Sunday, July 29, 2018

Zionism and Judaism – two sides of the same coin?

Critics of Zionism and its excesses are usually keen to stress that their criticism is not aimed at Judaism as a religion but at Zionism as a racist and supremacist political movement. This claim of the two being diametrically opposed to each other is eloquently expressed by Hajo Meyer in a video interview with David Zlutnick, quoted approvingly at electronic intifada[1]: “Zionism and Judaism are contrary to each other. Because Judaism is universal and humane, and Zionism is exactly the opposite. It is very narrow, very nationalistic, racist, colonialist, and all this. There is no ‘National Judaism’. There is Zionism and there is Judaism, and they are completely different.”

However, this distinction is not always as clear-cut as its supporters would like to assert. Rather, Zionism is a product of Judaism and would not exist without it. In some ways, their relationship is like that of a worn-out marriage in which the partners are no longer particularly attracted to each other, yet do not wish to divorce due to the benefits of retaining the union. Or, maybe more aptly, Zionism is the prodigal son of Judaism who often embarrasses his parents, yet they cannot get themselves to disown him.

For sure, there are critics of Zionism within Judaism. Amongst them Neturei Karta, a Hassidic Jewish movement who take issue, however, not with the idea of Zion or Jerusalem as the centre of the world but with the premature timing of the Zionist project: “the Torah forbids us to end the exile and establish a state and army until the Holy One, blessed He, in His Glory and Essence will redeem us.”[2] Of the many others who think the Zionist project “unwise”, Edward Corrigan gives a long list.[3] But altogether there are very few Jews outspoken enough to expose the bigotry of the Zionist project publicly, such as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Israel Shahak or Israel Shamir, and on the whole they are disliked and ostracised by their fellow Jews due to their apparent lack of family loyalty.

In many ways, Zionism is a natural extension of Judaism, restoring to the wandering Jews the notion of a homeland coupled with political influence. Its bold supremacism mirrors the ordinary Jewish elitism derived from a self-perception as the Chosen People. The Talmud as the authoritative Jewish interpretation of scripture abounds in differentiation between Jews and Gentiles, with the former being given clear preference over the latter. A bizarre aberration of this attitude occurs when secular Zionists want to claim God’s special favours whilst at the same time seeing no need to believe in Him or act upon His commandments.

When Jews speak out against injustices visited upon non-Jews in Palestine, they frequently don’t do so because of a belief that Palestinians should have the same human rights as Israeli Jews – hardly any of them supports a single-state solution with equal rights for everyone –, but because they sense that the unbridled aggressive arrogance of the protagonists of Zionism will damage their overall reputation and standing in a world where Jews still remain a minority in many places and depend on the good-will of their majority host communities. They are also worried about the moral fall-out regarding the future legitimacy of the Zionist state. In the words of Uri Avnery: “What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet. In the end, this war is a crime against ourselves too, a crime against the State of Israel.”[4] Naturally, whilst being a critic of Israeli military tactics, he opposes calls for a boycott of the country in response.[5]

Whilst the dream of Zion is as old as the diaspora and there were earlier attempts to exploit Jewish identification with the Holy Land for the benefit of British Imperial designs against the threat of continental progress under Napoleon, Theodor Herzl and Benjamin Disraeli are recognised as the founders of political Zionism as a distinct movement.[6] Herzl is also said to have been the original author of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”[7]. The Zionists aspirations for political power were not immediately shared widely amongst European Jews and their ideas of setting up an exclusive Jewish state were initially ridiculed and rejected, but gradually gained currency, not least due to waves of anti-Semitism purposefully promoted and aided by the Zionists.[8] In his “Diaries”, Herzl noted: “The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends and the anti-Semitic countries our allies”. And Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion went on record saying: “If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them to Israel, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children but also the history of the people of Israel.[9], showing his open contempt for Jewish lives in furthering Zionist political ambitions.

