On Saturday I attended the “Refugees Welcome” rally in George Square, in my native Glasgow, with my mother who was herself a refugee in time of war when for five years she forsook the banks of the Thames for the shores of the Irish Sea. My father’s people had crossed that sea three generations before and while my mother’s mother was from the West Highlands, her father’s father crossed the English Channel from Germany and his Hebrew surname dates back to an old story about an enslaved people fleeing for their lives across the Red Sea.
This isn’t the usual ‘everyone comes from somewhere else’ memo, true as that reminder is. This is about another group of refugees. Their cause cannot be proved to be as urgent as that of the millions who now face religious death squads, famine, disease, and the torturous labyrinth of the asylum process, should they be fortunate enough to even be admitted into it. Their cause is not, now, so urgent, not now, not at the moment but it has been so before and many of them fear that it may be so again. Not urgent, but important, and not just for them.
I, still, call myself a Roman Catholic, yet no-one blames me for the deaths of slaves and Christians in the Roman amphitheatres. No-one blames me for the blind spot the present pope has (for all his humility, simplicity and courage) about sexual ethics. No-one, at least no-one who knows my continued criticism of them, even blames me for the continued pastoral stupidity of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland or for the vile outpourings of blatant prejudice of its clergy-fawning press. In short, the people of my country do not hold me accountable for the evils of the rulers, past and present, of the political State most closely associated with my religion and not even for the continuing evils of some of my coreligionists.
Why are some Scots not using the same common sense with the Jews?
I know racist people and I know those who hate Islam because they hate religion (usually because of vile prejudice that stems from the influence of White, Christian missionaries). Such people do not convince anyone of goodwill or who has any grasp at all of European history. I am not going to argue against racism or against Islamophobia because there is no need: they are indefensible.
Apparently some Scots don’t feel the same way about anti-Semitism.
‘I am Jewish’ and ‘I am Israeli’ are not identical statements; neither are ‘I am Israeli’ and ‘I support the policy of the Israeli government’. I do not ignore the atrocities carried out by Israeli soldiers; neither do I ignore those carried out by British or American soldiers. I do not ignore the deadly game of chess that the colonial powers, notably Britain and France, played in 1948 in the Near East (no, the Levant is not the Middle East) nor the atrocities carried out by the Christian hordes of the Middle Ages (on Muslims, on Jews, on women) nor those carried being out today by Daesh. All this must continue to provide a context for the fear (is it paranoia?) of being ‘swept into the sea’ while the surrounding powers-that-be do what they have always done for the protection of the Jews: nothing.
My Roman Catholic coreligionists who display such culpable and malevolent stupidity are stuck in the past. When the four Scottish banks wouldn’t employ a Catholic. When you had to change your school name on your CV. When you had to be guarded with your surname. This clannish fortress mentality sees the compassion and common sense that caused a country to declare that ‘it’s time’ for equal marriage as a personal attack on all they hold dear. As if G_d were not Merciful and Compassionate!
But no-one blames me for that.
Can we please stop blaming the Jews?
Do I have to mention the cultural impoverishment that happens (not ‘would happen’ yes, disgracefully, we Europeans have experience of this) when the Jews are no longer here? Do I have to recall the eminent Jewish men and women who with clear-sighted intellect have graced our progress as a civilisation? The empresarios? The entertainers? The artists, novelists? Our friends, lovers and family?
Can we, together, as Scots, realise that knowing someone’s ancestral religion gives no clue as to their current political position in regard to the ideology of another country? If anyone wants to know my position as regards Ulster/ Ireland/ Eire/ The Six Counties they had better be prepared for an intensive course in history and cultural studies, if they have the temerity to ask me, or worse to presume to know what my position is without asking. Will it surprise anyone to know that my basic view is: it’s complicated?
What isn’t complicated is to stop making assumptions. A good friend this evening told me that he is thinking of leaving this country. My country. His country. He’s thinking of becoming a refugee. No, he’s not poor, he’s healthy and he has a UK passport. He won’t starve and he won’t be homeless. But if he goes, to Manchester, to London, to the USA, to Canada, to Israel, he will be a refugee. He will be fleeing from our refusal of Scottish hospitality, from our lack of canny commonsense, from our ignorance of kinship. My father fought and suffered years of imprisonment in a war waged by those who tried to wipe out the Jews and eradicate them from Europe. I cannot but take up his cause. Times have changed since the crossing of the Red Sea. These people are our people. These people are my people. Don’t let my people go!
Thanks to Carlos Sardá for releasing his photo “The Jewish Cemetery” into the Public Domain.