WAITING FOR RASH OF JERUSALEM FEVER
December 17, 1999
I AM asked one question constantly, ‘what will happen on January 1?’ I am asked by sarcastic sceptics and hopeful politicians, by survivalists, conspiracists and evangelists, by believers and atheists, by journalists who feign indifference and New Agers who pray day and night.
All through 1999, I have repeated the same message of reassurance: The world is not about to end.
I worked out decades ago that if I ever predicted Armageddon was nigh, the predestined date would arrive and only one thing would self-destruct – my career.
The new Millennium will dawn and we will be granted the greatest chance in history to wipe clean the slate. It is up to every one of us to seize that chance, because the world will not change if we wait for governments to change it for us.
The past 1,000 years proves that: everything that is good in our culture came from individual endeavour.There is only one factor that could provoke a cataclysm on January 1. It is not divine intervention or alien invasion or meteor strike or natural disaster. The single danger is human insanity.
It would be insanity, for instance, to leave the nuclear reactors running and the nuclear warheads primed on December 31 when all the world knows that computers could cease to behave reliably. Insanity – but none of the 433 power plants in Britain, the US, the former Soviet Union or any other part of the globe is expected to be shut down.
The nuclear generators at Visaginas in Lithuania, for example, which produce 80 per cent of the country’s electricity, will keep running, although that nation’s computers are almost totally unprepared for the effects of the Y2K bug.
The 4,400 nuclear-tipped missiles on hair-trigger alert in Russia and the US will not be placed on low priority over New Year. Defence systems will have been carefully checked for possible Y2K disruption, but no one can comprehensively predict all the chaos which nationwide computer crashes could bring. Chaos is like that – unpredictable.
US deputy secretary of defence John Hamre says: ‘‘Probably one out of five days I wake up in a cold sweat thinking Y2K is much bigger than we think. Everything is so interconnected, it’s hard to know with any precision whether we have got it fixed.’’
The defence department admits it doesn’t know how the nuclear arsenal will behave on January 1 but President Clinton refuses to command a temporary switch from full alert. The generals refuse to apply the safety catch for even a few hours.
The Y2K nuclear alert campaign, spearheaded by Nobel Peace Laureate Sir Joseph Rotblat, MIT physicist Philip Morrison and world-famous medic Patch Adams, is calling for mass phone, fax and email pleas to the White House. But that may be too little too late.
A perverse level of deeper insanity is being plumbed by maverick computer programmers who are writing viruses that mimic the Y2K bug. Your microchips could be compliant with the switch from year 99 to year 00, yet an invisible infection spread by a socially-handicapped hacker in Missouri might still shut down your operating system.
Insanity is not a high-tech disorder. It affects us wherever we are vulnerable, and at the turn of the Millennium that means in our new-born information networks. But we are also vulnerable, as we have been for thousands of years, wherever religion touches politics.
In Jerusalem, religion is constantly face-to-face with politics. It’s no surprise the city has bred a unique form of insanity – Jerusalem Fever.
The main psychiatric clinic, Givat Shaul Mental Health Centre, has reported a 50 to 60 per cent increase in madness among pilgrims and Dr Gregory Katz expects that figure to keep rising. Jews, Muslims and especially Christians are susceptible to a religious fervour which typically begins with an urge to visit the holy shrines alone.
Next follows an obsession with cleanliness, especially ritual bathing and the shaving of body hair. When the pilgrim dons a bedsheet for a robe and begins to patrol the streets, singing psalms and declaiming scripture, Katz is called in.
The symptoms cause mirth in the West, though it is mainly American and Scandinavian Christians from fundamentalist backgrounds who succumb to the fever. Israel finds it less amusing – Shin Bet is on high alert to foil Jewish and Christian terrorist attacks against the Dome of the Rock. Some extremists preach that the saviour cannot be heralded on Earth until a Jewish temple, and not a Muslim mosque, stands on Temple Mount.
If one madman succeeds in bombing the Dome of the Rock or even in carrying out an obscene act of provocation, such as hurling a pig’s head into the mosque, the political crisis could escalate to war within hours.
Israel, Syria, Iran and Iraq are all nuclear powers. A fundamentalist who truly desires Armageddon in 2000 might find it too easy to set it off.
We can only pray that, as the clocks chime midnight, a fit of simple sanity grips the world. We are all free to believe the end is nigh, if we wish. But why speed it up?
One US fundamentalist living in poverty on the Mount of Olives, Ed Daniels, spends his days attempting to convert Palestinians from Islam. He told an American newspaper: ‘‘The end of time is going to happen soon, so why should I do anything to make it happen sooner? I believe in love, not destruction.’’
To that, all sane Jews, Christians and Muslims say, ‘Amen’.
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