HUMOUR IS THE MAIN MEASURE OF SANITY

America Then And Now.png

Things are looking bad. Real bad. The news continues to throw up scary story after scary story, with far too many to keep track of. And it seems that I am not the only one who holds such grandstanding reservations on the state of us humans. On a recent BBC TV show the British playwright Lucy Prebble commented that:

We are living in sort of the most upsetting, gruelling, exhausting, time to be alive. You just wake up every day and see the news and you just want to cry. – Lucy Prebble

Satirist Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine, recently made the following quip on the same BBC TV show about the UK government and all things Brexit related:

The fundamental problem that the British cabinet have, as far as the rest of the country is concerned, is that no one agrees with anyone about anything. There’s no majority for any course of action from any group of people anywhere in Britain. Which is quite a problem. – Ian Hislop

Other anxieties also abound. Referring to the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the war to end all wars, New York Times journalist David Brooks implied that humanity has not progressed as far as we should have in the 100 years since the end of that devastating conflict:

Today we face no horrors equal to the Great War, but there is the same loss of faith in progress, the reality of endless political trench warfare, the paranoid melodrama, the spectre that we are all being dehumanized amid the fight. – David Brooks

Referring to Donald Trump (the Orange Anxiety) and the state of democracy in America after the recent mid-term elections, another New York Times journalist, Paul Krugman, presents us with this dire warning:

What all of this means is that what’s going on in America right now isn’t politics as usual. It’s much more existential than that. You have to be truly delusional to see the Republicans’ response to their party’s mid-term setback as anything but an attempted power grab by a would-be authoritarian movement, which rejects any opposition or even criticism as illegitimate. Our democracy is still very much in danger. – Paul Krugman

Sticking with the New York Times, Charles M Blow wonders if, what with everything going on, it is okay for us to be oh so weary:

Do we have a right to weariness in an era of animus? More precisely, can we afford it, or is exhaustion a luxury reserved for those whose wealth, privilege and status insulate them from the losses the rest of us could suffer?…People are trying to figure out the proper posture to take in a world riven by deceit and corruption, a world in which the leadership of the country represents an assault on decency. – Charles M Blow

And just to add the sourest cherry to the top of this really depressing cake, Guardian journalist George Monbiot tops all of these pessimistic views by declaring that the Earth itself is in a “planetary death spiral” because of all those darned oligarchs:

The oligarchic control of wealth, politics, media and public discourse explains the comprehensive institutional failure now pushing us towards disaster. Think of Donald Trump and his cabinet of multi-millionaires; the influence of the Koch brothers in funding right-wing organisations; the Murdoch empire and its massive contribution to climate science denial; or the oil and motor companies whose lobbying prevents a faster shift to new technologies. – George Monbiot

I honestly do not think any of these comments are an exaggeration of where we actually stand. If proof were needed to back up the depressing views presented above, then please consider the following story which left me jaw-droppingly dumb founded. Whilst this story is not a global headline grabber such as climate change or Brexit or Jamal Khashoggi, it is nonetheless a depressing indication of where we are at the moment, individually and collectively.

A Neo-Nazi couple who named their child after Adolf Hitler are facing jail after being found guilty of belonging to a banned terrorist organisation. Adam Thomas, 22, and his girlfriend, Claudia Patatas, 38, were convicted of being members of the far-right group National Action. NA was outlawed in Britain in 2016 after members celebrated Labour MP Jo Cox’s murder and called for a subsequent “White Jihad.” Other members have said Muslims are an “infection on western civilisation” as well as talking online about a “race war” and a “holy war” against black people, Jews, Asians, and homosexuals.

Birmingham Crown Court heard the pair gave their baby the middle name “Adolf” which self-confessed racist Thomas told jurors was done in “admiration” for the leader of Nazi Germany. The pair possessed a “family album” which included photos of Thomas dressed in white Ku Klux Klan robes cradling his new-born son. The couple even had racist Christmas cards, including one with a picture of KKK members bearing the message “May All Your Christmases Be White.”

The couple also kept an axe and a machete at home, and authorities found a crossbow near the new-born’s crib. They also had several items best described as Nazi memorabilia, such as a mug with an SS emblem and a cookie cutter shaped like a swastika. I assume we won’t be seeing that on the Great British Bake Off any time soon.

