Derek Taylor
Derek Taylor

Not such good news

A stiff brandy might help, but we’ve got to face facts.

Afghanistan has been bad news for Britain since at least 1839. In the First Afghan War we invaded with 16,000 troops and in 1842 when it finished, one soldier came back. Literally, 15,999 were never heard from again. The Second Afghan War was a draw, but the battle of Maiwand in 1880 was known to be so disastrous that Watson, of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, was immortalised as severely injured and retired because of the battle. Effectively we lost the Third Afghan War in 1919. Now we’ve lost the Fourth after 20 years fighting in the country with 460 mortal casualties up to February 2020.

A potential attack on India from Afghanistan was a good excuse for the first two wars. This time we were there to help the Americans, as India achieved independence long ago. This was after the Russians had a go and also lost. The Americans wanted to stop the flow of opium grown by Afghan farmers; laudable, but it will flow in larger amounts now. There is also the status of women in Islam which is another issue.

In the middle of a continuing pandemic, the results of Brexit, a severe contraction of the economy and large numbers of Hong Kong refugees, we now Afghan refugees to look after. If you could have a quiet chat with Sir Keir Starmer, he might admit that he doesn’t really want to be prime minister at the moment. Who could blame him. Boris Johnson has my sympathy.

Now, of course, as Jews, we could keep our heads well down and contemplate the coming High Holydays of Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. After all, there is apparently only one Jew left in Afghanistan and it’s his own choice because he was offered a ride to Israel and turned it down.

It won’t do. When we were in a similarly terrible. situation in Germany in 1933, a large number of non-Jews rallied round and the din is quite clear; refugees need to be helped. We may not have much in common with Afghan culture, but a refugee is a refugee. Menachem Begin took in 260 Vietnamese refugees between 1976 and 1979. There are about 200 Jews in Cambodia and we’d take care of them if necessary.

The families of the Sassoons and the Kadoories looked after large numbers of Jewish refugees in Shanghai escaping from Europe before the war. The growth in the Chinese economy owes a great deal to Jewish enterprise. The Chinese still look on us as old-time friends.

The Board of Deputies has called on the government to help and the Bushey United Synagogue has already taken up a collection. The Board doesn’t pull its punches, pointing out on its website that “For once we were strangers in the land of Egypt”.

In addition, the Chief Rabbi has taken up the cudgels on behalf of the Uighers in China while the World Jewish Relief and JCore have appealed for the Afghans. The problem is that there are so many worthy causes. In the efforts to help the refugees, are the financial problems of Ravenswood going to be put on one side. There are 96 residents there who need to able to stay safe in their home. They don’t have the benefit of the publicity the Afghans are now getting.

These are today’s problems but what about Afghanistan in the future. It’s no use expecting Britain to act as the world’s policeman. The best we can do is rally the United Nations and we all know that this will be very difficult. It’s dropped a very long way from the dreams of its founders. Nevertheless, a good start would be agreement between Presidents Putin and Biden on the way forward. Both countries – and indeed all the world – benefit from peace and harmony.

It’s asking a lot but we’ve managed to avoid major wars in Europe since 1945 and hope springs eternal. In the meantime Ravenswood needs you as well.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book
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