The Fundamentalist Penguin

Thursday, 26 December, 2013 - 5:39 pm

Men have aggression to spare; they keep it in stock so as to have it ready when it is needed and even, or especially, when it is unneeded and unwanted. 

Harvey Mansfield 

Penguin is an eccentric fellow; blessed with wings, he has many abilities except that of flight. He approaches life lethargically, never to ‘slip the surly bonds of earth’ and survey the expanse of the heavens above. He will never experience a bird’s-eye view of the universe and its evolution and transformation. A penguin will swim to diverse environs, but he cannot fathom the true scope of the ocean. He goes through life, living it, without feeling its depth. 

Some people are like penguin. They belong to a specific group of species, and yet cannot fully recognise their potential. Their point-of-view is blinkered, observing only that which is placed in front of them. The idea of a ‘man-penguin’ came to mind when I was forced, through social conventions, to attend the political perspectives of an acquaintance on the Middle-Eastern crisis. This individual was born into an educated and wealthy family. He, too, followed in the footsteps of his forefathers and has studied most of his life, developing mental faculties which he claims are as objective as possible in most areas related to human beings. Professionally, he is an achieved individual and in an alternative universe, can even be seen as an inspiring role model for his circle of friends. 

The aforementioned individual has tried to be as objective as possible in a secular sense; he is against all forms of religions, and their doctrines. Yet when it comes to shouting the usual classical anti-Semitic slogans, he is, politically, a combination of a radical Muslim and a right-wing Christian. He was not born in a small farmhouse in a backwards impoverished village, but in a spacious house in an immense modern city, surrounded by films, books and music. Although he has had an intellectually rich upbringing, he is not able to express a democratic and rational political view on many world issues including the relation between Israel and the rest of the Middle-East. His biased views on Holocaust and current Jewish affairs are not news. It is the same hostile comments one reads in most newspapers and magazines in Europe and Asia. 

I confess that I used to think this type of individual is an Eastern product. However, later in life when I moved from Middle-East to Europe I realised that the phenomenon of the fundamentalist penguins is an omnipresent one. You can see them marching in the streets of London, Rome, Vienna, Warsaw, etc. The frightening element is that this typology of anti-Semites is highly educated. They can be hardworking family men and women. They can be quite wealthy and have travelled the globe. In short, they are among the very people that can be considered the crème de la crème of any society. The political fundamentalists have no regard for the celestial elements and the values of religion such as providence, personal ethics, or holy books. They eschew these equally, which applied rationally to be the productive aspect of religion, and then jump, head-forward, with no helmet, into a messy murky pool of resentment and absurd tautologies. 

I do not say those who suggest that education and financial mammon are a panacea for anti-Semitism are wrong. However, time and again I have encountered people who are well-read, and in many aspects of life very sensible individuals. And yet, due to their political perspectives, they trudge the path of anti-Semitism. When it comes to loving or hating another person, when it comes to respect or insulting others, the truest form of our personal feelings will be defined by the choices we make. And part of humanity, and to be honest, not a small part, has made a wilful choice and commitment to be anti-Semitic. This legacy of yesteryear has despondently become an ingredient of mainstream culture that warrants criticism again and again, so that one day, maybe, our descendents from any religious point of view will be emancipated from its shackles.

That wilful ‘choice’ is that demonic key that has unfastened the dark vault, which is part of any human being’s ethos. Once the vault is open an individual’s inner demons and personal insecurities will evolve into a monster; even a gentle, educated individual with most of life’s privileges can become a spiteful person. How can this monster be approached? To fight the enemy, first one needs to know the enemy. The monster is not an ancient exotic creature forged in Alexander’s letters to Aristotle; it is not the Gog or Magog of the Caucasus; it is not one of the wild beasts whom Saint Anthony defeated in the deserts of Egypt. The monster is that desire to be wicked. Human beings have swum in this river a long time ago. That is why there is a monster that lurks away in every one of us; I do not speak of it loudly, but we all have felt rage, hatred, jealously in our soul and bones. We can not live monster-free, but we can control it. Those with penguin mentality, put simply, do not control the monster. In fact they unleash it, encourage it and, let’s face it, put in a catapult to launch at humanity. 


The conflict in Middle-East has provided the penguins of this world with a great opportunity. It has morphed them into one monstrous collective: atheist, religious, liberal, conservative, a medical doctor, an engineer, a teacher, a clergyman, a loving father, a caring mother - all have joined hands to insist on being a bird that cannot see the ocean of truth in stereoscope. Anti-Semitism, dear nthropologists and social scientists, is not a sickness. It has the same characteristics as love, and talent; it is all in the choice. Do we make a clear conscious attempt to disrespect others for their beliefs and backgrounds, or do we make a harder choice: to choose to fight the monster inside one’s heart, and to respect others as they fight their own monsters not to affront us. After all, who are we but a member of the others in the view of some other others?

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