Some Random Comments on the United Kingdom
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Great Britain is now the scene of the opening rounds of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, coming between the just completed Queen's Jubilee celebration and the summer Olympics which will descend on London at the end of July. It is quite a moment for Britain on the one hand, but, on the other, as someone observed to me, Britain today is best described by the Union Jacks still adorning the main streets, most of which have already faded, only weeks after the Jubilee. Some people feel are beginning to ask whether the King’s St Crispin’s Day’s speech in Henry V has been said for the last time.
Every city in the world which hosts the Olympics runs into the pride versus pain dichotomy; remember Atlanta. Many Londoners are dreading the commercial dislocation and the traffic nightmare which they will need to endure for having successfully “won” the right to host the 2012 Olympiad. London's Underground, which has been strained for years and which runs amazingly well despite its constant and random service disruptions, will be put to the ultimate Olympic test in a few weeks as it becomes—much to the chagrin of the renowned London taxi drivers–the only means of conceivably getting around. Since all the tickets for the events are sold and the television rights are paid, Londoners are planning their own getaways.
One leaves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem, only to find a far more complicated version of the same issues on the streets of London. While walking down Oxford Street, which I have done frequently, one senses the Muslim presence more intensely than ever.
First, standing in front of the flag ship store of Marx and Spencer's, non-Arabs wearing tee shirts in Arabic are distributing copies of the Koran, handing out literature accusing Israel of Genocide, and collecting signatures from passers-by favoring a boycott of Marx and Spencer because of its sale of goods made in the territories. Second, the number of Muslims in Central London is larger than ever before.
It is interesting and encouraging to learn of the extent to which there are Muslim-Jewish groups which are seeking dialogue and communication between the groups. Despite the on-going tensions
–largely over Palestinian questions–nevertheless, many campuses now have specific dialogue groups which seek to maintain civilized conversation even on the most contentious issues.
Perhaps the most remarkable subject of Jewish interest is the respect and visibility of the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sachs. His prominence and public persona is remarkable. Beyond his learning and general erudition is, that, more than any previous Chief Rabbi, Lord Sachs has emerged as the most respected ethical and moral force in the country, despite the fact that the overall Jewish community in the U.K. is less than .5% of the population. All of this is occurring as is soon approaching the final months of his tenure. It is evident that his successor, whoever it might be, will face a daunting task of not only succeeding a very strong and impressive figure within the Jewish community, but also a maintaining the ability to represent the Jewish community with the same class and effectiveness as Lord Sachs has accomplished.