Jeremy Harding

Jeremy Harding is a contributing editor at the LRB, based in France.

From The Blog
27 October 2021

Last week the Israeli defence minister, Benny Gantz, signed an executive order designating six Palestinian NGOs as ‘terrorist’ organisations. One was Defence for Children International – Palestine, whose offices had been raided in July. Others included the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Workers’ Committees. The most distinguished ‘terrorist’ organisation under Gantz’s executive order is Al-Haq, a human rights NGO founded in the late 1970s, which focuses on legal issues in the Occupied Territories. Al-Haq’s primary purpose is to defend the rights of Palestinians under occupation.

Short Cuts: Nautical Dramas

Jeremy Harding, 15 July 2021

One​ of the most seductive items for sale on the website of Arthur Beale, yacht chandler, is a ‘chart work pack’ for just under thirty quid. It includes an elegant course plotter, two Staedtler pencils, a Staedtler eraser and a pair of brass dividers that looks like a primitive device for lancing an abscess. The pack is shown with its contents spread out on a nautical map titled...

Charlie’s War

Jeremy Harding, 4 February 2021

In an email to staff shortly before his murder, Samuel Paty explained that his class was meant to confront students with the following question: should cartoons of the Prophet not be published in order to avoid violence, or should they be published to keep ‘freedom’ alive? But neither of these questions is the right one. Better to set aside the matter of violence for a moment and ask simply: is contempt a fair weapon for the fourth estate – even a satirical paper – to wield against a minority? Charlie Hebdo couldn’t perform this abstraction, but a careful civics class might have done so. Now reintroduce the reality of murderous jihadist acts and ask whether Charlie’s war against bigotry and violence was a precision-target offensive, as it imagined, or just the indiscriminate carpet-bombing of Muslim sensibilities. In either case, was the effect to diminish jihadist violence or to increase it? Did Charlie’s obstinacy distinguish the enemy from the vast majority of French Muslims, or did it subject their republican loyalty to new kinds of stress?

From The Blog
6 January 2021

The late Pierre Cardin bought the château in 2001 and the arts school was acquired the following year by the Savannah College of Art and Design. That’s when the process of ruin in Lacoste underwent a curious reversal: the dilapidated castle was rapidly refurbished while the village beneath – population in the low hundreds – became a lifestyle showcase, like Cardin's high-end prêt-à-porter, as he began buying up property. Some of it was empty, but several residents were prêt-à-partir: his offers were too good to refuse.

From The Blog
1 December 2020

Lecturing at the Collège de France thirty years ago on the nature of the state, Pierre Bourdieu queried Weber’s notion that functioning states enjoy a monopoly of ‘legitimate physical violence’. Bourdieu already preferred the expression ‘legitimate and symbolic physical violence’, and in the lectures he commented: ‘One could even call it the “monopoly of legitimate symbolic violence”.’ In the last few years, the French police have overstepped the mark. The use of unreasonable force is nothing new. More worrying is the coincidence, on more than one occasion, of physical violence with sinister signals that make a mockery of the idea that the police are a ‘legitimate’ expression of symbolic violence on the part of the state. If they are, then France is in trouble.

The Arrestables: Extinction Rebellion

Jeremy Harding, 16 April 2020

The Red Brigade in London, October 2019

London, April 2019.​ Police have confined supporters of the environmentalist movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) at Marble Arch after more than a week of protests. The activists decide to disperse, but a mural remains at the site: a young girl with a spade has just planted a sapling; she is holding a plant label with the XR logo, an hourglass in a...

From The Blog
18 March 2020

Macron spoke again on Monday evening. His tone was more sombre; the time had come for a ‘general mobilisation’. ‘We are at war,’ he kept repeating. For most people, it turns out, the struggle will unfold without a trace of the martial virtues: these will be left to first-responders, medics and carers. The rest of us would simply have to crawl into the bunker and remain there ‘for at least 15 days’, effective from Tuesday noon, in the knowledge that the enemy, in Macron’s words, is ever-present, ‘invisible, elusive, making progress’. It isn’t inappropriate or tasteless to recall that in Camus, too, the plague ‘never ceased progressing’ or that it had ‘a characteristically jerky but unfaltering stride’.

The catacombs​ under the Left Bank were originally part of a complex of stone quarries, built over as Paris spread during the 13th century. By the 16th century subsidence had become a serious concern and from the 1780s an ad hoc process of infilling began, with human remains from overcrowded or sinking cemeteries dumped in the galleries. Tourists now enter the catacombs near the metro...

The Hell out of Dodge: Woodstock 1969

Jeremy Harding, 15 August 2019

This month​ marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock festival. Michael Lang, the tenacious 24-year-old who made Woodstock happen, has a habit of surfacing at Woodstock birthdays: one book to mark the tenth anniversary, another to mark the fortieth, a couple of namesake concerts and now a coffee-table volume of photos from the 1969 festival, plus brief explanatory notes. Earlier this...

At Tate Britain: Don McCullin

Jeremy Harding, 18 April 2019

Don​ McCullin’s retrospective at Tate Britain (until 6 May) is proof that it pays for a photojournalist covering victims of conflict and hardship to get up close: not quite eyeball to eyeball, but near enough to suggest a portrait. Most of McCullin’s photographs ask us to look frankly at the human face, and often our gaze is reciprocated. Even a dead soldier with the North...

Among the Gilets Jaunes

Jeremy Harding, 21 March 2019

When they gathered at roads and roundabouts at the end of last year, the French government was caught off guard. Within a week of their first nationwide mobilisation, they were turning out regularly at intersections across the country to slow up traffic, and marching through Paris and the big provincial cities. Hasty polls announced that 70 or 80 per cent of the population, including many in France’s largest conurbations, supported this massive show of impatience. Yet the gilets jaunes first came together beyond the margins of the major cities, in rural areas and small towns with rundown services, low-wage economies and dwindling commerce. They were suspicious of the burgeoning metropolitan areas. Among them are people who grew up in city centres but can no longer afford to live in them: these barbarians know where they are when they arrive at the gates.

Between them​ France and Britain had more than 450 million imperial subjects at the start of World War One. Germany, despite the geographical size of its African acquisitions, had fewer than 20 million. All three empires threw colonial manpower into the conflict, in Africa, Anatolia, the Middle East and Europe. In Britain, as in Germany, there was strong resistance to the idea of African...

At the Arts Club: Sanlé Sory

Jeremy Harding, 25 October 2018

The​ photographer Sanlé Sory was born in the 1940s in French West Africa. At independence in 1960 he became a ‘Voltaic’, or a citizen of Haute Volta, and in 1984, a ‘Burkinabe’: the new head of state, Thomas Sankara, had combined two non-colonial languages to rename Haute Volta as Burkina Faso, ‘the land of the upright’. By then Sory’s work...

Diary: My ’68

Jeremy Harding, 19 July 2018

It seems​ no more than a moment since the recent commemorations of May 1968 – fifty up – were superseded by the anniversary of the June Days in Paris in 1848. No celebrations or hand-wringings for that brief, explosive insurrection, a few days after the summer solstice 170 years ago. The uprising was triggered by the closure of a job-creation scheme set up under the provisional...

‘We​ had seen bare land/And the people bare on it’: two lines from a retrospective poem by George Oppen that appeared in 1963 in a small magazine published out of New Rochelle, the poet’s birthplace. Oppen (b. 1908) had recently broken a long silence and become a poet of his time – the 1960s and 1970s – however much he may have insisted, as he did in the same...

At the Pompidou: David Goldblatt

Jeremy Harding, 26 April 2018

‘The​ South African labour market,’ Charles van Onselen writes in New Nineveh, ‘has always been dominated by … mining, agriculture and domestic service.’ Van Onselen’s two-volume history of ‘everyday life in the Witwatersrand’, a long ridge on the Highveld, explores the period from the mid-1880s when the discovery of gold propelled South...

InL’Age d’homme, his early excursion into autobiography, Michel Leiris recalls his mother warning him to beware of ‘bad people’ in the Bois de Boulogne. He imagined the predators in the woods to be ‘satyrs’, and later, cannibals: he had been struck by an exotic colour illustration in Le Pêle-Mêle, a humorous weekly, of ‘savages’...

The commune​ of Gurs in the foothills of the Pyrenees is famous for its internment camp, built by the French to house fugitives from Spain after the Republic fell to Franco in 1939. A succession of internees went through the camp before it closed on New Year’s Eve 1945. With the Spanish Republicans came International Brigade volunteers who couldn’t get home – Germans,...

At Tate Modern: Giacometti

Jeremy Harding, 17 August 2017

Alberto​ Giacometti (b.1901) had his first postwar show in France at the Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1951. From 1941 to 1945, he had been stranded in his native Switzerland, working on tiny sculptures that he brought back to Paris – so the story goes – in matchboxes. He had started scaling up since then, creating the austere works in plaster and bronze for which he’s now...

Bristling Ermine: R.W. Johnson

Jeremy Harding, 4 May 2017

R.W. Johnson​ is a long-standing contributor to the LRB. His first appearance was on the letters page in 1981, where he took ‘mild issue’ with a review of his most celebrated book, The Long March of the French Left. In 1984 he wrote a memorable piece about national intelligence agencies, and the following year, a homage to Pierre Mendès France, one of the best pieces the...

Whose Republican Front?

Jeremy Harding, 20 April 2017

This election has been an argument about ‘the system’, with three leading contenders claiming to oppose it. Two are left in the race, and one – Macron – cannot be taken at his word on this score. The other – Le Pen – has done everything she can to present the FN as a system-friendly party, while proclaiming her intention to tear up many of the rules. (As Sunday looms into prospect, Camus has warned that the FN is still the party it always was.) But what is ‘the system’ exactly?

Ana Teresa Fernández, a Mexican artist living in the US, has painted bits of the wall with camouflage colours – mostly sky-blue – to create the illusion that a section has been removed. From a distance her trompe l’oeil gaps in the wall invite you to saunter through. Who can object to plans to reverse the ecological damage, build a binational movie theatre, or more passageways for local wildlife? But a wall is a wall, whether it’s rough and ugly, like its most powerful advocate, or kitted out as something other than itself.

Candidate Macron: The French Elections

Jeremy Harding, 16 March 2017

Defeat, for the left, is once again a badge of honour. It may also be a relief. Hollande has bequeathed nothing for a new administration of the left to build on.

Dead Man’s Voice: A Dictator Novel

Jeremy Harding, 19 January 2017

‘I am not​ a dictator,’ the hero of Yasmina Khadra’s latest novel assures himself as his end approaches. ‘I am the uncompromising sentinel, the she-wolf protecting her little ones … the untameable jealous tiger that urinates on international conventions to mark his territory.’ Not long afterwards we find him stumbling through a field as his jubilant...

The most recent​ of William Kentridge’s works on display in Thick Time at the Whitechapel Gallery (until 15 January) is called Right into Her Arms. It’s also one of the best. A raised stage, three metres long, about a metre high, is dressed with a flimsy backdrop of beige, brown, grey; here and there are torn swatches of yellow, green and maroon. At first we seem to see an...

At the Centre Pompidou: Beat Generation

Jeremy Harding, 8 September 2016

In​ the Beat constellation, Allen Ginsberg’s star now shines more brightly than the rest. True, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs glowed on in the aftermath of On the Road (1957) and Naked Lunch (1959); Brion Gysin, inventor of the cut-up technique, is still visible on a clear night. But the beautiful Lucien Carr, an Alain Delon lookalike drawn into the Beat circle by a smitten...

Short Cuts: The Morning After

Jeremy Harding, 14 July 2016

I spent​ the morning of 24 June listening to the referendum results on the BBC, slept briefly, opened the laptop and began looking into the possibility of Irish citizenship in a strangely upbeat frame of mind. I discovered later that my British relatives in France – in-laws, partner, children – were downloading documents about becoming French. The Irish option is less...

At the Grand Palais: Seydou Keïta

Jeremy Harding, 30 June 2016

In January​ 1939, an itinerant Angolan sent a postcard from the Belgian Congo to a friend back home. ‘Salute my wife,’ he wrote. ‘Tell her that her old husband still has not lost the fire of his youth. He faces thundering rain and hunger, but he goes by canoe, carrying loads as if he were a boy of 18.’ Antoine Freitas was approaching 40 when he wrote the card; the...

A Rage for Abstraction

Jeremy Harding, 16 June 2016

French intellectual tradition is often happier than its rival Anglo-Saxon versions to put the world – and the fact – in parenthesis for as long as the conversation is worth having. We know, too, that it’s happy to reason on the basis of statistics but loath to slam ‘facts’ on the table like marked aces. It’s also noticeable that nature writing hasn’t caught on there as it has in the UK: in France writing is still first and foremost a performance of culture. A writer venturing into the wild with a smartphone and a notepad has got to be joking; only scientists and civil servants should be doing this.

Apartheid’s Last Stand

Jeremy Harding, 17 March 2016

Angolans sustained immense losses in the fight to end apartheid. It was certainly heroic, but it was ruinous too: most of the dead and damaged were civilians, offered up for sacrifice by the party-state. Today’s poor Angolans – probably half the country – are scarcely more prosperous than their grandparents were, but the rich are decidedly richer. Angola’s future may look brighter once its old elites have been buried with honour and good riddance.

I am French

Jeremy Harding, 21 January 2016

In January 2012 François Hollande, socialist candidate for the presidency, announced on the campaign trail that his ‘true’ enemy was finance capitalism. In the space of twenty years it had taken control of ‘the economy, society, our very own lives’. A few weeks later in London, where the British public had bailed out the City with mixed feelings, Hollande backed off. It was not the enemy; it was merely in need of a conversation with the real world. Mitterrand, too, was eloquent on the subject of money.

At the RA: Richard Diebenkorn

Jeremy Harding, 7 May 2015

Three years or so​ before his death, Richard Diebenkorn illustrated an elegant volume of Yeats’s poems from Arion Press in San Francisco, introduced by Helen Vendler. Vendler had already done an edition of Ashbery’s ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’ for Arion, printed on roundel pages – wheels of paper 18” in diameter – with work by several...

Short Cuts: David Jones’s War

Jeremy Harding, 19 March 2015

Last year​ – year one of the Great War centenary – David Jones’s In Parenthesis, a long prose-and-verse evocation of his first months as a soldier, got a decent outing. The poet Owen Sheers drew on the text for his play Mametz at National Theatre Wales in the summer; Faber reissued the book with T.S. Eliot’s introduction in its series Poets of the Great War; and in

The Castaway: Algeria’s Camus

Jeremy Harding, 4 December 2014

December​ 1938 in a large provincial city. It’s the last chance for the council to agree the municipal budget; in the chamber a reporter from the local paper tries to wring a bit of fun from a drab occasion. As a dignitary ploughs through a lengthy preamble, restless councillors begin to doodle (one makes a paper windmill from the minutes of an earlier meeting). A few days later an...

Short Cuts: The Wyatt Continuum

Jeremy Harding, 20 November 2014

Robert Wyatt​ is one of the last survivors of the 1960s pop music scene in Britain. He has been recording for nearly half a century. He was said to be reckless and unfocused for most of his life, but he’s also the best sort of slow-burner moving along at his own pace. Having gone for it late in the day, he hung on to his ‘tankie’ party card – Communist Party of Great...

Short Cuts: La Grande Hollandaise

Jeremy Harding, 25 September 2014

Valérie Trierweiler​’s book about her life as a grande Hollandaise and France’s first lady, and then – abruptly – neither of those, is more hair-raising than the extracts in Paris Match suggested when they appeared on the eve of publication at the beginning of September. Her pain levels are out of control; rage, jealousy, self-pity, self-flattery and malice...

Gloomy Pageant: Britain Comma Now

Jeremy Harding, 31 July 2014

What happens when you set out to look the present in the eye but can’t quite bear the thought? Much of David Marquand’s powerful essay about ‘Britain, now’ is an elegy for a lost past, unsullied by ‘masterless capitalism’, a sad story of the light growing dim, good running to bad, the public realm hollowed out by vested interests, greed and unexamined selfishness: a ‘moral economy’ transformed by unfettered markets and the ideology that contrived to shove them down our (obliging) throats. All this is presented with the clarity of a historian who never lost his faith in Britain’s institutions.