Patatas, who has a black sun SS symbol tattooed on her back, also revealed she once celebrated Hitler’s birthday by eating a cake with a “Fuhrer face” decorated on it. She said she found it difficult to cut off a slice because she admired him so much, saying “I did struggle to slice his face. Adolf is life.” In another message she said “All Jews must be put to death.”

I could have so easily chosen a dozen or so other stories to illustrate our age of craziness. Stories such as the school in Wisconsin in America which is being investigated after a photo emerged showing dozens of students performing Nazi salutes, further blurring the line between real Nazism and “ironic” Nazism (yes, that is a thing). The image surfaced on Twitter after it was shared by an account named “Welcome To Baraboo.” The post, which has since been deleted, was captioned “We even got the black kid to throw it up.” It shows more than 50 young men in suits smiling and laughing on the steps of the county courthouse in Baraboo, a town of around 10,000 people. Most of them are lifting their right arms above their head, apparently to mimic the ‘Sig Heil’ greeting popularised in Hitler’s Germany.

Or the story of a young woman in El Salvador who fell pregnant after being repeatedly raped from the age of 11 by her stepfather, and who could face up to two decades in jail for allegedly attempting to abort his child. Two decades! Imelda Cortez became pregnant at the age of 18 and denies trying to abort the baby, which is a crime under any circumstances in El Salvador. She was taken to a hospital after giving birth and despite the child being born healthy, doctors claimed she had tried to intentionally induce an abortion. Ms Cortez’s daughter is now nearly two-years-old.

Add to this the fact that fighting has escalated in Israel, with casualties on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. This recent escalation is sparking fears of an all-out conflict in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. The political ramifications of this recent fighting are so bad that it may actually bring down the current coalition government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Likewise the Syrian situation shows no signs of improving whatsoever. Yemen, the poorest country on earth, is still being mercilessly bombarded by Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries on earth.

And over in California the state is experiencing its deadliest wildfires ever, with over 75 people killed (a death toll that is predicted to rise dramatically as over 1,200 people are still missing). The blackened skies make northern California the most polluted part of the globe right now in terms of air quality, even more so than the most polluted city in the world, Delhi in India. In an act of cruel irony, a town called Paradise was totally burnt to the ground. So severe and swift were the leaping wildfires that residents only had minutes to evacuate, with clips of fleeing residents resembling something more akin to hell than paradise. Some victims were found burned alive in their cars whilst trying to escape. And Trump still seems to think it is all due to forest mismanagement, even though he himself cut funding for fire management.

Also, the mid-term elections in America have shown just how divisive American society and culture is. A point I found rather interesting is just how little Trump now talks about the caravan invasion from South America, almost making it seem like the subject was used to generate unwarranted fear among his electoral base. I guess we’ll never know.

As you can see we are surrounded by confusion and anger on all sides, some real and much feigned. It seems the world is literally going insane, one headline at a time. How do you maintain your sanity in such an environment? The great American gonzo writer Hunter S Thompson, one of the most famous journalists of the last fifty years and himself no stranger to the limits of reality due to all the psychedelic drugs he took, once famously said that:

A sense of humour is the main measure of sanity. – Hunter S Thompson

Which is why I choose to keep myself sane by listening more and more to stand-up comedians. In these divisive and troubled times, we need comedy. We need to laugh, not only at ourselves but also at each other. We need to break down these walls that keep getting higher and higher, thicker and thicker, stronger and stronger. And nothing dents such walls of pretension as a well-delivered punchline, a fact noted recently by British comedian Luisa Omielan:

Any time there’s a trying time, comedy goes through the roof. People want to go somewhere to laugh, to forget about the fact that they’re broke, or they can’t live anywhere, that they’ve got somebody like Donald Trump. – Luisa Omielan, Nov 2018

Or as the American comedian Baratunde Thurston puts it even more succinctly:

Comedy helps us make sense of the world. – Baratunde Thurston

Is it difficult to provide humour to the masses in these troubled times? Perhaps. Case in point involves the American comedian Reginald D Hunter. One a recent episode of the BBC TV show Have I Got News For You, Hunter made a political joke that got zero laughs, and I do mean zero. Silence. Queue the rolling tumbleweed. He quickly ended the silence by saying “I wish that had been funnier, but sometimes the truth is just…humourless.” Irony being what it is, this follow up comment got a huge barrel of laughs, a lot more than the initial joke. Such are the nuances of comedy.

