Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Swipe at the Absurdity of Racism

"Fisher-roshi nodded his head sagely and indicated to Gilguli to come forward and kneel down before him on the railroad track behind which the wheelchair was braked. He took up his guitar again and resumed his chant. 'My sweetest friends, and my holy holy soul mate Jake Gilguli, this is so heartbreaking and so deep! Today, amidst the horror of Birkenau and the healing, here in this place of endless crying where the ashes of your former life as Yankel Galitzianer lie scattered, I bestow on you a new name to mark the beginning of your one-thousand-day journey as a lay monk toward dharma transmission, toward more supreme enlightenment and perfection, and to acknowledge at one and the same time the oneness of duality, the oneness of your Zen karma with your Yiddishe neshama, your Jewish soul. Your new name as a monk is Koan - like Cohen, resonating richly of the word for a priest of Israel, kohain. From today and henceforth you will be known as Jake Koan Gilguli - Buddhist monk, Jewish priest. I also present to you on this day of your ordination as a lay monk the first of your koans, the first of the enigmatic questions that through zazen and fidelity to your master will lead you as you set forth in fulfillment of your vows beyond the boundaries of reason to ultimate awakening. Your koan of the week is: Who is a Jew?'" (My Holocaust, Tova Reich, 2007, pp 175-176)

Coming to a screen near you:

"The Reluctant Infidel: Life for Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili), a Muslim cabbie working in the UK, has had its challenges. Just as he's learning to live with the suspicious looks and snide comments, his world is turned upside down. An identity crisis ensues when he discovers that not only is he adopted but he is also Jewish. With the help of his neighbour, a Jewish cab driver, he rediscovers his roots in the most unorthodox manner. The Reluctant Infidel is a British farce for the modern age as it takes a tongue-in-cheek swipe at religion, family and the absurdity of racism." (

I hate to rain on this film's parade but it seems to me, after reading the above, that far from taking a swipe at the absurdity of racism, this film may actually, if inadvertently, help reinforce it by adopting the premise of the Jewish religious belief that biology is the determining factor in what makes a Jew. Both the now defunct Nazi Nuremberg Laws (1935) and the Israeli Law of Return (1950) define Jewishness on this basis: in the former, if you had 3 lots of Jewish grandparents, you were a Jew and therefore fair game; in the latter, if you have a Jewish mother or maternal grandmother, you are a Jew and therefore privileged when it comes to entering and residing in Palestine/Israel.

Defining Jewishness biologically would not necessarily these days be problematic but for its use by the Zionist project known as Israel as a yardstick for determining who gets into Palestine/Israel and who is kept out. The absurdity/criminality of this use becomes apparent when one realises that, while Mahmud's newly-discovered biological connection may allow him the option, via Israel's Law of Return, of taking up Israeli citizenship, a fictional Palestinian cabbie colleague, whose grandparents were born there and who still have title deeds to property there dating back to the pre-1948 era, is allowed no such option.

The Reluctant Infidel's creator, Jewish comedian David Baddiel, might in fact be better placed to take a swipe at the absurdity of racism by opening up this particular can of worms. We shouldn't hold our breath, of course, but he does seem to have potential: "For [Baddiel], the notion of Israel is essentially 'a bunch of Jews in the Middle East who are really hard, a bit aggressive, a bit mental, really up for a fight'." (David Baddiel discusses The Infidel, Barry Didcock,, 12/4/10)

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