Unwinnable War Two

It’s war time again. Earlier this month the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee (FAC) noted that legal opinion is at best divided on the legality of whacking Islamic State without Chapter VII support, but last Friday the UN passed resolution 2249 enjoining member states to take ‘all necessary measures’ – UN-speak for military action – against IS. David Cameron will probably seek and get Commons approval for war next week, a move that’s already had the spin-off benefit of splitting Labour’s Corbynites and hawks. More »

What does Osborne want?

There were several surprises in George Osborne’s sixth autumn statement as chancellor of the exchequer, but the announcement that grabbed the headlines was the (temporary) reversal on cutting working tax credit. For some commentators, that volte face, and the chancellor’s performance more broadly, was a display of unparalleled acumen. Here was a politician, they purred, at the top of his game, an exponent of statesmanship who could seize the centre ground while almost issuing an apology. For others, including the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, Osborne’s offer was a political capitulation of the first order, a premier cru bottlejob by a champagne charlie. The truth, unsurprisingly, is somewhere in between, but what shouldn’t be overlooked is Osborne’s ambition for the top job. More »

Cold Homes Kill

‘It’s by invitation only,’ a guard at the entrance to the House of Commons told me on Wednesday morning. I was trying to join the people from Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) who had just gone in, uninvited, for a ‘warm-up’. The activists had chosen the day of the chancellor’s autumn statement to ask MPs about measures being taken to ensure people can afford to heat their homes. When I got to the lobby, I saw the group surrounded by police. Five minutes later, they were on their way out, chanting: ‘No more deaths from fuel poverty.’ ‘Cold homes kill,’ one of their banners said. Winter excess deaths in England and Wales in 2014-15 – the number of people who died between December and March minus the average over the rest of the year – have been estimated by the Office for National Statistics at 43,900, the highest for 15 years. According to the World Health Organisation, at least one third of those deaths are likely to have been caused by fuel poverty. More »


Since 1990, 1518 people have died in police custody in England and Wales. Not a single law enforcement officer has been convicted for involvement in their deaths. Last month, campaigners from England – including Shaun Hall, Kadisha Brown-Burrell, Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett and Marcia Rigg, whose brothers all died in police custody – travelled to California to take part in the Caravan for Justice, a tour through eight counties where communities have been affected by law enforcement abuses. More »

Mali’s Porous Borders

On Friday, Bamako flashed into the European media’s consciousness. In the early morning, men with automatic weapons had arrived at the Malian capital’s Radisson Blu hotel. Shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’, they killed two security guards and took 170 staff and guests hostage. It was the third attack of its kind this year. The first was at La Terrasse restaurant in Bamako on 7 March, where five people died; the second, on 7 August, was at the Hotel Byblos in central Mali. Thirteen people died. More »

Cases of Mass Mistaken Identity

‘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. More »

At Harmondsworth

When you go to see someone at Harmondsworth Detention Centre near Heathrow, you sit in a waiting room until your ticket is called and you are led into the large visiting room. After a while, the person you are there to visit enters through a door on the other side. The waiting room and visiting room are decorated with photographs printed onto canvas. The photos are the stock kind you might get on the desktop of a Windows PC: deserts, beaches, lush forests, drops of water, lands of mineral richness. They appeared after Mitie took over running the centre from GEO (both are private companies). Artwork by detainees used to decorate the walls, but now those pictures are stacked up in the corner. More »

The New Normal

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’. More »

How to play hooky in New York

On Tuesday Sam and I went to see his doctor. We took the subway but weren’t sure which train. A workman told us then asked where we were from. ‘You’re so lucky,’ he said when I told him we were from London. ‘In this country the individual isn’t allowed to protect himself.’ Presumably that was a reference of some kind to gun control. Perhaps he thought we didn’t have it and he did. In the doctor’s waiting room, the patient before us had thought she should cancel: ‘It didn’t seem the right day to be travelling into Manhattan.’ She’d come from Brooklyn. The doctor’s phone rang while we were with him. He looked at it and left the room. He came back smiling. The call was from his son’s elementary school. Two boys from the neighbouring high school had phoned to say there was a bomb in the building. The police were summoned, the school was evacuated, the children were allowed home. There was no bomb.

At Wembley

‘The most bloodthirsty line in the French national anthem was written with the English in mind,’ David Bell wrote in the LRB in 1998. Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, the military engineer who composed the words to the ‘Marseillaise’ in 1792, took the line about watering furrows with ‘sang impur’ from a poem which was much more specific about whose impure blood it should be. More »

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    • name on Who is the enemy?: Simply stating it is correct doesn't make it so, I just wish you would apply the same epistemic vigilance to "Muslim crimes" as you do to their Hebrew...
    • Glen Newey on Unwinnable War: The legal issue admits of far less clarity than the simple terms in which you – I imagine quite sincerely – frame them. For the benefit of readers...
    • Geoff Roberts on The New Normal: The causes go back a long way into the colonial past, but the more immediate causes stem from the activities of the US forces in the name of freedom a...
    • sol_adelman on The New Normal: There's also the fact that the French state denied the mass drownings of '61 even happened for forty-odd years. No episode in post-war W European hist...
    • funky gibbon on At Wembley: If England get France in the quarter finals of Euro 16 I expect that a good deal of the fraternity will go out the window

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  • From the LRB Archive

    Edward Said: The Iraq War
    17 April 2003

    ‘This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology.’

    David Runciman:
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    8 May 2003

    ‘One of the things that unites all critics of Blair’s war in Iraq, whether from the Left or the Right, is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what matters is the consequences of his actions.’

    Simon Wren-Lewis: The Austerity Con
    19 February 2015

    ‘How did a policy that makes so little sense to economists come to be seen by so many people as inevitable?’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

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