I was born in 1947. My early days were lived out in the memory of the war, from which my father had returned from a long period of being besieged in Malta a year or so before I was conceived. I remember having my first cigarettes - at the age of five -in an old air raid shelter and I also remember the acres of urban wasteland, courtesy of the Luftwaffe, that we would pass on the tram journey from our suburb into central Birmingham in order. I remember playing in one of the bombed out houses that were around. I do not know what had happened to the occupants - I hope they were in shelter when the bombs fell- but in those days I did not really have any concept of death. It was unreal, far from the perceived realities of my relatively comfortable - and completely mono-cultural - middle class existence.
The Second World War, however, formed a constant background against which my life developed. For my father it seemed to be where his life had most meaning. He finished the war a sergeant-major and would always awaken his children with the command, "On Parade!" and use army slang constantly in his discourse. Later, in some of the few conversations I had with him, it was clear that, apart from the hours on the Rugby pitch, his army years had been, despite the considerable danger and privation, the most meaningful of his life.
It was therefore perhaps inevitable that I should want to understand the war, its causes and effects. In School, European history stopped in 1914- with the outbreak of World War 1. From the perspective of the text books we had, focussing as they did on the networks of alliances and the emergence of nationalism in the decaying parts of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires, there was a ghastly inevitability to it all. And there were also patent injustices in the treaties that followed the victory of the western powers.
It was with this background that I began my study of Nazism in my late teens. I immersed myself in it, for I could see no way to understand from the outside - I had to become a Nazi - insofar as that was possible. And so I was, for about a year when I was 17. I read Mein Kampf then and can still remember feelings of empathy as I read Hitler's account of his early years. I devoured every book I could find on the Reich. By this time, I was living in a deeply conservative town in the East of England, Huntingdon, steeped in the history of Oliver Cromwell, who had attended the same school as I, and the simple certainties of bible-based Protestantism. I had myself, however, recently converted from the nominal Anglicanism of my upbringing to Catholicism. (This was, I am glad to say, to last no longer than my Nazism - although its echoes rang for an agonisingly long time.)
Concurrent with my studies in Nazism, however, there was the counter narrative of Zionism which came to me largely through the works of Leon Uris. As I said above, my life had been totally mono-cultural- apart from trivial transactions such as paying my bus fare , I had never encountered a person of colour. Even more remote from my experience, being somewhat more invisible, were Jews. And yet, these people, the ancient enemies of the "Aryan race", emerged from Uris' pages as deeply heroic. Romantic as well for within the books there was always sex "behind the barricades". So I moved from Nazism to Zionism - a move that seemed seamless then and still does now. For they were and are akin.
Beneath both Nazism and Zionism is the assumption of divine mandate. Zionism, however, had the advantage that the Jews had long been the whipping boys of Europe and their fight for recognition and respect accordingly seemed more justified. The return to Eretz Israel and the subsequent fight for the survival of the new Jewish was therefore both just and heroic.
I applauded this state as it expanded its borders during the six day war in 1967. I was, by this time, quite unequivocal in my support. The Jews seemed, at last, to be secure in their ancient homeland and freed from the millennia of persecution by Christendom. As the 70s progressed, however, I became ever more perturbed by the growing closeness between Israel and apartheid South Africa. I could no longer ignore the implicit racism within the very concept of Zionism. For this has its roots in the Abrahamic convenant - the very idea that any particular people can have a divine mandate. I had also, by this time, read the biblical accounts of divinely sanctioned genocide - something that was a sharp spur that impelled my eventual parting from any adherence to christianity. Or either of the other faiths that derive their claims to legitimacy from the pernicious myth of the Abrahamic covenant.
