Political · World Affairs

One Of My Favourite Writers

October has been a dry month, at least, in terms of writing this blog. It’s like that sometimes I suppose. I need an outside stimulus to get the creative juices flowing, and it just hasn’t happened for the last few weeks.

The outside stimulus for today comes indirectly from the current news about the Labour Party and Antisemitism, together with a novel I’m reading by one of my favourite writers, Chaim Potok, and the Psalm that I read in my morning prayers today.

First, Chaim Potok. In the last year or so, I’ve been reading his novels and one work of non fiction. Every thing I have read is informative, powerful, moving, often heartbreakingly sad, and deeply human.

What I have read so far:

Novels:
The Chosen (1967)
The Promise (1969)
My Name is Asher Lev (1972)
In the Beginning (1975)
The Gift of Asher Lev (1990)
I am the Clay (1992)

Non Fiction
The Gates of November (1996)

I have yet to read several others, including
Wanderings (1978) – Chaim Potok’s history of the Jews.

Chaim Potok was a Rabbi and novelist, who wrote a number of very powerful novels, many of them set in Jewish communities of New York in the middle of the 20th century.

I’m in the middle of ‘In the Beginning’ which tells the story of a Jewish family in New York, recently arrived from Poland. It’s set in the late 1920’s and is told from the perspective of a young boy, David. I have just got to a part where the Jewish community in New York are beginning to hear news reports of a massacre of Jews in Hebron. Potok weaves the factual account into his fictional story. That made me go and find out more about what happened. On 24th August 1929, 67 or 69 Jews were killed by Arabs incited to violence by rumours that Jews were planning to seize control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Alongside that I read this in Psalm 123:

3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
    for we have endured no end of contempt.
4 We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

The history of oppression against the Jews goes back a very long way – to the enslavement of God’s chosen people in Egypt around 1400 B.C. Since then, there have been numerous other examples – the captivity and exile of the Jews to Babylon in around 600 B.C. The conquering of Palestine by Alexander the Great, and the Roman occupation around the time of Christ. Add to that the persecution of the Jews through history, the pogroms in Russia in the 19th and early 20th century, and the indescribably horrific and inhuman events of the holocaust.

History is important. We cannot take the events of today and try to interpret them without some understanding of how we got here. So the debate on anti-semitism must be understood in the light of the thousands of years of Jewish suffering.

So far, I’m totally with those voices that decry any forms of antisemitism.

However, let’s look at the definition of anti-semitism on the gov.uk website. It includes this: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Hhmm, I’m nt sure about that one. According to the Absentees’ Property Law (1950), Palestinian refugees expelled after November 29, 1947, are “absentees” and are denied any rights. Their land, houses/apartments, and bank accounts (movable and immovable property) were confiscated by the state.

Simultaneously, the Law of Return (1950) gave Jews from anywhere in the world the right to automatically become Israeli citizens. 

So discrimination against Palestinians goes back to the founding of the state of Israel. Isn’t discrimination against someone because of their racial identity racism in action ? It’s also clear that the current actions of the state of Israel are based in treating a group of people differently because of their Palestinian identity.

The grave injustices that are being done to the Palestinian people by the state of Israel in the name of security continue. The United Nations has ruled that the Jewish settlements in Palestinian land are illegal. Bit by bit, and over many years, the Palestinian people have themselves been oppressed and denied their human rights.

Sadly, as history again tells us, the European colonial powers must bear much of the responsibility for the situation we have today. Colonial powers carved up, and decided on borders for large parts of Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, as well as being responsible for the oppression of the indigenous peoples of Africa, Australasia and the Americas. Perhaps there should be a national day each year when we (‘Great Britain’) acknowledge the wrongs that we have perpetrated in the name of power and wealth.

So what can I say about a situation that has proved to be insoluble to some of the the greatest politicians and diplomats of our time ? I’m trying to listen to the voices of the ordinary people whose lives are impacted, especially those affected by the occupation.

I have listened to some of those voices, and one of the most important foundations for a peaceful settlement in Israel/Palestine is the issue of equality. Somehow, we have to get to a point of recognising and respecting the equality of all people, regardless of colour, ethnicity, national identity, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation. That would be a start. Until the Palestinian people are treated as equals under the law by Israel, there can never be a solution, two state, or one state.

This article by Jewish journalist Peter Beinhart might be helpful.

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Song for Today #14

This song was performed yesterday at the Black Lives Matter event in Gloucester Park

So many people have recorded this – Here’s Labi Siffre



The higher you build your barriers
The taller I become
The farther you take my rights away
The faster I will run
You can deny me
You can decide to turn your face away
No matter, cos there’s….

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong

The more you refuse to hear my voice
The louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho
Your lies will come tumbling
Deny my place in time
You squander wealth that’s mine
My light will shine so brightly
It will blind you
Cos there’s……

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong

Brothers and sisters
When they insist we’re just not good enough
When we know better
Just look ’em in the eyes and say
I’m gonna do it anyway [x4]

Something inside so strong
And I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong

Brothers and sisters
When they insist we’re just not enough
When we know better
Just look ’em in the eyes and say
I’m gonna do it anyway [x4]

Because there’s something inside so strong
And I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me, so wrong
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong



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Song for Today #12

Just been listening to this … version released in 2016 … always has a message, but seems especially powerful now.

“#WHERESTHELOVE” is a modern transformation of The Black Eyed Peas’ 2003 hit “Where’s The Love?” The 2016 update addresses various social justice issues such as the protest of unnecessary violence, police brutality, and discrimination based on race (including refugee and immigration issues), gender and religious beliefs across the world. The original version addressed many issues following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, including terrorism, racism, war, and intolerance.
[will.i.am]
People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurtin’, I hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preachin’?
Would you turn the other cheek again?

