Peshmerga fighters inspect the remains of a car, bearing an image of the trademark jihadist flag, which belonged to Isis. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The long shadow of Isis

There is usually a price when bloodlust goes unchecked in distant lands.

So this time Britain does arrive on the international scene, if not quite to the rescue. It makes its entry late in the latest Middle Eastern war, and with significant caveats. The politics of process and the elevation of legality to a form of moral good have affected many aspects of national life in recent times (witness the tendency to respond to every controversy by recourse to an official inquiry); they now exert unprecedented influence over foreign policy.

Both in the House of Commons vote on intervention in Syria in August last year and in this month’s vote on Iraq, it was clear that David Cameron wanted to do much more, and he had his Liberal Democrat coalition partners along with him (if not all of his own party). It is only recently that parliament has insisted on the notion that every military action requires its approval. Ironically, this is an unintended legacy of its own support for Tony Blair over the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is no going back from that, even if the security threats of the future are likely to require more dynamism and agility than the procedure permits. British governments have seldom been so hamstrung in their conduct of foreign policy – but then again, the existence of the United Kingdom was under grave threat just a few weeks ago.

Hand-wringing about Britain’s role in the world is a symptom of a deeper malaise. The broad postwar consensus that “punching above our weight” was a good thing has ruptured, like much else. The various pieces that are left are not much to behold. Whether it is the Blairism-lite of Cameron, the vague “internationalism” of Ed Miliband’s Labour conference speech in Manchester, the neo-isolationism of the new right, weary nationalism, half-baked cynicism, or even the caricature of Gallowayism – nothing seems to offer a serious response to the world as it is. “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, when asked on the BBC for his preferred response to Isis. At the other end of the spectrum, Blair’s latest 3,000-word essay advocating the use of ground troops gathers dust on tonyblairoffice.org – like an expensive piece of art without a home to hang it in.

Last year, at the time of the vote on Syria, Britain was first into the blocks, ahead of a reluctant Obama. But in a moment that might come to define Cameron’s premiership, it fell at the starting pistol. Those ramifications are still being felt.

This year, President Obama has finally wilted under pressure to intervene again in the Middle East – something he wanted to avoid more than anything else. Despite the elaborate rhetorical adornment, historians may come to think of Obama’s strategy as one of “counterpunch” or “whack-a-mole” when threats to US security emerge. Fighter jets are being used instead of drones but there are precedents in his targeting of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula. Meanwhile, if Obama’s language, full of exhortations about defeating the “evil” of Isis, sounds familiar, that is because it is. In making the case for strikes, he said that the US was not at war with Islam, which is what George W Bush said repeatedly after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The August 2013 parliamentary vote on Syria caused an odd chain reaction that played into Obama’s lack of surety about the best course of action, combined with the likely opposition of the US Congress to military action (much to the frustration of Secretary of State John Kerry). This time, the president did not wait for the choreography to begin in London. This is a subtle but stark indication of Britain’s diminished role; the Americans have concerns about the robustness of their old ally. They watched the Scottish referendum unfold with more concern than we might assume.

History can move on fast and memories are short. The shared blood sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan was in two wars from which the current president has been keen to disassociate himself. The next president will ask how useful the UK can be to a new panoply of challenges – economic, geopolitical, and terrorism-related. Cuts to UK defence expenditure were made in the hope that Britain would not have to fight a war for at least another ten years. The world is reluctant to grant that wish.

While Britain’s sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq begins to fade into memory, British citizens appear on the television beheading Americans. At a rare session of the UN Security Council attended by heads of state of council members – only the sixth to have taken place in the council’s history – all 15 member states backed a US resolution signalling determination to address the problem of “foreign terrorist fighters” operating in Syria and Iraq, most of whom are embedded with Isis or Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Among the first jihadists targeted by the US strikes are thought to be British citizens training with Jabhat al-Nusra for suicide missions in the west.

There is recognition that Isis is a shared problem. But British policy towards the self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria must also reflect the reality that Isis has particularly long tentacles in the UK.

