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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ocean of light, ocean of darkness: Quakers and Islamist anti-Semitism

“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.”

- George Fox

I heard the words above quoted last week at a Quaker funeral - my first, though I've been to ordinary Meetings for Worship. Beautiful words at a beautiful occasion - just the right send-off for a dear friend.

Because of that experience I'm less inclined than I might at other times be to dismiss this with a shrug and a weary "same old same old". Asked to describe the Quakers I spoke to or listened to, I might suggest "gentle, compassionate, principled, sincere, intelligent". Not one of them could I picture in a brown shirt trashing a synagogue.

So how has it come about that a respected Quaker charity has given six-figure funding to an organisation which harbours promoters not only of violent extremism but also of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories? What is it about Quakers and Islamism? What is it about Quakers and Israel?

These are not rhetorical questions but express genuine perplexity. Here, though, is amore rhetorical one. When Quakers meet Jews in the course of the interfaith work to which they are strongly committed, do they say something like "Oh, just so you're aware, we've given a load of cash to some people who think you lot were behind 9/11. We're sure you'll understand."?

I have three hypotheses, not mutually exclusive:-

1. There is a campaign being waged by an activist minority not representative of Quakers at large.

2. The steady drift away from Quakerism's Christian roots creates a creedal vacuum into which secular ideology rushes. I've noted before that the convictions of anti-Israel campaigners seem to resemble an ersatz religion in their own right.

3. Perhaps there is some kind of attraction of opposites going on, giving herbivorous Quakers a perverse fascination with religion in its most violent and intolerant manifestation.

But it still doesn't really make sense. And would not George Fox want to ask those who follow in his footsteps why they choose darkness over light?