In 1519, eight years before Martin Luther wrote Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague, the Swiss preacher and reformer Huldrych Zwingli faced a deadly outbreak of plague in Zürich. It would have been safer to flee the city, but Zwingli stayed to minister to the sick and dying among his congregation, caught the disease himself, and nearly died. He wrote a poem, later set to music, chronicling his experience. The ‘Pestlied’ is a rare and visceral first-hand account: ‘Ich mein, der tod | sey an der thür’ (‘I think that death | is at the door’). The lines are both alien and familiar, out of time but topical, the archaic Swiss-German rhymes lyrically captivating but linguistically confusing (Luther once dismissed Zwingli’s dialect as ‘churlish, shaggy German’).

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23 November 2020

Egypt Locks Down

Tom Stevenson

Last week, Egypt’s National Security Agency made a series of arrests targeting the country’s leading human rights organisation, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. On 15 November, there was a night raid on the home of the EIPR’s administrative director, Mohamed El Basheer. On 18 November, Karim Ennarah, a researcher, was taken from the beach-front in the town of Dahab, where he was on holiday. EIPR’s director, Gasser Abdel Razek, was arrested the following day at his home in Cairo. His lawyers say his head was shaved and he was kept in solitary confinement with only a metal bed to sleep on.

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20 November 2020

The BAME Game

Jason Okundaye

‘Is Dishy Rishi on your side?’ asks a recent attack ad made by ‘One Rule for Them’, aiming to expose the chancellor’s allegiance to an international class of billionaires. Sunak’s portfolio is certainly breathtaking. The MP for Richmond (Yorks), known in his constituency as the ‘Maharaja of the Dales’, is the wealthiest in the House of Commons, boasting property worth around £10 million (most of that’s a five-bedroom mews house in Kensington). His father-in-law is the billionaire businessman and co-founder of Infosys, N.R. Narayana Murthy. He has declined to clarify whether Thélème Partners, the hedge fund he co-founded with Patrick Degorce, would profit from the escalating share price of the biotech firm Moderna, which reported on Monday that its Covid-19 vaccine appeared to have an efficacy of 94.5 per cent.  

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19 November 2020

In Liverpool

Lynsey Hanley

On 6 November, Liverpool became the first city in the UK to undertake a mass testing programme for the virus that causes Covid-19, with the hope that all 500,000 residents will be tested at least twice at a variety of sites – mostly leisure centres – manned by 2000 army personnel. Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, and his director of public health, Matt Ashton, said they hoped between 5000 and 10,000 people a day would come forward for testing; by the end of the first week, the council announced that 90,000 tests had been carried out. Among them was mine.

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17 November 2020

At the Migration Museum

Daniel Trilling

On the last weekend before England entered its second lockdown, two slabs of the Berlin Wall were standing on the concourse at Lewisham Shopping Centre. They marked the entrance to the Migration Museum, a roving exhibition space that has made a temporary home in south-east London, near a branch of Footasylum and a stall selling phone cases. Inside, the museum’s main space was laid out like an airport terminal, for Departures, an exhibition about emigration from the Britain, which has shaped the country’s history (not to mention the world’s) at least as much as immigration to it has. A short film took visitors on a brisk tour of the last 400 years, from early efforts at colonial ‘plantation’ in Virginia and Ulster, through to the 19th and early 20th centuries – when more than 17 million people left Britain and Ireland, mainly for North America – and the more recent period of free movement within the EU.

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13 November 2020

‘The fish rots from the head’

Musab Younis

It might seem bizarre to blame the murder of the French schoolteacher Samuel Paty on a nebulous conspiracy of leftist academics, given that the perpetrator, Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, was an 18-year-old who had never been to university. But earlier this month in Le Monde, 100 French academics gave their backing to Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, when he responded to the murder with a flood of invective against universities. ‘Islamo-leftism is wreaking havoc,’ he said. Paty’s murderer had been ‘conditioned by people who encourage’ a type of ‘intellectual radicalism’ and promote ‘ideas that often come from elsewhere’, i.e. from across the Atlantic. ‘The fish rots from the head,’ he added darkly. Blanquer was following the example of the president of the republic.

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12 November 2020

Like Moonlight over Water

Anna Della Subin

We knew what she would wear. The white pantsuit was waiting for Kamala Harris to take the stage in Wilmington on Saturday night as the United States’ first female vice president elect. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a white pantsuit when she was sworn into Congress in 2019; Hillary Clinton wore one when she accepted the Democratic nomination in 2016; Geraldine Ferraro wore a white suit when she joined Walter Mondale as his running mate in 1984; Shirley Chisholm wore white when she became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, in 1968. The Democratic women in Congress dressed in white as a protest at Trump’s State of the Union addresses in 2019 and 2020. The tradition is usually traced to the suffragettes, in particular the 1908 Women’s Sunday march to Hyde Park, whose organisers urged women to dress in white to convey the high-minded purity of their intentions. But earlier than that, all-white clothing had been adopted as a political statement by the feminist, socialist, trade unionist and anticolonial activist Annie Besant.

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