Starhawk writes, as ever, movingly and powerfully about the myth that underlies the foundation of Israel. It is a beautiful and powerful myth and I was held captive by it - although I am not, unlike Starhawk, Jewish. This captivity was however to a romance - the heroic underdog surviving terrible adversity and surviving to create a new, redeemed, world. Despite my deeply held political convictions, I held to this myth for a long time. I justified Israeli excesses by constant reference back to the holocaust. I could not, however, forever ignore the realities that were so evident in the 80s. The close cooperation with South Africa, for one example - the realities on the ground for the descendants of the dsplaced people who had occupied the land before western guilt had chosen them for scapegoats and ceded that land to the survivors of the genocide committed by a nation that was in many ways the exemplar of advanced European civilisation. The people of Palestine were decreed, in an explicitly racist manner, to be less worthy to occupy their homeland than those upon whom whom European civilisation had unleashed the horrors of Holocaust. Their vote was cast by the colonial power, Britain. They had none of their own. They do not, in any meaningful use of the word, have a real vote today.
There are two questions here. The first is "Do Jewish people have the right to live and thrive without persecution?" The answer is a clear and unequivocal "YES!" The second, however, is less easy to answer and that is "how can this right be defended?" The post-holocaust answer to the second question was the establishment of a Jewish State built in a part of the ruins of the old, previously defeated, Ottoman Empire. Europe could then wash its collective hands clean of the stain of pogrom. Neglected in this decision were the rights of those who lived there already. Between 1933 and 1945 one "divinely mandated" nation, Germany, had striven to eradicate another "divinely mandated" people, the Jews, while the rest of the world was, by and large, unconcerned if not actively complicit. In Mein Kampf, Hitler was quite explicit about his aims. And yet, until his armies marched into Poland, he was given a free hand. Many, on both left and right, applauded the rise of the new Germany - albeit with a little hand wringing at some over-zealous excesses. None seemed to have read the book, or, if they had, not seemed to have noticed what it said. For anti-semitism was not restricted to Germany. Anyone who has read the literature of the period can see the same pathology in other countries - certainly in Britain. The pseudo-science of eugenics - the purification and perfectability of the "race" was, far from being an aberration, mainstream. In many ways it still is. See, for example, the forcible sterilisation of those considered to be less than worthy - which has persisted to this day, most recently with Roma women in Eastern Europe.
I am a radical. I believe we need to look to the roots of the problem - not its branches. And it is in the dominant myth that these roots can be seen. Here is the beginning of the first chapter of Genesis- because of personal familiarity I use the King James version:
1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, "Let there be light:" and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters."
7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 And God said, "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear:" and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
11 And God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth:" and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 "And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth:" and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
What is noticeable here is the word "divide". God, according to this myth, divides. Just as Marduk divided the goddess Tiamat in the Babylonian myth, of which this is an echo, and created the universe from her corpse. The god of the bible does not create ex nihilo but from a pre-existing "deep" which he divides.
Thus was the template for our patriarchal civilisation drawn. Although the goddess Tiamat is not named in the biblical story She is there - in the image of the deep - the chaotic process of life and death - growth and decay. Throughout the rest of the bible, this process of division continues -Jews and Gentiles, sheep and goats - and then continues into the present day. And at each point one pole of these binaries is privileged. Catholic, heretic, Muslim, Christian, Nazi, Zionist. An infinity of mirrors - each reflecting the other and shielding us from the true, apparently chaotic, fecund, reality of life. It can be scarey to be without these things - for then we are faced with the chaos of emotions and impulses that are a necessary component of our physical being. It is far easier to identify an other who can embody these things and thus deny them in ourselves. It is in dividing us one from another that patriarchy has maintained control over our very souls and beings. Depending on what our core assumptions might be - the frightened 18 year-old Israeli soldier exercising apparently arbitrary power at a checkpoint in the West Bank is a heroic defender or a cruel oppressor. The suicide bomber martyr or monster.
All these categories are a complete fiction. But they are fictions that have the power to eradicate all such categories apart from that of charred and rotting corpses returning to their constituent elements and merging again with the earth that gave them birth. As a species we seem determined to pursue this process of division by unleashing eventually the power gained from dividing the basic constituents of matter. This would truly fulfil the claim of the ever-divisive god of the bible that he is the alpha and the omega - the beginning and the end.
There is time to reverse this urge to collective suicide - this constant process of othering - of division. We can embrace the apparently chaotic diversity of life and of our species. We can revel in ambiguity and uncertainty and the joys and also the pains of the journey from birth to death. Or we can remain in the illusory certainty of our categories and of our judgements. And therefore die by them. Or we can return to Goddess. The choice is ours.