Neither Herzl nor Disraeli, or any of the prominent Zionists of the founding years of the state of Israel, were defenders of the Judaism of the Torah. But that does not mean they weren’t proper Jews. Most gentiles do not realise that the God of the Bible is not the only God holding sway over Jews in their synagogues. During their Babylonian captivity, Jews also learned the dark arts of occult mysticism and magic which they developed into the Kabbalah, in which all reality emerges from Zion, and the God of their belief system is no other than the antagonist of the Biblical deity – Lucifer.[10] He is the free spirit who liberates man from the shackles imposed by God and the restrictions of a moral code, thus enabling man to become god-like himself through enlightenment. It is this other god in whose service Jews became prominently involved in freemasonry with its references to the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and in revolutionary movements as well as licentious movements to undermine public morality, such as the one preached by Sabbatai Zevi. And it is this aspect of Judaism, the racist elitism without further need for God and His commandments, which gave birth to political secular Zionism.

This mindset also accounts for Israel’s lack of restraint in suppressing actual and perceived opposition. The most recent assaults on Gaza were notable by their brutality with the full weight of a sophisticated and well equipped army having been brought down indiscriminately on a defenceless population. But they were no isolated occurrences as earlier massacres, such as Shabra and Shatila, testify. In these incidents we see the destructive combination of superiority complex and lack of moral constraint by which Zionism is so often characterised.

Whilst one might expect that Torah Jews, who may well be repulsed by such atrocities, would see reason not only to distance themselves from the worst of these crimes against humanity but outright disown their Kabbalistic brethren, this rarely happens, because Judaism is not merely seen as a religion but also as a race which they all share in spite of their differences in beliefs and practice. The chosen people thus are no longer chosen because of religious observance but because of the superiority of their bloodline. The accusation of Israel being a racist apartheid regime is therefore not merely polemic but supported by the very foundations of the state of Israel.

This multiple personality complex of Jewish identity lies at the heart of why such apparently disparate people continue to stick together in the face of criticism, however justified. It is this unity which does not permit us to separate Zionism and Judaism as distinct, albeit interrelated, systems. Amongst themselves, Jews may dispute the wisdom or otherwise of the Zionist project, but vis-à-vis the wider world, generally perceived as hostile, they are two sides of the same coin.

When we perceive the origins of Zionism in this deviant occult strand of Judaism, we also gain an understanding of such apparent contradictions as both Herzl’s and Hitler’s almost identical beliefs on racial purity and shared love for Wagner[11], the collusion between the Nazi and Zionist movements in the creation of anti-semitism and transfer of Jewish people from Europe to Palestine[12], and the hand of British foreign policy in recruiting both of these charismatic proponents of their respective racist ideologies from within the intellectual left-over of the collapsed and decadent Hapsburg empire in Vienna for the purpose of bringing about the new dawn of global domination by Britain in an age where steel and oil threatened the natural advantage of the hitherto unrivalled sea power. Zionism always has been and remains a very British god-child and a testimony to the influence of Sabbatean Judaism on the British ruling classes. This is perfectly epitomised in Blake’s hymn Jerusalem having almost become a rival national anthem for the United Kingdom.

Hence, in the metaphor of Zionism and Judaism as two sides of the same coin we find that the Zionist side of the coin has become the more recognisable one and the Judaic side has worn away to a large extent. Or, returning to the prodigal son similitude, the son has established himself firmly, and it no longer matters whether his parents disown him or not. No longer dependent on them, he now exerts his influence upon them.

In the course of history, Jews in the diaspora have allowed their religious identification as the people of the Torah to be eroded and replaced by a racial identification of the Jewish people. This racial perception of themselves strengthened the occult Kabbalistic elements within their ranks, for whom blood and racial purity have always been more important than scripture. Jews no longer represented a faith but became a nation, and, arguably, a nation needed a state. To the disappointment of nostalgics like Neturei Karta, this nation state could dispense with the need for a future messiah. All that mattered was the here and now.

