Friday, August 17, 2007

India and the Jewish Problem

Sixty years ago this week the British left India, in the midst of one of the 20th century's worst upheavals. There's a brief recap here, based upon a new book which I've put on my reading list: Yasmin Khan's The Great Partition.

Not long ago I read Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2006. (The Booker Prize is the highest literary prize for literature in English, which does not, however, ensure that the winning books will prove to have any lasting value. Alas.) I found the book to be a reasonably good read, though I was irritated by its underlying thesis that English colonialism was the main culprit for the shambles of India in the 1980s, and by implication, today also. But maybe that's just me. In the meantime, the English have been gone for 60 years, the two Muslim states carved out of the jewel in the imperial crown - Pakistan and Bangladesh - are basket cases, but the Indian part does seem to be showing some signs of climbing out of its pit.

And the Israelis are watching, and taking note. A flourishing India, were it to happen, would be the giant of the 21st century, perhaps even more than the Chinese. Like the Chinese, the Indians have no particular reason to be either for the Jews or against us. Most of them have simply never heard of us (hurrah!). Ergo, if we play our cards right, we might be able to balance the animosities of the Europeans with the curiosity of the Indians (or the Chinese, but they're not celebrating anything this week). The Jewish Policy Planning Institute, for example, is one of the places where the cards are being crafted.

One of the reasons Israel was never for a moment a basket case, such as most of the other states founded around the same time were or even still are, is because of this sense of purposefulness. We take note, we figure out what needs to be done, and we go for it. Sometimes with catastrophic results, but the balance is admirable.

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