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Yours faithfully Bertrand Russell : A Lifelong Fight for Peace, Justice, and Truth in Letters to the Editor: Letters to the Editor, 1904-1969 – Ray Perkins (Editor)

Bertrand Russell was one of the greatest philosophers of our time. In addition, he engaged in a lifelong battle with the forces of injustice — emphasizing the importance of practice as well as theory. His most effective weapon in this struggle was letters to newspapers and magazines, most of which are collected in this volume. Russell exposes the irrationality of leaders and defends the public against the evils of the time, from British conscription in World War I many COs saw him as their hero) and fascism in the 1930s to McCarthyism in the 1950s and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. These 400 witty, acerbic letters show him brilliantly sparring with both ordinary citizens and the most powerful leaders of the day, touching on everything from war and peace to sexual ethics and religion.

The final document is Russell’s posthumous statement to the Conference of Parliamentarians in Cairo.

Each chapter has a brief overview of the period in Russell’s life, further situating the letters.

The letters themselves are fascinating indications of shifts in Russell’s thinking, pointing out the nuances of such shifts as he engages in debate with various other voices over a very long and active life. What emerges is not a lone thinker pouring out books and essays, remote from the debates of his time, but rather a witty, passionate, intellectual figure whose thinking is dynamically reacting to, and growing through, dialogue with others, both his critics and those he critiques. In a sense, walking through this book was an intriguing venue for walking through Russell’s life once again

Perkins is also careful to offer introductions to each letter, and the occasional footnote to explain various references in the letters (names of individuals that may not be familiar to readers, major events referred to, etc.).

As co-founder, with Canon John Collins, of CND, he spells out the dangers of the nuclear deterrent in words than ordinary people could understand. He alerted people to nuclear accidents when most people thought they were impossible.

He supported Jews in Russia and blacks in the USA.

 He was in favour of homosexual law reform as early as 1954 and supported birth control.

Those who parrot ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘British Values’ should know hat immigration officials, under Harold Wilson, tried to stop James Baldwin from entering the country to testify in a war crimes tribunal.

Pacifists weren’t commemorated during the 50th anniversary of World War. At its centenary, things are different.

 It’s repetitive in places.

 (Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS, was a Welsh philosopher, historian, logician, mathematician, advocate for social reform, pacifist, and prominent rationalist. Although he was usually regarded as English, as he spent the majority of his life in England, he was born in Wales, where he also died.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950 “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”)

Quotations:

Bertrand Russell’s letters to the editor give us a unique look at one of the most important philosophers, and one of the most oustanding fighters for justice and peace, of the past one hundred years.

Russell was a great and prodigious writer, penning some 80 books and thousands of articles during his long and active life and receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. He made special use of the letter to the editor as a principal means of connection with, and persuasion of, the body politic. This is especially true of his anti-nuclear campaign of the late 1950s and early 1960s; it is true as well of his revelatory criticisms of the American intervention in Vietnam in the mid-1960s.

Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell is a collection of Russell’s letters to the editor between 1904 and 1969. (A few other documents, not strictly letters, are included, but the great majority are letters to the editor.) All of Russell’s known letters to the editor, about 400 in toto, were carefully read and culled for duplication, leaving nearly 300 letters which are presented here. The letters, on a wide variety of topics, are arranged chronologically in six Parts representing six historical periods. Since Russell’s public life was largely focused on the prevention of war and the preservation of humanity, these six historical periods are very naturally demarcated according to the chronology of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, with the Cold War being divided at the end of 1962, after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although the theme of war and peace largely defined Russell’s public life, many other topics are also covered in these letters.

I have provided a brief introduction to each Part to give the reader a sense of the historical context of Russell’s life and an overview of his activity during that period, and I have given each letter a brief introduction where additional information is needed.

And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country`s pride.

The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was “given” by a foreign power to another people for the creation of a new state. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless. With every new conflict their numbers increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty?

No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate?

Christian values are “historically unimportant since they have never influenced the conduct of Christian communities or prominent Christian individuals.”

 

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The Wound (2017) Inxeba (original title)

Winning the Best First Feature award at the London Film Festival was The Wound from South African director John Trengove, starring gay musician Nakhane Touré as Xolani, a factory worker who guides Kwanda, a city boy from Johannesburg, as he undergoes his rite of passage into manhood. The intense, powerful film explores same-sex desire from three perspectives as Kwanda asserts his queer identity while uncovering a hidden sexual relationship between Xolani and guide Vija.

In a joint interview with the director and lead actor, Trengove explained that he specifically wanted to set a story of same-sex desire within traditional culture, something he considered potent at a time when “horror stories were coming out of Uganda about the human rights abuses there” and Robert Mugabe “was making all these statements about homosexuality being ‘un-African’.”

But he also wanted to avoid what he named the “The National Geographic” approach to a kind of ethnographic appreciation of the beautiful African landscape and the exotic black male body. In contrast, he takes us claustrophobically close to his protagonists, while some of the bigger sequences involving multiple non-professional actors from the Xhosa community are borderline-documentary.

The story tracks a closeted relationship between two men in the context of the Xhosa initiation ritual of Ulwaluko. Xolani, a factory worker, joins the men of his community at the annual initiation ceremony in the mountains of Eastern Cape. In addition to serving as a mentor to the boys undergoing the ceremony, Xolani looks forward to the annual tradition due to the fact that it provides him the opportunity to re-establish his sexual and romantic relationship with Vija. When Xolani is assigned to be the mentor of Kwanda, a young man from Johannesburg, he quickly realizes that Kwanda is also gay, and Kwanda soon realizes the nature of the relationship between Vija and Xolani. Tensions soon rise between the three men.