Despite this sense of foreboding morbidity, I still think we need humour in all its flavours more than ever. In that endeavour please find below a collection of quotes, some about humour itself, and others that are just funny. As always, enjoy!


At any given time you will find a Muslim somewhere on the planet apologising for some terrorism that they have nothing to do with. We don’t do that to white people. If one white person did something that we didn’t like we wouldn’t hold all other white people responsible. We wouldn’t expect other white people to apologise. We’d never do that…because, er, white people don’t say sorry for shit. So that’s a ridiculous idea. It would totally, totally backfire. – Aamer Rahman

Diversity was a big winner on Tuesday at the mid-term elections. More women, more minorities, more gay people. And just to screw with Trump they plan on arriving in DC in a caravan. Also two Muslim women are now in Congress, it’ll be great for the world to see that and hear that. We also have two Native Americans, Deb Haaland from New Mexico and my favourite, Sharice Davids from Kansas, a lesbian mixed martial arts fighter. Let’s see Trump call her Pocahontas! – Bill Maher, 09 Nov 2018

Don’t take unsolicited pictures of women. Upskirting?! If you’re that desperate to take a picture of a twat then just take a selfie. – Russell Howard

I am involved in the Super Muslim Comedy Tour because I want to break down negative barriers and narratives surrounding Muslims in the USA. The tour is about going into public places and subverting the stereotypes by making people laugh. Art and entertainment can combat ideologies of racism and bigotry. Not all black men only become Muslim in prison, something we are constantly told. – Musa Sulaiman, aka Moses the Comic

I have to be honest though, in the last 10 years or so I think the right-wing in America have been whupping our butts with this. They’ll say something really nonsensical and we’re stunned, and in the state of being stunned, legislation and stuff gets passed. You’ll be in a courtroom with one of them and your lawyer will say “We need to handle something about voting rights, and I think we need to look at these districts.” And the other side will say “Well, I love my mom, apple pie, and yabba-dabba-do.” And you’ll go “What the fuck?!” And then while you’re going “What the fuck?!” somebody bangs a fist and goes “Case dismissed. Next!” – Reginald D Hunter, Nov 2018

I realise the extent to which things are messed up. Really, as a comedian, all I’m trying to do is give people a moment of relief before they go back to their usual grind. – Aamer Rahman

I was talking before about how there’s people out there who don’t like us Muslims, and they say we don’t integrate, and we’re trying to take over, and that we should go back to Muslamistan. Here’s the thing. I’ve studied British history, I’ve read four Wikipedia pages. I’m a comedian, my job is to observe the world. Now as far as I can tell, going to another country, not learning their language, sticking to your own religion, forcing your customs on others, and making no effort to integrate, it’s actually the most British thing you can do! – Tez Ilyas

I went to this Catholic church and I noticed it was a bit cold in there because they don’t have central heating in there like we do in mosques. I’m not showing off, I’m just saying, you know. We haven’t got as much money as they have, but we don’t spend it on stupid things like ruby slippers…and all that compensation. – Imran Yusuf

I’d like to make a quick announcement at the beginning of this show, and that is to say that I will be making jokes about terrorism. I think as a Muslim it’s important that I say that killing innocent people completely contradicts the teachings of the Qur’an. I think we can all agree that this idea that a tiny handful of extremists can create some crackpot ideology based on the myth of their own supremacy, and then use that to justify violence and terror against innocent people, is just disgusting. But anyway…enough about Israel! Woah! [Audience applauds] I’m glad you like that joke, because if you don’t like that joke, it is an awkward one hour for everyone. – Aamer Rahman

If Trump is afraid of foreigners and their children then he must lose his shit whenever he sees his wife and kid. – Russell Howard

If you look at the dictator playbook there is a great line attributed to Stalin which is “The death of one person is a tragedy and the death of a million is a statistic.” One lie will haunt Bill Clinton into his grave but when you have a million Trump lies, you can’t remember a single one of them! – Bret Stephens

