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Whacks

D.A.N. Jones, 4 March 1982

The Works of Witter Bynner: Selected Letters 
edited by James Kraft.
Faber, 275 pp., £11, January 1982, 0 374 18504 2
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A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence: The Betrayal 
by G.H. Neville, edited by Carl Baron.
Cambridge, 208 pp., £18, January 1982, 0 521 24097 2
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... Witter Bynner met Lawrence in later life, in Mexico, and was forced to recognise himself as Owen Rhys in The Plumed Serpent: in his letters we find him deftly defending himself against the accusation of unmanliness which Lawrence had brought against him. Neville and Bynner were very different. Neville was a local man, from Eastwood, a local ...

Night-Flights

D.A.N. Jones, 18 September 1986

Search Sweet Country 
by B. Kojo Laing.
Heinemann, 256 pp., £10.95, August 1986, 0 434 40216 8
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The Jewel Maker 
by Tom Gallagher.
Hamish Hamilton, 180 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 241 11866 2
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The Pianoplayers 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 208 pp., £8.95, August 1986, 0 09 165190 5
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An After-Dinner’s Sleep 
by Stanley Middleton.
Hutchinson, 224 pp., £9.95, May 1986, 0 09 163620 5
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Coming Home 
by Mervyn Jones.
Piatkus, 263 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 86188 525 2
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... absurdity, Anthony Burgess’s 29th novel, we turn to Stanley Middleton’s 25th and Mervyn Jones’s 22nd, both of them rather dour books concerned with an ‘older’ man renewing acquaintance with his first love. ‘Older’ is by no means a precise term; the hero of An After-Dinner’s Sleep was born in 1918, like Ellen Henshaw, but at 65 he ...

Down with Ceausescu! Long live Iliescu!

Owen Bennett-Jones, 12 July 1990

... Romania’s attempt to establish democracy lasted almost exactly six months. After the December revolution, Romanians did begin to use their new passports to travel abroad, they were able to buy and sell goods for the most part without fear of reprisals from the state, and for the first time in over forty years, they could freely speak their mind. That all came to an end on 14 June with the arrival in Bucharest of the twenty thousand shock troops of the Iliescu regime, the miners from the Jiu Valley ...

Diary

Owen Bennett-Jones: In the North-West Frontier Province, 25 September 2008

... The College of Art and Design in Lahore is one of the most cultured institutions in Pakistan’s most cultured city. When I visited a couple of months ago, it was surrounded by sandbags: a department for traditional music had been opened and al-Qaida, which considers music un-Islamic, had threatened to blow it up. Despite this, both teachers and students told me that the real problem they faced was America ...

‘We’ and ‘You’

Owen Bennett-Jones: Suburban Jihadis, 27 August 2015

‘We Love Death as You Love Life’: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists 
by Raffaello Pantucci.
Hurst, 377 pp., £15.99, March 2015, 978 1 84904 165 2
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... I had​ my first brush with British militant Islam in Kabul in 1999. It wasn’t a great place for journalists. Government ministers, all mullahs who refused to be filmed, would shrug off any mildly probing inquiries with the stock reply that everything was in God’s hands. Across the city checkpoints enforced a prohibition on music. Streams of confiscated cassette tape tied to poles fluttered in the breeze ...

How should we think about the Caliphate?

Owen Bennett-Jones: In the Caliphate, 17 July 2014

... In​ its recent propaganda video, Clanging of the Swords: Part 4, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) presented a tightly edited series of grotesque executions. Thirty-eight people were filmed being killed: one man was shot as he ran through the desert trying to escape gunmen in a 4x4; another was trapped in his car; one was at home when Isis broke in and beheaded him in his bedroom ...

One Screw Short

Owen Bennett-Jones: Pakistan’s Bomb, 18 July 2019

Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb: A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance 
by Hassan Abbas.
Hurst, 341 pp., £25, January 2018, 978 1 84904 715 9
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... How​  did Pakistan become the world’s leading nuclear proliferator? North Korea, Libya, Iran: none of them would have worked on building a bomb if it hadn’t been for A.Q. Khan, Pakistan’s leading nuclear scientist, and if it hadn’t been for the Pakistani military, which gave the programme its full support. Drawing on the recollections of former decision-makers, Hassan Abbas offers the most complete account yet of how the programme worked, and what it meant: a source of national pride, and a source of cash ...