No prizes for guessing that “The Wound” alludes to more than one injury — whether physical or psychological — in its title, though it gets to its most vivid literal interpretation straight away. Ukwaluka, a lengthy, tribally rooted rite of passage for male Xhosa teens, begins with their ritual circumcision in the wilderness, and continues through the weeks that the resulting wound takes to heal, with the boys sequestered from society until their manhood is thus proven. Prominently and somewhat romantically described by Nelson Mandela in his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” — thus breaking the ritual’s traditional vow of secrecy — it has become a hot-button issue in its home country, with many questioning its medical safety. Unlike Ousmane Sembène’s searing “Moolaadé,” which opened international viewers’ eyes to the controversial ritual of female circumcision on far younger children, “The Wound” isn’t overly concerned with censure as it attentively documents the ins and outs of ukwaluka.

For Xolani (Nakhane Touré), a 30-ish factory worker in the uninspiring Eastern Cape drive-through of Queenstown, ukwaluka hasn’t set him up for the “straighter, taller, firmer” adulthood described by Mandela. A lonely, closeted homosexual, he mourns the squandered opportunities of his education; the social high point of his year, meanwhile, is an annual return to the site of his initiation, where he administers to new candidates as a khaukatha, or mentor. There, his annual objective is to renew sexual relations with childhood friend and fellow khaukatha Vija (Bongile Mantsai), a married father of three who invests more than Xolani in the tribal rhetoric of traditional masculinity. Xolani’s attitude to his young charges is indifferent, though his routine is upset when he’s assigned to Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), an assertive, semi-westernized teen from the plush suburbs of Johannesburg, forced into ukwaluka by his wealthy tribesman-made-good father, who deems his son “too soft.” City boy Kwanda is more spiky than soft — he outrages the tribal elders by scornfully questioning the ritual at every turn — but it doesn’t take Xolani long to identify him as nascently gay.

In the partly sentimental version of “The Wound,” this would be a point of bonding, as man and boy help each other through their shared difference. Trengove’s film is harsher and more complicated than that, sensitive to the hard taboo that homosexuality remains in black South African culture — “The Wound’s” sexually frank depiction of which marks it as something of a milestone in the country’s cinema. Xolani and Kwanda’s mutual recognition stokes hostile fear rather than friendship, violently triangulated with Vija’s bullying tactics. Trengove’s script, co-written with Thando Mgqolozana and Malusi Bengu, is occasionally too on the nose in identifying the tensions in this scenario (“You want me to stand up and be a man, but you can’t do it yourself!”), but is both sensitively nuanced in its portrait of an outmoded tribal culture coming apart at the seams. Returning sons are chastised for “fucking off to the city,” yet masculinity is still measured in terms of material success: As the boys compare their healing circumcision scars, one is even praised for his “Mercedes-Benz cut.”

“The Wound” is rich in such small, observational details. Trengove, a white filmmaker, takes a reserved but not entirely objective anthropological approach to his exactingly researched subject, co-opting Kwanda’s culturally conflicted perspective as a relative outsider to a world that wouldn’t welcome him for who he is. If the film doesn’t wholly sympathize with his aggressive contempt for tradition, Xolani’s disingenuous compliance is hardly shown to be preferable — particularly as the film’s moral quandaries turn ever more ugly and extreme.

Cinematographer Paul Özgür’s widescreen lens negotiates a tricky balance of representation, lingering over the unfamiliar symbols and textures of Xhosa tradition — ghostly body paint applied to young black skin, the stark white and red lines of their ceremonial loincloths, the incongruous interruption of Kwanda’s nose piercing amid his traditional garb — without exoticizing them for art’s sake. Still, this is a film of many indelible images, not all of them unusual: One exquisitely lit scene sees Xolani and Vija roughly horsing around in the yellowed, waving grass of the Eastern Cape veld, a rural tableau rudely invaded by the vast steel skeletons of electricity pylons. In “The Wound,” modernity and tradition each yield scars of their own.

These prompts by psychologist Arthur Aron foster closeness through mutual vulnerability.

All actors cast were first language Xhosa speakers with direct experience of the initiation.

The film was made against a background of Uganda seeking to criminalise homosexuality and Mugabe claiming it was a white man’s problem. The Xhosa seem to turn a blind eye to it and think that circumcision will cure it.

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Pilgrimage in Islam – A. Arjana

We RE teachers who learned about and taught the Hajj in great detail were taken by surprise to hear of other pilgrimages on the news, e.g. to Karbala during the Iraq war.  Religion is not as simple as we tried to make it. Journeys are undertaken to visit graves of important historical and religious individuals, the tombs of saints, and natural sites such as mountaintops and springs. She is primarily interested in what Muslims do with their bodies and what they say those activities mean – rather than the authoritative claims Muslims make about what Islam is or should be. She leads readers on a global trek, stopping in Touba, Senegal; Mashhad, Iran; Tembayat, Indonesia; and Detroit, Michigan – among many others

The cover, showing the ka’aba, is unfortunate, given the subject matter of the book.

I like the Alevi idea that making people happy is more important than Hajj.

Who decides whether Bahais, Nation of Islam and Ahmadyyah are true muslins? Is like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses in Christianity?

Some observe 7 pillars, others only 3.

There is superstition too, like the robber who found himself in heaven because he’d inadvertently picked up some dust from Karbala. Intention, however, is usually important.

Deuteronomy 33:2 is appropriated as a prophecy of Muhammad (pbuh) (He said: “The LORD came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran. He came with myriads of holy ones from the south, from his mountain slopes. – HOW?)

