The responses are oh so predictable. When Tory grandee and minister Jacob Rees-Mogg had the temerity to suggest what many of us have been thinking, that the war waged against Ukraine put the sins of Downing Street and ‘Partygate’ in some perspective, there was outrage both faux and real.
No one in the Jewish community could ever take for granted Covid, lockdowns and the fallout. We all lost friends and acquaintances to the pandemic. One of the most disturbing sights for me during Covid was attending a slimmed-down funeral at the New Bushey Cemetery for a friend taken from us by coronavirus, and seeing the serried ranks of newly-dug graves.
Yet to be furious about alleged breaches of lockdown when Europe is under military threat shows how distorted our privileged Western value systems have become. The savage Russian flattening of Mariupol, including a maternity hospital and an arts school providing shelter, is distressing in the extreme. Heart-rending images of three-and-a-half million mainly women and children fleeing war, leaving behind elderly parents and spouses, makes the lockdown deprivations seem minor.
A cousin, an Auschwitz survivor, says she has barely slept since Russia began reducing parts of Ukraine to rubble. It brings back horrendous memories of her own flight from her home in Hungary (now in Ukraine) and separation from her parents (my grandparents) on the train platform leading to the gas chambers.
The brutal war being waged by Vladimir Putin has been explained in many ways. It is sometimes described as Russia’s desire for a return of lost empire and prosperity. Others say Putin is determined to teach Nato a lesson for daring to remove buffer states and bring its borders so close to the motherland.
His campaign is also seen as a consequence of Western strategic weakness exposed by acceptance of Russia’s intervention in Syria, the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan and concessions made to mad mullahs in Iran developing nuclear weapons capacity.
There is an alternate view that the West has brought the war of the worlds upon itself. An obsession with secular consumption, political correctness, the woke agenda and condemnation of anyone who dares challenge people’s right to assign their own gender are all looked upon as evidence of a 21st century decadence.
Writing in The New Statesman, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, suggests Putin is driven by religious and cultural motives and sees himself as the
protagonist for integral Christian culture.
He cites Putin’s close ally, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, as a source for the self-righteousness with which the Russian leader is pursuing his war in Ukraine.
In a sermon delivered on 6 March, the start of Lent, the Patriarch argued that the campaign was justified because the Orthodox Church has to defend itself ‘against Western corruption’. Gay pride marches are singled out as a leading symptom.
Williams writes that, in spite of “high recorded levels of prejudice against LBGT+ people in Ukraine, recent policy has liberalised and Kyiv has a high-profile activist community and annual parade”. He says the Patriarch particularly is exercised because Kyiv is where Russian Christianity was born.
Launching a barbarous war against the people of Ukraine and their enjoyment of freedoms cannot be justified or accepted. Religion as a weapon of war, as Jewish communities around the world know to their cost, is a fearful and terrible weapon. It is pure evil in the hand of an unbridled autocrat seeking to claim moral cause for indiscriminate death and mayhem.