Are you comfortably numb?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Israel and Lebanon

This is a very good article about Israel's recent actions in Lebanon and how to approach them.

Something I've been meaning to explain for a while...

Quite a few people ask me why the address of my blog is 'robertating.blogspot.com'. Most people think it is pronounced 'roh-ber-TAY-ting'. However, it is pronounced Roberta Ting.

The reason it is called this is because a) areyoucomfortablynumb.blogspot.com was taken and b) this is a name I called myself when I was little and couldn't pronounce my hard Cs.

The reason it is called 'Are you comfortably numb?' is because of the Pink Floyd song of the same name. If you haven't heard it, please listen to it soon. I think it's a pretty apt question for a lot of people these days, including myself, Christians or not.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I'm scared about posting this but I'm going to do it anyway.

Few can have failed to notice the turbulent and tragic events occurring in the Middle East of late. A conflict which has been existent for many decades, nay, thousands of years, is rearing its ugly head once more, and attitudes are becoming more extreme than ever. Having witnessed a great deal of coverage on this matter over the last few weeks, I wish to share some of my reactions here. Although a few of you reading this may be well-acquainted with the issues in question and far more expert in dealing with them, I write this so that those who have perhaps only been fed a lopsided media diet of the facts can engage more with the real situation. And also so I can get a lot of things off my chest.

(By the way, this is going to be really long so feel free to just scan it or read the bits that you find most relevant, without distorting the overall meaning.)

Being a student, it is easy to see how ‘the Left’ appeals to people of my age group. University can be a melting pot of extreme opinions (although these days you have to search a lot harder for an opinion than 20 years ago) and it is easy for people to be ensnared in deceptive and dangerous ideologies in the name of activism. Ah, activism, the lifeblood of student politics. But activism, just like apathy, can be a dangerous thing, depending on whose side you are on.

I’m now going to explain what I see as a rather important point that has been ignored by many people. The image painted in the media is now one of an aggressive Israeli state, hell-bent on terrorising women and children and unnecessarily invading everyone within a 200-mile radius. If you just read The Guardian or The Independent, you’d be forgiven for thinking groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are meek and mild entities who are just asking for somewhere to live without being bombed.

If you think this, you are very much mistaken. Let’s cut through all the reports you hear in the media and actually focus on what each side believes and what they preach to their people. First of all, Hamas and Hezbollah are not cuddly lefties ‘resisting’ in order to reach a peaceful two-state solution. They are not even ‘militants’ who get a bit carried away. No, Hamas’ political agenda consists, amongst other things, of destroying the state of Israel. Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, has a President who denies the Holocaust and wants to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the earth’. Do not make the mistake of thinking that this kind of thinking is restricted to those holding political and military power. A debate on our university message-board recently revealed the attitude of one of my Muslim peers to be that Israel should not be allowed to exist. And remember that footage of Palestinians dancing, celebrating in the streets as thousands of people fell to their deaths from the World Trade Center? (Note: I know many, many Muslim moderates deplore the violence of Islamist terrorist groups and also desire a two-state solution; I am merely pointing out that these extremist views are not confined to the leaders of such organisations.) Meanwhile, the vast majority of Jews want a peaceful two-state solution and do not organise in order to harm their Muslim neighbours. They are on the defensive, not on the attack. Ehud Olmert can be criticised for responding disproportionately to Hezbollah, but one cannot accuse him of wanting to destroy Muslims worldwide (see below).

The reason Israel refused to negotiate with Hamas when they came to power was because you cannot and should not negotiate with people who refuse to recognise the right of you and your countrymen to exist, not only as a nation, but as a people. And let’s not forget that the reason Israel has attacked Lebanon is because Hezbollah captured two of their soldiers (who were on Israeli land by the way) and fired rockets over the border. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said ‘If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide’.

What is this, but gross anti-Semitism and hatred of the vilest nature? Yet where are the cries of protest from the Western Left? Where is the uprising against such violence and racism? To be found in the voices and on the placards of those who march AGAINST ISRAEL, claiming unity with Hezbollah and proclaiming that Israel is a terrorist state.

I don’t know if there has actually been a seismic shift amongst the Left in Britain of late or if I’m only just beginning to notice its true colours. Whichever, I am horrified by the statements being bandied around by those on the ‘Left’ who claim to be pioneers of democracy, freedom and human rights. Much of the Left has now become the poodle (where have we heard that expression before?) of groups who proudly preach the doctrine of terrorism, hatred and destruction. I need only to say the name ‘George Galloway’ to provide a working example of this. George Galloway, icon of the modern Left, who recently stood up in London and said "I am here to glorify the resistance, Hezbollah. I am here to glorify the leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah”.

