I am a British-born Iranian currently walking from Penzance to Cape Wrath, so it was with considerable interest that I read Rory Stewart's Diary (LRB, 6 September). My family have lived in London since before the Revolution. I was born here (though conceived, I'm assured with paternal pride, in Isfahan) and this year qualified as a physician. Yet in the last three and a half months it has not only been ignorant villagers who have taken me for a spy, or an asylum seeker, or an Islamic missionary. Your diarist is not alone in being met with rank incredulity when stating that his journey from one end of a country to the other is on foot.
Like Stewart, I try to console myself with the thought that there are good reasons for local suspicion and hostility. But it is difficult to retain one's equilibrium or self-esteem when referred to in a chintzy tea room as the sex pervert on last night's Crimewatch. Once, I was followed by a police car to the fringes of a village where I had just enjoyed a quiet drink in the pub. In the next place, the police offered me free accommodation in the cells as all alternatives were full. The sergeant regretted that the rules meant I had to be locked in, but in the morning I was given a handsome breakfast and sent on my way. That wasn't the only instance of kindness and hospitality. Most of the journey has been pleasant, if very dull; Iran has no monopoly on uniformity of domestic fittings and many Homebases brood beside British roundabouts. Stewart details the reasons Iranians are suspicious, yet appears somewhat uncomprehending as to why he should be treated in such a manner. He is, I presume, a white man.
I am travelling in the footsteps of the Iranian cleric, poet and scholar Shahriar Jahafezi, who in 1983, unable to return to his own country because of Khomeini, walked the route I am following. The diaries of this extraordinary 78-year-old record only kindness and wonder at a country he was determined to love (not least because he knew he would never leave) and his experience is all the more remarkable for coming at a time when the Islamic Republic was demonised throughout the West.
Conor Gearty makes very limited reference to the daily reality of a society which is more polarised and overtly sectarian than ever. He claims that some Unionists don’t want to share power with ‘undefeated Catholics’, but ignores the fact that the Taoiseach and the Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan have both explicitly said that they wouldn’t share power with Sinn Fein because of its ‘private army’. The single reference to ‘so-called punishment beatings’ ignores the fact that the IRA/UVF/UFF, which are all ‘on ceasefire’, continue to beat, maim, shoot and murder people. The IRA has killed 20 people since the Good Friday Agreement, all Catholics.
Almost all our schools remain religiously divided, as events on the Ardoyne Road make all too clear. More ‘peace walls’ are going up, residential areas are increasingly segregated and all academic research shows an increased level of sectarianism. The dramatic gains made by the hardline parties in the June elections, coupled with the virtual disappearance of the non-sectarian centre, augurs ill for the future and contrasts with Gearty’s bland optimism. A lasting peace in Northern Ireland requires us to tackle the fundamental divisions over religion and national identity. There is little evidence of any real will to do this.
Jeremy Noel-Tod may well be right in suggesting that Joyce’s admiration of Vermeer’s View of Delft derived from its being a ‘meticulous portrait of a city’ (LRB, 9 August). But he seems to be wrong in suggesting that this was the only picture in Joyce’s flat which was not a family portrait. In 1929 the Irish writer Frank O’Connor visited Joyce at his home in Paris, and while there asked him about a picture in the hallway. ‘That’s Cork,’ said Joyce. O’Connor, who had grown up in the city, said that he knew very well that it was a picture of Cork, but said it was the strange frame that intrigued him. ‘That’s cork,’ said Joyce. The story is told in James Matthews’s Voices: A Life of Frank O’Connor.
Leiden, The Netherlands
Keith Joseph’s Holiday Reading
Peter Clarke (LRB, 19 July) quotes a civil servant saying that Keith Joseph was ‘exceptionally open-minded and ready to pick up ideas wherever he could’. In 1985 I was addressing a group of Further Education principals and staff in Leeds, when I was passed a piece of paper saying that someone from the DES wanted to speak to me urgently. I waved the messenger away, but he then clambered up onto the podium and whispered that the Secretary of State’s private secretary was on the line. Having hoofed it down to the principal’s telephone, I was asked if I had the two volumes of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks out of the DES Library. ‘Yes,’ I stammered, wondering whether this was grounds for instant dismissal. It wasn’t. But Sir Keith needed the books instantly, because he wanted to take them to Italy for his holiday reading. I had to agree to return to London that night and deliver the offending volumes by 8 a.m. before I was allowed to go back and complete my speech.
Matthew Hughes’s reflections on Dag Hammarskjöld’s death at Ndola (LRB, 9 August) are highly debatable. I knew George Ivan Smith well, talked to him extensively and wrote two books on the subject of Hammarskjöld’s death in addition to the report I submitted in 1993 to the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which had commissioned me to investigate rumours regarding the Ndola accident. I have also read Smith’s notes.
