Vinoth Ramachandra

States of Terror

Posted on: February 10, 2012

I once had an argument with an American atheist Jew who insisted that being a Jew was a matter of ethnicity and had nothing to do with “religion”. Later, I found that I had on my side Jonathan Sacks, perhaps the most articulate and winsome spokesperson for Judaism in today’s world. “Judaism is not an ethnicity and Jews are not an ethnic group,” writes Sacks, “Go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and you will see Jews of every colour and culture under the sun, the Beta Israel from Ethiopia, the Bene Israel from India, Bukharan Jews from central Asia, Iraqi, Berber, Egyptian, Kurdish and Libyan Jews, the Temamim from Yemen, alongside American Jews from Russia, South African Jews from Lithuania, and British Jews from German-speaking Poland. Their food, music, dress, customs, and conventions are all different.”  (Future Tense, 2009)

The late Arthur Koestler believed that most Jews today are descendants of the semi-nomadic Turkic people from the Caucasus, the Khazars, who converted to Judaism in the seventh to tenth centuries. The latest theory, advanced by Tsvi Misinai, a retired Israeli computer expert, is that the Palestinians are actually the people who may be ethnically Jewish. They are descendants of Jews who remained in the land when, under Roman rule, most Jews went into exile in Babylon and elsewhere. The Jews who left continued to practice Judaism. Those who stayed became first Christian, then Muslim. It is a theory once held by none other than David Ben Gurion. So the Palestinians at war with Israel may be “Jewish”, while the “Jews” may not be genetically “Jewish” at all!

I wish I could say this to those fundamentalists in the American “Bible Belt” and elsewhere who are uncritically pro-Israeli even as the Israeli state bulldozes Palestinian homes, forces thousands of men, women and children into dehumanized camps, and appropriates land to which it has absolutely no right. Selecting isolated texts from the Old Testament, and bypassing the New Testament entirely, they fail to see that the modern state of Israel has nothing at all to do with the ancient covenant people, the Israelites. There are more Jews living outside Israel than within. But, if you do believe that Israel today is an answer to biblical prophecy, then speak to the leaders of Israel the way the biblical prophets did: “If you continue to commit oppression and atrocities against others, I will spew you out of the land.”

Last month an Iranian university professor, 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, was killed when unidentified men on motorcycles attached a magnetic bomb to his car in a Tehran street. He was the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist to be assassinated in recent years by what every reasonable observer knows are Israeli agents, with at least the tacit approval of the CIA. These are blatant acts of terrorism. If committed on Western soil, they would evoke outrage in the American and European media. But, instead, they are met with apathy. In typical fashion, the US administration is now bullying the rest of the world to boycott Iran economically and isolate it politically.

Iran has a scientific and intellectual culture greater than that of any of the West’s allies in the Middle East, excepting Israel. Thus the murder of its top scientist engaged in their nuclear energy program is an attack on Iran’s ability to function as a society without dependence on Western technical hegemony. And why should Iran not have nuclear weapons to match Israel? American-Soviet relations in the Cold War were conducted under the morally perverse doctrine known as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction): as long as two hostile states could keep match with each other’s capacity for annihilating the other, they will not go to war. Why not apply MAD to the Middle East?

For all the bluster that comes out of Teheran, the real terror has been inflicted in the opposite direction, beginning with the interference in 1953 by the US and Britain to install a dictator who would protect their oil companies. And have Americans forgotten the shooting down of an Iranian commercial airliner in Iranian airspace by a US guided missile cruiser, the USS Vincennes, in 1988? All 290 passengers on board were killed. To this day, no U.S government has apologised to the Iranian people.

Much of the American public, including many American Church leaders, are profoundly ignorant of the history of the Middle East, let alone what is still being done by American soldiers and citizens in other parts of the world. I have nothing but disgust for their culpable ignorance, culpable because the facts are in their computers and libraries  if only they take the trouble to look. And I have nothing but disgust for those who know the facts but are too uncaring to speak out and hold their governments accountable for war crimes and other human rights abuses.