Because of the indifference of Jews around the world to the abuses by those who claim to represent them, Zionism has grown out of control like a cancer which is not being reigned in by religious exponents of Judaism (nor by the Western powers who sponsored its growth). If Judaism really wants to be universal and humane and wants to be respected as different to its Zionist offshoot, then non-Zionist Jews must stop turning a blind eye and replace their complacent toleration of Israel’s excesses with a clear denunciation of Israel’s racism as having no place in their midst. This does not necessarily mean the need to call for Israel as a state and political entity having to be dismantled, but would require support for a single-state solution where each citizen, Jewish or not, has identical civil rights and duties. Obviously, this means the end of a purely Jewish state in reality and its transformation into an ordinary secular state with Jewish roots. Those who find this anathema support the myth of Jewish supremacy and, in spite of their protestations, can only be described as covert Zionists.

 [Originally published in "Blood and Shekels" edited by Troy Southgate, Black Front Press 2018]

[6] For an extensive expose of the British origins of Zionism see Mark Burdman, How Britain’s Biggest Racists and Financiers Created Zionism, accessed 3/05/2015
[7] David Pidcock, Satanic Voices Ancient and Modern, Mustaqim 1992
[8] Francis Nicosia, Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, Cambridge University Press 2008; Joseph Massad, Zionism, anti-Semitism and colonialism accessed 3/05/2015; Zionism is also responsible for destroying the mostly amicable relationships between Jewish and Arab communities in the Muslim world, in some documented cases even by orchestrating terror against Jews, such as the 1950 Baghdad bombing campaign designed to get Iraqi Jews to migrate to Israel, see “Jews in the Arab World” in accessed 4/05/2015
[9] Ralph Schoenman, The Hidden History of Zionism, Veritas Press 1988
[10] Livingstone & Bleher, Surrendering Islam, Mustaqim 2010
[11] Leah Garrett, A Knight at the Opera: Heine, Wagner, Herzl, Peretz and the legacy of Der Tannhäuser, Purdue University Press 2011; accessed 3/05/2015
[12] cf. Ben Hecht, Perfidy, 1961; reprinted by Milah Press, Jerusalem, in 1997

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Translating the Word of God: Choices when rendering the Arabic Qur’an into “plain English”

In line with the importance of the Qur’an as the sacred scripture of Muslims, translations of the Qur’an into English are plentiful, starting with the work of George Sale in 1734  “Koran - The Alcoran of Mohammed, Translated into English immediately from the Original Arabic; with Explanatory Notes, taken from the most approved Commentators” and followed by another three dozen at least, penned either by orientalists or Muslims, through the centuries to follow. Arguably the most popular amongst Muslims in the UK is the translation of Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall “The meaning of the Glorious Qur’an”, first published in 1930, alongside with that of Abdullah Yusuf Ali “The meaning of the Holy Qur’an”, first published in 1934. Understandably, the language employed by either of them sounds somewhat dated today, which can get in the way of understanding. The Qur’an describes itself as a book of guidance, but trying to follow it in a language no longer spoken is akin to trying to follow the instructions of your SatNav in a foreign language. This was especially highlighted to me in my work with Muslim young offenders who wanted to turn to the Qur’an for inspiration but found the language barrier too great to overcome. Therefore in 2004 IDCI in Birmingham published my “The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an, An Explanatory Translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall. Fully revised new modern English edition” and “The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, English Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Fully revised new modern English edition”, in which I carefully adapted the text and replaced some of the more archaic expressions with modern ones whilst tying to remain true to the style of the original translator. The former has since seen several editions and has become the translation of choice for many. Yet, for me it has always remained a compromise in that editing somebody else’s translations brings numerous constraints. More than a decade later my own translation “The Wise Qur’an, the Eternal book of Guidance translated into plain English” has been published, also by IDCI Birmingham.
The term “plain English” is what was represented my key objective in preparing this translation. Many translators have in the past tried to enhance the esteem of the Qur'an by choosing a distinguished, learned and complicated language, often in an attempt to parallel Bible translations. The result has been that the message was lost on the ordinary reader. Furthermore, translators have been at pain to achieve the greatest possible accuracy. This being a worth-while objective, even more so when dealing with the divine word, it very often destroyed the clarity of expression as a result by keeping the translation too literal. It is my belief that those who would like to explore the fine details of the Qur'anic text best do so by learning Arabic as it is entirely impossible to consistently mirror in another language the full richness and detail of the original.