It’s hard to peg me. In fact, even people from my background don’t understand what’s going on. Since I pick on everyone, no one knows who I am. I’m like a UFO. I’m a girl, born in France, of Tunisian parents, dressed like a sub-Saharan woman who lives her life and wears a turban. I make my own choices. I don’t try to fit any mould; I don’t try to please. – Samia Orosemane

Let’s talk about the rampant voter fraud that allowed Democrats to literally steal the election. Some have claimed that suburban women revolted against the Republican party, but doesn’t it feel more true that all Hispanics voted twice? You can’t dismiss that idea simply because it isn’t true and sounds insane. In fact, let’s add that to our list of “feel facts” which aren’t technically facts, but they just feel true. Like, Latinos can have a baby every three months. Santa is Jesus’ dad. If the earth is so warm then why are my feet cold? Blackface is a compliment. If you have less than five guns, you’re gay. – Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, 17 Nov 2018, from the satirical TV show Saturday Night Live

My mother used to tell me ‘I’d prefer an Arab who’s a drunk to a black man who prays’. It’s a visceral racism that is prevalent in the North African community, as elsewhere. Everyone is afraid of the other. Tackling this on stage as a comedian is a way to make people think about it…I try to be as useful as possible. If I can create bridges where there are walls, I’m very happy. I’ll try anyway. If it works, great, if not, I’ll turn to other people. – Samia Orosemane

My name is Nabil Abdul Rashid and in case you are wondering what that means, it means my phone calls are monitored. – Nabil Abdul Rashid

Okay, look, I know how this works. I come out here on stage and I say some humanizing stuff about my community and we all feel good about ourselves, right? That’s the way it works. For 13 years I’ve been coming out on stage and going “Hello everybody! I’m one of the good ones!” And some of you laugh, you release a bit of tension out and you go “Oh my God! Yes he is. We feel really safe!” Well, some of you evidently do that. The rest of you are going “I don’t trust him. It could be an alibi. I don’t know.” – Imran Yusuf

People come up to me and ask me if I consider myself to be British first or Muslim first. I had no idea the two things were racing. – Nabil Abdul Rashid

People don’t change their politics. Over the years hundreds of people have come up to me and said “I saw your documentary Religulous and now I’m an atheist.” Nobody ever comes up to me and says “I watch your politics show Real Time every week and now I’m a liberal.” They’ll flip on God but not Trump. That cult is serious. – Bill Maher, 16 Nov 2018

The mid-term elections was kind of a split decision. The Democrats won the house, Russia kept the Senate. And we found out that the divide in this country is bigger than ever. The red rural parts came out overwhelmingly for Trump, the blue urban parts came out against him. We are really devolving into two countries: the tobacco chewers, and the people who vape. That’s America! – Bill Maher, 09 Nov 2018

This stuff is so awful, it’s hard to look away. Trump is like a magician who distracts from the card up his sleeve by actually sawing a woman in half. – Samantha Bee

Trump lives in this opposite world. He puts criminals in charge of the Justice Department, facts are lies, he’s awake when he should be asleep, he talks out of his ass but shit comes out of his mouth. – Bill Maher, 09 Nov 2018

Trump says he doesn’t know Matthew Whitaker, the guy who just replaced Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. We know Matthew Whitaker’s been to the Oval Office many times. We have a tape of Trump just from October saying “Whitaker’s a great guy. I know Matthew Whitaker.” Sometimes I think Donald Trump is really a set of twins. There’s Donald Trump and Ronald Trump, and they’re masquerading as the same person but sometimes they just can’t get their story straight. And Republicans, they don’t care anymore. There’s no such thing anymore as “how it looks.” In this election they elected two indicted criminals and a dead pimp. I’m not making that up. That should be the punchline: ba-ba-ba, dead pimp! But no, that’s the true part. – Bill Maher, 09 Nov 2018

We are living in a time where England is becoming more and more right wing, and it’s harder for certain people to live there. If your name is Bob, you’re fine. Bobdeep, not so much. – Nabil Abdul Rashid

We thought Russia was going to become like us, America, but we became like Russia. – Bill Maher, 16 Nov 2018

DID THEY BURY JAMAL WITH HIS BODY FACING MECCA?

