john-mccain-and-lindsey-graham

America Can Still Be a Positive Force in the World

The election of Donald Trump as US president was a big moment. His victory in November reflected a steep change in the way the United States is run and the way it per­ceives other countries.

Trump has little good to say about many international norms that underpin the liberal world order. He disdains NATO. He has no intention of supporting America’s allies among the Syrian opposition. Trump is notably well-disposed towards Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. Continue reading

Assad poster

Murder, Rape and Violence in Assad’s Prisons – This Is Why Refugees Leave Syria

The brutality of the war in Syria is known: its cadences well-established. Regime barrel bombs and chemical weapon attacks, Russian air strikes, and the many outrages committed by the Islamic State (Isis/Daesh) – all of these combine together in the mind.

This cruelty occurs in the open. But worse – if that were possible – is that which is hidden away in regime prisons, locked away with the prisoners. Occasionally, news escapes the confines of these places of suffering. Continue reading

matteo-ricci

Memory and Matteo Ricci

Jonathan Spence’s book The Death of Woman Wang is an entrancing assessment of provincial China. It weaves together the stories of individuals, some of high rank, some freshly rescued from obscurity, with those of myth and legend, creating an absorbing, enriching portrait of a nation and of an era. In The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, Spence takes a slightly different tack. Again his subject is China, but this time, rather than attempting only to look at the country from within, he incorporates the perspective of those who came from without. The eponymous subject of this work was a Jesuit priest from Italy, a keen proselytiser, and one of the pioneering Western missionaries sent to China to spread Christianity among its vast population. Continue reading

trump-university

Hot Water and Higher Education

There’s meant to be something somewhat seedy about the profit motive. Perhaps this is why, in the case of education, many of us recoil in horror as soon as the prospect is introduced. This is an irrational response, but it’s not entirely unreasonable. Education is something which makes politicians misty-eyed. It makes their voices quaver. Our leaders describe with great emotion the need for the next generation to do better, to have more, to go without less. Continue reading

Yarmouk

Hopes Over the Arab Spring Were Premature

For my generation, 2011 came close to being our 1968. Like the latter, it was a year of political change, change that seemed dynamic and accelerated.

The world was on the verge of being transformed. It seemed as though undemocratic regimes, for too long a regrettable fixture of the Middle East, could be over­thrown and replaced. More than that, there was a sense of real optimism. It seemed the weight of history had been lifted. Continue reading

Donald Trump campaigning

Trump Washes His Hands of Syria

Donald Trump is about to become president of the United States of America. As remarkable as this phrase still seems, it’s going to happen. As such, his pronouncements matter; his every utterance is newsworthy.

This is why Trump’s first interview with a British newspaper, conducted by Michael Gove for The Times, is notable. Alongside the expected comments on Brexit, which Trump greeted warmly and enthusiastically, the president-elect also discussed the usefulness of NATO, the situation in Syria, migration to Europe and, inevitably, Russia and Vladimir Putin. Continue reading

donald-trump-press-conference

Beyond Post-Truth

The phrase ‘post-truth’, a word of the year in 2016 (dearly departed and much missed), is already looking a bit clapped out. It’s a little on the nose, even obvious; it’s not all that insightful; and the thing is already entirely ubiquitous, on the lips of every lazy pundit and within easy reach of every angry guy on the internet. They all want to use it, as it conveys a kind of easily attained semi-intellectualism, just about enough for TV and Twitter. Continue reading