Short Cuts: ‘Inside the Dream Palace’

Jeremy Harding, 6 February 2014

The only time I stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, a few years ago, I kept thinking about Gilbert Sorrentino’s Splendide-Hôtel (1973), a slim volume of meditations, 27 in all, organised from A to Z – a segment per letter, plus one for good measure. Sorrentino took his cue from a line in Rimbaud’s Illuminations: ‘And the Hôtel Splendide was built in the chaos of ice...

You might think you’re looking at an advent calendar, but there is no Nativity in this stunning set of paintings from the church of Däräsge Maryam in northern Ethiopia. The church was built by order of Webe Hayla Maryam, an energetic Amhara warlord, in the 1850s. By then Webe’s conquests had taken him as far as Tigray and the Red Sea port of Massawa in his bid to become...

In Shanghai: Portrait of the Times

Jeremy Harding, 10 October 2013

Portraits – likenesses of living persons – began to appear in China about 2500 years ago. The tradition may be long, but the breadth and scale of the genre are even more striking, especially when portraiture is asked to perform broader duties than the depiction of people. The portrait of a continent is not the same as the portrait of a lady, say, and neither is a ‘portrait...

Do it in Gaelic: Australia’s Boat-People

Jeremy Harding, 26 September 2013

The Australian Labor Party’s defeat at the polls on 7 September seemed likely long before the country had any sense of the opposition’s spending projections. Kevin Rudd and his campaigners were sure they could see the spending gap. They stuck in a finger and tried to create a gaping hole. But when they proclaimed a $10 billion shortfall in Tony Abbott’s budget plans, two...

How you punish a thief, in Plato, depends on the nature of the theft – and always on the status of the thief. The thing that’s stolen is also an issue. In the Laws a slave who steals ‘an object of no great value’ should be soundly beaten. But if a free man steals the same object, he should repay the owner ten times its value. What’s ten times ‘no great...

The South African anthropologist Isak Niehaus has been interested in magic and its role in the organisation of social systems for 25 years. He has explored the workings of circumcision lodges, met promiscuous men held in check by the occult skills of their wives, investigated prison life and peered into miners’ barracks, where homosexual partnerships have the formality of marriage, as...

Short Cuts: Erratic Weather

Jeremy Harding, 11 April 2013

It’s hard to think of a culture that doesn’t keep an eye on the weather, yet we imagine it to be a thoroughly British habit. The painters are among the best observers, and Turner the grandest. Shortly before he died he was discovered on the floor of his sickroom in Cheyne Walk, having tried to reach the window and a view of the Thames. His doctor recalled how ‘the sun broke...

A Kind of Greek: Frank Thompson

Jeremy Harding, 7 March 2013

Preliminary sketches for the great canvas of the Cold War were already under way in the Balkans in the summer of 1944 when Frank Thompson was executed. Bulgaria was a member of the Axis and Frank, older brother of the historian E.P. Thompson, was on a mission in the country for Special Operations Executive: the idea was that anti-Nazi partisans should be encouraged and supported in their...

Short Cuts: Depardieu in Belgium

Jeremy Harding, 24 January 2013

There is no hiding place in France for anyone who wants time off from Gérard Depardieu, or Georges, the insidious, attractive fortysomething we remember in Peter Weir’s Green Card (1990). The idea that Depardieu has gone or is going anywhere is endlessly tantalising: he has never been more insistent, more palpably at home or preposterous than he is now, as he promises the French...

Diary: Ash Dieback

Jeremy Harding, 6 December 2012

Dieback. Four weeks ago the government was contemplating an inferno of ash trees from top to bottom and east to west of the UK. The press were talking up the enemy, Chalara fraxinea, as the mother of all fungi, a Milosevic-Saddam pathogen that had to be stopped in its tracks. The trouble was that no one knew how to target the offender. The next thought, it followed, was that we should eliminate all infected trees, not just saplings imported from Europe but mature ash in British forests. Maybe even healthy trees near infected ones: deny the predator the prey.

Short Cuts: Handwriting

Jeremy Harding, 8 November 2012

‘We are fighting a losing battle,’ Philip Hensher writes in The Missing Ink, his funny, exasperated book in defence of handwriting.* He has no difficulty spotting the enemy. Consider the advice from the Indiana Department of Education last year that only proficiency with a keyboard would be expected of pupils in its charge. (Schools ‘can continue to teach handwriting if they...

Short Cuts: Who is François Hollande?

Jeremy Harding, 13 September 2012

Before he ran for the Socialist Party nomination in 2011 François Hollande was an identikit politician: son of a left-wing Catholic mother and avidly right-wing father, degree from Sciences-Po, brilliant énarque, father of four (with Ségolène Royal), bon viveur and party machine man, tracing a line from Mitterrand through Jacques Delors to Lionel Jospin. When Jospin...

Short Cuts: ‘Magnum Contact Sheets’

Jeremy Harding, 2 August 2012

In 1974 Ian Berry won a bursary from the Arts Council to photograph ‘the English’. He’d already made his name in South Africa as the only photographer to record the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. Two years later Cartier-Bresson invited him to join Magnum. He went on to work in Vietnam, Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland and Ethiopia; he was in Czechoslovakia in 1968. When the...

What was troubling Julian Assange when he made a dash for friendly extra-territorial space? His detractors argue that it’s the usual story, to do with his propensity to see himself as the centre of the universe, and the target of an improbable plot to lock him up in the US and throw away the key. That last honour has already been bestowed on Bradley Manning. In the leaker, surely, the Americans have their man: why bother with his celebrity publisher?

Short Cuts: The French Election

Jeremy Harding, 10 May 2012

French voters in London were out in force on 22 April. At the new French school in Kentish Town – primary through lycée, fee-paying – there were four lines of blue and white tape running the length of the courtyard and hundreds of people moving towards the voting booths in a good-natured queue. Outside the gate a graphic designer in her thirties from Limousin said...

Diary: In Bordeaux

Jeremy Harding, 5 April 2012

Bordeaux is a fussy city, it’s sometimes said, overinvested in the wine trade, with a high opinion of itself; but that’s not my impression. Three years ago we began renting an apartment in the neighbourhood of St Michel. The building is solid but a bit neglected and the flat itself, at forty square metres, a squeeze for two, sometimes three. Still, there are advantages. Rental...

There are plenty of reasons for parents to push their children about, or rally them when they seem to slump. But it’s important to listen to them too, unless they’re rehearsing the plot of a movie that’s just sent the nanny into a coma on the beanbag. Listening is one of the many things that Pamela Druckerman feels French parents get right. The source of this success, she...

Europe at Bay: The Immigration Battle

Jeremy Harding, 9 February 2012

A young, personable man who speaks fair English, Hamraz had been in Dunkirk for about a month when we met. He was a member of the Afghan National Army, from the district of Azra, south-east of Kabul. Early in 2011, going home on leave, he was called to account by local Taliban as a collaborator and told he would have to take part in a car-bomb attack on a nearby hospital if he wanted to redeem himself. He couldn’t return to his regiment without putting his family at risk and he couldn’t stay in Azra, so he left the country.

At the V&A: 50 Years of ‘Private Eye’

Jeremy Harding, 15 December 2011

The main feature of Private Eye: The First Fifty Years, at the V&A until 8 January, is a large wall plastered with the magazine’s covers. A monumental celebration, on a grand scale, of a scruffy little rag whose production values, to this day, owe much to its memorable antecedent, the British Railways lavatory roll. It’s a good thing that only one of them has lived to tell the...

The Deaths Map: At the Mexican Border

Jeremy Harding, 20 October 2011

Migration is said to be good for host cultures. Geographers, demographers and business people believe it is, especially in the US, where one migrant group after another – Jews, Poles, Italians, Irish – has auditioned for a role in the great musical of American identity. The competition has been bitter, especially between newcomers and predecessors, and the typecasting has been crude, yet sooner or later every minority earns its place in the chorus. Nonetheless there’s a growing sense in some parts of the US that enough is enough, the stage is full to capacity and the show can no longer go on as it has. The source of this impatience is illegal immigration from Mexico.

Diary: In Palestine

Jeremy Harding, 25 August 2011

Every time one of my students reaches towards the middle of the table for the biscuits, there is a peal of thunder from the speaker in the ceiling, followed by the sound of supersize rats in a warehouse full of tinfoil. The conversation comes to a halt for a moment, but the students are oblivious: this is a video conference, and though we’re all on British Council premises I’m in...

Short Cuts: Marine Le Pen

Jeremy Harding, 14 April 2011

Jean-François Copé, leader of Sarkozy’s party, the UMP, sends regular emails to the public. On the right’s poor showing in the first round of cantonal elections, for example: ‘The presidential majority held up rather better than some people predicted.’ We waited impatiently for his upbeat summary of the second round, on 27 March, from which the UMP limped...

Diary: Hitchens

Jeremy Harding, 31 March 2011

I heard a few bars of Chris Corner’s song ‘I Salute You Christopher’ a day or so before the new IAMX album, Volatile Times, was released. The song, which appears on the album, is subtitled ‘Ode to Christopher Hitchens’: ‘I salute you Christopher/I salute your life/How you played the dice…’ That ‘played’, in the past tense, has the ring of a funeral bell and a cracked one at that. I’d like to think that Sexton Corner had got this wrong, but what do I know? ‘I’m dying,’ Christopher Hitchens told Jeffrey Goldberg last year. ‘Everybody is, but the process has suddenly accelerated on me.’ The worry at this stage is that the system may soon have failed entirely and we’ll be left in the lurch. I don’t relish a world without Hitchens: along with many people, I like to hear from a man of principle at moments when recourse to principle strikes him as the greater part of valour, and listen in on his boisterous indiscretion when it doesn’t.

Where the Jihadis Are: How to Spot a Jihadi

Jeremy Harding, 17 February 2011

Scott Atran’s book about jihad and the wilder fringes of Islam is ambitious, noisy, scuffed at the edges. The Maghreb, Palestine, Syria, Kashmir, Indonesia: Atran has been there, brought home the findings and done his best to explain what turns people into suicide bombers and jihadis in Muslim countries, where mostly they are tiny slivers of the population, and non-Muslim countries,...

Short Cuts: Les WikiLeaks

Jeremy Harding, 16 December 2010

Last month’s release of US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks raised some eyebrows in France. Le Monde, one of the selected press outlets in the latest syndication, posed as the honest, bustling broker, in the manner of the Guardian. But Le Figaro (right of centre) got on its high horse to denounce the leaks and even Libération (left of centre) saddled up the donkey. What...

Made in Algiers: De Gaulle

Jeremy Harding, 4 November 2010

At the military academy in Saint-Cyr, which he entered in 1908, Charles de Gaulle was known as ‘the great asparagus’. But aside from the fact that he stood six feet four in his socks it was his character that drew attention: he was rebellious yet aloof, sceptical yet sure of himself. Not everyone admired his manner and his height could be a nuisance. In 1940, when engine failure...

Short Cuts: Basil Davidson

Jeremy Harding, 5 August 2010

Writing about Basil Davidson’s work for the LRB blog a few days after his death last month, I’d a sense that there was more to say. The record is magnificent: his sterling work in occupied Yugoslavia for the Special Operations Executive during the war, his books about this period, and then, famously, the histories of precolonial Africa and the writings on the anti-colonial...

Short Cuts: Caliban’s Lunch

Jeremy Harding, 24 June 2010

My English teacher used to disparage Caroline Spurgeon. Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells Us was too systematic for the honest amateur with dottle in his ashtray, the sort who took his pupils through Antony and Cleopatra in the morning and watched from his shooting stick as they toiled at sports in the afternoon. Still, you can make a case for treating Shakespeare as a force of...

When food experts speak about ‘resilience’, they are expressing concern about the hair-trigger system of delivery in Britain. Supermarkets are the genii of the logistics game: barcodes going through the checkout enable a precision-picture of the state of the shelves in any given outlet and trip the switch for incoming orders, which arrive ‘just in time’: the process is so finely tuned that most of the warehousing a supermarket chain requires can be handled by a fleet of lorries plying our motorways round the clock. In the new thinking, this is cutting it fine, like only ever refilling the tank of your car with a couple of litres: it works as long as there’s nothing you hadn’t thought of, but it also means that Britain is never much further than ‘nine meals from anarchy’, as Andrew Simms, head of the New Economics Foundation, put it.

Pavements Like Jelly: Paris Under Water

Jeremy Harding, 28 January 2010

For seven days Paris was like a sinking ship, filling with water from above and below, as its inhabitants took to the lifeboats. On 24 January 1910 the Assembly met to vote an emergency budget for the city and other regions hit by the flood. Members had to be rowed across the courtyard of the Palais Bourbon to take part. The following day, the electricity in the Assembly went down, as it had already in much of Paris.

Terrorist for Sale: Guantánamo

Jeremy Harding, 5 November 2009

There were 245 detainees at Camp Delta in Guantánamo when President Obama was sworn in this year and there are now about 220. When Guantánamo is mothballed, as he wants, some 80 of those will get asylum in a third country or find themselves repatriated. The US administration aims to prosecute around 60 others and hold the rest indefinitely, because they can’t be brought to...

Paralysed by the Absence of Danger: Spain, 1937

Jeremy Harding, 24 September 2009

Lois and Charles Orr, an inquisitive, left-of-left couple, arrived in Barcelona in the autumn of 1936. Charles was 30, a serious fellow from Michigan; Lois was 19, more or less fresh from Kentucky. They had married earlier in the year and decided on a honeymoon in Europe. In Catalonia, a matter of weeks after Franco’s military uprising against the Second Spanish Republic, they settled...

Right, Left and Centre: Keith Kyle

Jeremy Harding, 6 August 2009

Bound for an airport in the US in the 1950s, Keith Kyle, then the Washington correspondent for the Economist, stopped off at a pharmacy, dashed in, dashed out, hailed a cab and only remembered, an hour or so later at altitude, that he’d left his own car at the store with the engine running. His posthumous memoir, Keith Kyle, Reporting the World, is about the world as he saw it, the many...

After the defeat of the Arabs in June 1967, many Palestinians who’d been driven east over the Jordan River by the fighting tried desperately to return to their homes by slipping back across. The bridges, including the Allenby Bridge, had been damaged, but the patched-up remains were serviceable. The Allenby Bridge crossing was closely guarded, however, and used by the soldiers on...

The first part of Jeremy Harding’s piece on Sharia finance can be read here.

The rules that govern Islamic banking and finance are non-negotiable, cast in tradition, as good as stone. A finance house that sticks to the plot will not come to grief in a credit crisis; neither will its clients. Yet once large sums are involved – sums beyond the reach of modest customers –...

The Money that Prays: Sharia Finance

Jeremy Harding, 30 April 2009

Last September, as dust and debris from the tellers’ floors began raining onto the empty vaults below, a note of satisfaction was sounded by bankers in the Arab world. Financial institutions sticking to the tenets of Islam, they announced, were largely immune from the debt crisis. Devout Muslims may lend and borrow under certain conditions; they can even buy and sell debt in the form of ‘Islamic’ bonds, but most other kinds of debt trading are frowned on.

Short Cuts: The French Foreign Legion

Jeremy Harding, 26 March 2009

The Foreign Legion is in the doghouse again, as it is from time to time in France. The scandal turns on a 25-year-old Slovakian, Jozef Svarusko, who died of heart failure in Djibouti last year, within a few months of enlisting, when he found himself on the business end of the Legion’s ‘test-your-limits’ philosophy: forced march, bad knee, permission to rest denied, water...

Short Cuts: Ezra Pound in Italy

Jeremy Harding, 23 October 2008

Although the view over the bay is good, Rapallo has surely lost the charms it held for the celebrities of the past, including Ezra Pound and his friends. Drifting around it a few years ago, Roy Foster (LRB, 30 November 2000) thought Rapallo an ‘inescapably bourgeois’ place. He could find nothing to commemorate ‘the embarrassing Pound’ on the building in Via Marsala...

At the time of the parliamentary elections in Serbia earlier this summer, the possibility that Radovan Karadzic, once the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, might be handed over to stand trial at The Hague seemed remote. The acquittal of the former KLA leader Ramush Haradinaj in April had stunned opinion in Serbia and added to the sense that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a Serb-grinding machine which spat out Bosnians, Kosovo Albanians and Croats intact. The idea of any more Serbs going on trial was not popular: even someone like Karadzic, born in Montenegro, long resident in Sarajevo and regarded by many as a ludicrous figure. His arrest late last month illustrates how rapidly things are changing in Serbia, and how keen the new pro-European leadership is to drive its policies forward. The process of EU accession has long been conditional on the delivery of the big three: Karadzic, Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb wanted for the massacre of Croats in Vukovar in 1991, and Ratko Mladic, the hands-on commander at Srebrenica. But the capture of Dr Karadzic – psychiatrist, poet, New Age healer, telegenic bigot and mass murderer – is the greater public relations coup.