I am always interested in coming across an alternative perspective, a point of view different from the one I currently hold, an opinion that causes me to think differently. And with the world wide web at our fingertips it is very easy to come by a multitude of opinions. These range from factual, well researched articles written in established publications, to weird and wonderful conspiracy theories in various forums and chat rooms. Nowadays, the blurred line between these two worlds is fast dissipating, making it very difficult to know the truth, if it is indeed out there.

All this makes analysing the news that much harder. Take the biggest news story around the world at the moment, the mid-term elections in The Greatest Nation On Earth. Just how important are they? Are these the most important elections ever, or are they the most important until the next elections in 2020? Are they part of the slow moving coup that satirist Bill Maher has been opining about for several months now? Are they a binary fight for the soul of America? Is America, or indeed the idea of America, dead or slowly dying? Am I getting carried away with all these overthought questions? Historical hindsight will allow for a better answer but in the meantime there are many who are touting these elections to be of the utmost significance, people like New York Times journalist Paul Krugman, who a few days prior to the elections wrote that:

Whatever happens in the midterms, the aftermath will be ugly. But the elections are nonetheless a fork in the road. If we take one path, it will offer at least a chance for political redemption, for recovering America’s democratic values. If we take the other, we’ll be on the road to autocracy, with no obvious way to get off…But with the crucial moment here, everyone should bear in mind what’s at stake. It’s not just tax cuts or health coverage, and anyone who votes based simply on those issues is missing the bigger story. For the survival of American democracy is on the ballot. – Paul Krugman

Dramatic stuff indeed. However the mid-terms are not the only big news story currently out there. The death of the self-exiled Saudi reporter, US resident, and contributing columnist to The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, is still making headlines over a month since his tragic demise at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish authorities are drip-feeding gruesome details week-by-week, as though this was some sort of syndicated TV crime drama. We started with Khashoggi being alive but missing, then he was dismembered whilst still alive with a bonesaw, then he was strangled to death and then dismembered with a bonesaw, and the latest Turkish drip-feed delight mentions the use of acid to try and rid the world of the horrifying evidence. I guess we should all tune in same time next week for more gory details.

Saudi Flag Blood

One of the many interesting things about this murder, other than why there is so much focus on the death of one man and not on the death of thousands in Yemen who are also being killed by the Saudis, is why this particular news story is still in the public eye. This gruesome attention grabbing feat is even more remarkable given the chaotic news cycle that digitally swirls all around us. In a recent interview the great American novelist Don Delillo commented on this very phenomenon. The 81 year old Delillo, who has spent more than half a century at the cutting edge of US culture dissecting America’s dreams and nightmares, spoke of his discombobulation when it comes to the news, specifically news about Trump:

I’m very reluctant to talk about Trump, simply because everybody else is. We’re deluged with information about Trump on every level – as a man, as a politician. But what’s significant to me is that all of his enormous mistakes and misstatements disappear within 24 hours. The national memory lasts 48 hours, at best. And there’s always something else coming at us down the pipeline. You can’t separate it all out. You get lost in the deluge…Right now, I’m not sure the situation is recoverable. – Don Delillo

The Guardian journalist Nesrine Malik has also offered her fresh perspective on the Khashoggi case, specifically around why we are still so interested in it and why this one death generates more empathy than the death of thousands in Yemen:

I failed to call it. The day after Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, I told editors that the story, unfortunately, would not hold attention for more than two or three days, so jaded was I with how Saudi’s brutality had become normalised. It is now more than a month since Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again, but his killing has scarcely been out of the headlines since. It has focused attention on Saudi Arabia in ways that activists, journalists, human rights organisers and politicians have desperately tried but failed to do for years.

There was something about this event, something that landed in a way that no one could have anticipated. There was an element of shocking betrayal; to be murdered in one’s own consulate, a place of refuge in a foreign land, was akin to being murdered in a church. To be lured, then stung. It was a violation of amnesty that made it more sickening than if he had been liquidated randomly on the streets of Istanbul. It was reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s amnesty to his two sons-in-law who had fled the country, only to be assassinated the moment they returned.

