From the Observer 30 May 2016
Freedom is worthless if it is not lived. However important rights are in a constitutional democracy, they will wither unless you use them. From John Milton’s polemics against the Presbyterian attempts to enforce Calvinist censorship on the England of the 1640s, via John Stuart Mill’s rebellion against the conformism of the Victorians, to Salman Rushdie’s argument with the Islamists, the urge to defend and expand freedom of speech has been created by the threats of its enemies
What applies to great writers applies to everyone else. No one thinks hard about freedom of speech until they are forced to. In Timothy Garton Ash’s case, the pressure came from within. Continue reading
The Observer 22 May 2016
Radical tourism is no different from sex tourism. In both the political and the coital, the inhabitants of the rich world go to the poor to find the thrills no one will give them at home.
Western men and women with nothing to recommend them except their wealth escape their sexless lives and buy prostitutes, who are not like those indifferent boys and girls who pass them in the street. They will play their part and pretend for a few hours or days to find the westerners sexually desirable. Sex tourist guides, in print and online, feed visitors’ illusions. In the Caribbean, readers are told that prostitutes aren’t prostitutes, just “nice” girls looking for a good time. In Thailand, bar girls aren’t exploited but engaged in a “fair trade”. Continue reading
The Observer 7 May 2016
Today’s populist movements attribute limitless malice and almost supernatural power to their opponents. They can rig markets, manipulate the media, fix foreign governments and call on unlimited resources as they plot to deceive “us”, “the people”.
The “people”, on this reading, are sweet and decent. Everything populists do, they do on our behalf. But the people are also rather thick. If it were not for the tireless efforts of populist parties, the elite would take us for the trusting fools we are, and herd us sheep-like into its pens. Continue reading
Standpoint April 2016
The approval of former MI6 agent John le Carré has not guaranteed the authenticity of the BBC’s dramatisation of The Night Manager. Those who know about the Middle East could barely make it through the first episode. Continue reading
From the Observer 25 March 2016
t is easy to see how Boris Johnson could be prime minister by the autumn. “Leave” wins, and David Cameron resigns. We already know that a majority of the 140,000 or so Conservative party members, who will decide the government of a country of 64 million, back him. Give them the chance, and they will put him in Downing Street.
If countries get the politicians they deserve, the possibility of a Johnson premiership suggests that the British are now a nation of charlatans. Continue reading
From the Observer 19 March 2016
It took me 40 years to become a Jew. When I was a child, I wasn’t a Jew and not only because I never went to a synagogue. My father’s family had abandoned their religion so he wasn’t Jewish. More to the point, my mother and my grandmother weren’t Jewish either, so according to orthodox Judaism’s principles of matrilineal descent, it was impossible for me to be a Jew.
All I had was the “Cohen” name. I once asked my parents why they had not changed it. After saying, quite rightly, that you should never seek to appease racists, they confessed to thinking that antisemitism was over by the 1960s. After Hitler, humanity would surely see where the world’s most insane hatred led and resolve to put it to one side.
Bertolt Brecht said: “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
My parents did not believe Brecht, at least not in the 1960s. Nor did I for a while. I Continue reading