“The hour we met won’t come again
Why would we want it to?
Many hours have passed since then
And there’s so much left to do…”
From Rundivous Graffiti by Bachchoo
I never thought I’d have the opportunity or the audacity to say “Some of my best friends are Jews!” As every fool knows, it’s the feeble construction attributed to anti-Semites in denial of their anti-Semitism. With the substitution of the word “Jews” for other classifications, it is a sentence now attributed to racists or homophobes who justify their prejudices.
The opportunity to use the shibboleth (a Hebrew word: Judges xii.4-6) arises as, after I wrote, in this very column, about having observed orthodox Jewish women in certain parts of London wearing wigs over their heads of hair, I received a complaint calling me “anti-Semitic”. The correspondent who wrote to me through my TV agent even demanded an apology.
Gentle reader, before I paraphrase what I wrote and what the objection to it was, I must tell you why I am not treating this triviality as dewdrops off this Parsi vulture’s back. There is a crisis in the Labour Party of Britain with long-standing members of Parliament resigning, Jewish organisations attacking the Labour leadership for complicity or inaction when faced with instances of anti-Semitic poison in the party with the media and the Tories indulging in justified bouts of schadenfreude.
Another reason for stooping to address the complaint is that in our age of social media bullshit (some of my best friends are bulls) this kind of victim-seeking stuff can spread and get distorted. It has happened several times before. This column has on occasion excited objections, accusations, even death threats from, for instance, Islamist fundamentalists — (not Muslims, mind you: Some of my best friends are Muslims!).
In one of these instances I was accused of libelling an eminent Parsi gentleman. It wasn’t my intention — (some of my best friends are Parsis!). However, being well brought up, I took it upon myself to apologise in a traditional Parsi way and wrote a public apology. I feel compelled to repeat my repentance in this instance to the complainant who accuses me quite wrongly of anti-Semitism and I implore her to accept my heartfelt verse:
Thahra peyt ma
I am confident that the complainant, after reading these lines and having my apology translated by her Parsi friends (I am sure some her best friends are Parsi) will issue a grovelling apology for her demand for an apology. (Some of best friends are apologists?)
The offending observation in my previous column was made in the context of religious or supposed-religious injunctions to women to cover up their hair. The column was provoked by some idiot declaring a World Hijab Day, importuning all women to adopt the head-cover.
She was free in democratic societies to so do. The opposite is not the case. There would be vociferous objections, riots and blood if someone declared a “discard-your-hijab-day”. And no doubt accusations of Islamophobia. (Please note, I am not calling for any such thing! — fd. Hah! Coward, scaredy cat! — Ed.)
I said in that column that my Muslim friends and even an Islamic scholar or two aver that Islam doesn’t demand hijabs. Neither does it stop women from driving cars or insist they have their sexual organs mutilated in infancy. The hijab remark attracted no accusations of Islamophobia from anyone.
I went on in a paragraph or two (Some of my best friends are paragraphs!) to observe that I see London’s Jewish Orthodox women wearing wigs over their natural heads of hair. My observation was in no sense derogatory but an expression of wonder that hiding one’s own hair, saving eyebrows and eyelashes, in particular places or on particular occasions, seemed to be a requirement of several societies. Parsis cover their heads in the fire temple and at other ceremonials.
My complainant set out the history of the Jewish Orthodox practice of wearing wigs. She said that Jewish women in past centuries in eastern Europe lived in fear of rape and so shaved their heads bald and wore wigs. When the rapists tried it on, they took the wigs off to confront the rapists with a bald head which would put them off. This is a useful piece of folklore but it does make one wonder whether a determined rapist would, on seeing a bald head be demotivated and run away, sparing the hairless victim. I have no insight into the psychology of rapists though I have read feminist essays in which rape is characterised as an act of criminal power — lust rather than one arising from normal sexual urges. (I have to say none of my friends are rapists!).
The context in which the accusation against my innocent observation is, in the words of the complainant, the widespread debate about anti-Semitism in Britain from which city I wrote my column. This week a Labour MP from Derby has been suspended from the Labour Party for saying that the reaction to anti-Semitism was too strong. He volunteered to show a documentary which argued that the disciplining of Labour members for the offence was a “witch hunt”. He was discouraged from supporting this view with his film and is now justifiably suspended for defying that precaution.
The leadership of Labour insists that they will do everything they can to eliminate any whiff of anti-Semitism from their party. Brave words. My suggestion to them then is that they convene full meetings of party members and the general public in every constituency in Britain, starting with those 12 which have voted in a Labour MP who happens to be a Muslim. Some of these have decisive numbers of voters who are immigrants from Bangladesh or Mirpur. The platform should then vigorously denounce all anti-Semitic thoughts and doctrines. Way forward, comrades! Watch those membership figures!
(er… some of my best friends are of Bangladeshi and Mirpuri origin!)...