You can listen to Radio Three on a laptop anywhere these days, or run Five Live through a Sky digibox in, say, the Dordogne. In the days before this was possible, it was the World Service that kept hundreds of thousands of people from acute information-deficit disorder if they happened to stray beyond the range of the home service. In sub-Saharan Africa, a stone’s throw nowadays from a...

‘Humanitarian intervention’ has little to show for its brief appearance on the international stage. It arrived too late for Rwanda, gestured helplessly at Bosnia and, at last, in 2003, it was discovered in the arms of Shock and Awe, where it died of shame. Only Kosovo Albanians, about 1.8 million people, still applaud the violent expulsion of Slobodan Milosevic from their province in 1999. However they are less sure about the legacy of intervention and the advantages of being a United Nations protectorate.

In Order of Rank: Paris 1940

Jeremy Harding, 8 May 2008

About half a million anxious people left Paris in September 1939 after the declaration of war. Then a workaday calm reclaimed the city, as French propaganda continued playing in the key of imminent victory: the government, headed by the right-leaning Radical Edouard Daladier, convinced most of France that the Allies would be more than a match for the Wehrmacht. No doubt there were still...

Short Cuts: on commemoration

Jeremy Harding, 6 March 2008

For societies that decide to memorialise victims of persecution (genocides, invasions, civil wars, military dictatorships, police states), notions like deterrence and aversion come quickly into play. But they are the poor cousins of ‘memory’, an almost mystical concept in these circumstances and crucial to any discussion as to why the world is caught up in a ‘global rush to...

Régis Debray has led the fullest of lives, embroiled in ideology, controversy and action. As a young man at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, he sat at the feet of Louis Althusser; he trained in the use of assault weapons with Fidel Castro; he trod the thankless Bolivian forests with Che Guevara and served nearly four years in jail for his trouble. In Chile he was taken up by Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda. Ten years later he became an adviser at the Elysée to François Mitterrand, his country’s only postwar socialist president. He is a revolutionary Third Worldist turned revisionist, turned Gaullist – his Gaullism a lament for the absence of credible leaders anywhere on the European horizon. He is, above all, a sceptic sorting through the ruins of his former world-historical ambitions, though from time to time the eyes of an unreconstructed optimist gleam behind the mask of the disabused older man.

Short Cuts: Embedded in Iraq

Jeremy Harding, 29 November 2007

Getting embedded in Iraq is less controversial than you’d think, to judge from the views of journalists who’ve worked there since the invasion. Our own man Patrick Cockburn believes it’s a ‘great mistake to go with American units and report on any Iraqi city’ because local people can’t talk frankly in front of the military. But Cockburn is clearly...

Praise for the Hands: Rugby’s Early Years

Jeremy Harding, 18 October 2007

Twenty years ago at Eden Park, Auckland, as the minutes ticked down to the final of the first rugby union world cup, a correspondent for Libération caught the mood in the French changing room. ‘The players enter without a word … A few coughs, the sound of shoes and bags dropped on the floor. Almost immediately the rasping sound of adhesive tape torn from spools. It will...

Most of the expatriates in France who had to run for their lives in 1940 made for Marseille, which had working consulates, maritime companies and smuggling networks. The people in the greatest danger were anti-Fascist Germans and Jews of any political persuasion, followed by assorted individuals who had blotted their copybooks in a manner the Gestapo was sure to ascertain or invent. ‘Human trafficking’ had become the order of the day and remained so, long after the hope of leaving by boat had turned out, for most, to be illusory.

An elderly white man steps through his front gate on the allée de la Chapelle in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, ignoring the commotion two doors down, where a Haitian in his thirties is haranguing a bored reporter about being out of work. Behind them, through a front garden stacked with boxes and dead computer parts, journalists and visitors come and go, mobiles ablaze. The building is on loan as an HQ to the Association Collectif Liberté Egalité Fraternité Ensemble Unis. The acronym is much less ponderous: ACLEFEU, pronounced ‘assez le feu’ or ‘no more burning’. From here the members of the collective continue the painstaking work they began last year, persuading younger inhabitants in the area, and in banlieues all over France, to get their names onto the electoral register.

If any of us has seen the places in the developing world that Mike Davis catalogues remorselessly in Planet of Slums, it was probably from an aeroplane. That doesn't always mean 35,000 feet, for as Davis points out, poorer people tend to colonise the marginal land of cities where air terminals were once built at a comfortable distance from prosperous centres of medium or high population density. Prosperity in the newer, informal urban environment – in Caracas or Lagos, say – is reckoned by incomparably different standards. Davis, the urban historian who also excels at apocalyptic geography, sketches the various ways in which its inhabitants can make ends meet. He also lists ways, based mostly on exploitation, in which they might even profit. In the end, the burgeoning pauper conurbations are as wretched as they look from the cabin window.

At Quai Branly: Jacques Chirac’s museum

Jeremy Harding, 4 January 2007

Jacques Chirac’s museum on the quai Branly, opened last summer, continues to pull large crowds at weekends. Chirac, a long-time admirer of what used to be called ‘primitive’ art, made a great deal of noise at the start of his first presidential term about the need to show the various public collections to better advantage. He suggested, not entirely in passing, that some of...

Short Cuts: Shot At Dawn

Jeremy Harding, 30 November 2006

Remembrance Sunday this year was a good one for the Shot at Dawn campaigners. Since 1990 they have sought pardons for more than three hundred servicemen executed during World War One for ‘military offences’: desertion, cowardice and disobedience. The pardons, announced by the MoD in August, were largely the result of growing press coverage, discreet encouragement from the Irish...

Shatila is a short car journey out of Beirut and a few minutes on foot down a street full of market stalls. You pass a refuse heap where goats browse and small children smash up polystyrene packaging, duck into any of the narrow alleys to your right and enter one of the oldest refugee camps in the world.

Short Cuts: Blair’s comedy turns

Jeremy Harding, 7 September 2006

When Barbara Castle told Harold Wilson that renegotiating Britain’s membership of Europe would end in ‘a messy middle-of-the-road muddle’, Wilson replied that he felt ‘at his best in a messy middle-of-the-road muddle’. This from Wilson’s official biographer, Philip Ziegler. Wilson had one or two good jokes, unlike Callaghan or poor Attlee, so often the butt...

Short Cuts: Spook Fiction

Jeremy Harding, 3 August 2006

Liz Carlyle, Stella Rimington’s fictional MI5 officer, is a bit of a puzzle to fans of sleuthing, spookery and old-fashioned cloak and dagger. The trouble, to begin with anyhow, is that in Secret Asset, ‘the second Liz Carlyle novel’ (Hutchinson, £12.99), inference and deduction are decidedly lowbrow skills. We can tell this right away from the information on the...

The Habit of War: Eritrea

Jeremy Harding, 20 July 2006

Eritrea’s war of independence, waged against its imperial neighbour Ethiopia, lasted 30 years and ended in 1991. Often, in the British media, the case against covering the conflict was that if no one had heard of it, it couldn’t be worth the trouble. That kind of argument, which plumps the cushions for the proof to lie on, is hard to counter. Telling the story to a wide non-specialist audience is a daunting prospect and few people have tried; the most successful, until now, was Thomas Keneally, whose novel Towards Asmara (1989), set in the guerrilla-held areas at the time of the liberation war, was a picaresque homage to the Eritrean people. Michela Wrong has attempted something different: an idiosyncratic, free-ranging history of Eritrea, from colonial times to the present, marvellously full of anecdote, archive and interview material.

Behind the Sandwall: Morocco’s Shame

Jeremy Harding, 23 February 2006

Some of the words we use about Africa die hard. No African civilians on the run from injustice, war or hunger can bide their time in mere ‘camps’. They have to be ‘makeshift camps’. And there is no hearing about the armed conflicts from which many of them have fled without reference sooner or later to ‘Africa’s forgotten war’. The conflict in Western Sahara, the subject of Toby Shelley’s book, was often referred to as a forgotten war. It also displaced a large number of the territory’s inhabitants, whose camps are in no sense makeshift: the Sahrawi refugees from former Spanish Sahara have been stranded across the border in Algeria for thirty years now.

Short Cuts: the benefits of self-censorship

Jeremy Harding, 23 February 2006

The row over the cartoons of the Prophet has pitted freedom of speech against the concept of blasphemy and looks at first sight like a head-on clash of secular and religious traditions. This is pretty much how the French press came to see it once the trouble erupted again, following the reprints in France Soir. It’s the kind of problem that crops up from time to time, said Charb, a...

Diary: Among the Arsonists

Jeremy Harding, 1 December 2005

Of the many graffiti to be found in the Paris banlieues just now – and creeping into the city itself – the most apt has surely been the simple injunction: ‘Riot!’ In French, this newish addition to the lexicon is reflexive: ‘Emeute-toi!’ in canister white; the imperative singular of s’émeuter. Thirty years ago, it would have been faire une émeute or something like it. Cassell’s dictionary gives a transitive verb émeuter, ‘to stir up’, and though none of the public commentary on the upheaval in France in the first two weeks of November used this word, the view of what’s been happening is pretty clear: the trouble was whipped up by the attitude and language of the minister of the interior. Even so, with the worst of the breaking and burning done and an inkling of confidence among the political class that the ‘crisis’ is surmountable, Nicolas Sarkozy – who’d begun to look isolated in the government – has seen his position steadily improve.

Mother One, Mother Two: a memoir

Jeremy Harding, 31 March 2005

To think back at all is to fall quickly, almost instinctively, on two names – Colin, the name of my adoptive father, and Maureen, the name of my adoptive mother – and on the significant word ‘adopted’, which has the weight of a name. Appended to this little trio of terms, like an intake of breath at the end of a short annoucement, is the nameless presence of the...

In ‘The Building of the Skyscraper’, a short poem which appeared in the Nation in 1964, George Oppen wrote:

The steel worker on the girder Learned not to look down, and does his work And there are words we have learned Not to look at, Not to look for substance Below them. But we are on the verge Of vertigo.

It’s hard to tell from this poem, published when Oppen was in his...

Short Cuts: France’s role in Rwanda

Jeremy Harding, 6 May 2004

France has been struggling with its image abroad on several counts. First, there’s the rise in anti-semitism and the corresponding exodus of French Jews. Second, there is Le Pen’s success in the first round of the presidentials two years ago, which still sends a chill through the most rosy-cheeked francophiles, whether they’re British trenchermen or Latin American...

“Teachers tell worrying stories which depict the veil as the beginning of selective opposition to the curriculum. This might, for example, include a Muslim student’s refusal to do gym or discuss certain areas of natural science, or to countenance teaching on the Holocaust, and then shade off into abuse or physical violence after a classrom session on the Middle East. Teachers are also clear that the wearing of religious symbols tends to exacerbate the divisions over heated issues such as Palestine.”

Fleeing the Mother Tongue: Rimbaud

Jeremy Harding, 9 October 2003

Arthur Rimbaud, the boy who gave it all up for something different, is a legend, both as a poet and a renouncer of poetry. He had finished with literature before the age of 21. By the time his work began to appear in the 1880s, to great acclaim, he had become a trader and a minor explorer in inhospitable country, working for a French company in Aden which sent him across the Red Sea to run a...

Humanitarian Art: Susan Sontag

Jeremy Harding, 21 August 2003

Photographs, for Susan Sontag, are accessories to the act of remembering. Regarding the Pain of Others is as much about what we do and don’t remember as it is about representations of suffering – photographs of war and disaster, for the most part – and their value. The archives of ordinary individuals are stacked with visual index cards that trigger a range of private...

Short Cuts: France’s foreign policy

Jeremy Harding, 3 April 2003

One of the oddities about France’s permanent membership of the Security Council is that its instincts are those of an influential player in the General Assembly. This in turn has to do with its skills in what you might call ‘decline management’ – the steady, negotiated passage from imperialism to mere nation status, with Great Power privileges flapping like ragged...

Old Europe: Britain in Bosnia

Jeremy Harding, 20 February 2003

In 1992, the UN Security Council opened a dossier on breaches of humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions in the former Yugoslavia. Paragraph 5 of UNSC Resolution 771 called on all states or humanitarian organisations with knowledge of such violations to pass it on to the Security Council. These were the early days when Bosnia was high on Clinton’s list of priorities (it remained a...

Afternoonishness: Syd Barrett

Jeremy Harding, 2 January 2003

English whimsy had a good run for its money in the 1960s. Pop culture hoovered it up and began to mass-produce it in a variety of forms. It’s odd now to remember how it looked on the hoardings and billboards and store ads: the posters of girls whose tresses became rivers; the Medusa-like transfigurations of our rock idols, those tousled Monica Lewinskies with hair on their chests. Only...

Call me Ahab: Moby-Dick

Jeremy Harding, 31 October 2002

The American whaleman was a kind of prospector, the ancestor of the oilman, while the New England whaling industry itself . . . was killed off by the refining of kerosene from fossil fuel. Ishmael is an active participant in the process of extraction for profit, turning the wheels of production at home while extending the frontier abroad.

The Great Unleashing: The End of Jihad

Jeremy Harding, 25 July 2002

How interesting, then, that at the moment of the great unleashing, as the jihadists-salafists began to disperse, to Pakistan, Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, the United Kingdom and Bosnia, and at the point at which the Gulf War had discredited the conservative Islamist option in the eyes of so many believers, Kepel should conclude with some relief that the whole business of jihad lay in ruins. What he means is that the bid to seize power by force and govern by the laws of God had failed everywhere except in Iran, and that it would not succeed anywhere in the foreseeable future: nowhere was there evidence of the class alliances that Khomeini had forged. To Kepel, the high-tide mark of Islamism was reached in 1989, with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, an Islamist regime taking power in Sudan, the fatwa against Rushdie, the FIS poised for government and the emergence of the Palestinian Muslim Brothers (Hamas) from the first Intifada to challenge the PLO’s nationalist agenda. It even shook France’s ‘deep-rooted secularism’: ‘the year when all parties were supposed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in a spirit of consensus’ became a year of bitter recrimination over the wearing of veils in schools.

Diary: Anxiety in the Dordogne

Jeremy Harding, 9 May 2002

Every afternoon on RMC INFO, a French commercial radio network where phone-ins are the order of the day, the concerned but knowing voice of the sex counsellor Brigitte Lahaie can be heard fielding calls from listeners/participants. Her motto last week was ‘sexuality at the heart of a harmonious life’. One caller wanted to know if it was OK, as a woman, to be watching X-rated...

Diary: The Late Jonas Savimbi

Jeremy Harding, 21 March 2002

The sight of a man in fatigues stalking around a poor country is guaranteed to arouse the interest of ideologues in richer ones, whatever their persuasion. Yet the recent ‘martyrdom’ of Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the Unita rebel movement in Angola, has had nothing like the same effect as the death of Che Guevara 35 years ago in Bolivia, mourned by millions of vicarious...

At the Barbican: Pilger pictures

Jeremy Harding, 23 August 2001

Work by 18 of the photographers with whom John Pilger has collaborated over the last thirty or forty years is on show in Reporting the World, at the Barbican Gallery until 30 September. The exhibition is a record of events we remember – vaguely or clearly – having followed and others that we didn’t follow, even if we tell ourselves now that we did. The themes, inevitably,...

It hasn’t taken long, if you count from the first Nato bombing runs on Serbia in March 1999, to deliver Slobodan Milosevic up to The Hague. That’s the jaunty Foreign Office view, at any rate, and typical of Jack Straw, the new man at the helm: it’s all a bit like his asylum legislation – firm and fast, and maybe if Milosevic is very lucky, it’ll be fair. But if...

Objects from Africa displayed in galleries leave us bemused. We hesitate to use the word ‘art’ – this is not Giorgione or the Barbizon School or Howard Hodgkin – and hedge our bets with polite words like ‘artefact’ or ‘decoration’. African narrative and music have done better. World-music impresarios can market the virtuoso kora players of the...

