Things are done quite differently today. When populations are starved, held captive against their will, there are certain actions which can be put into place. It is very likely that there will be a camera present, for example, with which to document the atrocities in real time. It is likely that those affected, or those assigned to help them or to protect them, will have access to the sort of technology which allows for the dissemination of images, video footage, and personal testimony of the horrors sadly unfolding. Continue reading
Bertrand Russell is well known – indeed, he is revered by some – for his philosophy. But his writings, which stretched over a long and eventful life, frequently took on other subjects, many of them decidedly different. In July 1904, when he was a young man, Russell published an essay entitled “On History” in The Independent Review. This piece of writing is both simple and complex; the truths it contains – at least initially – could be seen to be little more than truisms; but this does not mean that they are not true, and nor does this suggest that they are not worth saying. Continue reading
In the novel Saturday, Ian McEwan rests an assessment of the state of the British nation upon a single man. During the course of one day, the reader bears witness to the story of Henry Perowne, a successful surgeon, a good man, whose experience becomes suddenly less secure and less detached through a deceptively minor incident on the road. Private dramas intermingle with national ones, and the whole book is shot through with a dramatic sense of place and time, beginning with what is perhaps the most visceral symbol of the fragility of the post-9/11 world order: a flaming aeroplane. (As is later elaborated, ‘everyone agrees, airliners look different in the skies’; they seem either ‘predatory or doomed’.) And unlike many novels of the same theme, which fictionalise events and float within a vaguely contemporary setting, McEwan’s effort is entirely rooted, nailed to the ground; it takes place explicitly on Saturday, February 15, 2003 – and its entire edifice is supported and contained within the context of the anti-war protests which took place on that day, as well as the prospect of war which animated them. Continue reading
The issue of Syria, it seems, will be with us for a long time to come. With analysts and even American officials predicting that Bashar al-Assad, the country’s dictatorial nominal ruler, will outlast President Obama, it seems good news – or at least insight which does not subscribe to entirely defeatist or entirely unhelpful positions – is in short supply and retains a vital importance. To this end I decided to investigate further the tales, visions and fates of those who form perhaps the most debated concept within Syria’s already complex conflict: the ‘good guys’. Many – including, perhaps paradoxically, those on the political Left – have alleged that they do not exist; that they are, in effect, politicised fabrications designed either to undermine or actively to overthrow Assad and restrain the influence of his Iranian allies. Others – possibly those of a less pessimistic mien – contend that while the ‘good guys’ may once have existed, they have since disappeared amid the fog of war, some of them becoming Islamists or being crushed, others fleeing the country entirely. Continue reading
The Roman genius was, in many ways, channelled through and marshalled in its creativity. Monuments, great feats of cultural and civic engineering, the notion of a long-lasting and unifying empire – all of these stand as testament to the legacy of Rome. An aspect of this abundant ingenuity can be found in the history of Roman law, and in its applications to other, later legal systems. Many of them owe a great deal, even if it is unspoken, to what came before. In this instance the hand of history is a heavy one; and since the rule of law and its corollaries are so essential to the equitable and prosperous arrangement and maintenance of society, such a subject is ripe for both study and – one hopes – interest.