In any case it is a fallacy that there should only be one authoritative translation into a given other language. Since a full understanding, and thus transferring, the complete content of a Divine text cannot be given to any human, there must by necessity be several translations, some focusing on the meaning, some on the literary and poetic style, for example. Furnishing another translation does not imply that existing ones are inadequate, but simply that they are unsuitable for the intended purpose.

My attempt at translating the Qur'an was therefore not a scholarly exercise, but an effort to make its words of guidance and wisdom reach as large an audience as possible and enable them absorb its meaning and the images it contains in a language they can relate to as their own. The Qur’an states that it was revealed in “clear (or plain) Arabic”. For its meaning to be transferred to another language, in this case English, one must equally strive for the same clarity of expression which speaks directly to the soul without requiring the mind to engage in complicated decoding first.

An important condition for translating the Qur’an is that one’s own interpretation does not overtake the wider meaning. Language is open to interpretation, and interpretations differ in accordance with time and culture. For that reason, the Qur’an cannot be correctly implemented without reference to the life example of the prophet Muhammad, peace be with him, who not only transmitted the Qur’an but also demonstrated its practicability and viability. To include this dimension, classical writings on Tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis) were extensively consulted when preparing this translation.

Yet, one must also avoid the mistake of making the translation of the Qur’an itself into a commentary by substituting words in order to force their interpretation. The Qur’an speaks for itself, and as far as possible the words and phrases chosen by the Creator should remain unchanged. Adaptations are, however, required where a literal translation of the Arabic sentence would violate the syntax of the English and thus sound outlandish.

To illustrate the approach described above I would like to give a few examples of the choices made when completing the translation.

As for clarity of expression being achieved by not adhering unnecessarily closely to the word sequence in the original, the phrase “did you not see the water which you drink” is appropriately rendered as “take a look at your drinking water”. Likewise, the single letter word “wa”, meaning “and”, is often used in the same way as a comma in English and when it occurs in a list, the repetitive insertion of “and” will make the sentence difficult to follow.

Another example is prepositions which differ between languages, and to use the same preposition just to “stay close to the original” actually distorts it. Previous English translations of the Qur’an describe the gardens of paradise “underneath which rivers flow”, conjuring the image of some kind of sewage system. The Arabic word “below” is used in connection with rivers because the river bed is below the earth surface, but in English rivers flow “through” the land, since different cultures have different concepts of space and time. Thus in English children, for example, play “in the street”, which does not mean the inside of it but the inside of the space between buildings which is defined by the street. In German, on the other hand, they play “on the street”, the street here being defined as the actual road surface. Likewise, when we are told in the Qur'an to travel "in" the earth, we use "on" the earth in English.

Another difficulty when translating between languages belonging to distant geographical environments is that it is not always possible to use the same equivalent of a word throughout. On the one hand, Arabic has a multitude of names for an object, for example a camel, for which English only has one or two. On the other hand, the reverse is also often the case, and the same Arabic word needs to be represented by a different English word dependent on context. A “kafir” is, for example, both the one who rejects the truth and the one who rejects the blessings he received. In the latter case he needs to be described as ungrateful. So in the Qur’anic statement “if you were to count the blessings of Allah you could not enumerate them - man is unjust and ungrateful” it would be wrong to use “disbelieving” instead.