At the end of the first chapter, Arjana’s primary concern is with sectarian debates regarding the idea of Ziyarat (pilgrimages to sites associated with important Muslim figures, from Muhammad’s family to Sufi saints). Ziyarat centered on the dead are particularly interesting, and this chapter shows how political histories play an important role in the construction of Islamic sacred spaces. This chapter looks at the numerous factors in pilgrimage including politics, theology, ritual, and concerns surrounding gendered and sexual identities. Critiquing the political forces behind the Salafi ideology that seeks a stringent form of Islam, Arjana exposes Wahabi opposition to the Ziyarat and their stigmatizing of “others” in the name of Bida’ah (religious innovation) and Shirk (idolatry). As Arjana continues to describe questions of legality that emanate from issues of gender and sexuality, she explores the problems posited by the orthodox sects concerning the free mixing of the sexual bodies as part of a pilgrimage, which is prohibited in Islam. But in recent times, feminists and supporters of LGBT people are arguing for the free mixing of differently sexed bodies, which gives an agency and strength to the female pilgrims and undermines heteronormativity.

The second chapter deals with sacred spaces such as Mecca, Jerusalem, and Medina, which are the most important and famous pilgrimage sites in the history of Islam. Arjana places Jerusalem first, explaining the connectedness spaces there to Islam because of their historical precedence and their rootedness and relationship with the history of Christians and Jews. She then takes up Mecca and places it in the history of the Prophet Muhammad, and its literary traces to Abraham and Hagar. Medina is discussed by Arjana in relation to its prominence in the life of the Prophet and his grave, from which the debates over visitation of graves arise.

In the third chapter, Arjana traces the trajectory of Shia pilgrimage and its genealogy to the Prophet’s household. She repeatedly describes Karbala, as the primary political symbol in Shiism that has inaugurated the sanctification of places according to their exclusive historical memories. Dealing with the concept of bodies in the Shia pilgrimage, Arjana explores the emergence of Ziyarat in various Shia communities such as the Ismailis and Zayidis.

In the chapter entitled “Sufism and Shared Pilgrimages: Contestation of Identities,” Arjana’s primary concern is the development of the idea of Sufism and how it can be used as a device to analyze practices regardless of community affiliation. As Arjana herself concedes, she is using Sufism is an arbitrary category, a tool to analyze the complex nature of the pilgrimages. By describing the histories and narratives of the Awliyas (Friends of God) and their tombs, she argues that Sufi pilgrimages have posed a challenge to the scholarly typologies and categories regarding Islamic pilgrimage. One issue Arjana engages repeatedly in this chapter are pilgrimages that accommodate people from other religions too.

The final chapter, “Modern Muslim Pilgrimages: Tourism, Space, and Technology,” covers the negotiation of sacred space to accommodate it under new categories from the perspective of modernity. Finally, Arjana looks at how capitalism, modernity, and technology help us to understand how Islamic pilgrimage is changing in the modern world. The chapter’s focus is on the notion of centre and decentring, and the commodification of the sacred objects and holy spaces in the materialized world, and how pilgrimage sites are treated as tourist locales with the assistance of modern technology. Two different ways of performing pilgrimage are discussed at the end of this chapter. These methods are virtual pilgrimage, where an individual interacts with a sacred place or person remotely, and cyber-pilgrimage, through apps and using the internet. Just as Christians who can’t get to Jerusalem can do Stations of the Cross, so Muslim can re-enact pilgrimage at home.

At the end of the first chapter, Arjana’s primary concern is with sectarian debates regarding the idea of Ziyarat (pilgrimages to sites associated with important Muslim figures, from Muhammad’s family to Sufi saints). Ziyarat centred on the dead are particularly interesting, and this chapter shows how political histories play an important role in the construction of Islamic sacred spaces. This chapter looks at the numerous factors in pilgrimage including politics, theology, ritual, and concerns surrounding gendered and sexual identities. Critiquing the political forces behind the Salafi ideology that seeks a stringent form of Islam, Arjana exposes Wahabi opposition to the Ziyarat and their stigmatizing of “others” in the name of Bida’ah (religious innovation) and Shirk (idolatry). As Arjana continues to describe questions of legality that emanate from issues of gender and sexuality, she explores the problems posited by the orthodox sects concerning the free mixing of the sexual bodies as part of a pilgrimage, which is prohibited in Islam. But in recent times, feminists and supporters of LGBT people are arguing for the free mixing of differently sexed bodies, which gives an agency and strength to the female pilgrims and undermines heteronormativity.

The second chapter deals with sacred spaces such as Mecca, Jerusalem, and Medina, the most important and famous pilgrimage sites in the history of Islam. Arjana places Jerusalem first, explaining the connectedness spaces there to Islam because of their historical precedence and their rootedness and relationship with the history of Christians and Jews. She then takes up Mecca and places it in the history of the Prophet Muhammad, and its literary traces to Abraham and Hagar. Medina is discussed by Arjana in relation to its prominence in the life of the Prophet and his grave, from which the debates over visitation of graves arise.

In the third chapter, Arjana Shia pilgrimage and its genealogy to the Prophet’s household. She repeatedly describes Karbala, as the primary political symbol in Shiism that has inaugurated the sanctification of places according to their exclusive historical memories. Dealing with the concept of bodies in the Shia pilgrimage, Arjana explores the emergence of Ziyarat in various Shia communities such as the Ismailis and Zayidis.

In the chapter entitled “Sufism and Shared Pilgrimages: Contestation of Identities,” Arjana’s primary concern is the development of the idea of Sufism and how it can be used as a device to analyze practices regardless of community affiliation. As Arjana herself concedes, she is using Sufism is an arbitrary category, a tool to analyze the complex nature of the pilgrimages. By describing the histories and narratives of the Awliyas (Friends of God) and their tombs, she argues that Sufi pilgrimages have posed a challenge to the scholarly typologies and categories regarding Islamic pilgrimage. One issue Arjana engages repeatedly in this chapter are pilgrimages that accommodate people from other religions too.