My colleagues at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London estimate that there are more than 2,500 Europeans fighting for Isis in Syria; roughly 500 of them are from the UK. This is five times the estimated number from the US, which is, to state the obvious, much further away and much less vulnerable. Former heads of intelligence are queuing up to say that air strikes against Isis are likely to increase the prospect of terrorist attacks in the UK. Cameron did not produce any intelligence dossiers for the parliamentary debate. However, he was pretty clear that direct plots against the UK had been discovered within the foreign fighter nexus. In other words, the “leave-it-alone” alternative ignores the danger that is already present.

More conventional forms of jihadist terrorism, linking back to Osama Bin Laden, also seem to have reappeared on the scene. This is reflected in the emergence of the so-called Khorasan group in Syria, which is separate from Isis (though linked to Jabhat al-Nusra) but was the target of one of the first US air strikes. Khorasan, whose alleged leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, may have been killed in the first week of strikes, is a small but dedicated al-Qaeda affiliate, composed of expert bomb-makers whose priority is hitting targets in the west.

Apart from a nod of “thanks” from official channels in the US state department, it is an understatement to say that the Commons vote on 26 September did not cause much of a ripple Stateside, despite Cameron’s touring of US television studios in the days preceding it. Instead, the Americans pushed ahead and acted with less fanfare than characterised their aborted mission last year, though keener monitors have heard the gears creaking into action for months, as aircraft carriers moved into place.

The US acted with the assistance of a group of five Arab states whose support – in this instance, at least – is arguably more useful than the diplomatic cover provided by Britain, even if they are Janus-faced about their own role. These states have realised the dangers of their own “constructive ambiguity” about Salafi-jihadist militarism in Syria. The clustering might better be described as a “coalescence” rather than a coalition. It is based not on a shared vision but on a limited recognition that Isis has been allowed to go too far, too fast. It is, in the immediacy, a more viable approach than the one that was mooted on the basis of a new alliance with Iran.

Despite some speculative suggestions to the contrary, rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad of Syria remains both unlikely and unviable. A glimmer of hope is that the departure of Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister seems to have smoothed co-operation with Iraq, though Baghdad’s desperation has probably also changed the calculus. Both Iraq and the other Arab states are, it should be noted, keen to have Britain more involved, as are the Kurds, who still value UK participation.

However, in any scenario, Britain’s leverage is limited. It is also true that others operate with greater freedom of manoeuvre. President François Hollande announced his decision to deploy French Rafale fighter jets against Isis in Iraq on 18 September, and those attacks began almost immediately.

Hollande suggested that attacks should be restricted to Iraqi airspace but the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, made it clear that there was no “legal obstacle” to air strikes in Syria. Fabius raised the possibility that the position might change, so long as it serves France’s strategy (of opposing Assad and Islamic State, and bolstering what remains of the moderate opposition). The Netherlands, too, announced that it would be participating in air strikes but only for missions in Iraq. Denmark and Belgium (which has the biggest foreign fighter problem of all the European states) have agreed to contribute fighter jets, and Britain’s contribution is best classed within this bracket.

One wins no friends by arguing that having more parliamentary control over Britain’s involvement in international affairs is a bad thing. After the First World War it was felt – with some justification – that the disaster had been caused by the Machiavellian conduct of secret diplomacy by aristocratic elites. The US wartime president, Woodrow Wilson, wanted journalists in every room during the peace negotiations in Versailles, only to be put back in his box by David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau. In the interwar years, with Britain coming to terms with the implications of full democracy, public opinion had more sway than at any time over foreign affairs. The result was not, as it turned out, much better. Public opinion was a temperamental mistress, too: defiantly anti-war, but swinging the other way once Hitler embarrassed Chamberlain after Munich. 

Opinion polls show substantially more support for bombing Isis than they did for last year’s putative intervention in Syria. This time, the Labour Party was prepared to go along with the Prime Minister, to a limited extent. By the time of the Commons debate, Labour was willing to support air strikes on Iraq without UN sanction, because of the request made for support by the Iraqi government. It refused to support any strikes on Syria without that sanction.