But I have nothing but deep admiration for those Israelis and Iranians who courageously seek to bring moral and political change in their nations; as well as for those Palestinian Christians who continue to show patience and goodwill to their American brethren who have betrayed them and the Christian faith by their guilty silence.

Let me end with Rabbi Sacks who writes that “at some stage Jews stopped defining themselves by the reflection they saw in the eyes of God and started defining themselves by the reflection they saw in the eyes of their Gentile neighbours…obsessed by the Holocaust.” And he calls on them to “take a stand, not motivated by fear, not driven by paranoia or a sense of victimhood, but a positive stand on the basis of the values by which our ancestors lived and for which they were prepared to die: justice, equity, compassion, love of the stranger, the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person without regard to colour, culture or creed.”

Christians and Muslims can learn from him to do the same.

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25 Responses to "States of Terror"

The blog made for gripping reading. Christians want the peace that passes all understanding for themselves even at the cost of smashing lives to pieces.

I agree with most of the things you say. But, according to Iranian refugee PhD students at our university in Delft, the present regime in Teheran cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, let alone a nuclear weapon, since the regime has a moral level, I quote, “equal with or worse than Hitler”. Teheran even took up arms against their own people, which does not reflect much of the ancient intellectual culture you mention.

The only way Israel could trust the Teheran regime with nuclear weapons is by trusting God to protect Israel. If Israel would do so, they would not be disappointed, is my strong belief: “You will succeed, not by military might or by your own strength, but by my spirit” (Zach. 4)

Regardless of who the Jews are – ethnically or religion wise, their right to a piece of land, still stands strong. Don’t join the chorus of ‘jews are this and jews are that'; in fact more Christians need to support them against this kind of nonsense which hovers around anti-semitism at worst.

Dr Ramachandra, I must inform you that Dr Sacks is only partially correct that “Jewish” people are not an “ethnicity”. In fact, most groups that practice Judaism around the world today are descended – partially – from the ancient people of Israel as demonstrated by genetic studies. That includes all of the groups you listed except for “the Beta Israel from Ethiopia”.

Therefore I take issue with your opinion that “the modern state of Israel has nothing at all to do with the ancient covenant people”.

You can’t expect the people of modern Israel to be purely Israelite any more than you can expect the Sinhalese and Tamils to be purely descended from indigenous Sri Lankans since the beginning of time. (Sinhalese are partly descended from Bengalis and several other peoples of India.) It doesn’t negate their rights to the land to have some foreign ancestry.

With respect to the Khazars, the extent of Khazar ancestry in Ashkenazic Jewish people was exaggerated by Koestler. Genetics and historical documents confirm that Khazar ancestry is only a small part of Ashkenazic ancestry. This was a point I made in my book “The Jews of Khazaria, Second Edition” (2006).

Well said. Thanks very much Vinoth, as ever, for your sharp and perceptive thoughts. The pervasiveness of ‘Christian zionism’ in the evangelical church is very destructive and insidious, and must be shown for the utter heresy it is. Thankfully it is not as mainstream in the British evangelical church as it is in America, and we have greats like John Stott and Dick Lucas to keep feet firmly on biblical ground, rather than the loony ‘televangelists’ who peddle ‘Left Behind’ nonsense.

It is rather annoying when grown-up adults make comments on someone else’s blog-page in way that does really engage in any meaningful or useful way with the content of what is actually said by author. (Whoever JS is, I find your comment inappropriate). I want to just add that for anyone who is interested to reading more about the origin myths surrounding the Jewish who after 1946 returned to the land of Israel, must read ‘The Invention of the Jewish People’ by Shlomo Sand. He writes, “in the 19th century intellectuals of Jewish origin in Germany, influenced by the folk character of German nationalism, took upon themselves the task of inventing a people “retrospectively,” out of a thirst to create a modern Jewish people.”

Sorry about the typing error, I did not include the word ‘not’ in my first sentence. It must read It is rather annoying when grown-up adults make comments on someone else’s blog-page in way that does not really engage in any meaningful or useful way with the content of what is actually said by author.

