In this week’s New Statesman: Unholy War

2011: The year in pictures | Mehdi Hasan on religion and violence | Norman Lamont on the euro | Slav

unholy war

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Mehdi Hasan: Prophets of peace

In this week's New Statesman cover story, Mehdi Hasan argues that the Arab spring has "undermined" claims by atheist intellectuals that religion is a source of violence and conflict.

Hasan highlights the writings of Jawdat Said, a little-known Muslim scholar in Syria whose advocacy of non-violence has helped inspire the protests against Bashar al-Assad's regime. Responding to secular commentators who claim that the non-violent activists behind the Arab spring drew on western, non-Muslim sources for inspiration, Hasan responds:

This isn't just simplistic, but patronising, too. Credit should be given where credit is due. Arab Muslims have been at the forefront of the non-violent protests against the region's tyrants and autocrats – and not just in Syria. In Yemen, the hijab-clad Tawakkol Karman, one of the leading organisers of the non-violent struggle against the tottering dictatorship of the country's US-backed president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is a devout Muslim and a senior member of al-Islah, the country's conservative Islamic opposition party.

Citing Buddhist campaigners in Burma and Tibet and Jewish peace campaigners in Israel, and referring to the work of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Hasan writes:

Countless non-violent campaigns of resistance across the world today have been inspired and bolstered by individuals and groups rooted in religion.

 

Norman Lamont: The euro is strangling the world economy

In the Economics Column, Norman Lamont, chancellor of the exchequer under John Major from 1990-93, dissects the current eurozone crisis and looks back on tensions between the UK and Germany in 1992 over the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM):

Now all the talk is of fiscal union," Lamont writes. "But the Germans do not mean what we mean by fiscal union." For the UK, this would mean a common treasury and tax system, under a single finance minister; by the German definition, however, it means "more rules, more restrictions, more external supervision of national budgets". According to Lamont: "That is unlikely to work."

If the eurozone achieves fiscal union through treaty changes, he warns, the UK must be sure to protect its own interests:

The government may have to invoke the so-called Luxembourg compromise, a little-used provision conceded to General de Gaulle, which allows governments in extremis to opt out of measures affecting important national interests.

He argues that "denial has been a constant theme of the crisis" and that although the "Germans want the euro to survive . . . they are not prepared to depart one iota from the rigorous [economic] discipline that has served them well". Although this does not surprise Lamont, he is "seriously" worried by Chancellor Angela Merkel's recognition that it may take years to resolve the difficulty in the eurozone – "a threat to our economy and, indeed, that of the world".

 

2011: The year in pictures

Also in this end-of-year special, Alex Preston reflects on a turbulent 12 months for the seven billion people across the world, from Japan's nuclear meltdown and the English summer riots to the eurozone crisis and the Arab spring.

Preston's article is accompanied by a ten-page picture essay, curated by the NS photo editor, Rebecca McClelland, which brings together the most unforgettable images from a year marked by earthquakes, tornados and floods, phone-hacking, Bin Laden's death and social unrest from Tahrir Square to Wall Street.

 

Slavoj Žižek on Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus

This week's Critic at Large is the Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek. Anticipating the release next year of Ralph Fiennes's big-screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Žižek endorses T S Eliot's view that the play is superior to Hamlet:

Ralph Fiennes (with the writer John Logan) has done the impossible . . . he has fully broken out of the closed circle of interpretative options and presented Coriolanus not as a fanatical anti-democrat but as a figure of the radical left.

Fiennes's Coriolanus is like the eyes of God or a saint in an Orthodox icon: without changing a word in Shakespeare's play, the film looks squarely at us, at our predicament today, offering us the figure of the radical freedom fighter.

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Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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