Across the Durand Line

Owen Bennett-Jones: The Durand Line, 25 September 2014

The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan 
by Abubakar Siddique.
Hurst, 271 pp., £30, May 2014, 978 1 84904 292 5
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The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier 
by Hassan Abbas.
Yale, 280 pp., £18.99, May 2014, 978 0 300 17884 5
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... The conflict​ in the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands has similarities with other contemporary struggles. From Timbuktu to Kandahar, jihadis, national governments, ethnic groups and, in some cases, tribes are fighting for supremacy. In each place there are complicating local factors: badly drawn international borders; the relative strength or weakness of non-violent Islamist movements; the presence or absence of foreign forces, whether Western or jihadi; and different historical experiences of colonialism ...

When Jihadis Win Power

Owen Bennett-Jones, 4 December 2014

The Inevitable Caliphate? A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, 1924 to the Present 
by Reza Pankhurst.
Hurst, 280 pp., £18.99, June 2013, 978 1 84904 251 2
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... After​ the Islamic State astonished its enemies by sweeping through Iraq’s second city, Mosul, the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appeared in a mosque to give a victory speech. When he raised his right arm to emphasise a point, the sleeve of his black robe fell back to reveal what some on social media identified as a Rolex watch. Online satirists taunted Baghdadi’s supporters: their caliph was like all politicians, claiming virtue in public while enriching himself in private ...

Not No Longer but Not Yet

Jenny Turner: Mark Fisher’s Ghosts, 9 May 2019

k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher 
edited by Darren Ambrose.
Repeater, 817 pp., £25, November 2018, 978 1 912248 28 5
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... is not only possible: it is already flourishing.’ Zero also published Militant Modernism by Owen Hatherley, One-Dimensional Woman by Nina Power and The Meaning of David Cameron by Richard Seymour, all of which grew from their authors’ blogposts. Such works amounted to ‘a kernel of a whole new left public’, according to another of Fisher’s ...

Preserver and Destroyer

Anatol Lieven: Pakistan’s Predicament, 23 January 2003

Pakistan: Eye of the Storm 
by Owen Bennett-Jones.
Yale, 328 pp., £18.95, August 2002, 0 300 09760 3
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... Pakistan has been described as ‘the most dangerous place on earth’, yet Owen Bennett Jones’s title is appropriate, for though storms rage all around Pakistan, the country itself is surprisingly calm – surprisingly at least to anyone depending for information on the Western media, which have all too often been given to hysterical talk about state collapse, military tyranny, imminent Islamist revolution, terrorist takeover and a nuclear war with India ...

Can’t Afford to Tell the Truth

Owen Bennett-Jones: Trouble at the BBC, 20 December 2018

... Depending​ on how one defines the BBC’s purpose, its licence fee income of £3.8 billion is either too much or not enough. In a world dominated by Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, it’s ever harder for the BBC to keep up. It is estimated that Netflix alone will have spent upwards of $12 billion on content in 2018. It has a global audience of more than 130 million, a figure that is increasing by more than two million each month ...

The Overlooked

Owen Bennett-Jones: The Deobandis, 8 September 2016

... Largely​ because 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism is often cited as the fountainhead of violent jihadism, but that is to make too much of its significance compared to other Islamic movements, some of them little known in the West. The distinction between Shias and Sunnis is widely understood, and more recently the mainstream press has also discussed groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, Hizb ut Tahrir and, most recently, Turkey’s alleged coup plotters, the Gulenists, who follow a charismatic, exiled Turkish cleric who lives in rural Pennsylvania ...

The Military and the Mullahs

Owen Bennett-Jones, 3 March 2016

... On 4 October​ 1954 Pakistan’s army chief General Ayub Khan passed the hours of a sleepless night at the Dorchester Hotel in London writing ‘A Short Appreciation of Present and Future Problems of Pakistan’. It ran to 2500 words and outlined the general’s views on how best to manage a country that had existed for seven years but had been unable to agree a constitution ...

I only want to keep my hand in

Owen Bennett-Jones: Gerry Adams, 16 November 2017

Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life 
by Malachi O’Doherty.
Faber, 356 pp., £14.99, September 2017, 978 0 571 31595 6
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... Historians​ of Northern Ireland have plenty of material to work with. A book called Lost Lives (2001) records the lives and deaths of each of the 3720 people who were killed during the Troubles. Fighters, activists, officials and politicians on all sides have spoken to the media and written books themselves. Public inquiries have published hundreds of pages of hitherto secret evidence ...

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