Mistake to downplay ideology
By James Buchok
WINNIPEG — The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg launched its annual Combined Jewish Appeal Sept. 6 with campaign chair Gail Asper reporting that Winnipeg’s Jewish community has grown to a population of 17,000, keeping it the largest Jewish population in Canada outside of Montreal and Toronto.
“We need to welcome and integrate all these new Winnipeggers,” Asper said. “We must include all Jewish families.”
Through the campaign the federation supports 10 agencies that are caring for seniors, educating children, organizing housing, finding employment, feeding the malnourished and assisting immigrants.
Among other supported programs is the annual March of the Living that takes Jewish high school students to the sites of Nazi death camps. Last April, 46 Jewish Winnipeg teens, the biggest number since the event began in 1988, joined with thousands of Jewish teens from around the world to walk the three kilometres from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest concentration camp complex built by the Nazis. The march took place on Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It brings youth together with Holocaust survivors, whose numbers are decreasing,” said Beth Goldberg, a local organizer for the March of the Living. “Nothing one learns in a text book can compare.”
The evening’s main attraction was a presentation by Dr. Jonathan Fine, an expert in counter-terrorism, intelligence and international security. Fine, an ordained rabbi, is based in Jerusalem and specializes in comparative politics, history and comparative religion. Calling Winnipeg “the biggest Kibbutz in Canada,” Fine spoke on Holy War in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Fine said over the last four years the world has witnessed a comeback of radical religious activity. He said common explanations for the rise of religious violence include the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left an ideological vaccuum with groups then turning to religion as an alternative, plus globalization and “the weakness of secular authority.”
He said western democracies “honestly believe in the separation of church and state and have always downplayed the role of ideologies in general and religion in particular.”
Fine said only in the late 1970s did the United States security intelligence begin to see the uniting of religion and politics with the rise of the Islamic Revolution under Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
“What’s missing is they have to understand religion from the inside. They have to get into the the Quran and the Bible. The common denominator is they all turn to religious texts and use them to justify violence,” Fine said. For instance, he said, “in order to understand the concept of holy war in Judaism one has to explore its evolution in the Hebrew Bible.”
Fine said Catholics have their own versions of a holy war ranging from a crusade to “a just war.”
“We all believe our texts are divine and we are the only ones who understand them. You are with us or against us,” Fine said.
Fine said in most cases a democracy’s definition of an enemy “is very limited. It’s based on the opposing regime or their social academic agenda. If you have a limited defintion of your enemy then your strategy and tactics will be equally limited.”
“It’s a western mistake to downplay ideology,” he said. “When Hezbollah and Hamas and al-Qaida say they want to destroy the state of Israel, I am sure that is exactly what they want to do.”