On the back of his murder, other atrocities committed by the Saudi regime have come into clearer focus. Arms deals with the kingdom are under greater scrutiny, with Germany halting future sales. The war in Yemen, which Saudi critics have been trying to call attention to for years, is suddenly higher up the agenda. Reporting from the ground has amplified the voices of doctors tending to starving children, incensed at how Khashoggi’s murder received so much of the airtime that they would be grateful for scraps of. “We’re surprised the Khashoggi case is getting so much attention while millions of Yemeni children are suffering,” a doctor told the New York Times. “Nobody gives a damn about them.”

Jamal Khashoggi was the equivalent of the little girl in the red coat in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The film was shot entirely in black and white, but a single girl was in colour, taken away from home with her family, playing in the mud in a concentration camp, and then piled up lifeless with other bodies on a cart. The technique identified the single story among millions, sharpening and humanising it to highlight what psychologists call “collapse of compassion”, our natural tendency to turn away from mass suffering.

 – Nesrine Malik, 05 Nov 2018, theguardian.com, from the article Why We Still Can’t Stop Talking About Jamal Khashoggi

Aside from the above article from Malik, there have been many other noteworthy pieces written about Jamal Khashoggi. One that really grabbed my attention, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, was an article by Robert Fisk, a non-Muslim who wrote about the murder from a very specific Islamic perspective:

This disgusting, dangerous, frightening, dirty murder – and don’t tell me a man of 60 who dies in a “fistfight” with 15 men isn’t murder – shows not just the Saudi government up for what it is, but it shows us up for what we are, too.

Naturally, we all hope Jamal was not dismembered…we can all hope that Jamal was given a solemn and dignified Muslim burial with all the correct prayers said for his soul and his body buried – secretly, of course – shrouded and on its right side and in the direction of Mecca, the Holy city of which Mohammed bin Salman’s father, the King, is officially the Protector.

This will not have been easy to accomplish if Jamal was indeed chopped up by our favourite forensic scientist and taken to the consul’s home or a forest – the Turkish version – for a secret burial. But then again, maybe, on the way to the forest – if it was a forest – the burial party thought that, given the piety of their country, let alone their faith, he really should be given a Muslim funeral. By that stage, however, they would have realised that they might have committed a “grave and terrible mistake”. Under Islamic law, a mutilated body must be sewn up before being placed in a shroud. Did they sew Jamal up? And put him in a shroud?

 – Robert Fisk, 25 Oct 2018, independent.co.uk, from the article Jamal Khashoggi: Did They Bury Him With His Body Facing Mecca?

I positively winced when I read this blistering verbal tirade against the Saudi perpetrators. How can anyone, especially a Muslim, read these dark words from Robert Fisk and not at the very least be filled with anger and shame?

MAGA Fuel

The other big news story making the rounds involves another horrific act. Avid Trump supporter Robert Bowers shot and killed 11 Jewish worshippers at prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The incident, which took place on October 27th, is considered to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in recent US history. A week after the event, the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wrote an article in which he pledged to combat the growing tide of anti-Semitism that seems to be sweeping around the world:

The wicked terrorist attack targeted innocent Jewish Americans, but it felt like an attack on us all – on our way of life and on the freedoms we hold dear. The fight against antisemitism is not only about protecting the Jewish community; it’s a fight on behalf of everyone. For antisemitism is a threat to our values, to the cohesiveness of our communities and to our whole society.

Sadly, the rise in antisemitism and the far right can’t be treated simply as a passing trend. The Community Security Trust has reported that anti-Semitic incidents across the UK are at a record high, with the number of cases recorded in London alone rising by nearly 200% since 2011.

We know from our history that we ignore these incidents at our peril, and where antisemitism, left to fester, can lead. And we know from our history that an increase in antisemitism and right-wing extremism usually comes with a rise in other forms of hate crime and division – coinciding with a backdrop of economic hardship, nationalist populism and political uncertainty.

Worryingly, all the warning signs are here again, so it is vital that we take action now.

There’s not going to be a quick fix to this problem: it’s one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. But I’m still optimistic that if we treat it with the seriousness it deserves, we can clamp down on antisemitism, stop the march of far right and nationalist populism and make a real difference in forging stronger communities – showing that hope, unity and love can always trump fear, division and hatred.