At the Royal Academy: Botticelli

Jeremy Harding, 5 April 2001

Illustrators of the Divine Comedy find it hard to graduate from Hell, easy going for all the arts, to Paradise, which can look dreary by comparison. The Inferno, after all, is of the earth – an interesting place – aligned with the loins of Lucifer, the gigantic armature which holds the damned in their place. Dante’s Paradise is about unmitigated light, before it drains...

John Lennon gave his famous interview to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine at the end of 1970, a few days before the release of the most important solo-Beatle record, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Rolling Stone published the interview early the following year, with the album already in the shops. Between them, the record and the interview seemed to round off the 1960s nicely – or...

The Uninvited: At The Rich Man’s Gate

Jeremy Harding, 3 February 2000

In the early 1990s, about 80 million people – roughly 1.5 per cent of the world’s population – were living outside the country of their birth. The figure now is closer to 120 million. Migration across international borders is not a simple phenomenon and migrants themselves are as diverse as people who stay put. The banker from Seattle who signs a five-year contract for a post in Berlin is a migrant; so is the lay-out editor in Paris who moves to Moscow to work on a Russian edition of her magazine; so is the labourer from Indonesia or Thailand who becomes a building worker in Brunei; so is the teenage boy from Shanghai indentured to a Chinese crime ring in New York. Refugees, too, are migrants. Often they share their route to safety with others who are not seeking asylum: the smuggling syndicates known as snakeheads, which induct Chinese women into a life of semi-slavery in Europe and the US, also ran dissidents to freedom in the retreat from Tiananmen Square. These things are largely a question of money. Refugees are not necessarily poor, but by the time they have reached safety, the human trafficking organisations on which they depend have eaten up much of their capital. In the course of excruciating journeys, mental and physiological resources are also expended – some of them non-renewable.’

From The Blog
29 April 2019

The fire in Notre-Dame de Paris was extinguished in the small hours of 16 April. But residual heat from the blaze has left several brush fires smouldering.

From The Blog
7 December 2018

As the gilet jaune revolt moves forward and another destructive showdown looks imminent tomorrow in Paris, the government – and the president – have opted for the lesser of two contradictions. The greater: to reduce your national carbon footprint, you set aside progressive fiscal policy and tax rich and poor at the same rate, putting social justice – a grand French aspiration – in parenthesis. That didn't work. The lesser: to reduce your national carbon footprint, you get alongside low earners and help them through a difficult transition, even though the climate jeopardy of clapped-out diesel UVs is absurdly obvious. But that hasn't worked either.

From The Blog
30 November 2018

Fighting on the Champs Elysées last weekend between French security forces and the so-called 'gilets jaunes' led to more than 100 arrests. According to the police, roughly eight thousand demonstrators took part. Barricades were built – and set alight – by what looked from a distance to be groups of rampaging lollipop people in dayglo yellow tops. But the gilets jaunes are not championing pedestrian safety: their revolt has been prompted by a sharp rise in the price of diesel and unleaded petrol at the pump, which they blame on President Macron's fossil fuel tax. This is a drivers' movement, at least at first sight, and despite the turmoil on the Champs Elysées, it is deeply provincial. Macron responded on Tuesday not with a U-turn, but with a concession enabling parliament to freeze the carbon tax – which is set to keep rising year on year – when the oil price goes up. A freeze is a very different proposition from a reduction and the gilets jaunes don't like it. They were out in force again on Wednesday and another big demonstration looks likely in Paris tomorrow.

From The Blog
17 September 2018

Last week Emmanuel Macron issued a declaration acknowledging the role of the French military in the murder of a pro-independence activist in Algeria sixty years ago. The lead story in France should have been Macron's plan to break the chain of hereditary poverty with an additional €8.5 billion for children destined for a life of hardship bordering on misery. Arguments about the sums (insufficient) and the targeting (contentious) were quickly relegated to the sidebar as editors took the measure of Macron's conscientious, damning remarks on torture and disappearance during the Algerian war, a period that still clouds French sensitivities on inward migration, secular dress codes and acts of violence committed by radical Islamists.

From The Blog
28 December 2017

How many asylum seekers have returned to Calais since the Jungle was dismantled in the autumn of 2016? A year after the camp’s residents were dispersed across France, nearly half opted for asylum from the French authorities and got it. But there are still people mustering in Calais – perhaps one thousand – and Grande-Synthe (near Dunkirk), hoping to reach the UK, where they have relatives and networks that can help them resettle, after arduous journeys from points east and south. The Calais Jungle had a poor press in Britain, and the recent arrivals on the Channel coast are faring no better. They also have a local enemy in the mayor, Natacha Bouchart, who rose to prominence during Nicolas Sarkozy’s bling-and-markets presidency. Last month Bouchart announced to the Daily Express: ‘They have smartphones and nice clothes. They’ve been told that they have rights, but no duties. They drink themselves senseless – they down litres of vodka – and get into fights.’ Well prepped, you can’t help thinking, for rapid assimilation in their dream destination, Brexit Britain.

From The Blog
22 December 2017

From the little fishing village of Skala Sikamineas in northern Lesbos you have a good view of the Turkish coast less than 15 km away. Even when the wind gets up and riles the water, there are still refugees crossing in inflatable dinghies with outboard motors, mostly at night. There are descendants on this part of the island from an earlier refugee influx at the end of the Greco-Turkish war, when Turkish forces entered the city of Smyrna in 1922 and Greek and Armenian residents crammed the waterfront for days waiting for boats to get them to safety. In a report for the League of Nations on 18 November 1922, Fridtjof Nansen reckoned the number of refugees ‘already within the frontiers of Greece’ at ‘not less than 900,000’. The Northern Aegean islands and the mainland port of Piraeus were common destinations for those who were lucky enough to leave Turkey by sea. This history gives the inhabitants of Lesbos a perspective on the current refugee crisis that is now much harder to imagine in island communities such as the UK. Before the NGOs arrived in force in 2015, when thousands of refugees were arriving daily, rescuing people in danger was a matter for local people, especially fishermen, and the overstretched Hellenic Coast Guard.

From The Blog
4 July 2017

‘Whitmanesque’ is how Colin Ward, writing in the LRB, described Heathcote Williams’s book Whale Nation (1988). Williams, who died on Saturday, was a difficult catch. We persisted for a time, trying to get him to write for the paper, then lost heart; gathered up our courage, only to fall back again in despair. There are just two pieces by Williams in the LRB archive. The first is a poem – though there isn’t much dolling up, and nothing conspicuously ‘poetic’ – which plays with the idea of wars as music festivals (‘The music was mainly percussive … There have been several attempts to get the show on the road again’). In the second, a review of Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, Williams follows the author and ‘his trusty snorkel’ on ‘a swimmer’s journey through Britain’.

From The Blog
15 June 2017

Emmanuel Macron, the eighth president of the Fifth Republic, is decked in glory; around his head a halo you could easily mistake for a crown. Youth, acumen, charisma, and now, above all, power. Having nearly doubled the vote for his rival, Marine Le Pen, in round two of the presidentials, he is likely to see a sweeping endorsement for his party, La République en Marche, when the second round of voting for seats at the National Assembly takes place on Sunday.

From The Blog
9 May 2017

Emmanuel Macron’s success in France on Sunday was not the result of a consensual ‘republican front’ behind which voters could rally against Marine Le Pen in round two. In 2002, when her father reached the second round, a wave of anguish was followed by stoical nose-holding, as the many opponents of Jacques Chirac’s presidency trudged to the polls and voted him into office: anything but Jean-Marie Le Pen. Chirac took 82 per cent of the vote on a turnout of 80 per cent; 5 per cent spoiled their ballots or left them blank. Le Pen Sr knew a republican front when he saw one. He snarled at its huge following and told them to vote with saucepans on their heads: that way they’d look like the fools that they were.

From The Blog
10 April 2017

‘It’s going to be a very interesting election. But you know some outside things have happened that maybe will change the course of that race.’ This from Trump, speculating in an interview with the Financial Times about Marine Le Pen’s prospects in the French presidential election (round one on 23 April). As far as we know, Trump has yet to meet her. She got as far as Trump Tower in January, but the president elect was indisposed and Le Pen’s people said at the time that she never intended to meet him. She linked up instead with one of his aides-de-camp. Here she is having coffee with Guido Lombardi, who has a pied-à-terre in Trump Tower and was formerly the US representative of Italy’s Northern League. Both Le Pen and Lombardi like to spare a moment to mull over the scourge of immigration.

From The Blog
30 January 2017

After the second round of voting this weekend, Benoît Hamon has won the Socialist Party candidature for the French presidential elections. He already had the edge over his rival, the former prime minister Manuel Valls, in round one of the primaries. With Valls you always knew what you were going to get come the vote in March: total defeat. Hamon is not tipped to make it past round one either, but it would be wrong for the Vallsistes to tell themselves that their man was the realistic option. Valls's association with Hollande's disappointing term – Hollande had a popularity rating of 4 per cent last year – would have been a killer. Besides, in the unlikely event of the French electorate wanting another socialist president, it would vote for the genuine article. Valls is a New Labour lookalike.

From The Blog
28 November 2016

The congenial Alain Juppé lost by a huge margin to François Fillon – roughly 66 to 34 – in the French centre-right's final round of primaries yesterday, which also saw a higher turnout than in round one. The economic policies of the candidates were close: thin down the state sector, loosen labour laws, cut taxes. Fillon’s was the harsher – and more radical – approach but the severity of his social programme was also crucial, and Marine Le Pen will be hard pressed to beat him next year. His is a face we will have to get used to.

From The Blog
21 November 2016

France is still on the outskirts of Trumptown, after round one of the centre-right's first open primary to appoint a leader. To take part on Sunday you didn't have to be a member of Les Républicains (formerly the Union pour un mouvement populaire). All you had to do was show the volunteers at the polling station that you were on the electoral register, hand over two euros, sign up to Republican values, and agree on the need for political change (‘l'alternance’). Change from one centrist grouping to the other, that's to say. Even dyed-in-the-wool right-wing voters are staring down the barrel of a gun. At the other end is Marine Le Pen, the upheavalist candidate for the presidential race next year, jubilant in the aftermath of the Leave vote in the UK and Trump’s win. It was clear before the British referendum that she would go to round two of the presidentials – the left is out of the race – but afer Trump, it would be rash to rule out an FN victory. Whoever emerges from the centre-right primaries to face down Le Pen will be crucial.

From The Blog
21 September 2016

The informal EU summit in Bratislava last week was the object of semi-enthusiastic press speculation as the dignitaries prepared to gather, and bored silence once it was over. Billed as the first summit without the UK, all it could say about meeting as a group of 27, rather than 28, was that 'the EU remains indispensable to the rest of us.’ But it set down a new marker in the European refugee crisis, which Theresa May hammered into place yesterday during her first speech to the UN General Assembly in New York. In Europe and the UK the very notion of asylum has finally been buried under security issues.

From The Blog
15 July 2016

Gilles Kepel, a specialist on 'Islam and the Arab world', wrote last year in Terreur dans l'Hexagone – a study of French jihadism – that the Charlie Hebdo killings were 'a sort of cultural 9/11'. The jihadism that we're now confronted with, he argued, is a third wave phenomenon, superseding the mujahidin in Afghanistan (the first) and emerging in the long twilight of al-Qaida (the second). The latest wave is specifically targeted at Europe, with its significant Muslim population (about 20 million in EU countries): the approach is 'horizontal', favouring networks rather than cells; disruption, fear and division are the tactics; the radical awakening of European Muslims, many already disaffected and marginal, is the immediate objective. The murders at Charlie Hebdo’s offices and the kosher store in Paris brought the third wave 'to a paroxysm', in Kepel's view, just as 9/11 brought the second 'to its pinnacle'. At the time of writing, no one has laid claim to the atrocity in Nice: more than eighty dead, fifty hospitalised ('between life and death', in President Hollande's words, earlier today).

From The Blog
6 February 2016

The diacritical mark, that puzzling addition to a recognisable letter, arrived in my life at about the age of six, like an insect lighting on the page of a school textbook. Only it happened out of school, in the world of foreign stamps, where I first encountered ‘accents’. My arbitrary collection included a stamp from Hungary commemorating the ‘technical and transport museum’ – Közlekedési Múzeum – and another from Yugoslavia commemorating what I think is a children’s day: ‘Decja Nedelja’ (1957), with a wingless creature fixed to the lid of the ‘c’. French stamps were easy to obtain: on these you could see your first cedilla, even if you didn’t know it. All these marks were mysterious, but mystery gets irritating before long, and mostly I wanted to swat them away.

From The Blog
15 December 2015

The defeat of the Front National in every mainland region on Sunday has given France a welcome respite from extremity. Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, which has taken seven out of 12, is in good spirits, as it was on the eve of the contest. Surveying the field before round one, a centre-right MP concluded that François Hollande’s party had done two things well: stealing Sarkozy’s ideas and losing the socialist vote. ‘If you agree with Gramsci,’ he said, ‘it’s an intellectual victory for the right that will end in electoral victory.’

From The Blog
7 December 2015

Sunday mid-afternoon at our nearest polling station – a modest mairie which now opens only a couple of times a week –the voting in the first round of France’s regional elections was desultory. The deputy mayor had reckoned on 40 per cent of the voters turning out by teatime, but they hadn’t. In a flower border where the council planted out a few perennials earlier this year, some of the shrubs had been removed during the night. Three gendarmes were hard at work on forensics, taking photos of the holes.

From The Blog
30 November 2015

Last week the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, announced the total so far of apartment searches (1233), detentions (165) and charges preferred (124) since the state of emergency came into force shortly after the killings on 13 November. Dividing the country’s ‘Muslim’ population by the number of detentions we arrive at a figure of one for every 30,000 or so: this is not an anti-Muslim witch hunt. Nonetheless the emergency has been extended for three months and yesterday the total of arrests leaped, with 200 or more after the COP21 demonstrations in Paris – a big, scheduled march having been banned under the emergency – turned rough.

From The Blog
20 November 2015

‘Terrorism and immigration are not the same,’ an Afghan migrant in his thirties tells me. Self-evident facts need to be reiterated in a state of emergency. He’s married to a French person – no names at this point – and expecting a French passport shortly. He’s worried, like all migrants of Muslim origin, about the next step in the confrontation with Isis: migrants were regarded with suspicion long before last week’s attacks in Paris. He’s with friends, new arrivals from Kabul and Jalalabad, queuing in the drizzle outside the offices of a refugee support NGO, Terre d’Asile, in the 18th arrondissement. They have folders of documents to help them make asylum claims, but they’re confused, and so am I: procedures have changed since I last lent a hand with a claim.

From The Blog
19 November 2015

Nearly a week after the killings, business-as-usual is the banner flying over Paris. The return to normal, with its flavour of defiance, can be observed in action anywhere from Châtelet as far as the city gates. (At Château Rouge, three stops from Porte de Clignancourt, the pace of African street trade is undiminished – phone cards, groundnuts, roasted corn cobs – as dense crowds gather round the vendors.) But normal is highly circumscribed and the siege yesterday in St Denis illustrates how elusive ordinary life can be on the other side of the Boulevard Périphérique: scores of armed police and soldiers deployed; 5000 rounds discharged; an explosives-suicide in the apartment under siege; the suspected ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, shot dead; eight arrests. Worse, perhaps, than the immediate fear among residents is the fact that the suspects were tracked to a neighbourhood with a conspicuous migrant culture. Roughly 60 per cent of under-18s in the department of Seine-St Denis are descended from immigrants. Through no fault of the residents or the security forces, we can if we like make a reductive association between the killers and a diverse group of citizens who nonetheless look much the same in the bleak light of emergency: ‘Muslims’.

From The Blog
17 November 2015

After a busy night for the police, France woke on Monday to news that more than 20 people had been taken into custody and 104 placed under house arrest. In the evening Hollande proposed a raft of measures to the General Assembly and the Senate involving tweaks to the constitution that enable the government ‘to manage a state of crisis’ and deal with the new reality (‘we are at war’). He also proposed 5000 more police and soldiers on the payroll by 2017, 1000 more border staff, 2500 new prison staff. More citizens with dual nationality would have their French nationality removed and be subject to ‘expulsion’.

