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The anniversary of 9/11 is always a poignant time and one that invites much reflection. For me, the weeks that followed the attacks are every bit as memorable as the day itself. It was hard to feel safe, wasn’t it? I kept thinking that the aeroplanes were flying too low or along unfamiliar trajectories.

Perhaps this paranoia was forgivable. The media was falling over itself to conjure up new terror threats. Canary Wharf was regularly cast as an inevitable target, and my father and many close friends worked there. As my overground train to work turned towards Waterloo each morning, I was relieved to see the tower still standing. But then there was the spectre of chemical and biological attacks to worry about, and those fears  were propped up by strange goings-on with anthrax in America.

I remember a photograph on the front page of The Times that merged Osama Bin Laden’s face into a mushroom cloud. This was unsettling for sure, but I was more frightened by the rumour that Al Qaeda planned to fly cropduster planes over central London, all the better to spray us with deadly plagues. A-tishoo, a-tishoo, we all fall down…

Something else was occupying my mind in those weeks. In the wake of the attacks I became actively interested in the Middle East conflict. I was working at a predominantly Jewish company at the time and I recall some fascinating lunches with a member of staff during which he patiently answered my questions about Israel.

I had many questions and I was desperate for answers. I also realised that I would, unwittingly, probably have some misconceptions. Like many British people, I had always had a lazy, default feeling of ill-informed pity for the Palestinian people and therefore a vague sense of hostility towards Israel, despite the fact that I’d long had a somewhat latent philosemitic side.

I’d always worried that I would offend, but I wanted to learn. So I asked my colleague straight out: “If I buy you lunch, can I ask you lots of possibly offensive questions about Israel?”. He had a great mind and was painstakingly honest and balanced in his responses.

I began voraciously reading about the conflict, pouring through books that covered the issue from both sides, from Edward Said to Alan Dershowitz, and more. Many, many books and much thinking later, I fell in firmly on Israel’s side. The rest is history: a history of wonderful trips to Israel, countless new friends and a blog in which I write in defence of the Jewish state.

And it all started in the weeks after 9/11. Returning to those scare stories that dominated the media during that period, it is worth reflecting nine years on that none of our worst fears have come true. No capital cities have disappeared under a mushroom cloud, no town centres have turned into mass graves after chemical or biological attacks.

This is probably down to the vigilance and hard work of the security services. They deserve much praise for their courageous and careful efforts. While that vigilance must be maintained, blind fear is something we could do with a lot less of. Much of the discussion about these issues is dominated by fear.

Pro-Palestinian groups fear that Israel is going to annihilate the Palestinians, even though it isn’t. Other people worry that a small Muslim community centre several blocks from Ground Zero will lead to further atrocities in Manhattan, even though it won’t.

Hate-mongers like George Galloway and Geert Wilders trade on scaring the gullible. I remember interviewing John Pilger, and he told me: “You should always be scared”. Sheesh, no wonder his politics is sometimes so muddled.

We must take real threats seriously, but that is not the same thing as living in fear. I love the words of the wonderful Rabbi Nachman: he sang that the world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing to recall is not to be afraid at all.

The above is my latest column for Jewish News. For more on why I support and blog about Israel, click here.

18 Responses to “Vigilance is more effective than fear”

  1. aparatchik says:

    “the world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing to recall is not to be afraid at all.”

    I’ll remember that one, thanks.

  2. Duvid Crockett, King of DeLancey Street says:

    Well said Chas. Here are some Israeli tourists singing Rav Nachman’s words in Hebrew (Kol Haolam Kulo/Gesher Tsar Me’od) outside Ahava in London on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, in the face of anti-Israel demonstrators. They started dancing too and sang David Melech Yisrael (David, King of Israel) as an encore. As Mr. Punch would say; “that’s the way to do it.”

    [wpvideo d9jMgQJ1]

  3. Duvid Crockett, King of DeLancey Street says:

    Apologies. The video doesn’t appear to want to let me share it with you, but it can be found in all its glory on the Cif Watch thread “Ahava,London 9/11 2010.”

  4. roger says:

    Geert Wilders is NOT a hatemonger. He is an uncompromising truth teller and a good friend of Israel.

    • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

      He’s flirted with antisemitic parties and has a raft of hateful policies and beliefs.

      • roger says:

        I’d sure like to know what his hateful policies and beliefs are.

        • roger says:

          Here is Wilders giving a speech in Jerusalem. I fail to see what is hateful about this man. Unless you can back up your accusation with some solid and convincing evidence, then you are slandering him and what he stands for.


          • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

            He advocates banning the Koran, taxing women who wear the headscarf and ending immigration from Muslim countries.

            He has flirted with an antisemitic party in Belgium.

