Monday, December 3, 2007

Images of the Old City (2)

More selected images I took from the Ramparts Walk around the Old City of Jerusalem today:

8. Ha Tsankhanim Rd, looking north-east from near New Gate, Old City ramparts:

9. Garden and houses in Christian Quarter, Old City, from rampart near New Gate:

10. Gardens and private courtyards in the Muslim Quarter, with Dome of the Rock in background, looking south:

11. Kidron Valley and eastern part of ramparts, looking south:

12. Mount of Olives, Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, looking south-east from near Lion's Gate:

13. Via Dolorosa, Muslim Quarter of the Old City:

14. Via Dolorosa, Muslim Quarter of the Old City:

15. Vendors and customers near the Damascus Gate, Old City:

Images of the Old City (1)

Here are some selected images I took from the Ramparts Walk around the Old City of Jerusalem today:

1. The Citadel of David, near Jaffa Gate, looking north:

2. Jaffa Rd looking north-east from rampart near Jaffa Gate:

3. Path on rampart walls, south of Citadel, just wide enough for two people to pass:

4. Church and Monastery of the Dormition, south from southernmost rampart:

5. IDF soldiers patrolling the main entrance to the Western Wall, Temple Mount:

6. Jewish boys and others preparing to enter the Western Wall Plaza:

7. Jewish faithful and tourists at the Western (Wailing) Wall, with Dome of the Rock on left:

More to follow....

Fundamentalism in world religions

This morning Gregor Henderson and I walked along the ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem to the Western Wall at the Temple Mount (pictured, photographed today by me). Gregor is the President of the Uniting Church in Australia. We reflected on the irony that the heart of this ancient city is sacred to three of the world’s great religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam (these are also the three great monotheistic faiths).

Each of these three faiths has orthodox and liberal streams, with various other interpretations and adumbrations of the basic teachings also entertained by groups of followers. And all three have their fundamentalist and extremist groups. That reminded me of a review I wrote of a book by Karen Armstrong a few years ago. Thanks to Google, I tracked it down on my good friend Rowland Croucher’s website. Here it is:

Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Harper Collins, 2000).

Reviewed by Rod Benson

James Barr described it as "a pathological condition of Christianity"; Catherine Lumby as "excessively public devotion"; and David Bebbington as "evangelicalism with an inferiority complex." From within it is often seen as "biblical Christianity." However it is perceived, religious fundamentalism is alive and well, not only in Christian cultures but among Jews and Muslims and other religious traditions.

In The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong sets her own distinctive spin on the term. Drawing on historical research into the three so-called Abrahamic faiths, she traces the roots and fruits of fundamentalist impulses from the late fifteenth to late nineteenth centuries. Then, focusing on the period 1870-1999, she maps the impact and legacy of fundamentalism on events and nations in the recent past.

Armstrong is considered one of the foremost commentators on religion in North America and Europe. At 17 she chose to devote her life to God as a nun in a Catholic convent. She left her order after seven years in 1969. In Through the Narrow Gate (St Martins Press, 1982), Armstrong describes this ordeal that she says pressed her to the limit of endurance and led her to embrace atheism.

After teaching English and working on television documentaries, Armstrong was appointed to London's Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism, where she continues teaching, researching and writing. Today she describes herself as "a freelance monotheist," and likens religion to a raft: "once you get across the river, moor the raft and go on. Don't lug it with you if you don' t need it anymore."Central to her reading of history is the notion that premodern cultures possessed two complementary and indispensable ways of thinking, speaking and knowing: mythos and logos.

Mythos was concerned with meaning; it "provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal." Logos, on the other hand, dealt with practical matters. It forged ahead, elaborating on old insights, mastering the environment, and creating fresh and new things.

Armstrong argues that modern Western society has lost the sense of mythos and enshrined logos as its foundation. Mythical narratives and the rituals and meanings attached to them have ceded authority to that which is rational, pragmatic and scientific – but which does not assuage human pain or sorrow, and cannot answer questions about the ultimate value of human life.

However, far from embarking on a wholesale rejection of the modern emphasis in favour of the old balance, the author contends, religious fundamentalists unwittingly turn the mythos of their faith into logos. Fundamentalism is a child of modernity, and fundamentalists are fundamentally modern.