60 years after a man named Adolf Hitler murdered six million Jews, anti-Semitism is rife, and it is spreading like a disease. Except it’s now called ‘anti-Zionism’. The average Jew will patiently explain that Zionism, in their view, is the belief that Israel deserves to exist as a nation. Anyone who is anti-Zionist according to that definition is anti-Semitic. Yet the term “anti-Zionism” is now used as a huge smokescreen to hide far more sinister beliefs. The vague notion of anti-Zionism is now used by much of the Left, many of whom probably see it as a trend that will increase their cool points – because let’s face it, being a Leftie gives you a lot of street cred in some circles.

The Left has now become a hypocrite of Behemoth proportions. Whilst whinging on about Guantanamo Bay and Blair and Bush’s ‘war crimes’, whilst preaching the values of freedom of speech and expression and democracy, whilst campaigning for equal rights for women and homosexuals, it is actively supporting and sponsoring groups like Hamas and Hezbollah who hate all these values and want to destroy them. The plight of gay Muslims is barely known in this country, but I can assure you it is not a pretty one. While the likes of the Stop the War Coalition happily proclaim the rights of the homosexual in this country, they with the same mouths glorify the regimes that love to torture and kill their Muslim counterparts. Not to mention the amount of ignorant and aggressive criticism that Christianity takes from individuals on the Left, while they merrily identify themselves with a religion that preaches war and inequality.

The Guardian, the key left-wing newspaper of the country, has plumbed new journalistic depths during this conflict. Cosying up to terrorists, it seems, is now an obligation if you want to call yourself a leftie. But this is not the true Left. This is not the Left that truly believes in democracy, equality of opportunity and social justice. And let’s not forget that the Right has had its moments of deep shame, also; I don’t remember Thatcher and Reagan being anything but apologetic for the deeply evil regime of apartheid in South Africa.

I’m aware that this has been a bit of a rant, and I’ve probably alienated half my readership (which brings it to less than a whole number now). But I cannot go on any longer watching the television and reading articles that refuse to recognise the wood for the trees. Thinking that Israel is a terrorist state and then supporting Hezbollah is like having a plank in your eye and judging someone else for the speck of dust in theirs.

But we are all missing the point. The point is not to take sides (although sometimes it is hard). The point is to do what we can to treat people humanly and humanely and to be compassionate and loving. A Palestinian mother who has lost her husband/brother/son is no different from an Israeli mother in the same situation, in terms of the human struggle she faces. Both sides are suffering. We must do all we can to bring an end to the conflict. But in doing so, we must denounce evil with no exceptions. We must not apologise for the actions of those who worship the creed of killing. And we must pray.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Life and all that

In between the political rantings, here's just a quick update on my life.

First of all, I hope you like the new format of the blog. It's not quite exactly how I want it yet, but I spent long enough messing around with the template and can't be bothered to pore over HTML any longer.

Second, I've got a job! Thanks to all of you who prayed for me and suggested job options etc. It's with a local publishing company (just 5 mins walk away which is very handy) doing telesales... but it's warm calling to already existent clients, so it's not too bad. Also, all the people are lovely and it's a really nice atmosphere (small companies are always better for atmosphere!). So I'm really enjoying it so far.

Third... oh no wait, there isn't a third. Apart from it being ridiculously hot. But then most of you reading this can probably appreciate that..

Fourth, I've just remembered a third thing. Blogfeeds! I was introduced to this marvel of technology a couple of weeks ago and I haven't looked back. Blogfeeds has changed my life! Do you suffer from fruitlessly clicking on links to your friends' blogs only to find they haven't updated them? Wish there were a way to JUST KNOW if they'd done a new post? Well, now there is! Try bloglines at www.bloglines.com. It's FREE! And it's just SO easy to use!

Anyway, I have quite a few ideas for various posts at the moment which are germinating in my mind so no doubt there'll be plenty for you to argue over soon.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Well, you may think I'm mad, but...

I just applied for a BBC placement in December/January, which would last 1 week if I got it (let me just say here that the chances of me getting it are slim to none whatsoever). The application form was long and difficult to fill in. One of the questions was 'Write about a BBC news programme that you have watched or listened to recently'. What better, I thought, than to watch tonight's Newsnight and comment on something fresh in my mind? So, I settled down for... a disappointing evening of political cudgeoning. The question is, was I right to post this on my application form afterwards? Yes or no, the fact is I've done the deed and pressed the 'send' button now. So there's no going back...

Newsnight on July 13th focused mainly on the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, just opening up at this point. Emily Maitlis interviewed a member of the Israeli Government, the Syrian Ambassador in Britain and an American ex-abassador to Britain.

