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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear