Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mea Shearim is the new [insert favorite bad neighborhood here], Part II

Shortly after I posted my last post “Mea Shearim is the New Harlem”, I had a conversation with a gentleman of my acquaintance. I gave him a summary of the post. He disagreed. To compare Jews and Arabs is wrong. A Jew throwing a rock is different than an Arab throwing a rock.

That—in a nutshell—sums up most of the comments. “It is not okay to say this about Jews”. An Arab can be a terrorist. A Jew cannot. (Unless, of course, he is a left-wing Jew, in which case he is probably not only a terrorist, but also a traitor deserving of the death penalty).

Let us examine this theory, shall we? We will start with some helpful definitions

From the Random House College Dictionary I received as a Bat Mitzvah present:

Terrorism–1) the use of terrorizing methods; 2) the state of fear and submission so produced; 3) a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government

Terrorize—1) to fill or overcome with terror; 2) to dominate or coerce by intimidation.

And from Merriam-Webster online:

Terrorism –The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.

Terror–1) a state of intense fear; 2 )a) one that inspires fear/scourge; b) a frightening aspect ; c) a cause of anxiety/ worry ; d) an appalling person or thing; especially : brat; 3 ) reign of terror; 4 ) violent or destructive acts (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands

You will note that the above definitions do not include many things.

1) They do not exclude those who latch on to their lunacy through boredom, poverty or unemployment. They do not care why you became a terrorist, only that you are one.

2) They do not specify what the demands must be. It does not exempt certain groups of demands from the definition. “Yeah, normally doing xyz in order to enforce compliance with your demands would be terrorism, but since we agree with your demands, it's not.”

3) While Merriam does offer ‘bombing’ as an example of terrorism, neither it nor Random House specify means of coercion. For example, neither source says “up to and including rocks, sticks and body parts –hoodlums and/or bored youth, unless the perpetrator is an Arab, in which case it is terrorism. Knives and up—terrorism. Unless committed by Jews, in which case nothing is terrorism. Unless said Jew is a member of the left wing.”

4) And most importantly: they do not specify what race or religion one must be in order to be a terrorist. They do not distinguish between Arab and Jew.

As such, according to Merriam Webster, Random House, and me: you can be a Jew; you can be a devout Jew; you can use violence –the cultivation of terror—as a means of enforcing compliance with your version of religious law. And if you do, you are a terrorist. And if you are a terrorist, I have every right to be afraid of you. I have no obligation to wait until the first murder of a teenager at the hands of a Ramat Beit Shemesh mob, the first time a grenade is thrown instead of a chair at the Kotel or the first time a bombing replaces riots and rocks. No, I can be afraid of you right now.

Many commenters, even those who agreed with me that violence was becoming a problem, further took exception with my stated fear of Haredi areas and anxiety when running past a large number of Haredi men. They took this to mean that I believe that all Haredim, every last one, is violent. It is okay to be afraid of the violent ones, but not the non-violent ones. I am not sure whether to find this amusing or pathetic. To say that an area is “bad” or “dangerous” does not mean, nor has it ever meant, that every last person living there is dangerous, any more than a State Department alert about a given country means that the US government has come to the conclusion (which it is now ready to make extremely public) that every last person living in said country is interested in causing Americans harm. Rather, it means that the quantity of dangerous people, of radicals, of people willing and able to use violence, has increased. Increased significantly. Increased to the extent that the number of short sticks waiting to be drawn has also increased. And with it, your risk in visiting said area. Because, and this is the tricky part so pay close attention: terrorists look just like non-terrorists! Take my bombing, for example. Had my terrorist looked any different from any non-terrorist, all of us would have said “Look! A terrorist! Run away!” And we would have run away! And if this is true of Arabs and Arab areas, it is all the more so in Haredi areas, where the men all dress identically.

And if I may draw one more analogy from my own bombing--shit happens, and sometimes it happens to you.

I do owe one apology. The readers of Dov Bear’s site were shocked and horrified that I would cite Harlem as an example of a bad neighborhood. Harlem has now become gentrified! People—men and women, young and old, all races— can wander all around Harlem, day and night, without fear! As such, to the upwardly mobile residents of the new, improved, gentrified Harlem, I am so sorry for trashing your neighborhood. I am willing to correct it, but I need your help. You see, I do not live in New York and like most non-New Yorkers, have no particular interest in New York. (Shocking, I know. And yet true). “Harlem” is, for me, something of a symbol. However, even if the symbolism is no longer accurate this does not mean that there is no “Harlem” in New York. The economically disadvantaged populations—complete with the thugs-out-of-boredom-and-frustration elements— they moved somewhere else, yes? To another neighborhood, yes? Because, they are not living next door to you, right? I mean, WHAT would that do to the property values? Anyway, I should have referred to that neighborhood. And if one of you would be so kind as to provide me with the updated reference, I will correct my original post accordingly.


e.e. said...

Hi Gila

Here's a post you will probably find interesting.

The writer - a Jerusalemite - is utterly secular and the post is in Hebrew, and not easy Hebrew...
But if the readers of this blog can overcome this, you'll probably find a lot to agree with...

Gila said...

Interesting. You are right, the Hebrew is not easy. But I managed.

I agree with a lot of his points, but I would not make it "hiloni against religious". I am not observant, but I am also not hiloni and I do believe in G-d.

In other words, this is more of a "haredi-rest of the country" thing than a "religious/secular" thing. My dati-leumi friends and co-workers are also not particularly impressed with the Haredim right now!

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? I don't know where else you are getting comments, but a review of comments on the last post revealed a grand total of maybe ONE or TWO posters who took exception to the comparision to arabs. Most ppl just didn't like the haredi bashing or directed their agreement/disagreement commentary toward content at hand (haredim).

I think you wanted ppl to be upset about the comparison to arabs and were hoping to provoke ppl...but as far as I can see, ppl weren't that provked over the arab/jew comparison (b/c hey, most of us aren't so racist to find that offensive)..yet you wrote an entire post on it. Interesting.

Me thinks you protest too much.

Anonymous said...

Comments on Dov Bear's site, cooments offline and a few comments I rejected.

Not to mention general irritation. More riots last week and as usual, the government caved.

RivkA with a capital A said...

just write " the 'old' Harlem" -you know, the one we grew up with!

ok, so here's the deal.

1. anyone can be a terrorist

2. different societies react differently to the terrorists in their midst.

3. Hareidi extremists are still a small minority

4. The Hareidi establishment has NOT done all they can to stop the violence. Neither has the Israeli government.

5. It is the left wingers who label the right wingers, not the other way around. Just open the paper, any paper, and read...

6. who do you hang out with that you get such skewed views??? clearly you have too many right wing friends.... (so, when are you coming to visit?)

7. my in-laws live right in the midst of one of these crazy neighborhoods of which you speak. they are literally afraid of their neighbors. once, when my daughter went to visit, they made her drape an oversized sweater over her clothes so she would not get attacked when walking outside....

Gila said...

RivkA--I have spent a bit too much time reading Muqata. I love Jameel, but his commenters....oy vey! This one deserves the death penalty, that one is a traitor and the right wing is (of course) persecuted saints.

Don't worry--will rag on the left in another post. You know me--nice and center. :)

Re: visit--soon--have pizza fixings for you!

Gila said...

General comment regarding "provocation". I did not write either article with the intent of being provocotive. That is really not my thing. I wrote what I think, and how I feel. When I wrote that I have to be afraid of Arabs and Jews--the point was not to get a rise out of people. It was sincere.