The final chapter, “Modern Muslim Pilgrimages: Tourism, Space, and Technology,” covers the negotiation of sacred space to accommodate it under new categories from the perspective of modernity. Finally, Arjana looks at how capitalism, modernity, and technology help us to understand how Islamic pilgrimage is changing in the modern world. The chapter’s focus is on the notion of centre and decentring, and the commodification of the sacred objects and holy spaces in the materialized world, and how pilgrimage sites are treated as tourist locales with the assistance of modern technology. Two different ways of performing pilgrimage are discussed at the end of this chapter. These methods are virtual pilgrimage, where an individual interacts with a sacred place or person remotely, and cyber-pilgrimage, through applications and electronic devices using the internet.

It would seem that, as in Christianity, the corpses of saints are believed to be incorruptible.

Despite my having studied Islam in depth at a Western university, the glossary contained several words I’d not encountered before.

It’s a bit repetitive in places, especially concerning the Saudis forcing some practices underground.

Quotations:

there is no essential dichotomy between the sacred and the pro­fane. The aim of the Muslim community was to achieve such integration and balance between human and divine, exterior and interior, that such a distinction becomes irrelevant. Everything must be made to realize its sacred potential. No one location, therefore, was holier than another — at least in principle.

The twentieth-century scholar Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin argued that “the importance of the shrine is only marginally related to its authenticity as Zaynab’s final resting ground. Its greater sig­nificance lies in its role in attracting people, honoring Zaynab and the ahl al-bayt (the family of the Prophet Muhammad), and promoting piety as a model for good living?”36 In other words, historical facts surrounding a pilgrimage site are often less important than the religious imagination connected to a saintly figure. Saintly bodies typically inspire a rich religious imagination, “rooted in particular ways of imagining the place of human beings in the cosmos.”

the presentation of Islamic pilgrimage as consisting of a singular tradition in Islam — or even one that supersedes and then silences other traditions — reflects the Orientalist tendency to essentialize what is complex. There is also a racist edge to ignoring the complexities in Islam that must be acknowledged. Islam is too often seen as the religion of the Arabs, who are stereotyped or typecast as super-religious automatons, all praying the same and doing the same pilgrimage. The binary of orthodox and popular Islam comes into play here as well. Framing Sufism as “mysticism” contrasts the rationalism of modern Christianity to that of the “denial of rationality” of the religious Other, whose traditions are always subordinated.” This is certainly the case in pilgrimage, where “Sufi” traditions are contrasted with the grand pilgrimage to Mecca.

You can download it from here.

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Spa Night

Young adult David Cho, an only child of Korean descent, has thus far led a relatively insular life in Los Angeles all in service to the family, his parents Jin and Soyoung Cho. He still lives at home, and without question as an unspoken obligation has worked at the family restaurant, a job which he has done willingly as a good Korean boy respecting the family unit. The Chos are a traditional Korean family in that they still primarily speak Korean, attend church faithfully together on Sundays, and go together to the Korean spa as a cleansing and health ritual. Their life takes a turn when the restaurant goes bust, it in which they had placed all their proverbial eggs. Jin and Soyoung, as they hustle to find replacement work, decide that they will place what little finances they have for David to attend college to make a better life for himself. This change in direction will require David to retake his SAT’s as he placed little effort into them the first time around in his obligation to the restaurant and the probable belief that he wouldn’t require the score for anything, retaking the exam which requires more money for David to take an expensive SAT course. In the process, David gets a little taste of independence for the first time in his life, spending a few days shadowing an old church acquaintance, Eddie Baek, at USC – a favor offered by Eddie’s mother, Soyoung’s new employer – and as he can redirect the time that he spent at the restaurant not only in the SAT course but in other pursuits. What David does not tell his parents is that he is placing little effort into the SAT course – college about which he is ambivalent – instead getting a part-time job, cash under the table, working at one of the Korean men’s spas. That independence includes David being a little more open with himself about his homosexuality – his sexual orientation about which he has told no one – as he can see clandestine homosexual activity in certain areas of the spa. This new life places David at a loggerhead as he battles between fulfilling his own needs – including his sexual needs – against respecting his family and the Korean culture, especially as he can see that his parents are struggling, each of Jin and Soyoung who is dealing with those struggles in different ways.

The film’s idea came from when a friend of director Andrew Ahn told him a story about hot hookup with a guy in the steam room of a Korean spa.

Some of the research for the film involved online forums, and scouting spas. However, when trying to get permission to shoot the film at the spas, once the business owners knew of the content, the filmmakers were denied.

The movie is SLOW, and deals with the family drama of losing a business, and having a closeted son in the Asian culture over actually being a “gay” movie.

“Spa Night” takes too much time to portray David’s achingly slow and incomplete coming-out process, but its focus on the interior maelstrom of a teenager is extremely insightful. David is a dutiful son and a gay kid yearning to be himself in a community where that is just not done.

There’s a haunting shot of David and his parents standing outside the plate glass window, staring in at what was once their domain. It was more than a restaurant. It was the American Dream. It was David’s future. With his parents descending into panic, David focuses on getting a job. He sees a “Help Wanted” sign at a male-only spa, applies, and gets the job. As he mops the floors and puts out towels, he senses all around him the pulse of illicit sexual activity. It’s excruciating and intense.

David eventually does cross the line with a customer, after which the film imposes an exaggerated penance upon him, forcing David to scrub himself raw in the shower, followed by an elaborate formal apology to his boss — just two more examples in a wide range of Korean rituals we might otherwise never see, from the proper way of pouring sake to a traditional dol ceremony (an infant fortune-telling ritual also featured in his Sundance-selected thesis short).