From The Blog
15 November 2015

Sunday: we wake under blue skies to Nicolas Sarkozy calling for ‘the whole world’ to destroy Isis and demanding a ‘new’ immigration policy, as he steps away from a meeting with Hollande. Stern words on the first day of national mourning declared by the president. Last night Paris was half a city, maybe less. In the capital where the world’s first public audience paid to see a motion picture, the art house cinemas were closed like bakeries, the foyers of the multiplexes dark behind their plate-glass entrances. Few people on the streets, fewer on the metro: twenty passengers at most in a carriage on the Ligne 4; seven in a carriage on the little line from Châtelet to Mairie des Lilas. Nine o’clock, or thereabouts. One hundred and thirty dead, a hundred more with critical injuries in hospitals around the city: Lariboisière, St Louis, La Pitié-Salpêtrière, others.

From The Blog
5 November 2015

Mediapart, the French online journal known for its investigative scoops and the quality of its analytical pieces, is in trouble. The problem is to do with VAT – the tax collector has decided the journal owes €4.1 million – but it goes much deeper. At the root is an argument of principle, conducted in the open by the editors for several years, about fair competition between print and online newspapers. Mediapart insists it should be entitled to the preferential VAT rate reserved for print media: a derisory 2.1 per cent as against the standard rate, which rose last year from 19.6 to 20 per cent.

From The Blog
3 July 2015

Meursault, contre-enquête by Kamel Daoud came out in English translation last month. The plaudits in the UK and US have a rare ring of authenticity: Daoud’s book is a dazzling appropriation of L’Etranger, sceptical, impatient, yet full of admiration for a canonical little fiction. He is The Outsider’s nerdiest insider. He knows every line (and occasionally quotes or tweaks them in his ‘own’ novel): he has inhabited the text and argued with it for years. Edward Said published Culture and Imperialism in 1993, as the war between Algeria’s Islamists and the ancien régime – still in power today, after half a century – was getting under way. That’s over. But so is the age of postcolonial condescension, a confident, proscriptive age, which threw out Camus’s best work along with a lot of his high-minded anguish. Daoud has reopened the conversation about an interesting novel.

From The Blog
25 May 2015

Taking part in a panel on European border control at the LSE last autumn, I found myself saying that the behaviour of people smugglers over the last twenty years or more was as worrying as the increasing number of migrants and asylum seekers using their services. Cecilia Malmström, then the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, nodded vigorously. She described the mechanics of getting people in danger across frontiers in the last century as an innocent process, a ‘cottage industry’. I remember hearing a similar remark about the older coyotes from an NGO worker on the US-Mexican border in 2011. I haven’t met a people smuggler for 16 years: my evidence that they treat their charges more harshly than they used to comes from sources we can all access – mainly accounts in the press about migrants and asylum seekers who have suffered at their hands, and briefings from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

From The Blog
1 April 2015

The controversy over a statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town took a serious turn in March when a student at the university slathered it with excrement. Post-clean-up, UCT is agonising about whether the statue should go now or go later. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign is making headway and it could soon be safely out of the way. A week from now the UCT senate will recommend to the university’s council that it ‘be moved’.

From The Blog
30 January 2015

I don’t know when ‘banlieue’ became a word in English, but it’s in a 1990 edition of Chambers as ‘precinct, extra-mural area, suburb’. Many people living in the rougher outskirts of France’s cities prefer the expression ‘quartiers populaires’; others use the word ‘cités’: working-class neighbourhoods where architects, planners and commissioning bodies created huge, affordable housing projects half a century ago (long horizontal ‘barres’ and grandiose high rise set the tone). The rundown cités at the margins of Paris, Marseille, Lyon and other major cities are once again under inspection after the 7-9 January killings: Amady Coulibaly, who murdered the policewoman in Montrouge and the four Jews in Paris, grew up in a dismal estate south of the capital. ‘Ghetto’ and ‘apartheid’, words already murmured whenever France talks to itself about these places, are now spoken openly. The prime minister, Manuel Valls, used ‘apartheid’ in a recent speech about urban segregation.

From The Blog
26 January 2015

Last week François Hollande wished teachers in France a happy new year and announced a plan to create ‘citizen reserves’ for schools: volunteers drafted in to inculcate a proper sense, in the wake of the 7-9 January killings, of how the country’s meant to work. Who would these reservists be? Journalists, lawyers and unspecified ‘cultural actors’. The president talked up secularism (la laïcité) and reminded teachers, if they hadn’t known before, that religion has no place in schools. Though ‘there can be lay instruction about religions.’

From The Blog
19 January 2015

A hundred pages into Soumission by Michel Houellebecq the narrator’s on-off sexual partner announces that she and her parents are leaving France for Israel. We’re between the two rounds of the 2022 French presidential elections, with the Front National out ahead in a run-off against the Muslim Brothers; it looks as if the old parties – big centrist machines – are about to be mothballed along with the Fifth Republic.

From The Blog
15 January 2015

Paris yesterday: all copies of the post-mortem Charlie Hebdo issue with the Prophet on the front, a tear in his eye, rapidly sold out. In our local backwater in the south-west, I’d already driven to the nearest newsagent. There, too, sold out. ‘They should have sent us 150 copies,’ the man on the till explained, ‘but we only got 11.’ Then came news of a massive new run, bringing the total number of copies to five million, with deliveries to retail outlets spread over several days. But this morning it was the same story: every copy gone by eight in the morning, though this time the local shop only received six. Tomorrow for sure.

From The Blog
12 January 2015

The march in Paris on Sunday was called originally in honour of the dead at Charlie Hebdo’s offices. In the meantime the dead had become more numerous. By the time the marchers reached Place de la Nation yesterday many were carrying A4 print-outs reading ‘Je suis Charlie, je suis juif, je suis flic.’ In addition to three dead police officers, four Jewish French citizens had died in the kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes. The mood among yesterday’s vast crowds was quietly upbeat and self-assured. We were all ‘Charlie’ and we knew we were marching in step. Occasionally you saw the name Yoav (son of the chief rabbi in Tunis who was killed in Porte de Vincennes) on a home print-out. Often, when the crowd passed the rows of police vans lining the route there was spontaneous applause. By the time participants arrived at the destination and solemnity was no longer in order, a group of Syrian oppositionists began chanting: ‘Je suis Syrien, je suis Charlie.’ There were large pencils everywhere in evidence, one mutating into a Kalashnikov, with a shoulder-butt and magazine clip. A desultory teenager – 15 at most – strolled beside his parents with a placard reading: ‘Culture murdered by barbarians.’ A niggling wind got up but the Place de la Nation was becoming a happy-sad party by the time I left, around seven. Everyone was Charlie, for a day.

From The Blog
7 January 2015

At the time of writing, ten of Charlie Hebdo’s staff are reported dead following this morning’s attack on the paper’s offices off the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. They include the editor Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb), Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu) and Bernard Verlhac (Tignous). Two police officers are dead and five other people are seriously wounded. Only a narrow provincialism imagines that blasphemy is not a dangerous pastime. But Charlie Hebdo isn’t a cosy backwater: it has always blasphemed in earnest, as a vocational duty with high attendant risks; the signs are pretty clear so far that this terrible attack was carried out as a lesson of some kind.

From The Blog
18 September 2014

In case you haven’t been able to get your hands on Merci pour ce moment, Valérie Trierweiler’s sellout tract about President Hollande, herself and her feelings, here it is, accelerated and reduced in the first available English translation. I No choice but to take up the pen. I didn’t smash the crockery AS WAS ALLEGED when FH told me, on the bed, in the Elysée apartments, about Julie Gayet. Does a real man in charge of a country have an affair with an actress – that’s actress, not actor – when factories are closing and unemployment is rising?

From The Blog
28 May 2014

The European elections in France have produced an ‘earthquake’ outcome, according to the new prime minister Manuel Valls, who stepped in after the recent municipal vote gave the Parti Socialiste the drubbing it deserved. Nine weeks later here’s another humiliation, despite President Hollande’s efforts to assure the French they’re heading for terra firma. Turns out there’s no such thing: the whole continent, according to Valls, is trembling in the aftermath; he clearly thinks the epicentre was somewhere in France, perhaps the Front National headquarters in Nanterre, where Marine Le Pen and her party broke out the champagne on Sunday night. The results: 25 per cent of the vote to the Front National, and 25 MEPs; 21 per cent to the right-wing UMP and 20 MEPs; 14 per cent for the Parti Socialiste and its campaign partner the Parti Radical de Gauche, which equals 13 MEPs. Where I live – a moderate, steady-eddie electorate – the FN came in on top with 30 per cent of the vote, followed by the UMP. Well behind both came the Union de la Gauche.

From The Blog
26 May 2014

Writing stories in a second language is not something most of us ever try. Safaa Halahla’s piece about the Second Intifada could have been written with less trouble in Arabic, which is her first. She’s one of thirty or forty Palestinians I’ve been lucky enough to meet over the last few years who wanted to see what happened when they tried writing in English. The five posts that will appear on the LRB blog over the course of this week were composed at the 2013 Palestine Writing Workshop.

From The Blog
2 April 2014

A hallucination, or maybe the nearest thing in politics to the pathetic fallacy: you come back after two weeks to a country where there’s just been an election – the extreme right has made a fair showing – and at once you read changes into the landscape. From the window of the train, ramshackle, low-income farmsteads that you’ve passed a hundred times take on a forbidding quality: there are voters in there, along with the livestock. The moribund hotel at the station where you’re waiting half an hour for a local connection now looks like it was requisitioned long ago as an HQ by sinister people who’ve been plotting for years, right under your nose. How come you never noticed?

From The Blog
10 October 2013

The Immigration Bill, introduced today, contains draconian provisions for rooting out unauthorised migrants and a proposal to charge foreigners using the NHS. Whatever message it sends to unauthorised migrants, it waves a dingy flag at migrants in general. Does it matter what they think or how they wave back? Listening to migrants is not a core priority for scholars and number-crunchers in Europe, where an array of statistical work is done on immigration. Economists and social planners want to know whether it’s harmful or handy, a strain on housing stock and public services or a boon to host countries. Development researchers want to know how much wealth it transfers to the global south. The examination is endless; in the process migrants undergo a full battery of tests, but they’re seldom asked to describe their own symptoms.

From The Blog
7 October 2013

The sad truth about the vessel that went down off the coast of Lampedusa last week is that there will be others like it, and the loss of life – nearly 300 dead or missing in this case – may well be as bad. It’s tasteless to spin the event as an argument against borders, or to use it to make the opposite case for fully militarised frontiers with forward arrangements of the kind EU states have already tried out in ‘sender countries’ (Gaddafi’s Libya, Mauritania). The fact remains that borders are places of contention; and rights are a scarce resource which people will risk their lives to access. The EU is a champion of universal rights; it would like to see its rights regime exported to all corners of the earth, but Brussels is a long way from Mogadishu or Asmara.

From The Blog
1 August 2013

Once anti-immigration sentiment has turned nasty, it’s hard to look back and say with any certainty whether government cast the first stone. Enoch Powell. and his party were in opposition at the time of his ‘rivers of blood’ speech in Birmingham in 1968: the problem, as the member for Wolverhampton South West saw it, was Wilson’s Race Relations Bill. Running for office, David Cameron talked tough on immigration. In coalition he could have smashed the soapbox, put it out for recycling and hoped for the best. But he's had to deal with the self-destruction of the Tory Party and the good fortunes of Ukip, which is up its backside like a jalapeño suppository. Pained and jumpy, the government has been playing the immigration card as though it were in opposition, using the public purse to work up feeling on all sides of the debate.

From The Blog
10 June 2013

Last summer the government introduced new rules on family reunification, including a minimum income requirement for anyone hoping to bring a partner to Britain from anywhere outside the European Economic Area. The pernicious effects were quickly obvious and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration launched an inquiry in November. Its findings are published today.

From The Blog
8 May 2012

In round one of the French presidentials the argument was about the new, dirty style of global capitalism. Could you talk to it or propitiate it or were governments now defenceless creatures in the wild, whose only option was to stay on the run? Once the fringe candidates who wanted France to turn and face it were eliminated, the debate should have moved on to France’s debt. Instead, Sarkozy and Hollande fought about the moral tone of Sarkozy’s presidency (money, friends, influence), ‘Republican values’, nuclear energy, immigration, identity and the ritual preparation of meat. With Hollande’s investiture next week, we’ll be back to the debt. We’re there already.

From The Blog
7 May 2012

Sunday: by noon on voting day, the national turn-out promised to be even higher than it was in the first round. But it looked much slacker at the two polling stations I visited in Bordeaux, side by side, in separate classrooms at an elementary school in a modest part of town. At 7 p.m. there were still a few stragglers. By eight, when the clock stopped, there were only the officials and the volunteers for the count. One of them was keen to be in on the kill. She’d waited five years, she said with a broad smile. For what? To be heard, she said.

From The Blog
5 May 2012

Provincial life begins where Paris ends. Beyond the provincial town is the green belt and beyond that the deeper countryside. The nation’s ailing villages, hundreds of them, stipple the hinterlands. I live in a sparsely populated rural area sustained by a firm that produces industrial valves and pumps (for ships, waste, petroleum, nuclear reactors and desalination plants). It has four branches in China. There are goats on the hillside just above the company premises, cattle in the meadows below.

From The Blog
3 May 2012

Wednesday, early p.m.: New emails arrive from the UMP, asking for support. (I’ve been on various party mailing lists for a while.) Here’s one just in from Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Sarkozy’s spokesperson, a note about the rally in Paris on May Day. ‘It was a great, a beautiful day, thanks to you all.’ Now she wants us to tweet the televised debate – Hollande v. Sarkozy – which starts at 9 p.m. She signs off: ‘I’m counting on you.’

From The Blog
2 May 2012

The Front National use May Day to commemorate Joan of Arc, a zealous patriot. In Paris they like to lay a wreath at the foot of a gilt bronze statue of the Maid on horseback in the place des Pyramides. For French politicians it pays to have Joan in your church and the FN were especially touchy this year about Sarkozy’s attempt to drag her away from the Le Pen ‘clan’ in January. I arrived in Paris moments too late for the wreath-laying yesterday. Not that it mattered: anyone who wants to see a far-right politician laying a wreath in honour of Joan can watch propaganda footage of Pétain in the bombed city of Rouen – hit by British and American ‘terrorist raids’ – a few weeks before D-Day.

From The Blog
21 February 2012

Times are tough for the wealthy, with the taxman in hot pursuit of those hard-earned millions. But if you have them, and the right consultant, you can get around a little local difficulty by acquiring residency status in a country that’s proud to count you in and eventually make you a citizen. Belgium for example: a moneybags who went for the Belgian option would probably get citizenship within three to seven years of residency.

From The Blog
20 December 2011

Four hundred up for the King James Bible and David Cameron has this to say: Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France. Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too. And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all. The French say bad things about our economy. We respond that we’re not the sort to sneer at people for their religion or tell them what they shouldn’t wear. Ours is a big tent full of believers and unbelievers, with an altar at the far end, the bailiffs at the entrance and Group 4 Security on the perimeter. Theirs is a profane republic, with an army of sapeurs-pompiers hosing down the bright flame of multiculturalism wherever it appears.

From The Blog
29 November 2011

Edward Jay Epstein’s piece on Dominque Strauss-Kahn and the Sofitel affair for the New York Review of Books was in such demand at the weekend that the website was often inaccessible with the weight of traffic. It is a clinical narrative of events on 14 May between 10.07 a.m. New York time, when Strauss-Kahn put in a call to his wife, and 4.45 p.m., when he was summoned off his flight to Europe by police at JFK. It lends support to the theory, still popular in France, that the likely challenger to Sarkozy’s presidency was set up in Manhattan by friends of the incumbent.

From The Blog
30 September 2011

As Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s humiliation in New York levels out into web-chat and news about the news, the undead are on the move. You saw nothing with fangs, in a cape, hovering in the near distance when the fourth estate held up the mirror to human nature in the wake of the gruesome Sofitel encounter? That’s because it didn’t cast a reflection. The internet, which never sleeps, has made it clearer now: the real beast in this story is racism. Earlier this month, SlateAfrique asked a range of punters and luminaries in the US and France what would have happened if Nafissatou Diallo, the Sofitel maid, had been ‘a blue-eyed blonde’. Two Diallos, one of them a cousin, another who runs a café in Harlem, were confident things would have come out differently. Diallo 1: ‘They wouldn’t have thrown her in the dustbin the way they did.’ Diallo 2: ‘If she’d been white and Jewish, she wouldn’t have had that kind of treatment.’ And later: ‘The whole Jewish lobby is behind it.’

