January 2015


30 January 2015

In Toulouse

Jeremy Harding

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.


29 January 2015

Mark Boxer and the LRB

Inigo Thomas

Karl Miller liked to quote a passage from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Like one, that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread And, having once turned round, walks onAnd turns no more his headBecause he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread. The passage was much better, he'd add, if you changed a word in the penultimate line. Take out 'fiend', replace it with 'friend'. Mark Boxer was a friend of Karl's; he was a friend of the LRB, too, and while he was no fiend, exactly, he was on the tail of his many friends, caricaturing them in his drawings, not always to their liking. He was the first editor of the Sunday Times colour supplement, as such publications were called back in the day, but the drawings are the lasting achievement.


28 January 2015

Under Fire in the West Bank

Natasha Roth

‘I won’t say we changed the open-fire regulations, but we’ve taken a slightly tougher approach with people around here,’ Brigadier General Tamir Yadai, the Israeli army commander in the West Bank, said last month. ‘In places where we used to fire tear-gas or rubber bullets, we now fire Ruger bullets and sometimes live bullets.’ Yadai was talking to residents of Halamish, an Israeli settlement, who had complained about the worsening security situation.


27 January 2015

On De Klerk Boulevard

Harry Stopes

Table Bay Boulevard in Cape Town is to be renamed after F.W. De Klerk, subject to city council approval at a meeting tomorrow. When Eastern Boulevard was renamed after Nelson Mandela in 2011, the council chamber burst into rapturous applause. That’s unlikely to happen tomorrow.


26 January 2015

L’éducation religieuse

Jeremy Harding

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.’


26 January 2015

Syriza’s Victory

James Meek

Syriza's victory in the Greek general election is a hopeful moment for Europe. It shows how a radical left-wing political movement, brought together in a short time, can use the democratic system to attack three menaces: the rentier lords of jurisdiction-hopping private capital, the compromised political hacks of the traditional parties who have become their accomplices, and the panphobic haters of the populist right.


23 January 2015

What do they mean by the Keystone 'jobs' bill?

Ben Jackson

In the Republican Response to the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Joni Ernst, a newly elected senator from Iowa, referred to legislation that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline as the ‘Keystone jobs bill’. It’s the latest in a long line of Republican rebrandings.


22 January 2015

Archaeo-Politics in Macedonia

Yannis Hamilakis

On Monday, six days before the general election, the Greek Ministry of Culture published a preliminary report by the osteo-archaeological team studying the skeletal remains found in the mound of Amphipolis in northern Greece. The bones were found in November, since when there had been a lot of speculation about who they might have belonged to. Alexander the Great’s name came up a lot, as did his mother’s, Olympias.


21 January 2015

Israel and the ICC

Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon

The decision by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, to open 'a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine' could have a concrete political impact in Israel/Palestine, but not because the ICC will end up charging officials for carrying out war crimes. The ICC has yet to address any violations carried out by Western liberal states. Simply put, the geography of the ICC's investigations – from Côte d'Ivoire to Uganda – both reflects and reproduces an old colonial frame of justice. Even within this blinkered framework, the court's success rate has not been particularly impressive: in its 12 years of existence, the ICC has carried out 21 investigations; only two people have been convicted. Given that record, why has Bensouda’s announcement provoked such outrage in the Israeli government?


20 January 2015

At the Shura Council Show Trial

Omar Robert Hamilton

On Saturday, the court case known in Egypt as the Shura Council trial was in session. Judge Hassan Farid entered the courtroom, flanked by the two other judges on the panel and a couple of morose security guards. The defence were to continue their closing arguments, the prosecution having wrapped up a month ago. But before the defence could begin, the judge leaned in to his microphone and asked if the prosecution had anything they wanted to say. The courtroom fell into a stunned silence – and then erupted in protest.


19 January 2015

Blue Corner, Green Corner

Jeremy Harding

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.


19 January 2015

Avnery on Netanyahu in Paris

The Editors

Uri Avnery on Binyamin Netanyahu's marching in Paris: I have been in many demonstrations in my time, maybe more than 500, but always against the powers that be. I have never participated in a demonstration called by the government, even when the purpose was good. They remind me too much of the late Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and worse. Not for me, thank you. But this particular demonstration was also counterproductive. Not only did it prove that terrorism is effective, not only did it invite copycat attacks, but it also hurt the real fight against the fanatics.


16 January 2015

Russia's Political Theatre

Natalia Antonova

Teatr.doc is – or was – a small theatre in a basement a short walk from Tverskaya Street in the centre of Moscow. Not funded by the government, it has always done as it pleased. Its productions have included One Hour Eighteen, about Sergei Magnitsky, the accountant and auditor whose death in detention continues to haunt Russia (disclosure: my husband was in the cast), and BerlusPutin, an adaptation of a satire by Dario Fo. You could see a play about the fall of Constantinople one day, and go back the next evening to see a short comedy about how much young men hate the draft.


15 January 2015

Looking for 'Charlie Hebdo'

Jeremy Harding

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.


15 January 2015

What do Boko Haram want?

Adewale Maja-Pearce

There is much talk here in Nigeria of the world’s muted response to the latest outrage by the Boko Haram Islamic insurgents who sacked the entire town of Baga in the beleaguered north-east while any number of heads of state gathered in Paris to mourn the deaths of 17 French citizens. Double standards? Perhaps. But if so, what should we say about the silence of President Goodluck Jonathan in the face of the wholesale slaughter of his citizens – 2000 according to initial reports; 150 according to the government – even as his French counterpart was to be seen everywhere exhorting his people to stand firm? Nine months ago, when Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls, it took the president nearly three weeks to acknowledge that anything had happened. Nobody knows what Boko Haram want and perhaps they don’t know themselves. We only know what they don’t want, most famously ‘Western’ education.


14 January 2015

Invisible Women

Lynne Segal

I heard that the octogenarian Joan Didion was to be the ‘new face’ of the Parisian luxury brand Céline when I was in the middle of commenting on a new monograph by Margaret Gullette called How Not to Shoot Old People. It documents countless grim instances of neglect and contempt for the elderly across a vast ageist spectrum. We oldies live in schizoid times.

Old fashionistas are suddenly all the rage (if hardly plentiful) at Vogue and Dolce & Gabbana. Living longer, old people can be encouraged to consume more, especially by cosmetic and fashion industries promising to keep us looking streamlined and elegant. We may, undesirably, be no longer young, but we can at least dutifully defer to the dictates of fashion. Didion even has the skinny look of a fashion model: hardly an inch of flesh, mere bones on which to hang clothes and accessories.


12 January 2015

In Paris

Jeremy Harding

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.


12 January 2015

Operation Stand-Down

Alex Abramovich · The NYPD

For the better part of a month, New York's police have been throwing temper tantrums, turning their backs on the new mayor and refusing to do their day-to-day jobs, prompting the New York Times to publish a series of admonishing, incensed editorials. 'What New Yorkers expect of the Police Department is simple,' one said:


9 January 2015

Moral Clarity

Adam Shatz

After 9/11, Le Monde declared: ‘Nous sommes tous Américains.’ The love affair was short-lived: as soon as the French declined to join the war against Iraq, American pundits called them ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ and French fries were renamed ‘freedom fries’. When Obama took office, relations warmed, but the tables were turned: the new administration in Washington shied from foreign adventures, while the Elysée adopted a muscular stance in Libya and Mali, and promoted a more aggressive response to Bashar al-Assad's assault on the Syrian rebellion. Neoconservatives who had vilified the surrender monkeys now looked at them with envy. Today a new cry can be heard among intellectuals in the US: ‘Je suis Charlie.’ It is a curious slogan, all the more so since few of the Americans reciting it had ever heard of, much less read, Charlie Hebdo before the 7 January massacre. What does it mean, exactly? Seen in the best light, it means simply that we abhor violence against people exercising their democratic right to express their views. But it may also be creating what the French would call an amalgame, or confusion, between Charlie Hebdo and the open society of the West. In this sense, the slogan ‘je suis Charlie’ is less an expression of outrage and sympathy than a declaration of allegiance, with the implication that those who aren't Charlie Hebdo are on the other side, with the killers, with the Islamic enemy that threatens life in the modern, democratic West, both from outside and from within.


9 January 2015

Rival Sanctities

Glen Newey

Reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders has solemnly reaffirmed the right to joke. The French state – which banned the magazine three times between 1961 and 1970 – has piled in to defend laicity. A humid stupor presents itself as moral clarity, voiced by such statespeople as Le Pen, Wilders and Farage. Liberals, who tend to distance themselves from Thomas Hobbes’s account of state power, have as partial a view of it as he did. Hobbes thought physical security mattered so much that people would trade most of their rights to get it. Liberals see the trade as overpriced, because it may well include things like free speech. Hobbes was clear-eyed about that. But he was much less clear on the other side of the question, as regards those for whom worldly security matters less than, say, their eschatological destiny. Either the concern for security lacks the decisive force that Hobbes needs it to have, or it has it, but recast as security not for one’s mortal coil, but one’s eternal soul. The avatars of modern jihadis spook the pages of Leviathan, and were hardly unknown to Hobbes: Thomas Harrison, a New Model Army commander and puritan fanatic, used to yodel ecstatically in battle when he saw royalists being run through. Hobbes’s case for obedience is vulnerable not only to liberal goods, but distinctly illiberal ones.


8 January 2015

Teixobactin

Hugh Pennington

There’s been excitement this week at the announcement of a new antibiotic. Called teixobactin by its discoverers, it is produced by a soil bacterium, also new to science because it needed the development of a novel system to enable it to grow and be tested in the laboratory for antibiotic production.


7 January 2015

Heroic Obstinacy

Jeremy Harding · Charlie Hebdo

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.


5 January 2015

At the Movies

Jeremy Bernstein

On Christmas day at 3.05 p.m. I managed to see The Interview. It was not so easy. It was playing at the Cinema Village, a pocket size three-screen theatre in Greenwich Village which specialises in obscure foreign films and other exotica. When I showed up at 2.30 all performances were sold out except the 1 a.m. but I joined the standby line and just at 3.03 managed to get in and find a seat in the very back of the theatre. There were some TV people outside both when I entered and left. What they expected I have no idea.


3 January 2015

In Doha

Ursula Lindsey

There was a bride in full wedding regalia on my plane from Cairo to Doha last month. She was wearing a sequinned, lacy hijab and a long, tight mermaid skirt that flared at the bottom, over a wire hoop. It wasn’t easy to manoeuvre the hoop down the aisle of the plane. She was travelling alone, and in the long empty hallways of Doha's new airport made laborious progress. I didn't see who came to meet her.