Recent street riots in Israel made me recall that wonderful quote from Michel Faber’s lovely novel The Crimson Petal and the White: “Thank God for the lower classes!” That quip is sounded by the protagonist William Rackham, an upper-class Victorian type, while waiting for Sugar, his favorite prostitute, to perform a musical act at a pub. The warming act drags on, he gets impatient, yet he cannot do anything about it. But then a working-class rabble starts doing what Rackham cannot do himself: They make a lot of impolite, drunk noises and shout, “Booooooooring! Get Sugar on the stage!” Rackham, thankful for the rabble blesses them all, “thank God for the lower classes.”
How does it relate to recent events in Israel? I need to take a short detour to provide some background. In Israeli society, there is a class of people called “Arsim” (“Ars” singular, “Arsim” plural). It is a bit difficult to explain, but an Ars is a young man, mostly of Jewish Middle Eastern origins (meaning, not an Ashkenazi Jew), who is also vulgar, unrefined, and a bit aggressive. If the analogy helps, a less charming version of what’s called a guido in America. This rather amusing mockumentary attempts to provide a better description.
In times of peace, the Ars is mostly a nuisance. There’s a way to banter with them in a friendly way, but there’s never knowing when things may combust. So in general, avoidance is a good strategy. However, when gangs of marauding Arabs begin torching synagogues and cars in Israeli towns, the Ars can be a useful ecological feature.
You see, a nice Jewish guy like me, on the way to Trader Joe’s, is not very likely to punch anybody in the face in an act of lynching. But the Israeli Ars lacks my self-control and moral reservations. Indeed, in several cities they rose up to punch back against the Arabs, establishing a sort of ecology of fear.
Is it nice? Noooooooo. Is it just? Nooooo. Would I do it? Noooooo. But thank God for the lower classes!