From The Blog
4 July 2011

Here is a confusing parable for prospective IMF staffers: Chapter 1. A wealthy entrepreneur in a large, resource-rich country sees an expensive toy and sets his heart on it. With close ties to the regime and a seat in the dusty lower chamber of the assembly, he swings a loan from the public coffers. A little later he becomes minister for such-and-such, but his toy turns out to be high maintenance. As it threatens to eat into his personal fortune, the big man harrumphs and leans on the state agency that lent him the money in the first place to buy it off him. Moral: Patronage and corruption: the state as an open goal for plundering elites. Punish and constrain. Chapter 2. The agency, which now has a controlling interest in the toy, sells it on for roughly twice as much as the big man owes. Moral: Success! In the murk of public ownership, a dazzling shaft of light, originating from within! Rewards for enterprising dissidents! The big man is history.

From The Blog
30 May 2011

Were all Serbs complicit in the crimes of the Milošević era? That’s the view of Ratko Mladić, the man who ran the four-year siege of Sarajevo and orchestrated the killings in Srebrenica. 'You voted for Milošević,' he said at the special war crimes court in Belgrade, after his arrest last week. 'I am not guilty.' Punish us all, in other words, but don't single me out. It's a weight-free argument beside the gravity of the charges, and an insult to the many Serbs who could do nothing to halt the degradation of the 1990s. In The Hague, Mladić will want to do better.

From The Blog
16 May 2011

Sunday. My landlady accosts me: have you heard what’s happened in America? ‘Histoire de fesses!’ She is agitated. Whose business is it that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the IMF and hot tip for the Elysée in 2012, has lunged at an employee of Sofitel in midtown Manhattan? What do they think they’re doing arresting him? Who was she, after all? A chambermaid! So, it’s an engraving in an 18th-century romance for gentlemen. Or if you read the New York Post, a ‘perv bust’, following ‘alleged sodomy of hotel maid’. Not such bad news for the right in France, despite the national disgrace.

From The Blog
30 April 2011

How far can an American president sink below the line of least resistance? Andrew Sullivan answers this question in a blogpost about Guantánamo. That Obama has failed to address the breaking apart of human beings by Americans on the base makes him the inheritor of the Texan legacy on torture: Barack W. Obama, second president of Gitmo. 'To his eternal shame', as Sullivan remarks.

From The Blog
23 March 2011

Imagine you were a Palestinian teenager, born in Jerusalem, when the Israelis took charge of your city in 1967. Imagine you received an ID card, giving you the right to residence in the place of your birth. That permit was in order when you left in the 1970s to study in the US. When you returned 20 years later, having graduated, married and started a family, you presented your document at the airport, only to be told it had been revoked. This is the story of Munther Fahmi,

From The Blog
15 March 2011

Last week Chantal Brunel, the right-wing UMP deputy for Seine-et-Marne, told the press that it was time to stick immigrants back in the boat. She was thinking of the large numbers, mostly Tunisian, who came ashore on the Italian island of Lampedusa in February. But her real worry was the fizzing popularity of the Front National – a champagne bubble bath lovingly filled by the pollsters for the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen, in which she’s continued to bask as the rest of the political class queue up for cold showers.

From The Blog
28 January 2011

The LRB came late to the poet R.F. Langley, who died this week: ‘Still Life with Wineglass’ was the first of his poems to be published in the paper, in 2001. By then he was in his sixties with half a dozen short books, including a Collected Poems (72 pp.), to his name. To cast one’s eye back over the list of early publishers – infernal methods, Poetical Histories, Equipage – is to understand Langley’s vivacious interest in the hedgerow and his singular indifference to the arterial road. His wonderful, slender body of work developed quietly, intermittently, in the world of the very small presses. No mistaking this kind of poet for a celebrity wordsmith or a national treasure: Ted Hughes and Johnny Morris are out, though nature is insistently present; Larkin and Eric Morecambe are likewise absent, but comic elegy is there in the mix.

From The Blog
22 December 2010

The death of Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, leaves the ghost ship of 1960s rock with barely more than a dozen spectral deckhands and trembling techies. Not that the Captain was much of a man for a sea breeze. I went to hear him at Leeds University in the 1970s. During the interval, a few minutes after the audience had bolted for the bar or the lavatories, the Captain entered the gents and clattered down the long tiled floor, striding past the urinals, shoving open the cubicle doors to his right, one after another, until he arrived at the far end. Then, in the manner of a distinguished judge who’s sifted all the evidence: ‘Man if this place doesn’t stink of seafood.’

From The Blog
13 December 2010

Two things we can learn about Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara from the US embassy in Rabat, courtesy of Wikileaks: 1) it’s a source of personal revenue for Moroccan army officers but 2) everything’s fine really.

From The Blog
14 November 2010

One of the striking traditions of Remembrance Sunday is the wreath that the Foreign Office lays at the Cenotaph. All the other wreaths are made at the British Legion's Poppy Factory, but the FCO's is supplied from Kew. It represents the flora of Britain's overseas territories, so this year, for example, it contains Bermuda snowberry, slipper spurge (Anguilla), myrtle (Gibraltar), moss (British Antarctic), boxwood (St Helena), parrot's plantain (Virgin Islands) and tussock grass (the Falklands). This year the focus is on veterans of Korea, who headed the march past on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the war.

From The Blog
5 November 2010

The two agreements struck by Britain and France on defence co-operation this week have not brought citizens out on the streets of Paris. There were worries – expressions of anger even – about Sarkozy’s decision to take France back into Nato’s integrated command structure last year, but this is different. The fresh-faced Cameron and the embattled, less rosy-cheeked Sarkozy are like two sons whose parents have frittered away their family fortunes: they must now find common cause and drastic economies, which means moving in together if they wish to remain in the ritzy part of town reserved for big military spenders.

From The Blog
29 September 2010

The return of the bedbug shows no sign of letting up. Unwitting fifth columnists of globalisation, earlier this month they shut down the Nike shop in Manhattan. A friend in Brooklyn says her house was infested. The vector? Probably a son’s wayward friend. Cost in the region of $6000. Orwell used to drive them off with black pepper, which is cheaper. I was last bitten by bedbugs in Fez about 35 years ago and ended up in outpatients. Last, that is, until the bedbug renaissance. Two years ago on a night train from Paris to Florence I was bitten many times. I threw away my clothes, took my travel bag apart and lay down for a week. Six months later in New York, it happened again in a well known hotel on the Lower West Side. It was beginning to seem like a manhunt. I found one of the offenders, put it in a glass and delivered it to reception. In exchange I got a new room. No one offers you a new train.

From The Blog
24 September 2010

Murray Sayle, who died on 18 September, began writing for the LRB in his seventies. He’d already been a star turn as a journalist during the great days of the Sunday Times, known for his report that Che Guevara had left Cuba to wage war in South America, his dispatches from Vietnam and his dashing accounts of sailing solo across the Atlantic and tackling Everest. His work for the LRB was an energetic, thoughtful review of the log, with plenty of new material added: on the handover of Hong Kong; on the economic crisis in Japan, where he was living at the time; on climate change and the shortcomings of Kyoto.

From The Blog
14 September 2010

A grim truce prevails in my commune, in South-West France, between the travellers who live here – ‘gens du voyage’, ‘Tziganes’, ‘Gitans’ – and the indigenous French. The expulsions (none in these parts) have changed little. Like most truces that work, it’s founded on lack of trust and there are any number of assertions doing the rounds. A favourite is that out of fear for their own families, police don’t intervene when crimes are committed by travellers. Last year I was tending the bar at a fundraiser when a fight erupted at the door. A friend was badly injured. As it happened, and it often does, the incident involved travellers. The gendarmes were slow to fetch up but quick, in the weeks that followed, to pursue their suspects.

From The Blog
12 August 2010

The cost of eating and drinking is rising. Breweries and beeries won’t feel the recent increase in barley prices as fast as farmers will: those who use it for animal feed have already seen the price of a bushel of non-malted barley (about 22 kg) double since the end of June. Bad weather in Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which between them take half the world’s barley to market, is the cause. The rise pushes up the price of grains in general and hits us all eventually, but the hit is staggered. In rich countries we spend less than one fifth of our income on food; in developing countries the figure is more like a half or three-quarters. The gap is narrowing as the value of food appreciates all over the world.

From The Blog
11 August 2010

Mia Farrow is still a star turn. See her testimony at The Hague, where Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Farrow, Naomi Campbell and Campbell’s agent, Carole White, of Premier Model Management, were in South Africa in 1997 when, according to White and Farrow, Campbell was a knowing beneficiary of Taylor’s dodgy largesse. Here’s how it looks, very roughly, if you dovetail the testimonies of White, Farrow and Campbell at the Special Court for Sierra Leone:

From The Blog
14 July 2010

Basil Davidson, who died last week at the age of 95, was a regular contributor to the LRB during the 1990s. In a generous sheaf of pieces, many of them reviews, he drew on his experiences as a member of Special Operations Executive during the war and his subsequent fascination with Africa. He was fond of exposition and argument, but his writing could be pithy too. On the postcolonial state in Africa: ‘a constitutional garbage can of shattered loyalties’. On Milosevic and the break-up of Yugoslavia: ‘the Chetniks . . . have appeared once more.' On intrepid writers pursuing their quarry in distant places: ‘Those who wander in the great forests of the African tropics do not always manage, like Conrad’s storyteller, to make it home again.’

From The Blog
29 January 2010

I moved out of London around the time the Clapton Park estate in Hackney got a lick of salmon paint. That was in 2002. I left our dog Megan with my uncle in Marylebone. When she had pups in 2004 he kept one and they called him Asbo. Last week, while my uncle was on a New Labour flickr site, Megan did a runner from the flat and headed out under the Westway. Asbo knew better and sat tight. My uncle tweeted a lost-dog alert. A fish-farmer in the Maldives got back about a different dog. Megan’s missing now, but most of the places she fetched up are on the record. She was first identified on CCTV, hackles up, pacing the north-west corner of Grange Primary School Ealing at 9.45 pm on 21 January: By the morning she was outside Didcot Girls’ School, baying at the new hall, which she may have taken for an abattoir. (frame) The trail went fuzzy after she ducked south to Thanet Campus (frame). By now she was a phantom dog pin-balling round the country with bared teeth, cracked paws and pale green eyes the size of artichokes. She briefly materialised butting the glass panels of the Youth Centre at Thornaby-on-Tees on the 23rd (frame) Hours later, she was filmed behaving in a confused and inappropriate way outside the University Campus, Suffolk. (frame) The story of her round-Britain excursion is told in Change we See, the site my uncle was browsing the night she lit out. You won’t ‘see’ Megan anywhere in shot. She’s already undergone a ‘change’. It looks from the photo-stream like Megan found a two-legged friend out there in the wilderness of brick and PVC. You can see that person in a mauve outfit with a black scarf, directing his mother to the east Building of the Driffield School (frame) And there’s that same person, a day or so later, waving our dog into the Alfred Bean Hospital for a spell in the (experimental) canine unit. (frame) Unlike our dog, the unit’s not yet up and running. It wasn’t ready and she wasn’t either. That’s why we’ve had no news of her. New Labour are the only people with a record of the places our dog visited on her incredible journey around Britain. For instance: The Eaglescliffe Allweather pitch Harris Girls Academy in Dulwich. My uncle says New Labour are probably the only people who can tell us why our dog became the pet from hell in the first place. I moved out of London around the time the Clapton Park estate in Hackney got a lick of salmon paint. That was in 2002. I left our dog Megan with my uncle in Marylebone. When she had pups in 2004 he kept one and they called him Asbo. Last week my uncle was on a Flickr site where citizens upload photos of New Labour's successes: buildings, sports grounds, more buildings. Good, bad, indifferent. As if no other party in history had commissioned so much as a public toilet. My uncle was distressed and so were the dogs. Asbo started to howl and then Megan did a runner. My uncle saw her heading out under the Westway. He tweeted a lost-dog alert. A fish-farmer in the Maldives got back about a different dog.

From The Blog
8 December 2009

Dubai’s latest moment of turmoil is being talked up as a test of ‘Islamic finance’. But is it really? The problem: in 2006 Nakheel Development Ltd issued bonds to the value of three and a half billion dollars, and can’t pay out when they mature next week. The issue in question is ‘sharia-compliant’. This kind of bond, known as a ‘sak’ (plural ‘sukuk’) has seen huge growth in the Islamic and non-Islamic world over the last ten years. I’ve explained how sukuk work in the LRB and how state borrowers and corporations in the West are getting keen on them: The UK Treasury had been planning an issue but it went on hold after the banking meltdown; last month General Electric issued $500 million of sukuk with Middle Eastern investors in view. Very roughly, a bond is Islamic when there’s a tangible underlying asset on which the issue is based – for instance real estate – and when there are no guarantees saying the investor can’t lose: risk has to be shared between borrower and lender. The rapid convergence of Islamic and conventional finance plus the high-level collaboration between intellectuals and product-engineers in both camps have done wonders for sharia-compliant instruments, but there are pitfalls. One is the preference of conventional investors for a guarantee on some kind of return. That’s not permissible in Islamic finance, though if you’re an investment banker or corporate fundraiser you might find a sharia expert who could see a way around the difficulty and put his imprimatur on your product to make it attractive. Looking for a friendly scholarly opinion on a product is known as ‘fatwa shopping’.

From The Blog
17 November 2009

Last Thursday Nicolas Sarkozy gave a long speech at La Chapelle-en-Vercors. It was supposed to be in support of farming, but Sarkozy turned on his heel at the cowshed and launched into a lively exposition of French identity, republican identity, and the identity of everything and nothing. That’s a winning formula. Or it was in 2007 when he campaigned for the presidency on the same combination. It’s probably an opener for the regional elections in March 2010. Sarkozy may well be drawing a pension by the time anyone can say what this great piece of oratory about culture and values really adds up to. Is it worth the struggle? For those who don’t want to find out the hard way, here’s a 17-point résumé: 1. You’re really French when you grasp that the Girondins and the Jacobins were two sides of the same coin. 2. Yes, coins.

A State of One’s Own: Kosovo

Jeremy Harding, 19 August 1999

National sovereignty, in the remains of Yugoslavia, has been a punishing master. It has evicted some in the name of an old arrangement that they never fully took account of – this, by and large, has been the fate of Kosovo Albanians – and others in the name of new arrangements that took no account of them: this is the fate of vast numbers of Serbs. In the process, sovereignty has lost a lot of credibility. Yet no sooner is it violated by a powerful alliance, as it was on 24 March by Nato, than it recovers its threadbare dignity. Its status in the abstract may even have been enhanced – in some quarters anyhow – by the fact that it was weakened in a single, real instance. But in the former Yugoslavia, a loss of any kind often insinuates itself into the annals of gain, while short-term winners – Kosovo Albanians, for instance – can barely distinguish what they are meant to have won from all they have lost.

Europe’s War: Kosovo

Jeremy Harding, 29 April 1999

Hour after hour the foreign press lined the raised road on the Macedonian side of the border, gazing at the thousands of refugees from Kosovo massed in the field below. It was a vigil in which the brief condolences of the powerful nations – with their digital cameras and telephoto lenses – were extended yet again to the weak. A German television engineer squatted in the road with his head down over a piece of equipment, silently crying. You could see the results of this botched internationalism on CNN or BBC World in the hotels of Skopje, although the electronic images of Blace caught little of the place itself: a triangle of low land between a river and a frontier road; a railway track running by the river, the near bank lined with willows; poplars in the middle ground. Until it was suddenly emptied one night in early April, to the dismay of the foreign press corps who had not been present, every aid agency and media outlet had its own idea of how many people were camped on that ground – forty thousand or more – or queuing to get out of it. Everyone also thought they knew the death toll.

