Last night’s panel discussion (19th February 2015) at the Central Synagogue, London, had an atmosphere like no other. Agreement between the audience and panelists was unprecedented; almost every point was applauded, such that panelists actually had to stop the audience so that they could continue. Uncommon for such an event at this time, by which I mean, a Jewish event, particularly on anti-semitism, it was not hecklers causing the panelists to halt, but applause!
Innumerable fantastic points were made, but for me one stood out most prominently. The problem of anti-semitism, it seems, is not a problem with which only the Jewish community must concern itself. I do not mean this in the most obvious way, that is, that the non-Jewish community and the governments of Europe have a duty to protect their Jewish population, and Jewish neighbours from the rising anti-semitism which has been spreading for some time, but has only come into open national discussion in Britain recently. For the non-Jewish community, the problem is far more profound.
The attacks recently witnessed, as much as one might try to remind the population of the risk of the far right, are most certainly dominantly perpetrated by those holding a ‘particular interpretation’ of Islam. This ideology may be anti-semitic, but its definition of ‘the other’ is broader. This interpretation is one which seeks to impose itself on ‘despised’ western culture, taking advantage of the insecurities and weaknesses propagated by our educational system— imperial guilt, back-boneless multi-cultural and culturally relativistic liberalism, are just examples.
But when a certain panelist called on the Jewish people to stand firm, to defend themselves, and not to flee Europe, Mr Murray made a point that cuts straight to the core of the problem: “We..” he said, referring to the non-Jewish community, “do not have an Israel.”
The West does not have an Israel to which it can flee. This is it. Britain, for the British, is our only country- we have no other refuge. And, Murray said, in this respect, if we stand for democracy, and stand for our values (our ill defined values, as many will tell you) we must stand firm and defend it.
For too long the west has stood idly by, in some state of confusion about its identity. But our liberalism, our secularism, and most certainly, our democracy, are not negative values- they are not the universal, they are not the absence of values. They are values hard fought for, with a long history. We do have values, and they will not stand alone. They are not humanity’s ‘default setting’. If we do not defend them, if we do not maintain countries in which these values are upheld, we have no Israel.
To do this we must be frank. We have to re-insert that long abandoned backbone and be firm. We must put our value in bravery, in that steadfastness for which the British were once stereo-typically known. As Majid Nawaz argued on the Panel; we must not be hesitant, as Barak Obama has been, in naming the problematic ideology. If we cannot bring ourself to name it, how will we be sure enough to pull together and face it? If we are not clear about what we refer to, how will the country not face in a thousand directions, unsure of what the real enemy is?
So Britain, like its Jews, must be brave. No more of this empty “Je Suis so-and-so.” No more hashtags. The bravery is in the doing. We cannot sit at our computers hashtagging whilst not going out there, to cafés, to synagogues, to talks at our universities, and in our communities- everyone must go out to precisely those places which may be targeted. We have to stop fortifying ourselves, and hiding away behind our screens. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali has said, we must spread the risk around. It cannot be maintained that a small group of people, such as Ayaan, Douglas, Majid, and all of the Panelists at last night’s event, carry on their shoulders the bravery that must be carried by an entire nation, and entire continent, Jews and non-Jews alike.