Archive for the ‘God’ Category
Unsurprisingly, the pontiff has rather a lot of followers. Twitter followers, I mean. His English Twitter account alone has, at the time of writing, a cool 757,992. Not bad for three tweets (or 21, if you count the duplicates). But there is one area in which the Pope is holding back. Currently, he is following just seven different Twitter accounts. And, you guessed it, they are all himself.
There are those who might be cynical about the notion of only following oneself. From someone like Jeremy Clarkson, for instance, you might expect it (though Clarkson actually follows 80). But in truth, if anybody can get away with it, the Pope can. He is, after all, the mouthpiece of God, so in a way he is following Him. By contrast, the Dalai Lama – who as a Buddhist does not harbour a belief in a creator deity – has almost 7 million Twitter followers, but has chosen to follow nobody at all.
I’m not a religious man, but this reticence to follow one’s own flock seems rather odd. Doesn’t it demonstrate that you’re a bit #outoftouch? After all, the unofficial Mufti of Twitter, Stephen Fry, follows more than 50,000 people. Admittedly his collection of followers is almost ten times that number. But at least he’s showing willing.
So, dear Pope and Dalai Lama, if you’re reading this, take my advice and follow some people. Why not? You’ve already taken the step of joining Twitter, you might as well go the whole hog.
If I haven’t yet persuaded you, consider consider the autocoprophagous Will Self (@wself). He has nearly 30,000 followers, yet follows not a single soul. Do you really want to put yourself in such company? A cautionary tale if ever I’ve heard one. As seen on the Telegraph website
Pawel Bromson was a neo-Nazi skinhead who attacked ethnic miorities and vandalised Auschwitz. Then one day he discovered the secret that his family had buried – he was Jewish. On the eve of the anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre, he tells his story
The skinhead thug who became an Orthodox Jew
Ten years ago, when the President of Poland apologised for the 1941 massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbours, a controversy flared up. Much Polish public opinion supported the views of controversial Polish MEP Michał Kamiński, who opposed the apology, stating that “all of Jedwabne is being spat on and the entire country is being put on trial.” Most of the citizens of Jedwabne boycotted the memorial service, and the local Catholic church even rang its bells in attempt to drown out the prayers.
Now, however, as the seventieth anniversary of the massacre approaches, it is clear that Poland has changed. A memorial service is being planned at the site of the killings, led by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, the former Polish Foreign Minister and former Auschwitz prison inmate Władysław Bartoszewski, and a senior Catholic figure, Bishop Mieczyslaw Cislo. This is an unequivocal demonstration of Polish sympathy for the Jews.
“Ten years ago, Poland was still in shock,” says Robert Szaniawski, spokesman for the Polish Embassy in London. “Especially the people of Jedwabne. They couldn’t believe that their parents or grandparents had carried out this massacre. But now everyone accepts the facts. As a nation, we are coming to terms with it.”
In 1938, three million Jews lived in Poland. By 1945 ninety per cent had perished, and more were butchered in the communist pogroms that followed. But since the collapse of the Communist regime, attitudes in Poland have been changing. A quiet Jewish revival is taking root. In Warsaw, for example, the number of Jewish families has increased by over 150% in the last six years.
Poland’s difficult journey is, perhaps, embodied in a man called Pawel Bromson, one of a tiny handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews now living in Warsaw. Bromson has not always been an Orthodox Jew. For many years, he was a nationalist skinhead.
I meet Bromson in Oxford, at the David Slager Jewish Community Centre. This is his first interview outside Poland. With his beard and black hat, he could undoubtedly blend in anywhere from Jerusalem to Brooklyn. Yet it is surprisingly easy to imagine him as a thug. He is unusually boisterous, almost laddish; he gets me to buy him cigarettes, talks enthusiastically about drinking, and claps me too hard on the back.
He is thirty-four years old, he tells me. He grew up in the bleak tower blocks of Warsaw during the final decade of the communist regime. So far as he knew, his was a Catholic household; he had no idea that his parents were really Jewish. This was not by any means unusual. Like many others, his parents had kept their Jewishness a secret from their children for their own protection.
During Bromson’s teenage years, the Polish skinhead movement was in full swing, gaining popularity partly as a reaction against the repression of communism. “Life in Poland was stifling for young people at that time,” he tells me. “Becoming a skinhead gave us back our pride. The sense of power was intoxicating.”
