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Letters

Vol. 25 No. 4 · 20 February 2003

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How shall we speak of the monarchy?

You describe Glen Newey as a reader in politics rather than Reader in Politics (LRB, 23 January). From this, and from his cheerful pee-po-belly-bum-drawers prose style, I infer that he is a first-year undergraduate shaping up for a career as president of the students’ union. it’s not too soon for him to learn some useful lessons.

First, to label a columnist more talented than yourself as ‘drek’, and a political journalist more serious than yourself as vacuous, may not convince your readers that you yourself are free from these defects. Second, it is a long time since anyone believed that abolition of the monarchy necessarily guaranteed the achievement of a democratic and egalitarian society. Amusing as it might be to see the last king strangled with the entrails of the last priest, power does not reside with kings, bishops or the producers of commemorative china plates. The award of directorships is more significant than the bestowal of gongs; and reading what the papers say is not the same as knowing why they say it. Very minor measures would be required to circumscribe the role of a constitutional monarchy and reduce its burden on the taxpayer; constant vigilance and a lot more information are what we need if this country is not to fall under the yoke of a Berlusconi. we’re falling, all of us, for diversionary tactics of a high order.

Anne Summers
London NW3

The Decline of Bullshit

I sensed a scrupulous reluctance on Stefan Collini’s part not to confine Christopher Hitchens to the ranks of the New Right just yet (LRB, 23 January), but since 11 September, in a long series of articles for the Daily Mirror and the Evening Standard, Hitchens has established himself as a strident champion of Bush and Blair’s New World Order and a self-appointed Torquemada to the liberal Left. According to Collini, Hitchens ‘aligns himself with a tradition that goes back to Tom Paine, Milton and the Diggers’. But Hitchens’s ‘contrarianism’ has always had more in common with the patrician rebelliousness of Rochester, Byron and Wilde than with 17th-century religious dissenters. That said, it’s difficult to imagine that that contrarian trio would have had much time for Bush and Blair’s mercantile sanctimony.

Patrick Skelton
London SE1

Having yawned in the face of half the members of the English radical tradition, Stefan Collini unwittingly adds James Cameron to his blacklist of native lefty bores. He accuses Christopher Hitchens of slipping from the high standards of ‘the sophisticated columnists and political commentators of the East Coast among whom he now practises his trade’ into a red-faced, bone-headed Englishness. He supports this charge by citing Hitchens ‘perceptively, but perhaps also self-revealingly’, saying of Orwell that he ‘was conservative about many things, but not about politics’. The professor doesn’t seem to know it, but Hitchens was playing with Cameron’s remark that ‘there is much to be said for retaining the past. I suppose I am at heart, in everything but politics, a rooted conservative.’ It is genuinely boring to footnote every reference, and I’m sure Hitchens didn’t expect all of his readers to register the quote. But he might have hoped that the Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge would have mastered radical literature before he dozed off. As it is, reading more at night and going south in the winter are the only escape routes I can see for Collini from the tedium of unsophisticated England.

Nick Cohen
Observer, London EC1

How to Say It

Peter Pulzer (Letters, 23 January) puts his finger on a difficult point when he writes that for Tom Paulin to deny ‘the legitimacy of Israel as a state … is to imply that all peoples may have nation-states, with just one exception.’ Is there no room then for a point of view that would deny any peoples as such the entitlement to a nation-state, which sees nation-states as owing duties to their citizens without preference based on ethnicity, and which sees ethnicity as an appropriate basis for other forms of community than the nation-state? One need not be naive about the difficulties of implementing secularism, or about the character of many of Israel’s neighbouring states, to feel that theocracy and ethnicity as pillars of statehood are not a promising foundation for world peace in the 21st century.

Paul Seabright
University of Toulouse

Whether or not Tom Paulin chooses to respond to Peter Pulzer, there is no need for him to ‘publicly and explicitly denounce’ the broadcast on Egyptian television of a historical drama series partly based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This has already been done by numerous Egyptian politicians, academics, critics and journalists.

The episode has, however, had one beneficial outcome, in that many more Egyptians are now aware of the true nature of the Protocols than they were before November’s broadcast. In fact, external censure is usually counter-productive in Egypt; the backtracking by Egyptian state television in this case was the consequence of internal Egyptian criticism. The controversy caused many informed Egyptians to watch a series that otherwise they may well have not watched; and hundreds of academics and intellectuals subsequently wrote letters of protest to President Mubarak. However, the last word appeared in an article by President Mubarak’s chief political adviser, Dr Osama El-Baz, published in Arabic in Al-Ahram – an abridged English translation was published in Al-Ahram Weekly.

