Friday, June 03, 2016

Kids are Kids, Parents are Parents, and Tragedies are Tragedies

As you might have heard, a gorilla was recently shot in a zoo in order to protect a three year old kid who managed to get inside the enclosure. As was sadly predictable, the family has suffered the brunt of a massive online backlash predicated on how irresponsible they must have been to allow this to have happened.

Here's my take. Raising kids is hard. And things will always go wrong. Every parent, I imagine, has experienced a scenario where they look away for a second and suddenly their kid is nowhere to be found. Or their mind just slips and they leave an exhibit while Johnny's still there. Or somehow little Caroline managed to worm her way into an out of bounds area (how on earth did she do it?). Or something catches the tyke's eye and he breaks away right into a street crossing.

These things happen to everyone. And most of the time, they don't amount to anything. The kid who wandered away in the supermarket is found a few aisles later in the ice cream section. An usher notices the kid by himself and lets him play cell phone games until mom and dad circle back. The girl in the off-limits area is found by a security guard and is ushered back. The kiddo in the street is quickly pulled back while no cars are coming.

But sometimes, through sheer bad luck, they happen in more serious scenarios. The forgotten kid is forgotten in the back of a car. The breakaway child gets into a dangerous enclosure. The lost kid is lost in a dense forest. In these cases, the consequences can be quite serious. But they're no more blameworthy than their more prosaic cousins. They're just more tragic.

My suspicion is that we seek blame in these scenarios as a psychological defense mechanism to assure ourselves that it couldn't happen to us or our family. If these things happen because the universe can be cruel and capricious, well, it can be cruel and capricious to us as much as to anyone else. And that's a scary thought. But if these things happen because parents are negligent, we can rest assured that they won't happen to us (because we're good, caring parents). A much more comforting thought. But probably not a very fair one.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Naz Shah Goes To Synagogue

Naz Shah, MP of Bradford West (unseating the odious George Galloway to get the seat), became one of the earlier figures in Labour's anti-Semitism scandal after old Facebook posts emerged where she urged that Israel be relocated to the U.S. and complained that Zionism was a tool to "groom" Jews to dominant other countries. She then apologized for these comments, an apology which I discussed in this post. Though I couldn't rate it (because there were actually two apologies floating around), I did note that her remarks had a lot of promise and seemed to go beyond some of the normal platitudes that one sees too often in these sorts of things. In particular, I was impressed that Shah admitted to a gap in her knowledge that needed rectification. While one should read too much into words (much less a single statement), I felt like Ms. Shah seemed like the sort of person who was open to change.

Ms. Shah has since done a public forum at a synagogue in Leeds. And while of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, my own view continues to be quite favorable.
Ms Shah told an audience at a synagogue in Leeds she wanted to make a “real apology” rather than a “politician’s apology”.
She said: “I looked at myself and asked whether I had prejudice against Jewish people. But I realised I was ignorant and I want to learn about the Jewish faith and culture. I do not have hatred for Jewish people.
Appearing at Sinai Synagogue in Leeds on Sunday night, she insisted her views had changed since the 2014 post as a result of engaging with the local Jewish community – something she insisted set her apart from her predecessor George Galloway.
Attacking Mr Galloway she said: “He used Palestine as a political tool and he never engaged with people. When I engaged with the Synagogue and had conversations that is when I changed. Until we have those conversations we won’t achieve change,” she told the audience during her first public appearance at a Jewish event since the controversy erupted.
“It is my job in the Muslim Community to highlight the issues of anti-Semitism. Going to Auschwitz is a fantastic idea but it won’t fix the problem. We need to educate the community. It’s up to me to own the narrative. To have conversations with the Muslim community [about anti-semitism] and that’s my responsibility.”
Those are words with teeth in it. To me, they are not platitudes, but commitments. Commitments that she needs to be held to, obviously. But commitments that it does not strike me as implausible that she intends to uphold.  And while I bow to nobody in the seriousness with which I fight anti-Semitism, part of that fight means figuring out how to reform persons who have held anti-Semitic views, if they genuinely seek change. Just as one doesn't make peace with one's friends, one doesn't fix prejudice by only talking with those already pure of heart.

What keeps on coming to my mind is the case of Ulysses S. Grant, who as a general in the Civil War authored one of the worst episodes of official anti-Semitism in American history when he attempted to expel all Jews from a large swath of the southern United States (contending that they "as a class" were traffickers and profiteers). But while this event is worth remembering, it is equally worth remembering what Grant did afterwards. He was genuinely repentant for issuing the order, and demonstrated his contrition not just in word but in deed. His time as President saw a golden age for American Jewry, with Grant visiting a DC synagogue, speaking out against anti-Semitic violence in Europe, and appointing more Jews to public office than any other president to that time. And so it came to be that, when asked about Grant's expulsion order, Rabbi Isaac Mayor Wise simply remarked "the wise also fail."

Perhaps one day we will say the same about Ms. Shah.