Kevin Brook: The “ancient covenant people of Israel” were precisely that- a people defined by a covenant (with God). The modern secular state of Israel is not. The Hebrew prophets, and Jesus himself, constantly repeated that it was loyalty to the covenant, not genetic inheritance, that defined a Jew.

But please don’t get side-tracked. The ethnicity/religion issue is secondary. The thrust of my post was to challenge those Americans who claim loyalty to Christ: what are you doing about the widespread apathy in your country towards the plight of the Palestinians and the hypocrisy/double standards practised by your government vis a vis nuclear weapons and acts of terrorism?

Where were the defenders of the Palestinians when 300,000 were purged by Kuwait in 1998? Who was standing up for the Palestinians before 1967 when Jordan controlled Judea and Sumeria and Egypt controlled Gaza? When the Ottoman Empire ruled the land and absent landlords sold their land to the Zionist, where was the outcry? When Arab states treat the Palestinian worse than the Israelis, how long did it take you to write that blog? It is unclear to me what is worse, ignorance or cherry picking history.
Secondly, when Iran gets their first nuclear bomb, it will only take a few months before their biggest rival in the Middle East gets one too. That rival is not Israel, but Saudi Arabia and the Arab States. Every student of history and international affairs knows that Persians and the Arabs have been enemies for hundreds of years. The Arabs will not let the Persians have the tactical advantage of a nuclear weapon. The Saudis have all but admitted they have opened their airspace to Israeli bombers. In your defense of Iran, you ignore the reality of the coming Middle East arms race that will put US vs USSR to shame.

Luke, please don’t strew red herrings around. Nowhere did I defend Arab leaders- most of them have been corrupt Western puppets anyway and are steadily being removed by their populations. Saudi Arabia doesn’t need nuclear weapons when its defence is in the hands of the US.

As for Kuwait (another British creation), the expulsion of Palestinians and the campaign of terror occurred after the first Gulf War in 1991 (not 1998), and this was prompted by the PLO’s support for Iraq within the Arab League. Western powers and most of the media turned a blind eye to these atrocities. In any case, large numbers of Palestinians had already left by then- they had formed almost half the population of Kuwait but were refused permanent residence and citizenship, like all other migrant workers. In this regard, Kuwait is no different to many other states, including in Europe. But it is Europe and the US that lectures the rest of the world on human rights, war crimes and democracy!

Nor did I defend Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. I referred to MAD as “morally perverse”- my argument was tongue-in-cheek. It was to expose the double standards and hypocrisy practiced by the US. What we should be seeking is nuclear-free Middle East, indeed a nuclear-free world. Unlike the US and several countries in the region, Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons on the same grounds that Church leaders have used: the non-discriminatory nature of the weapons. Iran seems to be one of the few countries in the world where the pros and cons of building a bomb have been debated in public.

Vinoth, thanks for your post. I am convicted by this and regret the truth that you state here. I serve as a minister for a small church that is more or less evangelical in nature in the U.S. I would like to draw on your experience to see how you think this sort of thing should be addressed in the Church itself. I know you travel some in the U.S. and are aware of the situation in evangelical churches. In my own situation, I serve in a church that is populated with wonderful people, generous and caring and all of that, but is at the same time very content to live in the simple world view that the U.S. is mostly right in these sorts of scenerios, and places like Iran are mostly wrong. My own tradition, thankfully, does not pay much attention to Israel as any sort of righteous remnant of the past covenant people, but nonetheless, when it comes to issues of foreign policy more broadly they are happily content to support the military in any venture. In your opinion, how as a minister do you begin to address this? If you come to the pulpit heavy handed in this regard it will be dismissed out of hand because they have no basis on which to put all this. A quick reaction from them would be to label such a person a “liberal”, and once that label is applied you no longer have any credibility among them to speak to them. Yet I also realize complete silence on these sorts of matters is not good either. In the past my primary way of teaching was indirectly; trying to teach on the general principles that would allow this world view to develop. In the five years that I have been with this church I have seen this have some measure of effectiveness, but the growth is very slow and easily reversed by an afternoon of listening to converative talk radio. I don’t know if you encounter these sensitivities in your own context or not. My guess is you do, but the issues may be different than here in the U.S.

