alternatief voor de moeizame, complexe weg van de dialoog, of beter gezegd: trialoog. Een botsing van culturen –gedenk Samuel Huntington– staat er niet aan te komen. Die is al eeuwenlang bezig. De uitdaging bestaat erin ze te beëindigen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Islam, Israel, Judaism, Palestine, Religion

The righteous men by Sam Browne

The righteous men by Sam Browne

71x1zOsOibL._SL1386_Just finished reading this book. If you don’t wanna have the plot spoiled for you, don’t read on. The main character of the book is a rookie New York Times journalist whose wife gets kidnapped. The trail leads him first and foremost into Crown Hights, Hassidic Jewish turf. It is indeed they who are holding the hapless woman.

Meanwhile a number of people are being killed worldwide. They are the so-called 26 righteous men; saintly men that perform deeds of unprecedented goodness in all anonymity that according to Jewish tradition uphold the world against the commonness, the sins of all other human beings.

The people that are killing them turn out to be supersessionist messianic Christians that wish to usher in the end of the world; the moment where Jesus comes charging back to cast his final judgment on each and everyone. Funny enough, last Thursday I sat talking to friend about the crazy messianics that are known for their so-called pro-Israel stance, for the fact that they spare no resources to get Jews to go to Israel. In support of the state of Israel, they espouse views that would make the most avid of Likudniks blush. Indeed, anything that reeks of compromise with loathsome Arabs is condemned with unprecedented zeal.

They seem to believe that Jesus will in fact come back once all the Jews are reassembled in the Holy land. But ay, here’s the rub; On this sacred day, the Jews will have to accept the true calling of God or face immediate destruction.

Indeed, every advise they have for Israel, every policy that they subscribe to is a recipe to bring about ill times, not in some far away realm of time, but right here, right now in this day ‘n age. It is to be expected that in their modern day prophecising they look to Iran as the bringer of God’s wrath.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Israel, Judaism, Religion



JODIE FOSTERI flew home two days ago. Direct flight. It was a night flight. You travel when everyone else, apart hopefully the captain of your vessel, sleeps. There was no window seat available, nor an aisle one. I was sat wedged. One, at the window, and orthodox Jew, the other, some man who made himself remarkable only by the fact that he lost his passport one minute after boarding, although he was certain he had it when he was helping some feeble dame get her trolley in the overhead bin.

His name was Eli. The Orthodox dude that is. They had no kosher meal for him.

I’m sorry sir, you have to call the airline at least 20 hours in advance,’ said the steward. There was only one stewardess out of the whole bunch, in her thirties. Rather good-looking, but not in a cocky, Britney Spears in Toxic-kind of way. Flight attendants of the Belgian carrier always strike one in the way they’re so familiar. You know them, or at least look reasonable to assume that you’ve met them at some point in a bar in Hasselt while you were ordering a drink at the bar at the same time they were. You might even have said something along the lines of who’s leg you have to hump around here to get some service but they wouldn’t get it in the most benign way that makes you wanna buy them a beer too and sit down and explain it. Mostly you wouldn’t notice them. It’s the little suits and tight skirts that do it. There’s something about a woman in a uniform.

I got to talking to Eli. He was in a Jeshiva in Jerusalem. He lived somewhere in the Northeast of the city with his wife and six kids. I told him what I was doing because he asked me. I’d brought my book. Maybe I could finish it by the time I landed, I thought. We talked almost the whole flight through. He was a very friendly chap. What did I think of the situation up North? He was a very moderate man, soft-spoken. ‘The Hezbollah hide among the civilian population.’

That much is true. I said that that didn’t make over a thousand people any less dead. There was no quarrel in our conversation. We laid out some facts together. It’s my hope that some day Israelis will live in peace with their neighbours and vice versa. Palestinians will have to give up the dream of a land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Israel will have to give up the dream of a land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It almost sounds mundane, boring. Something our little talk wasn’t. Not a minute of the approximate 4 hours of it was. How often do you get to talk to a Torah scholar? He was from Antwerp and spoke a slightly rusty Flemish. His French was better so we switched back and forth a bit. It’s a Belgian thing I guess.

He had no qualms about giving up the settlements, but what about East Jerusalem? He fidgeted a little with his beard when he asked this. I’m always the diplomat, never ready to brusque anyone, go against the grain.

Yeah, that too should be returned. You can work out the details and the ugly nitty-gritty of compromise, but in essence, you cannot keep it. If pullback is about demographics, then it should go. I told him about Palestinians fleeing the expensive real-estate of the old city and setting up shop in Pisgat Ze’ev. The question of East Jerusalem is perhaps, not even one of volition. My wording was perhaps a little more vague than this but for one whose interest lies in sifting through centuries old tractates and philosophical musings, I guess it shouldn’t be too hard to discern the message.

At some point our conversation swung toward pedagogy. There’d been something in the newspaper about a class of 14 year-old girls goading each other into committing suicide. Horrible drama might have come of it had not some attentive social worker noticed the beehive tension and its morbid undercurrent. Eli pulled up his mobile phone and he said ‘everybody lives for tomorrow. There is no time, no tolerance for today. Today’s phone is never quite modern enough. You have to have tomorrow’s model.’ Via some leap of rationale that escaped me, the argument connected with the girls and their glum fascination. He entered into a perusal of thought that I had a hard time catching up with. Maybe it really didn’t make any sense. He talked of proof for what he said which he’d found in the scriptures.

I wasn’t sure I had a ticket for this particular train of thought and when he’d stop and ask for a decent reply I’d get thrown off like the hapless hobo that I was at that point.

So, how do we help those teenage girls then?’ I asked.

I don’t know. It’s going to be difficult,’ he answered.

Hours tend to just fly by when you’re engaged in conversation. I’m sure if you look out the window of a plane you can see them overtake you. Maybe.

It was a night flight. It was the 11th, which is when the Perseid meteor shower is at its height. It was cloudy and we saw nothing. Not even the supersonic exhaust fumes of time. Most likely it had landed already and was by now hanging around impatiently around the conveyor belt at baggage pick-up.

The guy on my left, who’d been quite panicked by the sudden disappearance of his passport, was sedate now and when I asked him about the incident, shortly before landing, he said he’d simply left it in his jacket in the overhead bin. ‘Thanks for asking.’

I couldn’t help but think of Jodie Foster in Flightplan. The analogy was, apart from the presence of an airliner, a bit tenuous. Maybe I just like Jodie Foster. Maybe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Judaism, Religion