Fear of the Sacred in Trudeaupia

Wednesday, September 06, 2006
A Hasidic Jew was recently forced to leave an Air Canada flight from Montreal to New York because his praying scared fellow passengers:
The airplane was heading toward the runway at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport when eyewitnesses said the Orthodox man began to pray.

"He was clearly a Hasidic Jew," said Yves Faguy, a passenger seated nearby. "He had some sort of cover over his head. He was reading from a book.

"He wasn't exactly praying out loud but he was lurching back and forth," Faguy added.

The action didn't seem to bother anyone, Faguy said, but a flight attendant approached the man and told him his praying was making other passengers nervous.

"The attendant actually recognized out loud that he wasn't a Muslim and that she was sorry for the situation but they had to ask him to leave," Faguy said.

The man, who spoke neither English nor French, was escorted off the airplane.

Air Canada Jazz termed the situation "delicate," but says it received more than one complaint about the man's behaviour.

The crew had to act in the interest of the majority of passengers, said Jazz spokeswoman Manon Stewart.

"The passenger did not speak English or French, so we really had no choice but to return to the gate to secure a translator," she said.

The airline is not saying if the man was told he was not allowed to pray, but a spokesperson said the man was back on board the next flight to New York.
Now ask yourself, why would anyone be scared of a Hasidic Jew praying on a flight to New York City? Surely there are few more unlikely sources of terrorism. So, unless we wish to believe that the passengers or crew supposed, with no evident reason, that the lastest ploy of Al Qaeda may be to disguise themselves as pious Hasidim, we have to assume that this is a case of simple fear of unfamiliar signs of religious piety (and perhaps some queer, MSM-influenced misconceptions about orthodox Jews and violence).

And this, I think, is an interesting but disquieting sign of our cultural weakness. For on the one hand it shows that the people involved vaguely recognize, and fear, the power of the sacred over human minds; and yet, on the other hand, it suggests that these same people have little interest in the sacred and no idea what Hasidic Judaism is about. Indeed, we can confidently guess that only people who don't take prayer seriously - in the sense that they don't seriously practice it - would raise objections to a Jewish man praying. Such people would assume that pious, semi-public prayer is a sign of an unstable mind, and while they recognize its power, it may not be for the good.

In other words, if and when this type of person is indeed challenged by people motivated by the power of the sacred, people who see the secular North American as weak and decadent, the under-educated, secular-Gnostic, North Americans are going to run screaming if they can't find authority figures to complain to first. They are not going to be able to feel confident and very superior to the other. Sure they will think the other is crazy, but they will not have the courage to face him down in a fight. They will not be able to say "our faith is superior to yours", because they will only fear the power of faith and not be able to embrace it.

This kind of North American is simply buying time. They know the religious crazies are coming, but like the Spanish voters who responded to the train bombings by voting out a government that was willing to fight Islamic terror, they just want to do whatever it takes to avoid, but not face or understand, the supposed danger, and to keep the jet-settting and partying going for as long as they can, until the fearful power of the sacred triumphs in its return to the scene...

We need to learn again how to promote good faith, and so also an understanding of the sacred, that is suited to our times and needs.

Meanwhile, Concordia University continues to fear Jewish speakers


David Thomson said...

How many people complained? One or two? The airline is grossly overreacting. It is sad when full grown adults are apparently unaware of Hasidic Judaism. I am betting that the complaining passengers are very left-wing and normally contemptuous towards any display of religious belief. And I noticed that the flight took off from Canada.

What about the incident recently in the United States when a couple of young Muslims were escorted off a plane? It is my understanding that these males deliberately provoked the other other passengers. They went out of their way to pretend to be terrorists. The Canadian situation, appears at first glance, to be quite different.

terrye said...

This is just ridiculous. I have seen people pray on planes, I have seen them finger the crifixes around their necks.

I don't think all of North America should be judged by the silliness of this airlines.

Avi Green said...

It's interesting to note that they don't say just what language he actually spoke. Was it Hebrew? Or was he from a Ukrainian background? That's what the CBC leaves out here. And the Jewish community in Canada, I might add, should really have said that flight officials should explain the difference between Jews and Muslims, perhaps even the differences between kosher and halal food! (If anyone's not sure, the kosher and halal menus are different; the latter's got a lot of seafood on it that's not considered kosher on the former's.)

Skookumchuk said...

I wish I had a buck for every time a Hispanic ballplayer crosses himself when he steps up to the plate. Or gets on base.

Fear of Muslim terrorists, yes, but there is no fear of the sacred in American ballparks.

truepeers said...

Well Skook, as a comment at Covenant Zone put it, maybe this is just a case of Quebecois antisemitism. But antisemitism or Judeophobia is one type of fear of the sacred.

No doubt it's often necessary to distinguish among different kinds of relationships to the sacred and maybe I should have in this post. We can simultaneously fear and desire the sacred, because it is an inherently paradoxical force that attracts and repels our attention. "Look, respect, represent, but don't touch", is its basic message. It's often said that fear of the sacred (or of its divine guarantor) is the basis of wisdom. That's very true. But it can also be the basis of unwisdom, which is what was on my mind when I posted.