This oldie from the Kingston Trio ("They're rioting in Africa . . . ") is an appropriate theme for today, even though we have to look beyond its details.

 
The general point remains. There's chaos in lots of places, and we must hope that somebody doesn't make it a lot worse.
 
Africa is not currently the most undesirable. The Middle East deserves that designation, although its undesirable traits also apply to those parts of Africa under threat from one or another variety of Islamic extremism.
 
That includes much of North Africa, as well as parts of West Africa down to Nigeria thanks to Boko Haram, and those parts of East Africa close enough to Somalia, which ranks as perhaps the most failed state of them all.
 
Kenya has long been home to several varieties of Islam, and has recently suffered from terror coming from its neighbor to the northeast. 
 
One can wonder why Barack Obama sought to emphasize corruption along with the rights of homosexuals and women during his recent visit to Kenya, and seems to have avoided altogether the problems associated with Islam?
 
The same old Obama, you might say. But shouldn't we hope that those preparing him, and seemingly knowing something about African cultures and events, could have put more emphasis on a issue that might have appealed to the locals, that they had mobilized against, and would have enjoyed a Presidential endorsement of their efforts?
 
Americans generally stick their heads in the sand, having nothing they can do about more guns than people and frequent rampages by the well armed mad. Hoping that they or their kids are not in the wrong place at the wrong time pretty much exhausts an American's options for self-defense. If gun owners hope to blow away those threatening them or their families, there haven't been many stories of that actually happening.
 
There's also a problem of traffic deaths in the US. The country scores close to the bottom of western democracies on all the common measures.
 
One explanation for this statistic is too much booze in the wrong hands at the wrong time.
 
For those who wonder why I pick on the United States, the answer is simple. Other than Israel, it's the country I know best. Moreover, most readers of these notes are Americans, who also worry about Israel. The two countries are unevenly dependent on one another. Fates are linked
 
The US is also one of the most enigmatic places, fascinating for anyone concerned about social science. It is among the wealthiest, and perhaps the most advanced in terms of science and technology. Yet it is the most unequal of the well to do countries. A large underclass is associated with lousy overall scores on numerous indicators of health and well being.
 
Comparison is the essence of judgement. Would it be better to compare Israel with Iceland? Or Kyrgyzstan?
 
Israel is a relative island of peace and prosperity in a region that is neither peaceful nor prosperous. There are places nearby of greater wealth due to energy resources. But there it's concentrated in few hands, and one has to travel to Israel (if it's permitted) or Western Europe to find a place with decent public services and civil rights.
 
We recently got a look at what may be our most serious problem. It's associated with religion, and affects Jews as well as Muslims.
 
Us secular Israelis might wish for a place that was not the birthplace of them all, but that ain't gonna happen.
 
Call it the Temple Mount, הר הבית, Al Aqsa, a curse, or a blessing. 
 
Soon after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, in his role of Defense Minister, gave its control to Muslim religious authorities. 
 
That may have been a magnanimous Jewish gesture for the sake of peace, or an act lacking appropriate balance by the man who is also known to have been a thief of archaeological artifacts.
 
Whatever, we're stuck with a place which held the First and Second Temples, where Muslims assert that there was neither, and have been working since 1967 to destroy physical remains of one or the other.
 
Israeli courts have ruled that Jews have equal rights with others to visit and pray on the site, but that pragmatic recognition of the political tinder requires overlooking those rights. At least, perhaps, until one or another Messiah arrives, or returns, is recognized as such by one and all, and solves our problems.
 
Rabbis differ. Some have ruled that religious law (halacha) forbids Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, lest impure Jews walk in the place reserved only for ritually pure priests, and which place is not known for sure. Other rabbis either say that such a place is known and can be marked off as where Jews should not walk, or say that Jews' rights to visit and pray where they choose should not be denied, and certainly not by the Jewish state. There are also rabbis who go along with the court's decision, i.e., that a Jew's right to pray on the Temple Mount should not be exercised at the price of bloodshed.
 
It's an issue that reaches the headlines whenever there is an occasion when religious and/or nationalist Jews are moved to express their rights on the Temple Mount.
 
Tisha b'Av was the most recent occasion. It's a holy day that may have fallen out of fashion with most non-Orthodox Jews of the Diaspora, but here it's an occasion for the closure of banks, stock exchange, restaurants, gyms, and swimming pools. It also features substantial numbers of Jews wanting to visit the Temple Mount without praying, some demanding the right to pray there, a young man who chose the place and occasion to announce that Mohammad resembled a pig, lots of Muslims throwing stones they had brought earlier in anticipation of an encounter, and the police swarming to keep order according to what they had anticipated. 
 
This year's results include a number of minor injuries, some arrests, and contrasting claims about who started it and police brutality.
 
We're talking about an area about 100 meters square, in a corner of the Old City that is itself about a kilometer square.
 
All of Israel is about the size or New Jersey or Massachusetts. Some say we are the cause of all the strife. Give the Palestinians what they want, and all will be well. However, not enough Palestinians have been able to ratchet down from demanding all of Israel.
 
The Temple Mount may be the ultimate deal breaker. Unbelievable though it may be to anyone who can read, assertions that Jews never had a claim on the place get in the way of even many secular Jews to accept something akin to intellectual barbarism.
 
It's a lot worse not too far from here. For the time being, things are pretty good around these fingers. We've learned to sleep despite  the sound of explosions as the Border Police keep our Isaweea neighbors from rampaging towards our bedroom.
 
Most Jews and Muslims hereabouts have learned to live alongside one another. Jerusalem's weather provides some compensation for occasional indications that some Jews, and many more Muslims, are working for competing utopias that the rest of us would shun.
 
 

 

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