Bromson and his friends would roam the streets with baseball bats, attacking people from ethnic minorities and setting fire to foreign-owned schools and shops. He was arrested many times for violent offences. Once he and his gang travelled by train to Auschwitz where they intimidated the staff, shouted that the genocide “should have been bigger,” and carried out some acts of vandalism. As he speaks, Bromson has been looking increasingly uncomfortable. “These are things I would like to forget,” he says. “I apologise if I can’t look you in the eye.” Read more on the Times website (subject to paywall restrictions)
Last summer, Michael Briguglio, a sociologist and chairman of the Maltese Green party, opened what may be a new chapter in the history of Malta. Angry that his country was one of only two in the world in which divorce is banned – the other being the Philippines – he sent a formal request to all members of parliament to propose legalising it. After a good deal of political wrangling, a national referendum was announced. As this article was going to press, the people of Malta were about to cast their votes.
Briguglio separated from his wife in 2006, and has long been frustrated that he could not get divorced. He could have gone abroad to do it – Malta bans divorce domestically but recognises it internationally – but this, he says, would have been “prohibitively expensive”. So he is filing for annulment, in which the court rules that one or both parties were not in their right minds at the time of marriage. This is complicated, time-consuming (it can take up to eight years) and costly. It is also psychologically brutal – an annulment suggests that your marriage, with all its memories, was never valid in the first place.
If you’re anything like me, you’re not particularly interested in the royal wedding. Perhaps you have republican leanings, or you can’t bear the mawkishness of it all, or you disapprove of the terrible waste of money. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that this cloud has a silver lining – it has presented the nation with a golden opportunity to have some fun. Let’s face it, an opportunity to have a prank in the glare of the world’s media doesn’t come along very often. And the nation’s satirists and lampooners have been rising to the occasion with gusto.
To begin with, we had the Royal Wedding Sick Bag, available in letterbox scarlet, royal blue and gold (limited edition). This was followed by – to graze just the very tip of the iceberg – a book of irreverent lookalike photographs by Alison Jackson called Kate and Wills up the Aisle, and a report on thespoof.com that the happy couple intend to tie the knot wearing “full nuclear radiation protection” as a gesture of solidarity with the Japanese. And it’s even rumoured that the Little Britain team is planning to stage an alternative ceremony, with Matt Lucas playing Kate Middleton.
But no spoof piqued global interest quite as much as the Jewish Chronicle’s deadpan story which ran on the festival of Purim (where Jews get drunk to commemorate the execution of a malevolent Persian minister, four hundred years before Christ). Kate and Wills, the Chronicle reported, are planning to acknowledge “the multi-cultural nature of modern British society” in their nuptials. While the ceremony will be “completely Anglican in nature,” the happy couple will smear “mehendi” paste on each other in accordance with Muslim tradition, then, following Hindu custom, offer each other a “morsel of food”. Finally, the Chronicle quipped, the prince will “smash a glass with his foot” in a nod to the Jewish tradition.
The response to this nugget of foolishness was extraordinary. News outlets all around the world took it seriously, including Israel’s leading broadsheet, Ha’aretz (who, red-faced, have since removed the report from their website). Meanwhile, the Twitterverse took the ball and ran with it. Wiccans demanded a human sacrifice in Trafalgar Square; Jedis suggested that Charles lop off Wills’ hand with a light sabre; and Pastafarians – devotees of Dawkins’s Flying Spaghetti Monster – began lobbying for a “traditional” pasta-based feast.
All great fun, of course, but for my wife and me the Jewish Chronicle touched a nerve. Read the rest of the article on the New Humanist website
It may be a little odd to open a review — rather than close it — with a conclusion. But in the case of Ours Are The Streets, a novel by the Derbyshire youngster Sunjeev Sahota about a homegrown suicide bomber, such a break with convention is called for. Here goes: it didn’t blow me away.
OK, OK. But if you thought that pun was in poor taste, compare it with a line from the novel itself: “it were touching midnight when he got in and hung his brown bomber jacket up.” Yes, I know, two wrongs don’t make a right. But the difference is that my pun was intentional. Sunjeev Sahota’s was not. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s not easy being an atheist. Your rational self informs you that God – or Zeus, or the Ju-Ju, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster – does not exist. Your intuition, however, often has other ideas. Despite your best efforts, you can’t rid yourself of the feeling that things happen for a reason; that there exists some benevolent force greater than yourself; that departed relatives are still, in some sense, around. After all, whose brain isn’t prone to breaking the wind of superstition from time to time? And, more importantly: why?