Spa Night” is powerful in its silence and in the moments that the film doesn’t choose to elaborate on. Nothing is tied up perfectly, and all three of our leads are left suspended in moments of uncertainty, either unhappy with where life has led them or looking for a way out. It’s often so quiet that it has a tendency to feel a tad sparse, as if the film was stretched too thin over it’s running time, feeling the need to fill space for the sake of bulk rather than because the story dictated it. Ahn both wrote and directed the film, and as skillfully composed as it is, there might have been more to mine in a movie more comfortable with dialogue. For all of its storytelling intricacies, “Spa Night” would have benefited greatly from an editor who was happy to shave off scenes that went on too long.

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The Genius of Judaism By Bernard-Henri Lévy

It claims to be rooted in the Talmudic traditions of argument and conflict, rather than biblical commandments, borne out in struggle and study, not in blind observance.

Lévy has sought to embody over decades of championing “lost causes,” from Bosnia to Africa’s forgotten wars, from Libya to the Kurdish Peshmerga’s desperate fight against the Islamic State

1979 was a pivotal year for him. Me too – I left a job I loved and Thatcher came to power.

Lévy offers a critique of a new and stealthy form of anti-Semitism on the rise as well as a provocative defence of Israel from the left. He reveals the overlooked Jewish roots of Western democratic ideals and confronts the current Islamist threat while intellectually dismantling it.

Jews are not a “chosen people,” Lévy explains, but a “treasure” whose spirit must continue to inform moral thinking and courage today

The author an Algerian-born Jew who first came to notice in the early 1970s as one of the Nouveaux Philosophes who repudiated Marxism, has taken unfashionable positions, especially on Israel, that have alienated others on the French left of which he considers himself a part. But we also know that along with three successive wives (the last a famous French actress) he enjoys the attentions of a mistress, the clotheshorse Daphne Guinness; that he inherited a family fortune that allows him to live baronially when not wandering the hot spots of the world; and that he has spoken up in defense of Roman Polanski and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In France, B.H.L. has been compared to Albert Schweitzer and André Malraux — when he is not being mocked as a buffoon — and has persistently turned down the Legion of Honor. He comes, that is, in a blaze of press, which would be the envy of anyone who thinks for a living except for the fact that the pursuit of glamour, per se, has never sat well with an impression of intellectual gravitas. The total effect is of a paradoxical and Janus-headed character — of a man torn between a need for narcissistic display and the demands of a vigorous intellect, between his hedonistic impulses and a contravening passion for active engagement on behalf of the ideas he believes in.

The left, in particular, has long despised Lévy, in something like the way it came to despise Christopher Hitchens. That is because, even as he claims to be a socialist himself, he stands for three things that are anathema to the contemporary left. First, he is fundamentally opposed to the idea of revolution; he came to prominence in the 1970s as a spokesman for the “New Philosophers,” a group of young thinkers who rejected the violent revolutionary fantasies of French Marxists and Maoists. Second, he advocates an interventionist foreign policy in defense of humanitarianism and human rights—most recently, he supported the NATO action in Libya. Since at least the Iraq War, if not earlier, this idea has been scorned by the left as a mere fig leaf for Western imperialism, and a recipe for international chaos (with Libya as a case in point). And third, Lévy is a committed Jew, who places Jewishness and the state of Israel at the heart of his political and intellectual identity.

The significance of this can fully appear only if this French context is kept in mind. Essentially, what Lévy does here is to accept all the charges against him, and turn them against his enemies. Yes, he writes, he is an enemy of revolutionary violence, a defender of Israel, and an interventionist—all because he is a Jew. But Jewishness is not an illegitimate form of identity, a betrayal of universalism, a vestigial backwardness, as much of the European left believes. On the contrary, it is precisely in his Jewishness that Lévy locates the inspiration for his progressive politics. The genius of Judaism—the title pays homage to the famous 19th-century book by Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity—is for Lévy “a certain idea of man and God, of history and power,” which inspires his thinking and his actions.

Many paragraphs are just one sentence long; and Lévy indulges a taste for rhetoric that feels especially ostentatious in English. Like an orator, he gets carried away by his own enthusiasm: “Words old and new. Words of glory or mistrust. Gratuitous words. Words howled out or whispered. Words boldly pronounced but lacking resonance. Words timorously uttered and echoing long.” (This is actually just the start of a paragraph that includes many other types of “words.”) And dramatization goes hand-in-hand with self-dramatization: The first-person pronoun makes many appearances in this book, and Lévy writes with an assurance that readers will know all about his past positions, interventions, and controversies.

Rashi, he observes, is a key source for early medieval French vocabulary because he used many French words in his Bible and Talmud commentaries. Eighteenth-century ideas about popular sovereignty drew on the example of the Hebrew Bible: The French Revolution was made possible by “the contribution … [of] the children of Jerusalem.” Finally, Lévy writes that the greatest modern French writer, Marcel Proust, couldn’t have written as he did if he weren’t half-Jewish. His immense novel In Search of Lost Time is “a Mishnah of the Faubourg Saint-Germain,” the Paris neighbourhood where his aristocratic characters live.

There’s an odd assertion that if you leave off the last Hebrew letter of Sinai, you get a word that means ‘hate.’