Claude de Kemoularia refers to people whose identity he never checked. These individuals claim that Hammarskjöld’s DC6 was followed by two Fouga planes operating out of Kolwezi in an attempt to kidnap him and bring him to Kamina. Only one Fouga existed: KAT 92 (factory number 295). KAT 91 had crashed and the UN had impounded KAT 93. KAT 92 was not equipped for night-flying and had no glare shield, which means that a pilot would have been blinded by his own firing. Its range was barely sufficient to reach Ndola from Kolwezi; Kamina was out of the question. The pilot of Hammarskjöld’s plane never sent a mayday and there were no bullet holes in the fuselage.
Hughes writes that there were mercenary pilots available. Of the 21 whose logs I have checked, only two were capable of flying a Fouga (in daylight). Neither was in Kolwezi on the night of the crash. There is no record of any Beukels – possibly ‘de Troye’ has borrowed the name from Beuken, who flew cargo for a Sabena subsidiary in the Congo at the time.
Hammarskjöld did not set out for Ndola to persuade Tshombe to accept a peaceful settlement to the Congo impasse, but to resolve an immediate crisis involving the UN troops in the country. It arose on 13 September, the day he arrived in Léopoldville (he had decided to undertake a fact-finding mission prior to the opening of the UN General Assembly on 19 September). At 3 a.m. on that day three of his senior staff in the Congo – Conor Cruise O’Brien, Mahmoud Khiary and K.S. Rajah – launched a military attack on Katanga in order to arrest Tshombe and four of his ministers. In clear contravention of the UN Charter, they used a warrant issued by the Congolese Government and brought to Elisabethville by Vladimir Fabry, legal adviser to Sture Linner, Hammarskjöld’s top representative in the Congo. Brigadier Rajah called the operation ‘Morthor’, Hindi for ‘twist and break’, but it failed dismally. People were killed and world opinion turned against the UN peacekeepers for opening fire on civilian targets. When the Congolese Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula hosted a welcoming banquet for Hammarskjöld on the evening of 13 September, it had to be curtailed so that he could meet with Riches, the British Ambassador in Léopoldville, who had been told by Whitehall that British logistical support would be withdrawn immediately and Britain’s veto exercised in the Security Council if the UN did not end hostilities. His message was confirmed by a British Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Lord Lansdowne, who flew to Léopoldville the next day. Hammarskjöld agreed to fly to Ndola to negotiate a ceasefire with Tshombe and the details were decided shortly before 10 o’clock on 17 September. Lansdowne flew down to Ndola a little ahead of him. He travelled in a chartered DC6, OO-RIC, Hammarskjöld in the Force Commander’s DC6, SE-BDY, just repaired having been fired at over Elisabethville the night before.
The first suggestion that Hammarskjöld had been shot down came from Sture Linner’s personal assistant J. Poujoulat, and the press swallowed the bait. An assortment of theories was supplied by Transair, the Swedish charter company which operated SE-BDY. Having just started the first Swedish charter flights to Mallorca, Transair was embarrassed by the possibility that an error on the part of one of its captains had – as the Inquiry Commission later concluded – caused Hammarskjöld’s death. The Morthor scandal was quickly and conveniently forgotten as the media instead began searching for a non-existent assassin.
Hughes also mentions O’Brien’s theory about a hijacker on board. Mercenaries are not kamikazes: they kill for money and like the rest of us, they leave a corpse behind when they die, in an air crash or otherwise. The French mercenaries Trinquier and Faulques claimed the credit for a hijack in Notre Guerre au Katanga (1963), but then 120 Swedes have so far confessed that they murdered Olof Palme. Kemoularia never reported his conversation with de Troye and Co to the police. He later became French Ambassador to the United Nations, but never told the UN that he ‘knew’ who killed Hammarskjöld. According to a letter from Smith to me in 1993, the plan was that he and Kemoularia would sell the story to Paris Match and donate the proceeds to the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.
I was present at the Airport in Ndola that evening of 17/18 September 1961 until well after the DC6 turned and was not seen again, and there were certainly no other aircraft in the air or even in the vicinity until daylight, when the search started. This was a time of intense political feeling within Northern Rhodesia, as we prepared for various changes leading ultimately to the break-up of the Central African Federation. Any evidence given by freedom fighters that put the Federal Authority in a bad light was valued not for its veracity but for the publicity it would achieve, whether it concerned fighter aircraft in the dark or strange white men in the forest.
