Monthly Archives: July 2015

There Can Be No Masochism in the Face of Terror

This essay was originally written in response to the terrorist attacks of February 2015 in Copenhagen. The subject is depressingly evergreen.

Reality as we know it is becoming repetitious. There has been another terrorist attack in a European capital. Once again an artist has been targeted. Once again an entire people have been attacked. The horror that invaded the pleaceful streets of Copenhagen last week came a mere month after the massacre of cartoonists and writers and shoppers in the office of a newspaper and a Jewish supermarket in Paris. Continue reading

Too Quick on the Trigger

I do not begrudge you the ability to precede anything you write, say or do with a warning. That is your right, and I would not want to take it away from you even if I could.

But there is, of course, a disparity of some magnitude between prefacing your own words with a cautionary notice – in this case a ‘trigger warning’, a practice which has gained some campaigning traction of late, especially in higher education – and demanding that others do the same. And there is an even greater gulf between doing so in a private capacity and wishing for universities and other public bodies to institute similar arrangements as a matter of policy. Such measures, especially when some advocates start to argue for their establishment out of civilised necessity, begin to resemble censorship on the sly. While it does not ostensibly interfere with the individual’s freedom of speech – a vital and inalienable right as that is – attaching warnings to undesirable material, those writings and works which contain unwanted aspects, could lead to the driving away of potential readers or viewers. Forcibly impeding the free dissemination of ideas is still censorious, even if the hat worn while doing so is one of kindness and concern. Continue reading

Tony Blair Is Right: Nationalism Is Ugly. But the Best Way to Defeat It Is by Winning a Referendum

Like some perverse retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ed Miliband was haunted by ghosts of prime ministers past – especially during the election campaign and by one of them in particular. While he was off campaigning in Bristol, the Labour leader drafted in his former boss to add some vim to proceedings in Sedgefield.

As well he might. Tony Blair is the most successful Labour figure in recent history, with three general election victories atop his otherwise already impressive record; indeed, he could even go down in history as the last Labour leader ever to win a majority at a general election, never mind three of them.  And his skills do not just extend to winning, as the impressive speech he delivered on that occasion demonstrated. (It is also important to note that, unlike Miliband, whose attempt to imitate Wordsworth’s ‘happy warrior’ betrayed a seeming distaste for the platform and the podium, Blair appears to have a genuine relish for campaigning; some of it is always on show when he addresses a crowd, as has been demonstrated since.)  Continue reading

A Very Bad Deal

Do you know the old stories told about Vienna in the summertime? Imperial capital to a polyglot dual monarchy, the city served as a meeting place of societies, languages and nation-states. A cultural epicentre, Vienna saw streams of the most elegant, artistic, intellectual people populate its grand palaces and ballrooms. Its waltzes are justly renowned. It was a place of meetings, of cultural exchange; a place of nobility, both in birth and intent. According to this telling, the civilisation it apparently embodied could never bow to the harshness and cruelty of human nature; it had simply progressed too far and achieved too much to stop. Continue reading

The Madness of King Charles

Soon, perhaps sooner than you think, Britain is due a change in monarch. That much is simple biology. What will follow, though, is far from scientific. Elizabeth II, who has sat on the throne for over 60 years, will die and arcane rules will determine that her son, Prince Charles, should succeed her and become king. Aside from complaints about the anachronistic, hereditary manner through which royal power is passed on, there are many reasons to be anxious about King Charles III’s ascension the throne. Continue reading

All’s Fair in Love and War? Review – The Pity of War (1998) by Niall Ferguson

One aspect of this book which has attracted a great deal of attention is its apparent novelty. Much has been made by reviewers of its gleeful rejection of received wisdom, as well as the confidence and vigour with which the historian who wrote it, Niall Ferguson, puts forward his controversial case. Ferguson, though now a respected and well-known figure within the academic community with several tenured professorships to his name, was only in his early thirties when the book was first published. His energy both in composition and argument was startling to many at that time. The arguments contained within this book are still hardly accepted by the mainstream; and they do not constitute a widely adopted interpretation – even now – of the course of the First World War and its causes. With the centenary of the First World War beginning last year, and a tranche of new work on the subject finding publication, it is perhaps pertinent to review this particularly fascinating book about how, more than one hundred years ago, the civilised world went to war and promptly set about tearing itself apart. Continue reading

The Miliband Delusion

After a humiliating defeat for his party at the polls in the British General Election, Ed Miliband may be gone, but his legacy continues to shape events in Westminster – and not for the better. The losing Labour leader has left his party an immense and almost intolerable burden. It falls to those left standing – unlike former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who lost his seat amid the debacle – to pick up the pieces and begin once again to rebuild the Labour Party.

Foreign policy, it seems, occurs very low down indeed in their list of priorities – which includes such momentous tasks as reversing the electoral rout in Scotland, reconstructing the decimated Labour leadership, and attempting once again to engender an image of economic competence, which for nearly ten years has eluded the party and those in most desperate need of it. Continue reading

Goodbye to the Good Guys

This week, ISIS released another video showcasing an atrocity. These broadcasts, which have become depressingly common of late, strive to exceed previous standards of brutality. This offering was of a different order. It was not a spectacle designed to top previous instances of barbarism, but another example of almost commonplace savagery. The men who met their ends on camera were two of Syria’s bravest: Bashir Abduladhim al-Saado and Faisal Hussain al-Habib. Associated with Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently and other organisations which monitor and report upon ISIS crimes and excesses, they were accused of spying on the city’s tyrannical occupiers. Forced to confess, the two were shot through the head; the camera lingered, leering at their last moments. Continue reading

No Moral Nation Can Ally with Assad

After nearly four years of almost unimaginable horror in Syria, the prime mover of all the repression, all the brutality, and all the sheer suffering of this cruellest of civil wars is getting what he wanted all along. A myopic and half-hearted aerial campaign is targeting his supposed rivals, and he is being left alone by the international community.  Continue reading

The General Election Campaign and the Decline of British Foreign Policy

The General Election and its campaign are over; and David Cameron has been returned to Downing Street with an increased majority, something which mystified commentators, humiliated pollsters, and seemingly drove a substantial portion of the nation into a state of profound political nihilism. All of this is certainly important – not least because it was so unexpected – but the rush to analyse certain aspects of the election campaign has left other facets almost entirely unexamined. Some of them are very interesting, while others are deeply concerning; the seeming decline in the importance of British foreign policy fits into both categories – and the effects of this shift could be tremendous not just for us here on some windswept islands in the North Sea, but for the world at large.  Continue reading