Viewpoint: Ample cause for prayer

In this climate, boldness and resolution cannot prosper.

Notes placed in the Western Wall prior to Rosh Hashana cleaning (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Notes placed in the Western Wall prior to Rosh Hashana cleaning
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
TWO CONTRADICTORY approaches punctuate the penitential season starting with the month of Elul and culminating in the 10 Days of Repentance from the New Year through Yom Kippur. The optimistic approach emphasizes that this is the season of greatest accessibility between the Jewish people and our Father creator and we should take advantage of this access to effect a rapprochement. The other approach, perhaps best exemplified by the Book of Jonah, is that our physical existence ‒ both personal and collective ‒ is at risk if we do not shape up and at least make a sincere effort to get our act in order.
Put me in the alarmist camp, especially after the Friday before Rosh Hashana brought us the Parsons Green tube blast in London and the North Korean missile flying over Japan. The denunciation by US President Donald Trump of the Parsons Green Station perpetrator/ s as a loser/s does not seem to have advanced us beyond the JV squad dismissal of ISIS by the Obama administration. The real losers are the victims of terrorist assaults, and now the UK has experienced five in the space of a year.
We are also getting a rewarmed “London can take it approach” reminiscent of the blitz. During the blitz of World War II, we did not get some handwringing that the most pernicious danger to be avoided was the rise of Teutonophobia. German sympathizers were placed in administrative detention or, if they were royals, packed off to the West Indies. Today, the struggle with jihadist terrorism and its local support base is much less resolute. There is a deep reluctance to concede that this is a war requiring a response à la guerre comme à la guerre.
If North Korea continues to progress with its nuclear program complete with an accurate intercontinental delivery system, the non-proliferation regime will become extinct. Iran and other nuclear wannabees will be emboldened. Countries that consider themselves threatened by the new nuclear club members and doubt the credibility of an American nuclear umbrella want nuclear weapons of their own, which raises the likelihood that the nuclear taboo will be abandoned. This means the daunting price of taking out North Korea’s nuclear program (or Iran’s) will be dwarfed manifold in future nuclear exchanges should this arsenal be left intact. The idea that a military strike remains unthinkable and diplomacy (even when it is not backed by a credible threat of force) is the only alternative makes this path almost inevitable.
These crises, joined by less spectacular economic and cultural crises, are compounded by a leadership crisis and solidarity crisis. The West appears to be leaderless. The Trump administration has failed to validate the hopes of its supporters and is perhaps setting the table for a backlash in the 2018 elections. Theresa May is hanging on by a thread in her own party and in the country at large. Emanuel Macron has repeated the experience of his predecessors from De Gaulle onward. You can perhaps win a massive electoral victory by appealing simultaneously to the Right and Left, but once you are president the masquerade is over and you adopt policies of either the Right or Left, thus forfeiting support from the disappointed and disillusioned.
CHANCELLOR ANGELA Merkel‘s fourth successive victory is marred by AfD’s entry into the Bundestag as the third largest party. Such a development revives the nightmare of the Weimar Republic when the rise of the far right and the far left made coalition mathematics far more problematic. Merkel provided AfD with momentum by the bonehead immigration policy the government lost control of. This lack of control was compounded when the obvious breakdowns were ignored by officials in a state of denial or adopting a deliberate policy of denial and cover up. Germany’s difficulties have put paid to the idea that Merkel and the federal republic could fill the leadership vacuum. This was never true in the best of times and it has just become more obvious.
The leadership crisis is exacerbated by a lack of internal solidarity that recalls the slogan of the French Right in the 1930s ‒ better Hitler than (French Socialist premier Leon) Blum. The political opponent is not someone to be reasoned with or persuaded, but must be destroyed and his positions not allowed to gain purchase. News outlets that once sought to create an educated public are increasingly becoming safe spaces to spare us from dealing with contrary opinions. In such a climate, leaders are not extended any slack or benefit of the doubt. For their opponents, they are evil incarnate and capable of the worst ‒ such as selling their country to the Kremlin in return for support in the elections. Conspiracy theory has gone mainstream, adding to existing doubts about the viability of Western democracy produced by economic stagnation and the cultural wars.
In this climate, boldness and resolution cannot prosper. Both internationally and domestically, we have never been closer to the 1930s than we are now. We have, therefore, ample cause for prayer and self-improvement.