In truth, this is a non-position: a preference is not an approach. Much has been made of how Ed Miliband forgot to mention the deficit and immigration during his party conference speech, but it was also distinguished by the omission of any serious engagement with the outside world. This is doubly important because the two are inseparable. In recent times Labour has been more comfortable with the idea of open borders and extensive immigration than the Tories. It is for that reason, if nothing else, that it is important to contemplate the reality of the new societies that this has brought into being. We live in a country that, more than ever, has familial and ideological ties to communities abroad – whether in the Middle East or in south Asia. We cannot just ignore what happens there.

Much, too, has been made of the inadequacies of the robotic manikins who constitute our political elite. A book published this summer, Sacred Violence: Political Religion in a Secular Age, by the academics David Martin Jones and M L R Smith, describes how western political elites consistently underestimate the nature of the appeal of political religion and the forms of resistance it legitimates – in the domestic and in the international spheres. Attempts to brush it away with second-order concerns such as the marginalisation of minorities and the need for greater multicultural awareness are insufficient.

The contemporary political condition is one of disenchanted modernity, where science, materialism and technocratic managerialism have left a void into which other forces will move.

Nor can we conduct foreign policy in the manner of some neat fantasy position, whereby we decree Isis to be a threat worth tackling in Iraq but not in Syria, because of some notional commitment to upholding discrete state sovereignty – on the basis of a border that no longer exists. One of the many legacies of the 2003 Iraq war are the soundbites that now asphyxiate our discussion of foreign affairs: “exit strategy”, “boots on the ground” and “shock and awe” are sprinkled liberally into discussions but uncritically. As a frustrated major general put it after the Commons debate, “The danger lies not in the turmoil but in facing it with yesterday’s logic.”

What comes out of the parliamentary compromise is a messy formulation that, in strategic terms, is bordering on the illiterate. Outside parliament, a stream of senior military figures has been less shy in pointing this out. Air Chief Marshal Michael Graydon, the former head of the RAF, described the limitation of operations to Iraqi airspace as “ludicrous”, given that Isis operates fluidly over the border and its power base remains in Syria. The recently retired general Richard Shirreff even complained about the “[no] boots on the ground cliché” to which the Prime Minister resorted in putting strict limits on the operation: “You don’t make strategy by telling your adversary that you are ruling out certain things.”

What we are left with, in essence, is a diplomatic gesture in support of the US.

For the moment, Britain, to satisfy its own scruples, can afford to make a distinction between fighting Isis in Iraq and fighting it in Syria – but only for the reason that the United States is not. For now, too, parliament can afford a vote on every military action; but there may be costs to this down the line. Indeed, Jesse Norman, a backbench Tory MP who has expressed scepticism about Cameron’s interventions, raised concern about the implications of this new convention in our unwritten constitution. “As a large corporate body,” he warned, “we lack the capacity to react quickly and without warning to fast-changing events.”

One recent evening, as I watched the first episode of Long Shadow, David Reynolds’s BBC Television series about the legacy of the Great War, I was reminded again of the distinct echoes between the debates of the 1930s and today. The chief similarity with the 1930s is in the ever-increasing distance between our liberal ideal of international affairs and the zero-sum brutalism that begins to calcify when that international order crumbles.

In the interwar years, most Britons supported the League of Nations and the preservation of a global international order. But in the middle of the 1930s, the League of Nations movement began to split between two wings: those prepared to support the use of force (and intervention) to preserve international order and those who, when it came to the crunch, thought that the horrors of war were not worth the risk. The Labour Party of the 1930s was similarly divided between those two tendencies before its leader, Clement Attlee, about the time of the Spanish civil war, gradually steered it away from a quasi-pacifist stance and came to the reluctant conclusion that force had a crucial role to play in preserving international order.

For the moment, it seems Britain can afford to quibble from behind America’s coat-tails – unlike in the 1930s, when we found ourselves unprepared, alone and exposed.

The great new fear of the 1930s, evoked by H G Wells and others, was the vulnerability of our cities from the air. Today’s threats are less apocalyptic but arguably even more entangled between the domestic and foreign spheres. Already the Paris Métro and the New York subway have been put on high alert following intelligence about possible attacks. London is more vulnerable to Isis-related action than even Paris, certainly more than New York. Neither intervention nor non-intervention is likely to solve that problem. But there is usually a price when bloodlust goes unchecked, even in faraway lands.