As a pilot of many years’ experience, I remain puzzled as to why the captain of the DC6 chose to maintain radio silence after passing overhead, and to execute a visual rather than an instrument approach: the more usual nighttime procedure at an unfamiliar location, particularly with a VIP on board. Had he taken the latter option, he would have reported to Air Traffic Control that he had passed the non-directional beacon (at Ndola this is 2.5 miles from the end of the runway), turned and again reported to ATC that he was ‘beacon-inbound’, leaving the tower in no doubt of his position and landing time. As it was, the aircraft hit the trees more than nine miles from the airport, travelling at about a thousand feet lower than it should have been. There were those who wondered at the time if the very bright orange street lights confused the pilot, who assumed they were the runway lighting.
In her review of Anthony Everitt’s book on Cicero (LRB, 23 August) Mary Beard cites ‘vixere’ as the ‘famous word’ shouted by Cicero to the crowds waiting to hear of the execution of prisoners said to have taken part in the Catilinarian Conspiracy. Usually, the announcement is reported in the perfect tense: ‘vixerunt.’ Has Mary Beard a reason for her revision?
University of Zagreb, Croatia
The 23 August issue of the LRB has a review by Alex de Waal of the book by Daniel Bell, East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia.
There are two Daniel Bells writing on social and political matters, and they are sometimes confused with one another. One, myself, is an emeritus professor of social sciences at Harvard University. The other is a young Canadian political theorist who is now teaching at the City University of Hong Kong. It is the latter Daniel Bell who wrote the book under review.
We two are unrelated, though we know each other well. When the young Daniel Bell wrote a PhD thesis at Oxford, on Communitarianism, published to praising reviews, and a number of persons thought I had written that book, I told him to use the initial A. (for Albert) in his publications, for the credit that was justly his. But the LRB, for some reason, does not use middle initials for contributors or in reviewing authors, so confusion remains confounded. When the young Daniel Bell came to his first teaching job at Singapore, a number of years ago, his seniors thought it strange that Daniel Bell had been writing for fifty years (true). I told him that if he did not use his middle initial, Chinese sages would be confounded by the Daniel Bell who was writing for a hundred years.
Alex de Waal has praised the book of Daniel A. Bell, and I want the credit to go to him.
On the Button
In her review of Michael O'Connell's The Idolatrous Eye (LRB, 9 August), Helen Cooper gives an account of the qualities of embodiment which English Renaissance drama inherited from its pre-humanist antecedents. Italian humanists were determined to create a new classical drama, based on rules inherited (or invented) from ancient theory and example: what we think of as medieval theatre practices were seen as lacking in cultural correctness and social prestige. French classical drama, in its turn, followed the new style to the letter: English and Spanish actors and dramatists were more stubborn about retaining what they thought was useful from previous forms of theatre. But feelings of discomfort with theatre were not peculiar to Puritan or even Protestant cultures: there were writers just as fanatically opposed to theatre in Counter-Reformation France and Italy. This phenomenon cannot be explained by a Protestant-Catholic conflict, nor can it be approached through a study of English culture alone.
University of Leeds
OK to be clumsy?
John Mullan (LRB, 23 August) paraphrases the Fanny Burney passage beginning ‘Timidity solicits that mercy which pride is most gratified to grant’ as ‘OK to be clumsy if you’re young and lovely,’ but what I get from the line is ‘the proud like to encounter the timid, because it gives them the opportunity to condescend,’ which by my standards, anyway, is both shrewd and nicely put.
On the Grèklu Ridge
Peter Mackridge criticises me for calling the Democratic Army of Greece the Communist Democratic Army (Letters, 6 September). The Army is normally referred to in Greek as the ‘dhimokratikos stratos’. Translate that into English and you get ‘Democratic Army’, a title that does not make clear that it was a Communist force.
Mackridge also objects to my referring to Eoka’s struggle in Cyprus as a war of independence from British colonialism. But that is how many Greek Cypriot participants saw it, as did the last of the British National Servicemen who were fellow students of mine at Oxford and who had the misfortune to be involved in that dirty war.
Finally, he takes me to task for claiming that the arrival of Italian troops on the Grèklu ridge drew Greece into the war. I know that, strictly speaking, it was Greece’s rejection of Mussolini’s ultimatum on 28 October 1940 that was the casus belli. But since Mussolini’s reaction was to order his troops to cross the Greek-Albanian frontier immediately and Samarina is the first settlement of any consequence you come to, some ten hours’ walk from that frontier, the appearance of Italian troops on the Grèklu ridge was to all intents and purposes simultaneous with the outbreak of war for the people of Samarina, as indeed for most Greeks.