Mama, mama, mama, tell us what the hell is goin’ on
Can we all just get along?
Father, Father, Father, help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questioning

(Where’s the love?)
Yo, what’s going on with the world, momma?
(Where’s the love?)
Yo, people living like they ain’t got no mommas
(Where’s the love?)
I think they all distracted by the drama
And attracted to the trauma, mama
(Where’s the love?)
I think they don’t understand the concept
Or the meaning of karma
(Where’s the love?)

[Diddy]
Overseas, yeah, they trying to stop terrorism
(Where’s the love?)
Over here on the streets, the police shoot the people
Put the bullets in ’em
(Where’s the love?)
But if you only got love for your own race
(Where’s the love?)
Then you’re gonna leave space for others to discriminate
(Where’s the love?)

[will.i.am]
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate, then you’re bound to get irate
Madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how hate works and operates

Man, we gotta set it straight
Take control of your mind, just meditate
And let your soul just gravitate to the love
So the whole world celebrate it

People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurtin’, I hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preachin’?
Would you turn the other cheek again?

Mama, mama, mama, tell us what the hell is goin’ on
Can’t we all just get along?
Father, Father, Father, help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questioning

[Taboo]
(Where’s the love?)
It just ain’t the same, always in change
(Where’s the love?)
New days are strange, is the world insane?
(Where’s the love?)
Nation droppin’ bombs, killing our little ones
(Where’s the love?)
Ongoing suffering as the youth die young
(Where’s the love?)

[The Game]
Where’s the love when a child gets murdered
Or a cop gets knocked down?
Black lives, not now, everybody matter to me
All races, y’all don’t like what I’m sayin’? Haterade, tall cases
Everybody hate somebody, guess we all racist
Black Eyed Peas do a song about love and y’all hate this
All these protest with different colored faces
We was all born with a heart, why we gotta chase it?
And every time I look around

[Taboo & Ty Dolla $ign]
Every time I look up, every time I look down
No one’s on a common ground
(Where’s the love?)
And if you never speak truth
Then you never know how love sounds
(Where’s the love?)
And if you never know love
Then you never know God, wow
(Where’s the love?)
Where’s the love, y’all? (I don’t, I don’t know)
Where’s the truth, y’all? (I don’t know)

[Justin Timberlake]
People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurtin’, I hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach?
Would you turn the other cheek?

Father, Father, Father, help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questioning
(Where’s the love?)
(Where’s the love?)

[DJ Khaled]
Love is the key
(Where’s the love)
Love is the answer
(Where’s the love)
Love is the solution
(Where’s the love)

(Where’s the love)
They don’t want us to love
(Where’s the love)
Love is powerful
(Where’s the love)
(Where’s the love)

[A$AP Rocky & Jaden Smith]
My mama asked me why I never vote (never vote)
‘Cause police men want me dead and gone (dead and gone)
That election looking like a joke (such a joke)
And the weed man still sellin’ dope (oh, no)
Somebody gotta give these niggas hope (give us hope)
All he ever wanted was a smoke (my gosh)
Said he can’t breathe with his hands in the air
Layin’ on the ground, died from a choke
(Where’s the love?)

[apl.de.ap & Fergie]
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders
As I’m gettin’ older y’all people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ the wrong direction
Wrong information I was shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinemas

What happened to the love
And the values of humanity?
(Where’s the love?)
What happened to the love
And the fairness and equality?
(Where’s the love?)
Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity
(Where’s the love?)
Lack of understanding leading us away from unity
(Where’s the love?)

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Speaking Up

Like so many others, I’ve been thinking in recent weeks about the particular injustices that continue to be the experience of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups.
I need to know how to speak and act with integrity. 
Last year I read the book ‘Just Mercy’ about a miscarriage of justice in 1980’s Alabama.  I wrote a song about it – ‘Just Mercy’
I did wonder at the time about whether it’s OK for someone to write about a situation/experience about which you know nothing ?  How acceptable is it to create something – book, song, film, picture – about subject matter that relates to a marginalised person or group without some kind of permission ?
It almost seems arrogant.
So what do I, as a white, privileged male, need to keep in mind when I am talking, or writing about the Black Lives Matter issue ?
I had a conversation with a teacher yesterday who has been looking at the English curriculum in her secondary school, and being shocked about the almost zero representation of BAME writers.
(So much of the time we/I can be simply blind to what is out there, plain to see if only we would take the time to look).
The teacher above is now trying to raise awareness of this lack in the English curriculum, in the hope that syllabuses will work towards a more just representation of the diversity of authors.
So it’s not just about what goes on inside our heads – having the right attitudes towards the race issue, but about looking for ways to speak and act to address injustice.
The recent protests have thrown this into sharp focus.  For example, we watched as the statue of Edward Colston (English merchant involved in the slave trade), was torn down this week and thrown into Bristol harbour.
The response in Bristol seems to be a way forward – the statue was taken from the water, and as Ray Barnett, head of collections and archives at Bristol City Council explained: 

“The ropes that were tied around him, the spray paint added to him, is still there so we’ll keep him like that, preserving him as he was tipped into the dock, while the decision is made how to move on'”

The statue was then transported to the city’s M-Shed museum where it will be exhibited alongside placards from the Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday.

There are those who say the statue should not have been treated in this way.  It represents a different time in our history and should not be removed.  Yet history is being made every moment, and the spray painted statue will hopefully now be linked forever with the abomination that was the slave trade, and our complicity whenever we allow injustice to go unchallenged.