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.