John Bew is an award-winning historian and an NS contributing writer

John Bew is a New Statesman contributing writer. His most recent book, Realpolitik: A History, is published by Oxford University Press.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, ISIS vs The World

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The fish-eaters and the fasters

With a population split between whites and Asian Muslims, in some ways Nelson in Lancashire feels like similar-sized towns in Ulster: two communities separated by a gulf of non-communication.

In the late afternoon of local election day this month, the chairman of Nelson Town Council was working the terraces of old cotton weavers’ houses on his patch. Sajid Ali was wearing a red rosette and a navy blue cardigan over his capacious white shalwar kameez, and what looked like his dancing shoes.

This was not the forlorn ritual of unanswered doors, blank looks and curt responses habitually experienced by Labour canvassers even in more promising political times. Along these streets Sajid is a figure of some consequence: a jolly fellow and, as one opponent put it, an “interesting character”.

Almost everyone was in; Sajid knew almost all of them; and they in turn understood what was required. Sometimes a quick burst of Lancy Punjabi did the job: “Salaam alaykum, yoong maan, how yer doing? What time yer coomin’ to vote?” To older voters his spiel would be entirely in Punjabi and the response would often be a head-wobble, that characteristic south Asian gesture, which, when given to Westerners, can be baffling, but in these cases clearly signified solid intention.

The Labour candidate in the Brierfield and Nelson West division of Lancashire County Council, Mohammed Iqbal, held his seat comfortably on the day his party lost control of the county. And he did so on a poll of 58 per cent: a far higher turnout than in any of the other, whiter areas of Pendle; the highest in Lancashire; and higher than wards with these demographics would usually expect even at a general election. The average across Lancashire on 4 May was 37 per cent. It seems reasonable to conclude that the votes from those of ­Pakistani heritage, marshalled by Sajid, were wholly responsible.

Nelson is a strange, sad, divided, forgotten old cotton town, not without beauty. The weavers’ houses are stone not brick, which, elsewhere, might make them rather chic. A few minutes from town is wonderful Pennine countryside, and to the north the view is dominated by Pendle Hill itself, brooding like some sleeping sea monster.

Pendle is both the borough council and the constituency, where the mix of urban and rural has delivered it to the winning side in seven of the eight general elections since its creation 34 years ago. (Labour took it, five years prematurely, in 1992.) No one seriously believes the 5,400 Tory majority is in play. Nonetheless, Nelson can explain a lot about British politics in 2017.

“This was a cracking town,” said John Bramwell (“John the Fish”), who has been purveying cod, haddock and non-stop banter to Nelson for 41 years, first on the market, now from one of the last white-run, independent shops in the town centre. Nelson had a football team that played fleetingly (1923-24) in the old Second Division, what is now called the Championship. And in 1929 the Lancashire League cricket team, flashing cash in a manner that baffled the national press, signed Learie Constantine, the most gifted and thrilling West Indian all-rounder of his generation.

“When he arrived, no one in Nelson had ever seen a black man close-to,” said Derek Metcalfe, the club’s historian. “People would cross the road when he passed by. But he grew into their affections. He was a highly intelligent man as well as a great player.” Constantine, after a post-cricket career in the law, Trinidadian politics and diplomacy, finished life in the House of Lords as Baron Constantine of Maraval and Nelson, Britain’s first black peer. In July 1943 the Imperial Hotel in Bloomsbury accepted his booking but not his presence, and he promptly sued. His victory at the high court the following year was an early landmark in the fight against racial discrimination.

It was the 1950s before Nelson would get used to seeing non-white faces again, when the mill owners, battling labour shortages and overseas competition, turned to Pakistan to find biddable and affordable workers. They found them in Gujrat District, which is not one of the more worldly places, even in the rural Punjab.

“The first group were young men who in many ways integrated better than they do now. There were no mosques. They went to the pubs with their workmates and knocked around with local women. Then they had to go to the airport to collect the intended wives they hadn’t met yet,” recalled Tony Greaves, the Liberal Democrat peer who is deputy leader of Pendle Borough Council.