Diary: With the KLA

Jeremy Harding, 4 February 1999

History, it’s said again and again, is what makes the loss of Kosovo so much harder for the Serbs to entertain than any of the setbacks they’ve borne so far under the dark stewardship of Slobodan Milosevic. Kosovo is the geographical fundament of Serbian Orthodoxy; the site of a legendary face-off between Christianity and Ottoman incursion. Among Serbs, this past is a far more vigorous currency than the miserable Yugoslav dinar, yet very few non-Serbs recognise it, or anything minted in Belgrade, as legal tender. We, too, can invoke history to explain our hesitation. Seven hundred years ago, Dante wrote King Milutin of Rascia into the book that lies open on the Day of Judgment. Milutin’s sin, the imperial eagle explains to the poet in the Paradiso, was to forge Venetian ducats (‘il conio di Vinegia’). Today his remote descendant Milan Milutinovic, President of Serbia, is honouring the tradition by issuing one counterfeit version after another of events in Kosovo. Since Richard Holbrooke, Washington’s Balkan fixer, brokered a rickety ceasefire last October, Milutinovic’s arguments have come with a plausible lustre – he invokes the UN Charter, the sovereignty of member states and so on – but his latest observation, that the 45 ethnic Albanian villagers massacred in Recak by Serbian security forces on 15 January were all ‘terrorists’, has persuaded no one.’‘

Delirium: Arthur Rimbaud

Jeremy Harding, 30 July 1998

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud, poet and ex-poet, took a 41 shoe – about a seven in British sizes, an American seven and a half. We have his own word on this, in a letter written shortly before his death at the age of 37, requesting a stocking for varicose veins. The jaunty teenager smoking a pipe in Verlaine’s famous sketch – dearer to Rimbaud’s admirers than the simpering soul in Fantin-Latour’s group portrait of the same year – has elegant legs. But of the eight pairs hidden from view in the Fantin-Latour, Rimbaud’s were surely the toughest, the most serviceable, when it came to getting about. Nimble feet on peasant legs which, against every impulse of peasant culture, propelled him away from the farmyard across the dank pastures of Northern France and Belgium and, a few years later, down through Italy, racking up great distances in the course of a day.’

‘Martha Gellhorn (1908-98), war correspondent and heroine’. Since her death in February, this epitaph has become a depressing possibility. Now we can say what we like about her, but during the last ten years of her life, though she could do little about criticism, she tried to keep the mythologising, much of it from friends, within the bounds of taste. She didn’t care for anything, or anyone, with a propensity to gush. She is thought of, primarily, as a journalist – and one whose subject was war. Since the second half of the Eighties, her two collections of reportage, The Face of War and The View from the Ground, have enjoyed a wider readership than her novels, of which there are five, or the novellas, roughly a dozen, or the numerous short stories.’‘

Best Remain Seated: travel guides

Jeremy Harding, 1 January 1998

For some varieties of ‘new traveller’, as the guide books refer to him, fun, or value for money, can only be had when the going gets rough. He is, without question, a man. He likes to keep count of his change and clock up the kilometres. Once abroad he’s a seigneur of the road; the locals are vassals, trespassers, con-artists and thieves. The new traveller knows how to deal with them. He’s the strongish, silent type who won’t complain if there are no croissants at breakfast. He may not succumb to the t-shirt, but he’s busy having been there, done that. He can be moved by a spectacular view at the end of a dreadful day. He believes that nothing should come easy, there must be endemic hassle and haggle from dawn to dusk. And because the business of getting there is really the whole point, or much of it, it turns out that, with his preferred form of leisure, there’s no distinguishing the thing pursued from the pursuit of it. It’s already done though he’s still looking forward to it. Queuing seven hours for a visa while suffering a bad case of dysentery, multiple snakebite and severe heatstroke, or being run off the road by a truck and later robbed at gun-point, is evidently what makes the earth move for the kind of traveller the Lonely Planet guides have in mind.‘

Elective Outsiders

Jeremy Harding, 3 July 1997

That Iain Sinclair, poet, essayist, impresario and weaver of arcane fictions, is one of the more generous spirits around is obvious from this brave, demanding and often flummoxing anthology. Thirty or forty poets are represented; most have remained in relative obscurity, partly because their work fell on deaf ears, partly because they believed in the notion of a mainstream which intellectual loyalties led them to disparage quicker than it could disparage them. ‘The voices here,’ says Sinclair in the Introduction, ‘are the ones who have been locked away, those who rather enjoy it.’ Twenty-five, thirty years after the best of them began to publish – John James, Chris Torrance, Lee Harwood, Andrew Crozier, Peter Riley, J.H. Prynne, Michael Haslam, Douglas Oliver, Barry MacSweeney, Denise Riley – they must nonetheless wonder, from time to time, whether theirs is a case of having missed the boat which would only have been worth catching if they’d been on it in the first place. Perhaps that is why Sinclair gives the impression of his poets as a ship of fools docking for an open day. ‘The work I value is that which seems most remote, alienated, fractured. I don’t claim to “understand” it but I like having it around.’ Plenty of his contributors are not chaoticians at all. They do not make a meal out of alienation and fracture. Yet the alternative to implying, as Sinclair does in his adversarial way, that because they are crazy and wild, his favourites can wipe the floor with the dandies of the London lists, would have been to argue that they were an avant garde with coherent ideas whose bearing on British poetry will in time become clear – and this is unlikely. Their identity is now too loose, the poetic culture on which they might have a bearing too amorphous. Their vanities, moreover, are not those of an avant garde: Sinclair’s people have too much both in the way of an admirable reticence and a less admirable vigilance which drives some to any lengths to avoid the sin of facility. Most important, the forms of patronage that made avant-gardism a reliable means of insertion in a ‘prevailing’ discourse, and the political contexts in which this was possible, no longer exist. Low-paid day jobs or faculty teaching posts have kept too many of Sinclair’s unworldly contributors at a remove from anything resembling an open forum. If they now speak largely to one another, sometimes in a mysterious babble, that is our loss, for many of them are, or have been, very good indeed.’

The Frighteners

Jeremy Harding, 20 March 1997

The world according to Robert Kaplan has arrived in Britain. The Ends of the Earth is a piece of blockbuster journalism by an American reporter/traveller of some influence whose thinking has shaped the way that other people, more influential still – in the White House, the State Department, the United Nations and the international aid agencies – go about their business. The US edition will already be on a few desks here, and despite the fact that much of it reads like a long assignment by a man in a flak-jacket for other men in suits, this relentless survey of the fate of the world circa the millennium looks set for a wider readership. The sooner it is opposed, the better.

The Best Barnet

Jeremy Harding, 20 February 1997

Susannah Clapp’s memoir of Bruce Chatwin has little in the way of hard-going and nothing of the comprehensive record that bloats a literary biography. It makes no claims about the relation between a writer’s life and work that weren’t already clear from Chatwin’s career, and tends to confirm that the real waywardness of this ur-traveller lay in his darting and musing and drifting intelligence: the long list of places visited, sights seen, hinterlands crossed can seem like a vulgar indiscretion by comparison – the mind, not the world, was Chatwin’s oyster. One of the strengths of this memoir is that it narrows the field: Susannah Clapp is not for traipsing round West Africa or Tibet, preferring to work the Chatwin itineraries elegantly and sparsely into what is very much a home-turf story, from Sheffield, to Birmingham, Wiltshire, London, Edinburgh, Gloucestershire, Wales and the Borders, with stints in Europe and the US thrown in.’

The Mercenary Business

Jeremy Harding, 1 August 1996

The soldiers of fortune who followed the wake of crisis in Africa during the Sixties and Seventies were almost always bound to clandestinity – the public bragging came later. In most cases they were sourly and implacably opposed to national liberation, which they saw as a Communist conspiracy on behalf of an inferior race that had failed to identify its interests with those of its betters. For the mercenaries who fought in Katanga at the time of the Congo disaster or in Angola before independence, anti-Communist ideology had a useful subsuming role: greed, adventurism and some brusque racial views were comfortably rolled up into a defence of the free world.

A Death in Eritrea

Jeremy Harding, 6 July 1995

Not many people have the good fortune to die well, and fewer still to live well, but by all accounts Wolde-ab Wolde Mariam managed the first as respectably as he had the second. He died in May at the age of 87 in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, which became the 52nd sovereign state in Africa two years ago. Wolde-ab was buried in the cemetery of Tsetserat and a day of national mourning was declared. Hadas Ertra, the main newspaper, ran a long eulogy and published a photo of this frail old man taken forty years earlier or more – a mugshot posted by the Agordat police with the offer of a reward for news of Wolde-ab’s whereabouts. The face is robust and solid, suggesting a resilient physique, which must have been the case, for he survived four very close calls – there were seven assassination attempts in all – during the first phase of his life as a militant for Eritrean independence.’

The Red Card of Chaos

Jeremy Harding, 8 June 1995

The West likes the Ebola story which, at first sight, seems to confirm our ‘continentalist’ views of Africa. The foreign pages in Britain aren’t teeming with reports from Kikwit by Zairois journalists. There are few, I guess, even in Belgian or French newspapers, despite the fact that Zaire is one of the largest Francophone countries in the world. There is no shortage of able journalists in Zaire, but they are working as baggage-handlers at the airport, driving cabs, trading up on petty merchandise for meagre profits. There are good doctors too, who have little to work with and nothing to lose, once the point of no return is reached, as it was in Kikwit before the World Health Organisation arrived. (In clinical terms, infected medics represent phase two of the outbreak, and there’ve been enough of them in the epicentre to suggest that health workers in Kikwit take their duties seriously.) Yet the Eurocentric view of African disasters seldom allows for non-European skills to play a mitigating role and, for this reason alone, the coverage of the Ebola virus, with its stress on the strengths of the hospital staff, feels different.

In the Châtelet

Jeremy Harding, 20 April 1995

‘Le lesserez la, le povre Villon?’ – Will you leave poor Villon here? – the poet asks in an appeal from Meung-sur-Loire, near Orléans, where he was detained at the Bishop’s pleasure, probably in 1461. ‘Epistre a ses amis’ reads now, in the light of so much scholarship, translation, loose-clad homage and general ventriloquism on the part of a wide and posthumous circle of acquaintance from Swinburne to Lowell and beyond, like a request to be left in peace – Villon is something of a cottage industry and the generator has been whirring fairly constantly beside the mallow patch. But it’s the translators most of us have to thank for knowing him at all.’’

Pale Ghosts

Jeremy Harding, 12 January 1995

Dan Jacobson grew up in the diamond town of Kimberley, South Africa. England was one of the places he looked to for inspiration. As it turned out, his interest in English literature and his habit of falling on copies of the New Statesman were ways of sending ahead. From his description of Kimberley on a Saturday afternoon in Time and Time Again (1985), it is obvious why he hankered for another life, the further away the better:

The Partisan

Jeremy Harding, 23 June 1994

Travelling in West Africa a little over forty years ago, Basil Davidson was shown around the chamber of the new territorial assembly in Bamako, built by the French as a concession to the growing demand for independence in Mali. The chairman of the assembly ‘pointed with a cautious smile to the plaster-white figure of the French state symbol on the chamber wall above his ceremonial chair. “There is Marianne,” said he with another cautious smile but with an echo of laughter in his voice, “and here are we. She so white, and we so black.” ’

Du Maurier: A Lament

Jeremy Harding, 24 March 1994

Last year a BBC documentary about the war in Bosnia showed the town of Travnik besieged by Bosnian Serbs. Conditions in the town were dismal; hunger and fortitude were the order of the day. The programme was watched by 1.8 million viewers, none more attentive than a Mrs Willis of Bath, who wrote to the broadcasters complaining about the amount of smoking in the programme. She wanted to know why the inhabitants of a dying town could only discuss their problems in a cloud of smoke.

God, what a victory!

Jeremy Harding, 10 February 1994

Michael Kelly has produced a vivid, responsible account of his own itinerary, as a contributor to New Republic, the Boston Globe and the New York Times, through the Gulf War: from Baghdad to Amman; on to Egypt, Palestine, Israel. Saudi Arabia; into Kuwait and back into Iraq, via Basra; thence to Kurdistan. There are few sops to terrible beauty, whatever Kelly’s dust-jacket champions may say, and no excessive enthusiasm for the darker side of his material, either in the abandoned Iraqi torture chambers of Kuwait City or on the road to Basra.

Junk Mail

Jeremy Harding, 23 September 1993

If a certain stoicism was required to get through William Burroughs’s disgusting novel, Naked Lunch, there are fewer problems with his mail. Indeed, the only danger is over-indulgence, for this stuff slides easily off the end of the fork. The letters here were written between 1945 and 1959. They begin with Burroughs at his family home in St Louis, from which he moves smartly through a series of addresses in the US. They continue across four troubled years in Latin America, followed by the celebrated stint in Tangier, which begins in 1954 and ends almost four years later with the manuscript of Naked Lunch in presentable form. The remaining letters are from Paris. Altogether there are more than 180, most of them fascinating. The majority by far are addressed to Allen Ginsberg, who encouraged Burroughs to persist with his writing and brought order to the mass of notes and written ‘routines’ that finished up as Naked Lunch – or The Naked Lunch, as the British edition used to be called.’

One Eye on the Neighbours

Jeremy Harding, 22 April 1993

The American writer, William Finnegan, went to Mozambique in 1988. He had already written for the New Yorker about the war and Pretoria’s support for Renamo (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana), the anti-government insurgency. ‘The brisk self-assurance of that piece now makes me wince,’ he says in the preface to his careful and informative book. ‘Like many foreign observers, I saw Mozambique through a South African lens, expecting to understand the country – and the war which devours it – more or less exclusively by way of the apartheid Cyclops next door.’ At the time, this was the best broad perspective on offer. Frelimo (Frente de Libertaçao de Moçambique) proclaimed independence in 1975, after a long bush war. Once in charge of Mozambique, it gave support to Zimbabwean guerrillas against Rhodesia until the end of the Seventies and to the African National Congress until 1984. Pretoria saw the country as a puppet of Soviet ambition in the region and, at the time of the Zimbabwean settlement, replaced the Rhodesian security forces as Renamo’s provider and minister, building it into a capable force with a centralised command. By the time Finnegan arrived, Mozambique was in grave difficulty. Frelimo had learned to officiate within the confines imposed by the only real authorities in the country: war and hunger. To do so, it had entered into a coalition with the international aid agencies, running the relief effort, and to some extent the war, on humanitarian aid.’


Jeremy Harding, 9 May 1991

Two of these books are by real journalists – Blaine Harden for the Washington Post, Andrew Buckoke for the financial Times and others. The third is by a Writer, Ryszard Kapuscinski, who spent many years masquerading as a correspondent for the Polish news agency, PAP. In covering epic misfortune of the kind one reads about in Africa, all three have learned to talk straight from the shoulder, although Buckoke’s is slightly hunched under the white man’s burden and Kapuscinski’s is often set to the wheel of invention, which makes much of his plain speaking deceptive. Only Blaine Harden keeps a respectable posture throughout and can even be quite sanguine in adversity – mostly other people’s.’

Ms Sandra Heaney was sitting in the Acropole Hotel, having failed to leave the country. Not Greece – she was 1500 miles from the shores of the Aegean in a dusty, impoverished tip of a city. The Acropole is a Greek family business in Khartoum. The proprietors and the picture on the hotel stationery are the only connections with Athens, both of them tenuous.

Diary: In Soweto

Jeremy Harding, 11 October 1990

Last month, two days after the war on the Reef between Inkatha and the ANC erupted in Soweto, the families in Klipsruit Extension were moving out. The windows had been smashed in every single house on the dusty road through this respectable, middle-class development. Dozens of well-dressed middle-class Sowetans were loading mattresses, tables, cushions, chairs and pictures onto pick-up trucks and roof racks. There was a house set back from the road, fronting the open field through which Inkatha must have come. It belonged to the Kunene family, one of whom had recently died in a car crash. When Inkatha burst in, the family were holding a vigil for the dead man. The women must have been in the covered yard at the back preparing food for the funeral the next day. The big pots had been overturned and there was a litter of freshly-sliced vegetables on the floor. The rest of the makeshift outdoor kitchen had been broken up, its contents strewn on top of the vegetables – except for the meat, which had been stolen. All that remained of that, propped on the surface of a listing wooden table, was an enormous cow’s head, its horns angled up to the canopy and its dim eyes fixed on the dirt path at the back of the house.’