            Everywhere he goes he tries to create division, and always wants himself centre-stage.

            He is a clever operator and manipulator but we shouldn’t be naive about what he really is.

          • roger says:

            I do not agree with banning the Koran. Banning books is counter productive and prevents freedom of speech. So Wilders is mistaken there.

            However, he correctly identifies Islam as a violent oppressive totalitarian political system that does not separate church and state. I agree with him that Muslim immigration into Holland and the rest of Europe should be stopped, for a number of reasons.
            The hate comes from Islam, not Wilders. Islamic antisemitism, for example, is a clear and present danger to the jewish communities in Europe, and many are leaving for Israel and elsewhere. Jews in Amsterdam, for instance, are afraid to wear the kippur on the streets because they are attacked and harassed by Morrocan and Turkish Muslims. The division you refer to is not created by Wilders, it is already there and he is not responsible for it.
            The headscarf is being used as a political statement and is a symbol of the subjugation and oppression of women.
            Wilders has dissociated himself from Vlaangs belaam in Belgium, and any other parties like the BNP, who express antisemitic and racist sentiments. Wilders is not a racist and Islam is not a race.

          • aparatchik says:

            Here’s some data on anti-semitism and islamophobia in the netherlands: http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2010/09/islamophobia-in-holland-down-jew-hatred.html

          • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

            I’m not sure if those stats are aimed at me or not. I deplore antisemitism, which is why I blog and campaign against it. As a regular visitor to Amsterdam I am aware of the horrendous problems there. Wilders is not the answer, he’s a hate-monger.

          • aparatchik says:

            Chas, what would you say was the answer to Muslim antisemitism and anti-liberalism in places like Holland? Is the Islamicisation of Europe a real possibility? Should we prevent it or just accept it as a natural evolution in human history (albeit such evolutions are always accompanied by conflict).

    • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

      “I do not agree with banning the Koran. Banning books is counter productive and prevents freedom of speech. So Wilders is mistaken there.”

      And a transparent hypocrite, too. He whines about his own freedom of speech being curtailed while working hard to curtail the freedom of speech of others.

      “The division you refer to is not created by Wilders, it is already there and he is not responsible for it.”

      I agree. But he wants to make it worse. He thrives off it, that much is clear.

      “The headscarf is being used as a political statement and is a symbol of the subjugation and oppression of women.”

      An oppression he wants to increase, via his policy.

      “Wilders is not a racist and Islam is not a race.”

      I have never said Islam is a race. Wilders may or may not be a racist. I doubt he even believes half of the crap he peddles. It’s a shame so many other people believe it though.

  5. Jill says:

    hi Chass, this is a very nice post. To extend your reading and understand where wilders is coming from, check out Andrew Bostoms’ the legacy of jihad and the Legacy of Islamic Anti Semitism. andrewbostom.org

    Big books, but will cklear out a LOT of misconceptions, not only abotu islam,a but about hoe the Golden Age myth began and what people really suffered under Islam.
    Bostom also started researching Islam after 9/11. Very erudite man.

    An Australian vicar has written a very good description of what it is to live as a dhimmi: The Third Choice by Mark Durie. It gets very creepy about half-way through.

    happy New Year! may your apples always dip themselves in honey to save you trouble! :”D) (this emoticon shows a piece of apple in your mouth, ready to munch ;)

  6. Jill says:

    OMG, my spelling is shot to Sh*t!

  7. Jill says:

    Just checked out a Matisyahu video.

  8. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Thanks, Jill. Again there is a strange undertone to your post. You seem to assume that because I don’t live up to your stance on Islam it must be that I’m ill-informed or naive. You’ve tried that one on me before, I remember.

    It might just be that we see things differently?

    Wilders is a hate-mongering, divisive asshole. A convincing fake, I grant you, but a fake all the same.

    Also, I’d love you to answer my question in the discussion here: http://www.oyvagoy.com/2010/09/03/a-clarification-about-the-shalit-campaign/

    • roger says:

      Wilders displays contempt for the hypocritical political correctness applied to Islam that has enveloped Europe. He resolutely calls for tough action against intimidation and threats from Islamic fundamentalists.

      He describes Muslim migrants as a “Trojan Horse” and warns of the danger of Europe being transformed into Eurabia and European civilization coming to an end.

      Wilders is an outspoken friend of the Jewish people and considers Israel to be “the West’s first line of defense”. He lived in Israel for two years and has visited the Jewish state more than 40 times.

      Contrary to defamatory allegations directed against him, Wilders abhors fascism and publicly condemned politicians like France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, the late Haider and other racists with whom he swears he would never associate.

      Should Wilders be convicted of promoting hate speech it will have problematic implications in a country like Holland where calls for “death to the Jews” are regular occurrences and rarely prosecuted.

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