I avoided the word “disbelief” altogether and used “rejection” instead, because the concept is of somebody who rejects the truth after having been exposed to it. As for “abd”, literally a slave, I used “servant”, although man is not just in the service of God but also owned by Him. I made this choice not only because of the tarnished image of slavery but because it allows to retain the correlation between the noun and the verb, so Allah’s “servant” (Abdullah) is somebody who “serves” Him, rather than just “worships” Him, as the concept of worship in the Qur’an is much more extensive than the English word implies.

If this translation were aimed exclusively at Muslims who are already familiar with key Arabic terms, then it would be legitimate to leave many such terms in Arabic without translating them (and such a translation has been published by Aisha Bewley in 1999: “The Noble Qur'an: A New Rendering of Its Meaning in English”), but because I wanted this translation to make the Qur’an more accessible not only to Muslims but also those who have not previously encountered the message of Islam, I decided to opt for a translation of terms wherever possible, even if such a translation is not always adequate to convey the complete meaning, for example, I have rendered Salah as prayer in spite of the different associations various cultures attach to this word. Whilst the Qur’an is the foundation of Islam, it is not possible to learn everything about Islam exclusively from the Qur’an, less so from a translation, and an exploration of the meanings of key Islamic terms will need to be pursued elsewhere.

I have made an exception from this rule of translating key technical terms of Islam in two cases in particular: Zakat and Injil. A simple translation, like the often used “poor tax” or “poor due”, does not do justice to the concept of Zakat which forms the third pillar of Islam. Zakat is a specified share of surplus wealth to be redistributed to a specified group of disadvantaged members of society. Due to its obligatory nature it is more than charity, yet it is not a tax, because it can, and preferably should, be given directly to the recipients without the involvement of the state. So in this case I have left the Arabic term without further explanation. I have also left Injil as the revelation given to Jesus, because it is not equivalent to the Gospel, the latter representing third party accounts about his life rather than the actual revelation he received.

A particular difficulty in translation is posed by idioms and metaphors. Where there is a direct correlation, the familiar idiom should be used. For example, the woman who untwists her thread after having spun it is, in fact, the woman who undoes her knitting after completing it, and to cling to the literal wording means losing the power of this well-known expression. Other idioms have become common but are based on earlier incorrect translations, so for example, the “camel fitting through the eye of a needle” is based on a mistranslated Biblical metaphor. Etymologically the term “jamal” used in the Qur’an, which also means camel, here means a thick rope, and the expression makes a lot more sense with this meaning, so in spite of everybody having heard the camel version, I chose to move away from it.

Finally, there is the issue of tense: Many future events are described in the Qur’an in the past tense, because in the knowledge of God they have already happened, and present tense is used to convey a sense of regularity or immediacy also for events of the past. Whether this appeared equally strange to Arab listeners at the time of first revelation we do not know, but in order to make the text more approachable, all those who have previously translated the Qur’an into English have substituted those tenses with the ones one would normally expect in a continuous narrative.

These are not always ideal choices. As a result of settling for one option above another, some of the depth of the meaning of the original will be lost, especially where the Arabic word has layers of meaning. Here, only the dominant meaning can be conveyed, and to access the fine nuances of alternative interpretations the reader would have to consult a book of Tafsir (exegesis). Similarly, when legal rulings are derived from the Qur’an, these cannot be based on a translation but require full consideration of the original wording and its context. Where it is possible, however, to leave an ambiguity in place, it is best to do so. A day in the Qur’anic text often means a time period rather than a day, but this inference is also possible in English, so there is no problem in keeping to the six “days” of creation, for example. Ultimately, every translation of a perfect text such as the Divine revelation will be a compromise, and I pray that I will have achieved my aim of introducing the reader of my translation to some of the beauty of the original without diverting from its meaning but, most of all, make it easy to read and comprehend and allow it to speak both to the intellect and the heart.
The “Wise Qur’an” is available from IDCI or on ebay.