| The war and peace within us all
I WANT to send a Christmas message to all my readers, especially friends from the past who have written wonderful letters to me.
Thanks and Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Eid, Kwanzaa, Tohji-taisai, Sharaf, and Solstice wishes to you all for good health and happiness in a warm, safe home. Above all, peace and love.
Let us celebrate Christmas, a pagan winter festival. I come from a Jewish family but my mother did not believe her children should be left out of any fun going. We lit Hanukkah candles and sang the songs, then decorated a Christmas tree, hung up stockings, sang carols and celebrated the birth of a Jewish baby, Jesus, to a homeless family.
Homelessness must always be our special concern at Christmas and all religions and political parties must contribute to solving this scourge.
Rereading my 2006 Christmas column I see no progress. My worst fears from then are becoming reality. As I predicted, house price falls in America have now reached us, along with a credit crunch. Warnings now spew forth about massive increases in repossessions early next year. As credit dries up, falling house prices will not make homes affordable to the poor. With councils and housing associations selling off their homes there is no longer any pool of social housing that poor, newly homeless families can look to for shelter.
Worst of all, this disaster has been created by a Labour government.
Some small social gains are obvious – and we are grateful – but, overall, socialism is never mentioned, having become a dirty word in America, here and in many European and Eastern nations. Far more money is spent on preparing to destroy the world than to preserve the gains of the past century.
Instead of building communities of people who believe we are here to share and care, we seem forced to struggle through a jungle of people whose only idea is to spend money.
I firmly believe the world is not simply full of predators. I can only repeat what I wrote last year.
Christmas is supposed to be a festival of giving. We are programmed to give as well as take but the mix seems to have changed, with Christmas transformed into a festival of spending.
Last year I mentioned the Farepak scandal – 150,000 poor families’ average £400 of Christmas savings was stolen. Did the government step in and guarantee their money? No! Some time next year they might receive five pence in the pound. Yet when depositors with Northern Rock, a building society masquerading as a bank, felt in danger, the same government issued immediate, unlimited, unconditional guarantees now approaching £30 billion.
It becomes increasingly clear the government was conned or worse, complicit.
We have seen more natural disasters. Religious zealots, instead of promoting peaceful progress, are engaged in forming strongly motivated groups, preparing to fight each other with ever more deadly weapons. From young children armed with knives and guns wreaking havoc among their peers, to the most powerful people in the world preparing nuclear weapons and submarines to destroy the whole world, nobody seems to object that £115 billion in the UK and increasing amounts worldwide are being invested in nuclear weapons. To pay for them, the gains of the welfare state are cut to the bone while private profits rise – or at least appear to on paper, as in the case of Northern Rock – and many banks now face similar predicaments.
This month we marked World Aids Day. The Canadian Stephen Lewis, the world’s first UN Envoy on Aids in Africa, writes most eloquently in the world’s newspapers on this theme. Many nations celebrated it together but fail to deliver on their financial pledges. The funds raised are insignificant compared with the billions we spend preparing for nuclear war.
Problems of killer epidemics are not new. The age of HIV was preceded by the syphilis era. United world efforts culminated in the eradication of smallpox and almost eliminated polio. Good will and generosity from all over the world could do the same for Aids.
As we celebrate William Blake’s 250th anniversary I am sick at heart, summed up for me in his poem:
Oh Rose thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
doth thy life destroy.
And Blake’s Jerusalem is puzzling. It sounds like a pacifist hymn but is actually a battle hymn: “I shall not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand…”
The words of the Buddha, paraphrased in the Unesco constitution, remind us that “Wars begin in the minds of men”. The minds and hearts of men begin in the baby.
Watching my gorgeous great-grandchildren suddenly have a screaming fit is like watching world leaders wanting power. The infant before speech learns that war and peace are within us all. The screaming shows how we are programmed for hate and aggression as well as peace and love. Our messages and example will reinforce one approach rather than the other.
Christmas celebrates the story of the birth of one baby who made that choice, peace and love. Even those who do not share the Christian religion cannot afford to ignore its message and choose peace and love.