 – Sadiq Khan, 05 Nov 2018, theguardian.com, from the article Antisemitism Endangers Us All. We Can’t Afford To Be Complacent

Perhaps the best analysis of this incident comes from the New York Times journalist Bari Weiss, a proud Jewish native of Pittsburgh who has some very strong and personal ties to the synagogue (she had her Bat Mitzvah there). Because of these close ties the incident really did bring home the terror, something Weiss wrote about brilliantly a few days ago. Part of her article focused on how such a horrifying incident can bring out the best in many of us, even those not directly affected:

If you are lucky, when a terrorist comes to your town, you will bear witness to some of this country’s better angels. Better angels like the father who walked down the block outside of Tree of Life as he calmly explained to his young son: “They’re trying to tell people that they are coming to invade our country. And it’s just not true.”

Better angels like Wasi Mohamed, the young executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, who stood up and said if what you need is “people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We’ll be there.” He said that in making this offer he was only repaying a favor: “That was the same offer made to me by this community after this election happened that was so negative and the spike in hate crimes against Muslims.”

But you will also wonder quietly to yourself if these better angels will be enough to stop the threats against communities like yours from multiplying. What happened in my neighborhood might seem like a nightmare or an illness — something to be endured until, in time, it passes. That’s how it has seemed to me. But to those who have spent their lives in places like Karachi or Aleppo, the things Pittsburgh Jews take for granted — our freedom from violence and fear — are nothing more than pipe dreams. When your hometown in Western Pennsylvania becomes the scene of mass murder, you know that the distance separating their reality from ours can be made tissue thin.

 – Bari Weiss, 02 Nov 2018, nytimes.com, from the article When A Terrorist Comes To Your Hometown

Despite the tragedy Weiss still managed to praise others which to me is a true act of genuine and sincere kindness on her part. Weiss also appeared on the late night talk show Real Time With Bill Maher. A clearly emotional yet hopeful Weiss pointed out that antisemitism is rooted in the language of conspiracy theories, a language that President Trump has been fluent in for quite some time. His words clearly matter. The entire nine minute interview is worth watching in full and selected quotes presented below. Antisemitism is discussed in nuanced terms that really shed light on what a heinous act it truly is. The subject of Israel is also discussed in terms I have never really considered before:

What’s important to remember is that antisemitism is not just a prejudice, it’s a conspiracy theory. It says that there is a secret hand controlling the world and that secret hand is called the “Jew.” So even if Trump himself is not an anti-Semite, and I don’t believe that he is an anti-Semite, he is inculcating an atmosphere of conspiracy minded thinking. So when he says things like “enemies of the people”, “globalists”, and we can go on and on, it’s been happening every day for two years, in the mind of people like Richard Spencer and David Duke they hear “Jew, Jew, Jew.” And it’s not a surprise that people like that were drawn to Trump’s banner. Now you have it on the left too, where “Israel” comes to replace “Jew” as the sort of diabolical controller of all the world’s ills, but in this case obviously this person [Robert Bowers] was coming from the political right.

The thing that is interesting about it is that typical bigotry, it’s that the subject of your bigotry is subhuman. With Jews they are both inhuman and anti-human at once. They’re both physically weak and aggressive. They are both the socialists and the arch capitalists. That is what is so hard about antisemitism.

People don’t realize that Jews are 2% of the population in this country but they make up half of all hate crimes, according to the FBI.

The problematic thing happening in this moment is that people like Steve Bannon like Israel for the wrong reasons…Evangelical Christians do too, because when the world ends the Jews convert to Christianity or they die, your choice…One thing that I think was made stark this week is that there are many Jews, including Jews that I know, who have liked many of Trumps policies regarding Israel and the Middle East. They love the fact that the American embassy was moved to Jerusalem, a move that I supported. They like the scuttling of the Iran deal. But I hope this week that American Jews have woken up to the price of that bargain. They have traded policies that they like for the values that have sustained the Jewish people, and frankly this country for forever: welcoming the stranger, dignity for all human beings, equality under the law, respect for dissent, love of truth. These are the things that we are losing under this president, and no policy is worth that price.

 – Bari Weiss, 02 Oct 2018, from an interview on the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher