21 June 2024

Red Lines

On 9 June, doctors across Israel received an email from Zion Hagay, the president of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA), saying that a red line had been crossed. The night before, Udi Baharav, a 71-year-old physician and volunteer wearing a high-visibility doctor’s vest, had been violently arrested during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv. Video clips of the police using excessive force went viral on social media and were picked up by the press. Dr Baharav was detained for hours simply for fulfilling his duty as a doctor and providing medical care to a protester.

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12 April 2023

Critical Support

The ‘special military operation’ is a bloody fiasco – that much is obvious. Terms such as ‘the Bakhmut meat grinder’ are now commonplace. And yet it’s a fiasco that many people in Russia support. Anglo-American commentators turn to totalitarian clichés to explain this curious fact: they write that Russians are brainwashed, depoliticised and terrified of police repression. But such accounts cannot explain why people support the war even as they openly criticise its leadership, methods and goals. Online and in daily life, in formal state petitions and in viral streams, people in Russia complain about their political and military leaders’ criminally incompetent actions and policies. They denounce the military’s infrastructure, tactics and strategies. The most patriotic speak the most critically.

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15 June 2020

‘Five-nil to the BLM’

I talked with a small group of long-term anti-racist activists and we all agreed it was more important than ever to go out on the 13th. Why should we let the far right dictate to us when we could march? Isn’t the whole point of anti-racism to confront racists? How could we let fascists swagger around unchallenged in the streets of London?

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2 June 2020

From Trafalgar Square to Grenfell Tower

In eight years of going on protests in London, I’ve never seen the Met Police caught so off-guard by a march of predominantly black and brown youth. Clearly they misjudged how much we care.

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2 June 2017

Will I keep getting my Personal Independence Payments?

I’m angry. I’m so angry it woke me up this morning. And I’m angry about being angry because I can’t channel the anger into anything productive because I can’t do anything productive. I am powerless to stop being ill and I am powerless to stop being angry. Being disabled is infuriating. Something that happened to me and was beyond my control has left me like a machine that’s been switched off – disabled – unable to do anything that a 21-year-old of my intelligence and interests might want or need to do. I have been sick for almost half my life, and housebound for the last four years. But that's not the reason I'm angry. At some point in the near future an agent from Atos will be reviewing ‘how [my] health condition or disability affects [my] daily life’ so that a 'decision-maker' at the Department for Work and Pensions can say whether or not I’m still entitled to Personal Independence Payments.

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3 October 2016

Why ruin the fun?

It seems a category error to expose a pseudonymous novelist as if you were acting in the public interest; to adopt the tools and language of investigative journalism, go through someone’s financial records and harass their family in order to ruin an authorial position that has been almost as interesting as the author’s novels themselves. There’s no value in revealing Elena Ferrante’s ‘true identity’ (as Claudio Gatti claimed to have done yesterday). What’s interesting about her anonymity depends on its being sustained; it’s a creation, as well as a political proposition, that has engendered a conversation about literary making rather than dismantlement and confession. In an age of autofiction, when so many protagonists take their authors’ names, the idea that the author, too, is a literary creation extends the fictiveness out of the books and into the world. Why ruin the fun?

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6 October 2014

Occupy Central

The atmosphere of the student-organised, leaderless, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last week was hopeful, even jubilant, although the police had attacked the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets on Sunday 28 September. Under torrential rain, tens of thousands of peaceful Hong Kongers made their way to Admiralty, Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok. I was volunteering at a station to distribute supplies. On Tuesday we had to refuse any more water donations, we had so much already. Food and first aid workers were abundant. Strangers quickly became friends. ‘Hong Kong people are so practical,’ one fellow outlying islander said. ‘They go to work and then come to protest.’

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2 August 2013

The Last Alawite in Raqqa

Raqqa, a predominantly Sunni city in northern Syria, has been under the control of rebels, mostly Salafists, since March. Black jihadist flags fly from the main city buildings, but there's also fresh graffiti in the red, green and white of the Syrian revolutionary pennant. Most of the small Alawite population, who worked mainly in government or the security forces, left when the city exchanged hands. Roula Dayoub, a young nurse at one of the hospitals, did not. ‘I am the only Alawite here now,’ she says.

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3 November 2011

Mafia State

The regime in Syria, eight months into the uprising, is making a show of playing nice. It has said it will accept an Arab League plan to end the bloodshed – but no one’s holding their breath. Last week it invited a number of foreign journalists into the country. President Bashar Assad gave his first interview to the international media, with Andrew Gilligan in the Sunday Telegraph. For an outsider arriving in Damascus, having seen the TV footage of the violence in Homs, the city must seem surprisingly calm – one of the reasons, presumably, that the regime asked the press in. But calm isn’t quite the word.

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26 August 2011

In Damascus

More than five months into Syria's uprising, at least 2200 people have been killed and thousands more detained. The activists involved in the protest movement have insisted on non-violence and non-sectarianism but it’s not clear how much longer that can last. I recently accompanied a doctor and an activist as they made their rounds of Harasta, a small town on the northern outskirts of Damascus.

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