In the second half of the book, Lévy focuses on the book of Jonah, which he turns into a parable about Jewish engagement with the non-Jewish world. Just as Jonah went to preach to the gentiles of Nineveh, so Jews must bring their legacy of prophetic justice to the peoples and places that need it. Immodestly, Lévy identifies himself with Jonah, and compares his visits to Ukraine and Libya to the prophet’s Ninevite mission: “I have been to Nineveh. … I have spent a non-negligible part of my life and considerable energy working on behalf of people other than my own, people … who were, in some cases, in potential or in fact, the enemies of who I am.” The divine message is that God “chose to view that evil as redeemable,” and thus Lévy’s message is essentially uplifting: that the brilliant scholars of Judaism, the authors of the Talmud, provide elucidation into “the great questions that have stirred humanity since the dawn of time.”

Lévy’s desire to ground his politics in Jewish textual tradition is an example of what he calls “inhabiting the name” of Judaism. He insists that progressive values are not opposed to Jewish tradition, but actually flow out of that tradition—a rhetorical movement that is familiar on the American Jewish left, but still radical in the French context, with its emphasis on secular universalism. “The genius of Judaism that I am seeking most certainly resides in the effort of going to Nineveh,” he writes, “in the relationship with the other and with the outside world that is the meaning of the lives of so many Jews and definitely of mine.” For Lévy, this outward-turning Judaism is nourished by turning inward to Jewish text—what he calls “the profusion of intelligence that flows from reading the Talmud.”

The problem with this line of argument is that it tends to remake Judaism in the image of 21st-century liberalism; and in fact, most of what Lévy describes as Jewish values are really Enlightenment values in Jewish drag. To take one example: Lévy argues passionately that the idea of Jewish chosenness does not entail any kind of superiority or divine favouritism. “The very idea of a privilege, of greater dignity, the very idea of an added increment of sacredness derived from the simple fact of being Jewish … is completely foreign to the profound genius of Judaism.” To believe otherwise, he says, is to fall into the delusion of Korach, the Biblical rebel against Moses, whose sin Lévy interprets as complacency about Jewish chosenness.

It’s not so much that Jews are ‘chosen’ but that they are gems – and nations suffer loss if they expel Jews.

Yet this kind of interpretation seizes on one idiosyncratic reading of a Biblical story in order to contradict the whole burden and meaning of Jewish tradition. For there is no doubt that Judaism, historically and textually, does believe that being Jewish is a privilege and a dignity. There is no way to read the Torah, starting with God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis, without accepting that God’s special love for the Jewish people is the very basis of Judaism. Of course, this election involves heavy burdens, and it can be seen—it often has been seen—as an ambiguous fate. But Lévy’s attempt to purge chosenness from the Jewish story is absurd, flying in the face of Bible, Talmud, and later texts alike. (I wonder if he has ever read the Kuzari of Yehuda Halevi, one of the greatest Jewish books, and an audacious argument for Jewish spiritual superiority. )

He asserts, about the Torah: “It is a book that, as Maimonides said in the last words of his ‘Guide for the Perplexed,’ invites me to be me, stimulates my singularity, and helps move me to the apex not of my narcissistic and phenomenologically individuated self but rather into the self-other, who discovers himself in what he has learned.”

He also suggests that the Holocaust is unique among genocides in that the Nazis wanted to eradicate all trace of Jews so that it was as if they never existed. (Yet why was Amsterdam’s Portuguese synagogue saved after the slaughter of its congregation?)

The divine message is that God “chose to view that evil as redeemable,” and thus Lévy’s message is essentially uplifting: that the brilliant scholars of Judaism, the authors of the Talmud, provide elucidation into “the great questions that have stirred humanity since the dawn of time.”

“I am searching for passages,” he writes (204).

“the secret name that lies beyond ourselves” and the need to hear “the outcry of divine intelligence” in the world (134).

Lévy in mind, one wonders if Oz and Oz‐Salzberger are not too orthodox, too inert, in their atheism.

“And since all men and women were created in God’s image, the sun is sweet to all eyes, all lives are sacred, and Sabbath rules must be broken to save every human life.” And soon after this, “we are each a unique variant of God’s image” (179–180). Does this talk of God mean they are religious after all? They seem conscious of their departure from the language of atheism, for they quickly suggest a secular equivalent of “created in God’s image.” It is: “We are each a singular chunk of humanity” (180).

“Man is a fragile and constantly imperiled idea,” and one that is “tenable only if humanity is conceived simultaneously as adama (born of the earth and its dust) and as bria, sekhel, or yech me‐aïn (created anew as an emanation of an unknowable and immeasurable intelligence)” (x‐xi).

“that fierce, depleting hand‐to‐hand combat with the text that is known as study” (119).

The problem is not how to determine, as you hear in the media, whether you have “the right” to criticize Israel or whether it is possible to be “anti‐Zionist” without being “anti‐Semitic.” The truth is that one can now be anti‐Semitic only by being anti‐Zionist; anti‐Zionism is the required path for any anti‐Semitism that wishes to expand its recruiting poll beyond those still nostalgic for the discredited brotherhoods. (13)

outrageous, however, that many academics have attributed all responsibility to Israel, while putting the Palestinian people “in the first place on the world podium of world suffering” (14).

“a systematic campaign of delegitimization that has no parallel on the world political scene” (41).

“one must never expect to get an answer to such questions [questions about whether one’s actions make a difference] before getting involved” because “we do not know anything, we will never know anything, and God is not there for the purpose of telling us” (188).

“one never knows which words will count and which will count for nothing, which actions will be conclusive and which immediately forgotten … and that one must try, try again, never give up, and tell oneself that just as good people may not always be recognized, there are true words that may not immediately be celebrated as such” (191).

Also, we must do everything we can to store up “all those just acts that have no tomorrow, those tiny sparks that do not erupt into flame, those stars immediately swallowed up in the dark hole of antimatter and nothingness” (191).

“Which is better: to be transiently wrong and absolutely right or to be temporarily right and wrong for eternity?” (192).