With rigorous depth of research and astonishing attention to detail, Armstrong traces the impact of modernity (not to be confused with modernism) on the Christian cultures of Europe and North America, on the Jewish people, and on the Muslims of Egypt and Iran. The so-called "battle for God" refers to attempts by fundamentalists to fill a void at the heart of societies that are based on scientific rationalism.

Apart from functioning as justification of her thesis, the account is worth reading for its perspective on many twentieth-century events such as the growth of secular Zionism leading up to 1948, the Iran hostage crisis of 1980-81, and the confidence of Christian fundamentalists in the 1980s and 1990s in contrast to the mentality of withdrawal after the Scopes trial in the 1920s.

One of the book's weaknesses is its strong focus on fundamentalism in the US, and its preoccupation with the personalities and proclivities of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Jim and Tammy Bakker. It could be argued, of course, that reliance on British fundamentalism would make for less outrageous illustrations and require treatment of the arguably more respectable British evangelical tradition.Armstrong concludes by observing that:

Secularists and fundamentalists sometimes seem trapped in an escalating spiral of hostility and recrimination. If fundamentalists must evolve a more compassionate assessment of their enemies in order to be true to their religious traditions, secularists must also be more faithful to the benevolence, tolerance, and respect for humanity which characterises modern culture at its best, and address themselves more empathetically to the fears, anxieties, and needs which so many of their fundamentalist neighbours experience but which no society can safely ignore.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and October 12, 2002, and their politically-driven repercussions, such comments are all the more relevant and urgent.

[This review first appeared in Mosaic, the Quarterly Journal of the NSW Baptist Ministers Association, Vol. 5, No. 1, Autumn 2003]

Books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

As a child, I heard news and occasional adult conversations about Arabs, Israel, oil and the fate of the Temple Mount. Yasser Arafat's characteristic dress was both familiar and unfamiliar. The wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 were discussed as possibly fulfilling biblical prophecy. My paternal grandparents had a large National Geographic map of "The Holy Land," presumably from the mid-1970s, on a wall in their home. I recall gazing at this map with puzzlement, compressing as it did the geographic, political, historical and religious dimensions of the subject of the state of Israel.

What we did not, and perhaps could not, hear were the voices of Israelis and Palestinians themselves, unfiltered by the partisan chatter of the news media and Western political leaders. The problem remains.

Where to go for helpful recent analysis? I recommend three sources:

1. Lonely Planet's guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Not the first choice you might consider, but well written, succinct and sufficiently neutral. The latest edition was published in 2007. There's a two-page snapshot of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; 13 pages (in small print) of history, half of it on the period after 1948; and more on culture, food and the natural environment. Sections on regions and cities include commentary on political and historical issues.

2. Alan Dowty, Israel/Palestine (Polity Press, 2005)
Dowty is Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, USA, and Kahanoff Chair Professor in Israel Studies at the University of Calgary. This is one of Polity's series on "Hot Spots in Global Politics." It offers accessible though detailed introductions to the historical background to the confrontation in Palestine; chapters on "the Jewish story" and "the Arab story"; chapters on the rise of the Israeli state and the "re-emergence of the Palestinians"; and three chapters on analysis of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords ("the high point of the peace process"), the impasse (as it existed in 2005), and concluding reflections. Required reading, identifying the major problems and potential ways forward, and giving a sense of the complexity of the situation. There's also a helpful chronology at the back of the book. 216pp. A second edition will be out in early 2008. Buy it here.

3. Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Beacon Press, 2007)
Khalidi, a prolific academic and op-ed writer, holds the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University, where he heads the Middle East Institute. The rigid "iron cage" to which he refers is a metaphor for the constraints hemming in the Palestinians in the period prior to 1948 (the year of Israel's founding as a nation state), and the enduring nature of these constraints for the Palestinian people in succeeding decades. The cage, he says, has physical, political and economic dimensions. Khalidi also assesses how the Palestinians and their leaders have performed within the context of these constraints, and this has drawn strong criticism. The book focuses on the Palestinian component to the conflict, concluding on a pessimistic note. Also required reading. 220pp plus extensive notes. Buy it here.

There are numerous other books on the Arab-Israel conflict, including two that are frequently recommended to me: former US President Jimmy Carter's much touted and derided Palestine: Peace not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster, 2006), and Australian Jewish free-lance journalist Anthony Lowenstein's My Israel Question (Melbourne University Press, 2006). If you can recommend others books, tell readers using the "comment" function below.