Caryll Faraldi
Luxor

Barred frae the Pantheon

Hayden Murphy
Edinburgh

W.S. Milne (Letters, 6 February) supposes that Hamish Henderson might be happy to be ‘barred frae the company o the Pantheon’ – I suspect he would too. At the same time he is joining a pantheon of sorts. In Edinburgh Park, on the west side of the city, a series of 12 busts of 20th-century Scottish poets is being erected. The first four, of Iain Crichton Smith, Hugh MacDiarmid, Liz Lochhead and Edwin Morgan, were completed last year. This year’s herms have been commissioned and are expected to be erected in May and will be of Sorley MacLean, Tom Leonard, Douglas Dunn and Hamish Henderson. The final four will be commissioned in 2004. Hamish Henderson may not have wished to be in the Pantheon but I like to think that he would be pleased to be out in a park in the company of other Scottish poets.

Ian Wall
Edinburgh

Only in a Cold Climate

Anatol Lieven (LRB, 23 January) doesn’t mention the all-important role of the military regime of Pervez Musharraf in the rise of the MMA Islamist alliance. Musharraf’s Government contributed to the MMA’s electoral fortunes by ensuring that criminal cases against its leadership were dropped so that they could stand in elections; by requiring that candidates for election be college graduates (nearly all MMA candidates had religious studies degrees); by engineering splits between the Awami National Party and the Pakistan People’s Party in the North-West Frontier Province; and by demonising, penalising and demotivating the PPP and PML (Pakistan Muslim League), resulting in a low turn-out for these mainstream parties.

It is certainly the case that the Army has been more of a destroyer than preserver. The break-up of Pakistan in 1971 was a direct result of the prolonged military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan, which ruthlessly suppressed politically sophisticated Bangladeshis. The Pakistani Army’s recent involvement in Afghanistan has sown the seeds of instability by importing a sectarian and fundamentalist variant of Islam alien to the tolerant Sufism of the majority of Pakistanis. Perpetual instability suits the military, as it can always portray itself as the party of order. Thus Musharraf’s own coup has further exacerbated Pakistan’s long-term crisis, stayed for the moment only because of Pakistan’s key role in the war against terrorism. Certainly the unbounded militarisation of Pakistani society, coupled with the dictatorial powers General Musharraf has granted himself, represent a great threat to the future health of the country.

Furthermore, where the Army has acted as a preserver, this has only been to preserve its own institutional interests. The weakness of Pakistani civil society and its political institutions is directly attributable to Musharraf’s desire to be rid of any institution standing in the way of the Army’s supremacy.

Lieven also fails to provide the proper context for Pakistan’s first military coup. Ayub Khan staged the coup in 1958 to prevent Pakistan’s first ever elections from going ahead. The Army’s high command – always distrustful and contemptuous of politicians – did not want a rerun of the first provincial election held in the East Pakistan province in 1954, which had returned anti-establishment parties to Parliament. Because of the unstable situation in Iran at that time, Ayub got a wink from the Western powers to go ahead with the coup. His military dictatorship, which saw the rise of 22 families at the expense of the rest of Pakistan, was noted for its brutal suppression of democracy. Eventually, mass agitation led to his resignation in 1969. As Commander-in-Chief he had been the inheritor of a colonial-era military mindset that saw politics as a subversive activity and democracy as a system suitable ‘only for cold climates’. It is disturbing, then, to hear Musharraf comparing himself with Ayub.

Arif Azad
Editor, Viewpoint, London W5

What’s her name?

Elizabeth Clowes (Letters, 23 January) reports that the psychogeriatrician’s question, ‘Who is the Prime Minister?’ lost its usefulness in the 1980s – even the seriously confused knew it was Margaret Thatcher. The question still wasn’t working well into the 1990s: even those whom subsequent examination proved fully compos mentis were inclined to answer: ‘Margaret Thatcher.’

Andrew Sheppard
University of Exeter

Old News

Thomas Jones mentions Clive Bromhall's book The Eternal Child: An Explosive New Theory of Human Origins and Behaviour (LRB, 23 January). The title astonishes me. Human beings may indeed be apes that have never grown up, but it's not a new theory. The idea was around in the 1930s; Aldous Huxley used it in his novel After Many a Summer, published in 1939.

Jean Elliott
Upminster, Essex

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