The Idolatry of Charlie Hebdo

For the past few weeks, we’ve been wandering around two important questions. First, what are Jewish values? Specifically Jewish values. And second, do they aid or hinder the establishment of a 21st century Jewish civilization (Israeli and Diaspora) that the world needs and accepts as legitimate?

We’ve found few encouraging signs. There’s not a whole lot in Halacha to attract the world, and a lot to keep them away. That suits some Jews just fine. We shall once again become the People that Dwells Apart, with or without the Light unto the Gentiles motif. Our Haredim partake deeply of this. So do those who would establish Greater Israel as a religious/political theme park, whatever the world thinks.

And there are those who, basking in the notion that Gentile hatred is eternal, would be quite content to live in a prosperous, high-tech shtetl that the world uses when convenient and despises and ignores the rest of the time.

We also concluded (hardly a novel perception) that, for inter-faith and intra-faith tolerance to work, the secular state must be truly secular, favoring and supporting no one. This is far from Israel’s condition. The recent vociferous non-debate over whether Israel should legally proclaim herself the world’s only Jewish State provided a splendid illustration of the mutual fear and detestation amongst various Jewish denominations and sects. Who would do what, if their cliques and claques should come to dominate the civil state?

Put differently: What do the secular expect of the religious, that they might use the State to enforce?

Not much, beyond the curious notions that all children should be educated to understand and function in the larger world, and adherence to the common law.

What do the religious ask of the secular?

To dominate and regulate them in every aspect of their lives. To enforce, to the maximum extent possible, a religious totalitarianism, by any means necessary.

Of course, no one wants to look at all this too closely. And then, providentially, along came Charlie Hebdo and a moment of superficial unity – and proof once again of Israel’s continuing unfitness to share with the nations of the world in the global war – yes, war – against violent Islamism. For to do so requires a clear understanding that ISIS and Boko Haram and the rest are not just more of the 20th century same. These are qualitatively different from that which has gone before. And it’s not all about Israel anymore.

In the 1930s, only a small minority of Europeans and Americans recognized that Nazism wasn’t just “second verse, same as the first/a little bit louder and a little bit worse.” This was new and could not be dealt with or contained. It had to be destroyed. Each nation had its own reasons why. But they also had sufficient commonality to get it done.

It’s always unsatisfactory to gauge public opinion by what the public – and the media – are shouting. But Israeli attitudes these last few months, from ISIS to Hebdo, seem to show a surprising consistency. It goes like this:

First, always and forever, any Islamist outrage anywhere must inevitably bring people to support Israel uncritically.

But it don’t work that way. Nations and peoples have their own interests, their own problems, and view Israel within those contexts. Islamist criminality and brutality do not automatically intensify support for Israel and may have the opposite effect. Certainly, Charlie Hebdo will change nothing regarding the Territories or Gaza.

Then there’s the gloating and flaunting. It starts with a sense of glee that the Islamists have once again proven their evil. Now add “We told you so” and “This is what we’re up against” then wait for the support that doesn’t arrive.

Next, the flaunting sympathy for the victims. Everybody knows their parts and their lines, from the Twitters and lapel buttons and signs to the media’s relentless presentation of the money shots of grief. People sobbing, screaming, raging.

And after the cameras depart? And the Twitters fade? And the complexities return?

I’m not Charlie Hebdo. Mocking the faiths of others motivates the evil while alienating the decent. I’m not interested in the consolations of a French government, or any other, that proves itself unable or unwilling to defend its own citizens and the public order. I’m not interested in rhetoric and vows from anyone in politics. Vows and rhetoric matter less than results.

The world is at war with an Islamism that chose to go to war against the world. Every nation has to face it in its own way. But every nation must also remember – this is war, not criminality. It must be prosecuted as such. And every duly constituted, legitimate and “centrist” government must remember: When the legitimate and the centrist and the respectable (expletive deleted) it up, people head for the extremes.

Now, what does Israel offer the global alliance that must, but may not, form if this phenomenon is to be destroyed?  Potentially, a great deal. But Israel can no longer maintain the “It’s All about Us” motif. Israel must work hard and long to gain allies and associates in this war, with respect for their needs. And there’s no better place to start than with a strong affirmation that this war for global civilization is also a war for Islamic civilization. Perhaps our strongest allies and associates, if least visible, may be Muslims. Or will be.

As for America: The USA has messed up everything it has touched since 2001. Don’t expect that to change any time soon. But to the extent that we can, let’s help them along. No gloating, no flaunting, no chiding, no condemnations, no mockery, no egocentricity, no arrogance. Just a lot of resolve, and a lot of courtesy.

Next: The War with the Greeks Never Ended, Part 1

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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