The people disappeared in Syria’s military prisons do not have graves, but they do have names. They may not have been accorded funeral rites, but they have faces and stories and their families have memories of their presence. The war which has destroyed much of Syria can be localised: to a family, to a single person, to a face. And within the wider war lurk stories of cruelty and barbarism which affect individuals but whose effects spiral outwards. These specific instances of savagery become institutionalised. Continue reading
For some people, these islands seem just too small to satisfy their ambitions. Not content with Britain, many want to be known around the world; they want to be famous in a new and different way. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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