I guess the basic question I am wish to ask is, as a minister who is committed with working with a church long term, how do you address these issues so that you bring the force of truth to the congregation, but don’t blow it up in the process?

God bless!

Curtis, thank you for your frankness. What you share is typical of my experience of “evangelical” churches in the US, which is why I keep coming back to this theme in my Blog. It is really Tribalism and should be named as such from the country’s pulpits.

But the general observation that peoples’ ethnic and political loyalties are not changed even after becoming “Christians” is not confined to the US. We battle with it all the time in Asia. It goes back to the very nature of the “Gospel” that people are exposed to (individualistic, therapeutic, etc).

I’ll write to you at length privately with some suggestions. But if other readers out there have advice to give you, out of their personal experience, please do so!

So let me get this straight, Iran has PLEDGED to wipe Israel off the map, and so your reaction is to condemn Americans? Non-sequitor, anyone? And I suppose Iran gets a free pass for the embassy bombings earlier this week?

Israel is the only free democracy in the area, surrounded by thug regimes on every side. Even Turkey has backslid terribly under Erdogan. They should be a model to emulate.

As an American Baptist pastor in the U.S., I have, in the recent years, become more and more convicted that it is far too often the case where Christians (I will use the context of which I am familiar) in the United States are, in reality, American first, Christian second, even though they may say differently. When this is the reality, American principles are seen as synonymous with Christianity. This attitude is so blind to the teaching of Scripture. I have realized that my loyalty is to my Lord and his kingdom, and everything that occurs here in my country must be look at in view of my Master’s teachings, commands and his kingdom goals. That looks so different than the first approach. I will use the advantages I have due to citizenship in this country just as Paul did with his Roman citizenship, but also with the same goal as Paul – to advance the Kingdom of God, not any human nation. Thank you, Vinoth, for your insightful and thought-provoking words.

I should point out that dispensationalists that see the current state of Israel as a fulfillment of OT prophecy are sadly mistaken, and I welcome Dr. R’s critique of that. But there are plenty of American Christians who support the liberal democracy of Israel for other, less exegetically suspect, reasons.

Grover, may I humbly suggest that you read my Blog post more carefully? Re Iran, I specifically said: ignore the official bluster and look at the historical record. (Also please read my reply to Luke about Iran’s nuclear stance).

Iranian attacks on Israelis are universally, and rightly, condemned. But which American leaders (political or church) have ever condemned Israeli attacks on Iranian civilians?

Speaking of the historical record, have you forgotten that the US is the only state in the world to have actually used nuclear weapons- and on two densely populated urban centers? And that the US is the only state to have used napalm? (Also on civilian targets- in Laos and Vietnam)? And have you forgotten how US companies supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons which he used against the Kurds- and was complimented by Donald Rumsfeld for doing so?

Which evangelical leader in the US (apart from the late Rev. Martin Luther King) have you ever heard publicly denouncing such actions? Going purely by the historical record in recent years, we have more to fear from the US and its “allies” than anybody else!

As for Israel’s “liberal democracy”, just look at a map of Israel today and Israel in 1948. Do liberal democracies annexe by force other peoples’ lands? Moreover, the Israeli Supreme Court recently confirmed that no Palestinian who married an Israeli could get Israeli citizenship (ever). So, neither “liberal’ nor “democratic”, eh?

What’s the need to denounce the use of nuclear weapons by the States in WWII? Japan was not going to surrender, and of course started the war there themselves. Victory would have required invasion of the Japanese islands, which would have killed far more civilians, not to mention Japanese and American servicemen, than the nuclear bombs did.