Obviously it is always hard to cover the issue of the Middle East, and at this stage, when conflict was worsening, Maitlis had her work cut out. However, I didn't feel that she handled her work particularly well. One of the shifts of the media (and incidentally, of the Left) in recent years has been an increased tendency to display unreasonably negative attitudes towards Israel in favour of apologist opinion towards terrorist and extremist groups. So in this Newsnight programme, I found that there was barely any mention of the fact that Hezbollah had actually attacked Israel first. Maitlis instead spent most of the interview with the Israeli representative accusing Israel of having "screwed things up" in Lebanon. I felt that this coverage was far from neutral and in fact an example of 'sledgehammer journalism'; that is, trying to trip the interviewee up in order to win points, rather than open up a constructive dialogue.

However, Newsnight's strength is that it has the courage to tackle such issues head-on and actually engage in opinionated debate rather than report on the matter with limp-wristed indifference. Maitlis, despite at times coming across as unfair and adversarial, at least successfully engaged the viewer and enticed them into the debate. This is a trait that is characteristic of most Newsnight presenters.

The rest of the programme focused on the impending G8 summit and the erroneous advice given by many homeopaths to travellers, leading to many potentially contracting malaria. This last issue was again evidence of the diversity of issues covered by Newsnight, and certainly alerted my attention to a problem that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. All in all it was a programme that, whilst perhaps not being a typical example of balanced BBC journalism, certainly stimulated much thought.


Let's just hope the Beeb can take a bit of constructive criticism, eh? ;)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pictures of our Summer Ball (at the Botanical Gardens)


Blurred picture of me doing some kind of strange arm-dance


Summer ball girls. Spot me... before the red wine went all over my dress


Me attempting to teach Smyllie to dance

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hell

At the moment I'm catching up on the huge backlog of copies of 'The Briefing' that lies, plastic-coated, on the bookcase by the front door. I am grateful to my grandparents for the gift of the subscription to this magazine for my last birthday. Each edition includes many helpful articles that often stir up thought that would otherwise have been left dormant. On the whole, I'd say its contribution to the modern evangelical scene is invaluable. However, one brief sentence I read in there today provoked a train of thought I was not expecting to arise from 'The Briefing'.

The comment referred to Peter's first letter:

'...Peter is saying: "Of course you behave like that with each other. Now start behaving in exactly the same way with those who know nothing of Jesus - even the ones who mock you, despise you and make your life feel like hell!"'
(The Briefing, issue 328)

I've noticed that the expression 'like hell' has recently siphoned its way into the conversation of evangelical Christians. Admittedly, its use is not yet widespread, but compared to a few years ago, it is heard far more often than one would expect. (I speak as one guilty of using the phrase on occasion.) Why is this such a damaging turn of speech?

For one simple reason: because it completely undermines and trivialises exactly what hell is. Hell is not a version of earth with just slightly more misery or discomfort. Hell is not life with more funerals and fewer weddings. Hell, in Biblical terms, is the complete absence of God's presence, and thus the 'darkness' where there is 'wailing and gnashing of teeth' (Matt 22:13).

No situation on earth can ever be described as 'hell' because God's presence, whether it is through common grace or a personal faith in him through Jesus, is always here. No matter how desperate the situation, it cannot compare to being in hell. Thus when Christians go through the worst kind of physical, emotional or mental persecution, they are about as far from hell as they possibly could be because God's presence is not only around them but living within them by the Holy Spirit.

So not only does this flippant use of the word hell lighten its true significance, it also ignores the fact that whilst on earth, God's presence is always accessible (although many choose to deny it).

Hell is a subject that is touched on little by Christians, and even less so by people in general. For many it is symbolised by a red cartoon devil with novelty horns and a pitchfork; a place where people can be 'naughty', a place where Satan lets people do what they want and have their fun, as opposed to a 'boring' heaven where white spirits float around playing harps and doing, well, not much really. But the Bible's view of hell is far more serious, and what is more, far more REAL. Hell is not a faraway land where The Simpsons' take on life will be realised. It is a real part of God's kingdom where real people will really suffer, because a real God has taken away his presence from them. Hell is not a word to bandy around in conversation.

The ultimate danger of this usage of the word is that our urgent call to telling people the good news of Jesus will be diminished in our own minds. If hell becomes a triviality via our thoughtless conversation, then why go out and tell people how they can avoid it? What is more, our own concept of what we've been saved from can fade. We, sinners who deserved to be in this real place of ultimate suffering, have been wonderfully rescued by the God whose dominion it is. And so we should devote every aspect of our lives to living in gratefulness to this God and in telling others how to know him too.