The mills disappeared, gradually but inexorably, but the Pakistani community kept growing and has now reached its fourth generation. The young men do not normally spend time in pubs; indeed, in a town of 30,000 people, there are only two left, plus a couple on the outskirts. It is hard to imagine anywhere that size in Britain with fewer. There are, however, at least a dozen mosques. The 2011 census recorded 40 per cent of the population as Asian, but on market day in the town centre the proportion seems much higher. The most prominent retail outlets are two bazaars: the Nelson (the
old Poundstretcher) and the Suraj opposite (the old Woolworths). Few white faces are seen in either: the saris and hijabs are beautiful but of little interest. They are all imported to this textile town from south Asia.

The white people have retreated, either out of the town altogether or to the semis of Marsden, on the hill. In the visible life of Nelson, they are clearly a minority. Population change on this scale can be accommodated, if not always easily, in large cities. It is a different proposition in a small town that was once tight-knit and, despite its closeness to larger places such as Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley, largely self-contained.

Even after 60 years, hardly anything has melted in the pot. The early migrants were villagers who placed little value on education. Recent history has led Muslims all over the world to turn inwards, to their own religion and culture. This is being exacerbated by white flight and by the advent of religious free schools, a disaster for anywhere in search of cohesion. The old Nelsonians have turned away. “Nelson is not multiracial or multicultural. It is biracial and bicultural,” says Greaves. “I would love to tell you that I go round to Abbas’s house to have chicken jalfrezi and he comes to mine for steak pudding and chips,” says John the Fish. “It’s just not like that.”

Unemployment is high at 18 per cent; there is no shortage of taxis. Educational attainment is patchy. Teachers at the two high schools fear their best pupils will be creamed off further by the promised grammar-school boom.

The vicar of Nelson, Guy Jamieson, and at least some of the local imams do their utmost to make connections between the communities. In certain respects Nelson feels like similar-sized towns in Ulster: two communities separated by a gulf of non-communication. In other ways, this description is unfair. When Burnley, just four miles away, suffered riots in 2001, Nelson stayed quiet. I could sense no threat, no active tension, merely resigned indifference on both sides. “There’s a poverty of confidence,” Jamieson said. “They don’t know how to sit down and engage.”

***

A modern English town council, subordinate to Brussels, Westminster, county and district, is an improbable power base, but Sajid Ali seems to be making Nelson’s work. Its precept is only £330,000 a year but this is not capped, so it suits both district and town if Pendle offloads smaller assets: parks, play areas, community centres. It is a minimalist form of devolution, but harks back to the days when Nelson was a borough in its own right, and looks forward to an improbable future when our towns might again be allowed to take their own decisions as they do in more grown-up countries.

But the council votes on party lines, Labour’s 16 councillors trumping the Tories’ eight. “They won’t work with us,” Sajid says flatly. “They don’t run it fairly for the town itself,” says the Conservative Neil McGowan. “If we put something forward for Marsden, we are always outvoted. One council official told me they’d never come across a town like it.” In Tony Greaves’s words, “The
politics in Nelson were always sour.” In the 1930s it was known as Little Moscow.

When I first met Sajid, however, he was outside a polling station doing a stint as a teller and laughing merrily along with his blue-rosetted counterpart, Arshad Mahmood. Yet things were not quite as they seemed. Mahmood was part of a mass defection of Pakistani Lib Dems to the Conservatives which appears to have nothing to do with Brexit, extra taxes for the NHS or Maymania. What it does have to do with remains elusive even to local politicians: “clan politics” and “personal ambition” were mentioned. It may be even more complicated than that. “So you’ll be voting for Theresa May next month?” I asked Mahmood. “Oh, no, I like Jeremy Corbyn. Very good policies.”

Perhaps this helped Sajid maintain some enthusiasm for the bigger campaign ahead, though he was daunted by one fact: the general election coincides with Ramadan, and dawn-to-dusk fasting comes hard in these latitudes when it falls in summertime. Still, he was impressed by all the new members Corbyn had brought to Labour: “The way I see it is that each new member has five, ten, 15, 20 people they can sell the message to.”

This seemed a bit strange: it implied he thought politics in the rest of Britain worked as it did in these streets. He had boasted earlier that he knew everyone. “All over Nelson?” “Oh, no,” he had backtracked. “In the English community nobody knows their next-door neighbour.” Which was an exaggeration, but perhaps not much of one.

There were no posters along Sajid Ali’s streets – not one. The information about which house to choose was on the canvass return and, more significantly, in his head. Just once he got it wrong. A little white girl opened the door and then a tattooed, muscular figure in a singlet barrelled towards the door. He wasn’t aggressive, just brisk. “Naaw. I doan’t vote.” End of. It was a sudden reminder of the norms of modern British politics.

***

Another norm is that, at any local count, no one ever thinks much of the big picture. The rise and fall of prime ministers, earthquakes and landslides are no more than distant rumours, of surprisingly little interest to the principals; what matters is the here and now. Where did that ballot box come from? How big is the postal vote? Any chance of a recount? When the five seats for Pendle were counted the next day at the leisure centre in Colne, one stop further up the clanking branch line from Nelson, no one was talking about the Tory takeover at County Hall.

Here there was something for everyone: Mohammed Iqbal won, just as Sajid predicted. Azhar Ali took the other Nelson seat even more easily for Labour. Both results were greeted with more effusive male hugs than would be considered seemly in Berkshire. In Pendle Central the Tories knocked out the sitting Lib Dem, but – heroically, in their eyes – one of the Lib Dem candidates grabbed a seat in the rural division.

But the most interesting result came in the most trifling contest: a twinned by-election for two vacancies in Nelson Town Council’s lily-white ward of Marsden, so electors had two votes each. The seats were won by a Conservative married couple, the Pearson-Ashers, who got 426 and 401; the single BNP candidate had 359 votes, with one Labour candidate on 333 and the other on 190. The first of these was called Laura Blackburn; the second Ghulam Ullah. This suggests a good deal of vote-splitting that Labour might find rather unpalatable.

In fact, Marsden already has one far-right relic: Brian Parker, who sits on Pendle Borough Council, is the last survivor in the top two tiers of local government of the BNP mini-surge that took them to 55 council seats across the country by 2009. Of Parker, two opposing councillors told me: “He’s actually a very good ward councillor.”

Curiously, Ukip has made little impact in Nelson or in Pendle as a whole. So there is not much scope for the party to fulfil what appears to be its immediate destiny: as a way station for Labour’s historic core voters to catch their breath on the arduous journey into Theresa May’s arms. According to John the Fish, whose shop functions as a kind of confessional for white opinion, they may no longer need a stopover: “I’m getting plenty of people, staunch Labourites, telling me they can’t stand Corbyn.”

I asked him how many Pakistani regulars he had. He broke off from chopping hake and held up five fingers. On 8 June the fish-eaters of Marsden can be expected to rouse themselves more energetically than the Ramadan fasters across town.

***

Seedhill, the cricket ground graced by Constantine, is pretty Nelson rather than gritty Nelson, even though a chunk of it, including the old pavilion, was lopped off years ago to form an embankment carrying the M65. Upstairs in the pavilion is a wonderful picture of the great man, eyes ablaze, down on one knee for a full-blooded cover-drive. It would have made a better monument in the town centre than the 40-foot weaving shuttle that has dominated Market Street since 2011. I thought it was a torpedo; children think it’s a giant pencil.

The packed houses that watched Constantine lead Nelson to seven league titles in nine years have dwindled now: there were only a couple of dozen to watch his successors play Accrington recently. But it was a drab day with a chilly breeze and Burnley were at home to West Brom in the winter game down the road.

And generally the club thrives better than the town. Given the lack of hotels and pubs, the pavilion is much in demand for functions, and the team remains competitive. Nelson fielded four local Asians for the Accrington match, which suggests that, in one activity at least, integration is just about where it should be.

It seems unlikely that a similar situation would apply at the crown green bowls or the brass band, or any other of the long-standing recreations in Nelson (though small but growing numbers of Pakistanis are now taking allotments). The knee-jerk liberal reaction might be that this is somehow the fault of the white Nelsonians. I think this attitude is a grave oversimplification that has done much damage.

In one respect the incomers have re-created the old life of Nelson. In the hugger-mugger stone-built terraces, the neighbourliness, the power of extended families, the external patriarchy and the internal matriarchy, the vibrancy, the sense of communal struggle . . . that is exactly what this cotton town must have been like a century ago. 

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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