Do what must be done today without worrying too much about what may or may not happen tomorrow. And, as is said on the Jewish new year, judge people ba’asher hu sham—where they are now, in their current moral and mental state, without worrying excessively about what they really have in their hearts and bellies.

if orthodoxy means thinking that is frozen or petrified in its dogma and supposedly correct, well-rehearsed forms, then there is one place that, by definition, is antithetical to orthodoxy: the houses of study in which scholars devote all of their time to end­less dissection of individual verses of the Torah, to commentary on each verse, and to commentary on the existing commentary and so on, ad infinitum.

If an orthodox person is one who takes refuge in a forever-settled idea and spouts it obstinately without ever reconsidering it, there are certain people, again by definition, who are almost naturally immu­nized against the closing off of thought: the rabbis who never cease turning an idea over in their heads, spending hours, days, years, and many pages spinning out interminable paradoxes on the subject of the thousand and one ways of acting in the face of the tangle of contradic­tions posed by the slightest political, moral, metaphysical, or practical thought or decision—such as the appearance of a red heifer, an offer­ing of flour, the sadness of a widowed sister-in-law with no children, a drop of milk on a piece of meat, or the story of the death of Rabbi Akiva who was mauled with metal brushes while reciting the Shema Yisrael.

what the Kabbalah meant when it said that those letters have as many faces as the Jews who have read them

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Connect: a youth inter faith action guide

An action guide for young people, including information on the different kinds of inter faith activity, ways to get involved, planning tips and practicalities, and links to further information.

This action guide was launched at the 2018 National Meeting of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, which had a special youth focus. The guide was developed with the help of an Advisory Group, which included young people, IFN Trustees, and people drawn from organisations running inter faith programmes with young people.

Updated from 2004.

Quotations:

RE plays an important part and many schools work with others to invite in people from different traditions to speak about faith and belief, as well as arranging visits to places of worship.

“Inter faith activity helps young people to relate religion to real life, rather than just being something abstract that only exists on paper. Religion is not just on paper, it is practical, and profoundly shapes the way that people live their lives. Encountering people of different faiths helps young people to realise this.” Jasmine, Christian

“Inter faith activity is about understanding one another. It’s possible to coexist peacefully by ignoring each other, but there is a difference between coexisting peacefully in that way, and actively living alongside each other.” Fatema, Muslim

“Inter faith dialogue allows you to see faith from another’s perspective which then can lead to curiosity about your own faith. If a concept is discussed in inter faith  discussion, it can prompt individuals to find out what their own faith says about that idea or concept, thus leading to more knowledge about yourself and others.” Jaskiran, Sikh

Leeds University Union Interfaith Week by the Faith Societies For Inter Faith Week, representatives from all the University Faith Societies came together to put together a programme of activities which aimed to appeal to as many different students as possible. Each society hosted an event and they included events to learn about other religions through ‘Speed Faithing’, Scriptural Reasoning and a ‘Faith Trail’ to visit different places of worship. There were social action projects where people came together to visit the elderly, run a food drive and to distribute supplies to the homeless people in Leeds. The week also hosted more social events for people to come together to create new friendships based on shared interests. These events included an open mic night, football match, yoga lesson and a discussion group on feminism and religion!

University of Bristol – Religion and Mental Health “During Inter Faith Week,CCJ Student Leaders and six faith societies at the University of Bristol came together to organise a panel discussion and dialogue on the theme of ‘Religion and Mental Health’. Faith leaders, religious community members and students discussed mental health challenges and different ways of looking at these through the lens of faith. This kind of event brings mutual religious and secular learning to help tackle tough issues.” “Jainism

Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat make it easy to raise awareness of any inter faith activity you are involved in or organising. If you are planning an inter faith event, consider inviting your followers over social media, and

getting your friends to share the event to reach an even bigger audience. While social media can be a very useful tool to engage with others on matters of inter faith activity, it of course needs to be used with caution. It is important to keep in mind the guidelines for dialogue and discussion mentioned earlier in this guide, to ensure that all participants in social media activity feel safe and comfortable in viewing and/or participating in discussion online.

At university, I was observing the Baha’i 19 day fast, which takes place every March. It lasts from sunrise to sunset each day. I went to the kitchen in my halls at about 3am to get something to eat, and to my surprise a Muslim student was there. I explained why I was eating so late, and she explained that that was similar to the Ramadan fast. It was a really powerful encounter, getting to share and learn about an area of  common ground with someone I barely knew.”  Sophie, Baha’i

It’s online here.

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Pilgrimage in early Christian Jordan by Burton MacDonald

PIECJThose of us who have been to Israel and have read Egeria and Wilkinson may be surprised to know how many ancient pilgrim sites are In Jordan.  Maybe it’s because many of them relate to the Old Testament.

An interest in places of pilgrimage is very much a part of the life of many people in the modern world. For Christians, it is the Holy Land that holds specific interest – the area where the events described in the Bible, in both the Old and the New Testament, are located. This volume focuses on early Christian pilgrimage in Jordan, the region east of the Jordan River which has so far been little explored by pilgrims and tourists to the Holy Land. Yet many biblical events are said to have taken place here: Moses seeing the Promised Land, the ascension of the prophet Elijah and John the Baptist’s ministry and beheading, to name but a few.