Got to keep moving

Jeremy Harding, 24 May 1990

The idea that a falling object was about to defy gravity before it hit the ground is a familiar one in the mythology of the pop idol. It is the gist of Charles Shaar Murray’s book about Jimi Hendrix, who enjoyed a great career as a virtuoso guitar player between 1966 and 1970, when he died in a London hospital after an overdose of sleeping pills. In a sparkling homage, far more readable than most books about pop music, Murray argues that the extravagant left-hander who introduced a new vocabulary to rock guitar-playing was the unsung progenitor of a jazz we will never know.

Her Guns

Jeremy Harding, 8 March 1990

As a young girl growing up in St Louis, Missouri, Martha Gellhorn had a habit of poring over maps; riding on the city’s tramcars, she would imagine she was bound for distant places with exotic names. Seventy years later, her war dispatches, fiction, travel writing and the peacetime journalism – collected here – bear witness to a lifetime of wanderlust. From the clattering cars of the St Louis Transit Authority, the dreamy child has disembarked as a grown woman in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. In all these places she has set down what she saw in her journalism and worked what was less readily apparent into her fiction: five novels, two collections of stories and four groups of novellas.’

Diary: On the Tyson Saga

Jeremy Harding, 31 August 1989

The Police Athletic League building stands on a large, unkempt lot in Atlantic City. It is a forlorn edifice with damp walls and a cracked facade. Carl ‘The Truth’ Williams, who fought Mike Tyson in July, is a regular visitor to the boxing gym on the upper floor, where the athletic young men – mostly black and Hispanic – spar in a raised ring, thrash oblong leather bags, pump metal, skip rope, and stalk their own images in three or four large mirrors, with a fury that must be reducing the life of the building still further. To stand at the centre of the gym in mid-afternoon is like being astride a pneumatic drill. The floor and walls vibrate with a combination of pounding feet, drubbed bags and jabbering speedballs until the frenzy of noise levels out to a sustained hum.’


Jeremy Harding, 16 February 1989

Last year, a two-page circular letter from an address in Central London arrived in dozens of offices and homes throughout Britain. It was a handsome campaign document, announcing the appearance of eight ‘easy-to-read briefings’ and the existence of ‘five local support groups in Glasgow, Birmingham, Berkshire, Leicester and Greater London’. The Mozambique National Resistance – Renamo, in Portuguese – has created havoc in Mozambique for a decade. United States sources hold the ‘anti-Communist’ insurgency responsible for tens of thousands of civilian killings. Renamo’s atrocities are too outlandish to warrant description in anything other than a pathology report. In its breezy national mailing, however, the ‘Mozambique Solidarity Campaign’ describes Renamo as a ‘progressive force’ representing ‘the argument for peace and national reconciliation’ in Mozambique. The campaign is patronised by many young right-wingers, including Marc Gordon of the International Freedom Foundation, an anti-communist organisation which enjoys extremist American funding. Like many Western ideologues who sup with the devil, Gordon has the long spoon of ignorance to hand: he has never set foot in Mozambique. In October, however, he got as far south as Brighton, to advertise Renamo’s case in fringe meetings at the Tory Party Conference. Gordon is touting the insurgency as a political alternative to Frelimo, the Marxist Government which took over from the Portuguese in Mozambique 13 years ago.’

Diary: In Bethlehem

Jeremy Harding, 2 February 1989

Ahmed is a Palestinian living in the Bethlehem area. He is not yet thirty, but his studies were long ago interrupted by the closure of his university in the occupied territories and nowadays he earns part of his living by escorting foreign visitors around the West Bank. His itinerary is selective, leading from one dark scene of bereavement or injury to another. We meet in Bethlehem on a wet December morning. The shopkeepers are already closing up – the half-day is a regular feature of the intifada, a mass protest, now over a year old, against the Israeli occupation, itself over twenty years old.

The War in Angola

Jeremy Harding, 1 September 1988

The talks now under way between four of the main protagonists in the Angolan war – Angola, Cuba, South Africa and the United States – may just bring about a settlement. Yet peace remains a plausible outcome at best. South Africa has committed its forces to regular combat in Angola for thirteen years. In so doing, it has sought primarily to restrict the activities of exiled Namibian guerrillas based on Angolan soil. The decision of Angola’s Marxist government to provide bases not only for the Namibian liberation movement, Swapo, but also for the African National Congress has incurred Pretoria’s unmitigated fury and there can be little doubt that Angola has been a reluctant host. At the same time, South Africa’s presence in Angola and its co-option of the Angolan rebel movement Unita have been consistent with the broader regional doctrine known as destabilisation, based on the (astute) belief that disarray in neighbouring states protracts the life of minority rule at home. The Angolan Government has relied heavily on the presence of 45,000 Cuban troops to combat South Africa and Unita, while the rebels themselves receive additional support from Washington. Disentangling this complex web of interests and arriving at a settlement will not be easy.’

Eritrean Revolution

Jeremy Harding, 15 October 1987

When the Emperor Haile Selassie was removed from the palace in Addis Ababa 13 years ago, the Ethiopian revolutionaries chose to drive him away in a Volkswagen. It was in some sense an eye for an eye – a humiliation of the man whose lavish style at court, maintained while thousands of peasants died in the famine of the early Seventies, had shamed the country. It was also a gesture of studied indifference. Henceforth it was of no concern what clothes the Emperor might or might not be wearing. The new regime would be pursuing a tough Marxist agenda in which the King of Kings had no place beside the agricultural collective, the village assembly and the literacy campaign.

From The Blog
16 April 2010

Flying is for happening people and though I try to happen as seldom as possible, sometimes it’s irresistible, which is why I’m booked to fly any moment with RyanAir. First time in eight years, even though the airport’s up the road. But then along comes Eyjafjallajökull, east of Stansted. East in the same way that Krakatoa is ‘east’ of Java, i.e. west. On the RyanAir website I can see the company ‘apologises sincerely for any inconvenience caused by these eruptions’. At least I think that’s what it says. But that doesn’t address my sense of entitlement, which includes the right to travel unimpeded by natural phenomena, e.g. fog, snow, volcanoes, meteorite showers, Canada geese and flying toads.

From The Blog
18 December 2009

The first things a new nation needs are a football team and an army. The last thing it needs is for either to disappear overnight and it’s an embarrassment to Eritrea, which won independence from Ethiopia in 1993, that all 12 members of the national squad should have dumped their strip in the wheelie-bins at the back of their hotel during a CECAFA tournament in Kenya and vanished without further ado. ‘Cazzo,’ I hear the Eritrean leadership whispering to itself. ‘But at least we’ve still got the army.’ The trouble is that the army – or rather military service – is one of the reasons so many Eritreans want to get out. (The UN puts the monthly emigration figures in the low hundreds.) Another is poverty, another is the angular, repressive style of the regime, which hasn’t changed its ways since it got control of the liberation struggle in the mid-1970s.

From The Blog
23 October 2009

It’s the scale of things you notice first in John Ashbery. Plenty of his poems have a way with the short line and the ‘regular’ fit. But the long line, extended into the deafening silence that’s always about to ensue – this is the Ashbery signature. It’s an old, American question: from sea to shining sea, what is all that space about? And why are we here, if not to fill it? Ashbery prefers the urbanity of the coast, but he has a sense of the wide and worrying expanse at his back. It’s wrong to think his poetry doesn’t go there. It spends a lot of time roaming in the middle of nowhere, but it doesn’t advertise its adventures with spurs and chaps, or commendable species identification, or intimate encounters with the void.

From The Blog
9 July 2009

Britain's isn't the only newspaper culture to make a habit of naming and shaming. Last year in Serbia a national tabloid vilified the human rights activist Sonja Biserko, calling her a traitor and a threat to 'Serbian homogeneity'; it also published her home address. In Kosovo, despite bitter memories of Serbian domination, this practice of whipping up animosity against public enemies, while canvassing a paper's readership for henchmen, hasn't gone away. The journalist Jeta Xharra is the latest public enemy. She presents Life in Kosovo, a weekly televised debate on current affairs for the public service channel RTK.

From The Blog
17 June 2009

Haifa al-Khalidi says that she's not a librarian. Fine. But the al-Khalidi collection on 116 Bab al-Silsilah Street in the old city of Jerusalem doesn't pretend to be anything other than a library so maybe Haifa simply means she's not a scholar, even if she's now acquainted with a thousand rare manuscripts and many more works in print that are housed here. One of the first she shows us is a beautifully decorated Arabic translation of a work on poisons and remedies by a 12th-century Indian physician. (Later I learn it contains a tale about metabolic resistance and how it's possible, carefully and slowly, to administer a poison to a subject whose antibodies enable him to survive, even though someone else who touches him will die.

From The Blog
15 June 2009

Any self-respecting electorate in an EU member-state prefers a presidential to a European parliamentary. In France, enthusiasm and interest were at fever pitch. The challenger to the incumbent looked impressive. According to Le Figaro, he was a winner with younger voters, and an instinctive liberal in ways that matter – an aerosol solution to the fug in the country's political institutions and the clammy hold of the Republic on the lives of its citizens. His wife was said to be 'a star' in the political firmament. If the French had been eligible to vote in Iran, they'd have turned out in force for Hossein Mousavi and his non-singing, non-dancing not Carla Bruni. And they'd have wanted to be on the streets of Tehran denouncing the rigged results.

From The Blog
6 June 2009

Last week in the Occupied Territories, a bunch of (mainly) British writers, guests of the Palestine Festival of Literature, were asked to run workshops for the students at Birzeit. I was paired up with Robin Yassin-Kassab, the author of The Road from Damascus. Our workshop title was 'the role of writing in creating new political realities'. Right. Something about change then. Yassin-Kassab is a novelist; he knows what it is to ring the changes. I'm a journalist; I know how to change an inkjet cartridge. But we both agree that shouting tends to lock 'old' political realities in place, so why not turn this into an experiment about making a point without banging a drum?

From The Blog
3 June 2009

A good way to grasp what's happening to East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories is from the air. Google Earth can do that for you, but there's a history of contention: in 2006, users created tags for Palestinian villages that were destroyed during the war of 1948-49; the following year Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades were said to be checking potential Israeli military targets against Google Earth pictures; last year there was a controversy over the Israeli coastal town of Kiryat Yam, when a user called Thameen Darby posted a note claiming it was formerly a Palestinian locality 'evacuated and destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war'. Kiryat Yam, its residents protested as they reached for the nearest lawyer, was built in the 1930s.

From The Blog
2 June 2009

Last week, the Palestine Festival of Literature organised a discussion about travel and writing at the Dar Annadwa cultural centre in Bethlehem. One of Palfest's star guests, touring the West Bank and East Jersualem, was Michael Palin, whose early glories, before his reinvention as a traveller, were much on people's minds. He spoke well about growing up in Sheffield and cultivating a passion for Hemingway, but the audience was delighted when someone suggested that living under Israeli occupation was a bit like being in the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil. As the panellists stood up and tidied their books, a young Palestinian in the seat in front of me said she couldn't believe we were all with Palin in Bethlehem – Bethlehem! – and no one had thought to ask about Monty Python's Life of Brian. But with two other writers on the stage, there'd been a lot of ground to cover.

From The Blog
7 May 2009

What’s the difference between Martha Stewart, ‘lifestyle guru’, ‘third most powerful woman in America’ etc, who was refused entry into the UK last year, and the 16 foreigners who have just been barred by the Home Office? Jacqui Smith’s initiative – name the naughties – was announced on Tuesday, with some fanfare and much triumphalism. It fingers people likely to stir up hatred or ‘glorify terrorist violence’, which obviously isn’t Stewart’s bag, and not all of them have criminal records, which obviously is, yet somewhere here there’s a bigger difference. It was about this time last year that Stewart was planning a visit to Britain but a few days before she was due to jet in, she was told she couldn't come. Her criminal past in the US was the problem. She wasn't convicted of insider trading, but she did fib to investigators during an inquiry into the sale of shares in the cancer-drug company ImClone hours before the public announcement that its wonder therapy, Erbitux, had failed to win FDA approval. That was in 2001; Stewart offloaded more than $200,000 worth of shares. In 2004 she was sentenced to five months in jail, which she served, coming out under supervised release in 2005. She famously told Barbara Walters that she wasn’t the only irreproachable human being in history to be sent down: ‘Look at Nelson Mandela.’

Neil Foxlee reproaches Jacqueline Rose for turning Camus’s ‘hibou rouge’ into a ‘yellow owl’ in her reading of La Peste (Letters, 21 May). But this is Stuart Gilbert’s translation, published in 1948, not Rose’s. In the novel, Tarrou refers to the figure in the dock as an owl four times, as ‘hibou’, ‘hibou roux’, ‘hibou’ and...
I got the date – and the occasion – wrong in trying to remember the botched challenge to the traditions of Wellington College by a group of seditious pupils in 1968 (LRB, 19 July). Their idea, I wrote, was to invite hundreds of hippies – via a small ad placed in International Times – to ‘field day’, a combined cadet force ritual scheduled for May. According to the...

North Wales

13 July 2017

Daniel Trilling is right to worry about the enthusiasm of Alexander Betts and Paul Collier in their book Refuge for Special Economic Zones in nearby safe countries, where refugees could find work and firms could be incentivised by international grants to take a chance and open up (LRB, 13 July). Many things they have to say about the ability of UNHCR and others to cope with modern refugee numbers are...
Jeremy Harding writes: It would have been nice to call Ginsberg a ‘holy fool’, only he wasn’t an ascetic. On his imperious need for physical intimacy – here, there, wherever – it’s ingrained in the work and splashed all over the life, that vast baggage piled on top of Beat generation writings.Enitharmon have just republished an ‘anniversary epistle’ to...


18 October 2007

Rash of me to fancy a French defeat at the hands of New Zealand in the rugby world cup (LRB, 18 October). The statistics looked good, and they will again. After their victory at Cardiff on 6 October, the French now have 11 wins and one draw against the All Blacks from a total of 46 encounters. The jittery teams of the northern hemisphere are still long-haul contenders in international rugby –...

Grand Refurbishing

4 January 2007

Writing in the last issue about the new Musée du quai Branly, I worried that the much-diminished Musée de l’homme would become a no-thrills, indoor Jurassic Park, having been left with its large prehistoric inventory (300,000 items), a prehistory library and plenty in the way of palaeontology (30,000 items). Since the last issue of the LRB went to press, 2012 has been announced...

Behind the Sandwall

23 February 2006

Zakaria Fatih believes that the conflict in Western Sahara was ‘fabricated by the Algerian military during the Cold War’ (Letters, 23 March). But there is more to it than that. In the early 1960s, Morocco took up a lowly Cold War role as an independent African state with respectable pro-‘liberation’ credentials, though firmly in the Western camp. Algeria pursued a different...
Hilary Mantel is a little hard on John Chernoff (LRB, 21 October). When I knew him 25 years ago, he was not the usual lumbering white man in Africa. He was a very good drummer – he’d learned from some demanding teachers in the field – and wrote a great account of Ghanaian percussion in African Rhythm and African Sensibility (1979), arguing persuasively that this was not the enthusiastic...
It was misleading to say, as I did, that the count, in the French Presidential elections, is ‘organised at canton level’. In the regional press, round here at any rate, the results are published by canton, but a breakdown of each canton result shows the vote in each of its member communes. For the purposes of voting, the ballots of one or two obscure communes – no shortage of these...
Jeremy Harding writes: In trying to say something about the parallax effect and the jumpy perspectives of the so-called ‘urban’ Illuminations in the LRB several years ago, I wrote that ‘Mark Treharne’s superb English versions … catch these shifts and transections exactly’ (LRB, 30 July 1998). Treharne’s translations were good when they appeared and they look...

A Month of Sundays

20 April 1995

Jeremy Harding writes: The depressing misquotation from ‘Villon’ was my fault and not the typesetters’. To deprive Bunting of a rhyme is certainly no improvement. Denis Goacher speaks only of Bunting’s internment in Newcastle. He thinks the idea that Bunting was not released until after the Armistice was cooked up by Pound, ‘who always had to go one better’. But...

Famine in the Horn

7 February 1991

In the last issue of the LRB I wrote about the famine in the Horn of Africa. As the paper was going to press, the British Government announced a further contribution to the relief operation in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Overseas Development Administration is providing another £8.75 million of relief, in addition to the £7.2 million I mentioned. This includes an immediate shipment of food...


Basil Davidson, 9 September 1993

‘In olden times, which is when God was deciding what blessings he would give to the countries he was creating, after a long while he finally got to Angola and he asked Gabriel his angel to...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences