Charlie’s War

Jeremy Harding

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explained that his class was meant to confront students with the following question: should cartoons of the Prophet not be published in order to avoid violence, or should they be published to keep ‘freedom’ alive?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?


Holy Spirits

Marina Warner

In​ the insistent and repetitive rhythm of lockdown, one month melts into another, but the monotony is shot through with dread that comes and goes with terrible intensity. The combination of plague-stricken suspension – the new Covidian temporality – and uncertainty about what’s still in store has made me wonder about old forms of timekeeping. Did they serve to make the...


Ethiopia’s Long War

Maaza Mengiste

Ihave​ a hazy childhood memory of soldiers breaking into our house. They had come to question my grandfather, who they believed was hiding someone they wanted to arrest. It was not long after the start of the 1974 revolution in Ethiopia that would depose Emperor Haile Selassie and install a military junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. The new regime, which called itself the Derg, was hunting...


The First Vaccine

Steven Shapin

In the British market for domestic lab­our, both inoculation and a personal hist­ory of smallpox counted as qualifications: you could then work safely with the em­ployer’s children. Parish officials came to appreciate that a pox on the poor was a risk to the rich, badly affecting both bourgeois health and the availability of labour. Quak­er ethics and general altruism were motives for the provision of free inoculation to the working classes, but economic self­-interest was just as much a part of it.


Being Hans Keller

Nicholas Spice

Two scenes​ from his teenage years in prewar Vienna defined Hans Keller’s later life: one a kind of heaven, the other a window on hell. He was a viola pupil of Oskar Adler, a doctor and musician, and took part in the famously select chamber music salons at Adler’s house in the Neubaugasse, where on Saturday afternoons the luminaries of Vienna would play string quartets and talk...


Brain Warfare

Mike Jay

It​ was during the fallout from Watergate that the American public first heard of MK-Ultra, the most notorious of the secret mind control programmes that the CIA ran through the 1950s and 1960s. After Nixon’s men were caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972, Richard Helms, then director of the CIA, refused to help with the cover-up. In...



Erin Maglaque

Thepro-choice case for abortion rights rests partly on the possessive pronoun. My body, my choice. Keep your rosaries off my ovaries. These slogans are predicated on the idea that a woman owns her internal organs, and that this ownership is what entitles her to make decisions about them. I once accepted this idea without much thought. Then I had an abortion. It was my abdomen under the...


Me? Soft?

Namara Smith

The​ narrator of Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi’s second novel, is blunt about the logic behind her life choices: ‘I wanted to do the hardest thing. I wanted to flay any mental weakness off my body like fascia from muscle.’ This impulse led her first to Harvard, where she studied molecular biology, and then to graduate school at Stanford. When the novel begins, she is 28...

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