After a general introduction to each site, its biblical significance and a citation of the relevant biblical sources with commentary, the author lists the literary sources that pertain specifically to early Christian pilgrimage activity. This information is complemented with a description of the early Christian archaeological remains found at the site and their interpretation. Illustrated throughout with maps, plans, and photographs and including travel directions as well as suggestions about visits to the sites, this volume is made for scholars, pilgrims and tourists with an interest in early Christian and modern pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Some of the sites treated are: Bethany Beyond the Jordan/The Site of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist; The Memorial of Moses – the site where Moses viewed the Promised Land, died and was buried; The Saint Stephen Complex which commemorates one of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr; and Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters dwelt after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The proximity to Israel’s border with Jordan, the fear of infiltrators and a lack of understanding of the importance of the site to pilgrims led to extensive mining of the area after the 1967 Six-Day War. The current estimate is that there are 4,000 mines in the vicinity; most are anti-tank, a minority are anti-personnel mines. All of them were laid by the IDF and have become obsolete in the past 50 years. In addition there are rumors that some of the monasteries themselves have been booby-trapped in sophisticated ways in order to prevent entry into them.

The index is inadequate – somebody called St.Procopius appears out of nowhere but we know nothing about him or whether he has been mentioned before.

The author gives detailed information for about a dozen sites of interest to Christians on the eastern side of the Jordan river, from Biblical sites like Bethany Beyond the Jordan to Byzantine sites like Madaba. Many people don’t know that this area was heavily Christian up till the Muslim conquest and is still the home of many Christians today.

As a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, the river became the ceasefire line and both banks became militarised and inaccessible to pilgrims. After 1982, while Qasr el-Yahud was still off-limits, Israel enabled Christian baptisms at the Yardenit site further north. Following the Israel–Jordan peace treaty in 1994 access to Al-Maghtas was restored after Prince Ghazi of Jordan, who is deeply interested in religious history, visited the area in the company of a Franciscan archaeologist who had convinced him to take a look at what was thought to be the baptism site. When they found evidence of Roman-period habitation, this was enough to encourage de-mining and further development. Soon afterwards, there were several archaeological digs led by Dr. Mohammad Waheeb who rediscovered the ancient site in 1997. The 1990s marked the period of archaeological excavations of the site followed by primary conservation and restoration measures during the early 21st century. Jordan fully reopened al-Maghtas in 2002. This was then followed by the Israeli-run western side, known as Qasr el-Yahud, which was opened for daily visits in 2011 – the traditional Epiphany celebrations had already been allowed to take place since 1985, but only at the specific Catholic and Orthodox dates and under military supervision. In 2007, a documentary film entitled The Baptism of Jesus Christ – Uncovering Bethany Beyond the Jordan was made about the site.

The western side attracts larger touristic interest than its Jordanian counterpart, half a million visitors compared to some ten thousands on the Jordanian side. Other estimates put the numbers as 300,000 on the Israeli-occupied Palestinian side and 100,000 on the Jordanian side. To put that into perspective, Yardenit has more than 400,000 visitors per year.

In the millennium year 2000, John Paul II was the first pope to visit the site. Several more papal and state visits were to follow. In 2002 Christians commemorated the baptism of Christ at the site for the first time since its rediscovery. Since then, thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world annually have marked Epiphany at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Also in 2002, the Baptism Site opened for daily visits, attracting a constant influx of tourists and pilgrimage activity. In 2015, the UNESCO declared the Al-Maghtas site on the east bank of the River Jordan as a World Heritage Site, while Qasr el-Yahud was left out.

Maybe this was why my RE teacher made such a fuss about the 4th Gospel’s naming of Aenon near Salim and Bethany beyond Jordan.

Quotations:

(CE 570) Antoninus Martyr of Piacenza said: ” We celebrated Epiphany by the side of the Jordan, and wonders take place on that night in the place where the Lord was baptized. There is there is a mound surrounded with railings, and at the place where the water returned to its bed, marble steps descend into the water, the priest descends into the river. “The marble steps discovered and preserved recently closely match with what was described over 1400 years ago. The marble steps actually descend eastward and the waters arrive at the lowest parts of the marble steps from the southwest when the river overflows.

(CE670) gave important notes, saying: “At the edge of the river is a small square church, built, as is said, on the spot where the garments of the Lord were taken care of at the time when He was baptized. This is raised, so as to be uninhabitable, on four stone vaults, standing above the waters which flow below”. We can see the 2 northern piers while only the foundations of the southern piers where discovered recently at the end of, and symmetrical with, the marble steps. Hence, in plan we have a huge cruciform baptismal pool, where pilgrims would descend through the marble steps and be baptized. At the lower parts of the 2 northern piers, the original plaster was discovered on which thousands of cross marks are still visible, these cross marks must have been left by believers who where baptized at this holy spot.  In fact this is the only cruciform baptismal pool on earth that used the river water for baptism.

Although it was built at a ground level higher than the surrounding remains, relatively little remains of the Basilica. It had a minimum length of 27meters and a width of 15.8 meters. Since the basilica was built over the remains of earlier structures (the lower basilica and John the Baptist Church), its construction made use of these remains as foundations, especially for its northern and southern walls. The clear width of the nave is 5.12 meters and that of the southern and northern aisles is approximately 3.5 meters. Features in the central aisle include the sandstone foundations of the chancel screen, a rectangular apse measuring 7.6 meters long and in its centre the altar (0.8m x 0.8m), made of sandstone. West of the altar are the remains of a mosaic floor of medium size, colored tesserae (among its motifs a vase with two handles, flowers and three palm leaves can be noted. On the northeast corner of the vase a rosette is depicted). A distinguishing feature of this Basilica is a hall, 4 m wide and 6 meters long, just east of the sanctuary wall. It had a marble floor of various geometric shapes and colors and a gate to the east in line with the staircase that leads to the lower uniquely designed cruciform baptismal pool. Epiphanius in the second half of the 8th century carefully described the site. Among the things he mentioned was that John the Baptist dwelled in a cave with a spring, about a mile beyond the, and added: “On the bank of the river is the church of the forerunner and another big church in honor of the Trinity.”

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