I don’t really get your point about Iran’s “nuclear stance.” Because they’ve thought a lot about it, and claim to be against it, that somehow excuses their desire to procure them simply to destroy a country that poses no threat to them? Israel’s removal of their nuclear scientists is an act of self-defense. You would do the same if the guy across the street from you was aiming a gun at you from his front window.

The U.S. has no excuse for the way they supplied Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden, for that matter. You are correct.

I don’t think you understand the term “liberal democracy.” Such a nation would have popularly elected leaders, and enjoy freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, etc. I hardly see how this requires the granting of citizenship via marriage. Israel fits the bill. It’s interesting that Israel allows freedom of religion, when it is for religious reasons that others want to destroy them! Yet they don’t back down from their stance which is, yes, undoubtedly, liberal democracy.

Dear Dr. Ramachandra: Thanks for the post. I am from Nagaland, and was wondering if you’d kindly give permission for the post to be reprinted in one of our dailies here. I can send it to them and am sure they’ll be very happy to reprint. Your piece is very timely — and prophetic, in every sense — especially given the developments during the last few days. Would you also want any changes or additions made in view of the recent copy-cat magnetic bomb in Delhi and the comments to your post, should you be willing to give permission? Thanks again.

Kind regards,
K Kevichusa

There is a facebook group called One Million Christians for Israel. It is an online community which I am certainly not proud to be a member. But I used to check their wall postings sometimes just to remind myself how stupid and ignorant Christians can also be! I “admire” their rhetorical skills to fool themselves and fool their followers. For example one of their wall posting is “Be a good Christian and support Israel” as if the two meant the same thing! I posted the link of this blogpost and sought their comments. But the administrators deleted immediately. Posted many times but they simply delete them.

This post reminds me of that passage in the New Testament where the author of the letter/book openly denounced Casear and called all the Christians in a local church to account because they were located in Rome and not speaking out against Caesar. Oh wait…

by the way, the wife of a recently assassinated Iranian nuclear scientist shared her husband’s life ambition with Fars News Agency:

“Mostafa’s ultimate goal was the annihilation of Israel,” Fatemeh Bolouri Kashani told FNA on Tuesday.

Bolouri Kashani also underlined that her spouse loved any resistance figure in his life who was willing to fight the Zionist regime and supported the rights of the oppressed Palestinian nation.

It´s all a matter of interpretation. If you´re a dispensationalist, you claim your interpretation (and subsequent support for the State of Israel) is correct. If not … you claim otherwise.

Also … are you suggesting a nuclear arms race (MAD) in the Middle East in an effort to avoid nuclear conflict between nations (namely Iran and Israel)?

From Wikipedia:

Theories linking Jews to Khazars today

Although the Khazar theory is contradicted by genetic evidence and has little support amongst academics, in the Arab world it still enjoys popularity among anti-Zionists and antisemites. Such proponents argue that if Ashkenazi Jews are primarily Khazar and not Semitic in origin, they would have no historical claim to Israel, nor would they be the subject of God’s Biblical promise of Canaan to the Israelites, thus undermining the theological basis of both Jewish religious Zionists and Christian Zionists. In the 1970s and 80s the Khazar theory was also advanced by some Russian chauvinist antisemites, particularly the historian Lev Gumilyov, who portrayed “Judeo-Khazars” as having repeatedly sabotaged Russia’s development since the 7th century.

Bernard Lewis stated in 1999:

This theory… is supported by no evidence whatsoever. It has long since been abandoned by all serious scholars in the field, including those in Arab countries, where the Khazar theory is little used except in occasional political polemics.

Reblogged this on Persona and commented:
In discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Vinoth Ramachandra takes no prisoners, so to say. Thanks, Vinoth, for your courageous stance.
Here is a short quote:
‘Much of the American public, including many American Church leaders, are profoundly ignorant of the history of the Middle East, let alone what is still being done by American soldiers and citizens in other parts of the world. I have nothing but disgust for their culpable ignorance, culpable because the facts are in their computers and libraries if only they take the trouble to look. And I have nothing but disgust for those who know the facts but are too uncaring to speak out and hold their governments accountable for war crimes and other human rights abuses.’

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