27th November – 3rd December 2015 issue
Terror vs the State
Cover Illustration by Roy Knipe / Goodillustration.com
Cover story Terror vs the State
John Gray: The liberal order of “lazy certainties and idle hopes” is history – in an age of Islamist terror, do we need a return to the strong Hobbesian state of security over freedom?
The French ambassador to London, Sylvie Bermann: Once again, the British people have shown that France can count on them in dark times.
Leading article: After the Spending Review, the UK is now committed to another five years of excessive and ill-directed austerity.
Karen Armstrong on Wahhabism: We must confront Saudi Arabia.
Michael Axworthy on Iran’s hatred of Isis jihadis.
Tim King reports from Brussels, the perfect terror hideout.
Jim Murphy on the politics of football and why we need to back Les Bleus in the name of fraternité.
In praise of Ian Botham: Michael Henderson on an English hero at 60.
Helen Lewis considers a new Labour leadership marred by avoidable errors and pointless controversies.
Philip Hoare on the genesis of Moby-Dick in 19th-century London.
Tim Martin: Why video games can make you a better person.
John Gray: Terror vs the State
In this week’s cover story, John Gray declares the end of the “ideal liberal order”; Islamist terror will, he argues, necessitate the return of the strong Hobbesian state, in which safety is privileged over freedom:
Among the consequences of the atrocities in Paris – many of them impossible to foresee so soon after the terrible events – one seems reasonably clear. The state is returning to its primary function, which is the provision of security. If the SAS has been on the streets of London and Brussels under lockdown, these are more than responses to the prospect that further attacks may occur. What we are witnessing is the rediscovery of an essential truth: our freedoms are not free-standing absolutes but fragile constructions that remain intact only under the shelter of state power. The ideal liberal order that was supposedly emerging in Europe is history. The task of defending public safety has devolved to national governments – the only institutions with the ability to protect their citizens.
Liberals are reluctant to face the reality that “endemic anarchy can be a more intractable obstacle to civilised existence than many kinds of despotism”, Gray writes; this inconvenient truth “has been disregarded and passed over as too disturbing to dwell on”. Gray argues that Thomas Hobbes’s masterwork of political philosophy Leviathan (1651) captured many realities that the liberal order has preferred to forget:
Hobbes has been criticised by liberals for neglecting the necessity of protection from the state – a need that was clear in the 20th century, when the worst crimes were the work of totalitarian regimes. But one need not accept all of Hobbes’s political theory, with its fictitious state of nature and social contract, to see that he captured some enduring realities that liberals have chosen to forget. The form of government – democratic or despotic, monarchical or republican – is less important than its capacity to deliver peace. At the present time, it is not the state but the weakness of the state that is the greater danger to freedom.
Gray notes, too, that “liberals have reacted with horror to government proposals to allow intelligence agencies to collect internet data”:
Politicians who say that there is no conflict between freedom and security are deceiving themselves and us. The conflict is genuine but it is also unavoidable. Those who want to treat liberal freedoms as sacrosanct should ask themselves what price they are willing to pay for these liberties.
On the relevance of the Hobbesian view in today’s world, Gray concludes:
Hobbes cannot deliver us from a situation in which we have become the targets of people who embrace death and destruction. Other than unwavering determination in defending ourselves, there is no solution to that problem. What Hobbes can do is dispel the lazy certainties and idle hopes of the prevailing liberalism. The lesson of the Paris attacks is that peaceful coexistence is not the default condition of modern humankind. We are going to have to get used to the reality that “commodious living” does not come cheap.
Sylvie Bermann’s diary
Following the attacks on Paris, the French ambassador to London, Sylvie Bermann, reflects on a week of shock and grief that was made more bearable by an outpouring of British support:
I was at a dinner with members of London’s French community when news of the 13 November attacks in Paris first reached me. Our initial reaction – one that I think was shared the world over – was of shock. Young people, out on a Friday night, doing normal things that young people do: chatting, laughing, drinking, dancing. Enjoying the pleasures that are their right, in a city that lives and breathes music, conversation and, above all, liberty.
I felt a tragic sense of déjà vu as I followed the events unfolding on television. Less than a year ago, our country was attacked by murderers and fanatics who wanted to destroy the values that we hold dear. And again on 13 November, I watched as France fell victim to another cowardly and barbaric attack on its way of life.
The grief that was shared by the French community here in London was made easier to bear by the messages of support that flooded in from around the country – if anything, even more than after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I received countless phone calls, emails and letters from British friends, dignitaries, members of the public and faith groups, all conveying sympathy and friendship. I was particularly touched by a statement presented to me by representatives of 140 leaders of the Muslim community.
None was more powerful than the football match between England and France at Wembley, just four days after three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Stade de France in Paris. Never has the word “friendly” taken on such a literal meaning. It wasn’t about the football that night; it was about coming together and showing that we won’t live in terror. There have been so many stirring renditions of the French national anthem these past weeks – not least that of the French bass Nicolas Courjal following my appearance on The Andrew Marr Show – but the singing of La Marseillaise by the whole stadium, including the Prime Minister and Prince William, really did move me. I think the front cover of the Metro the next morning summed it up best: “England. France. United.”
The embassy in London was a focal point for many who wanted to show their support in the wake of the attacks. A sea of flowers and candles quickly formed outside, with a constant stream of people coming to sign the book of condolence that has now been sent to Paris. Once again, the British people showed that we can count on them in difficult times. I led a minute’s silence alongside the Home Secretary, Theresa May, which was observed all around the country in memory of the victims of the attacks.
Her presence was fitting, given the close relationship that our respective home secretaries have built. There are constant exchanges between the French and British security services, for the threat of terrorism is not faced by France alone. The whole of Europe must ensure that stronger security measures are put in place. We wish to preserve Schengen and the border checks are only temporary measures. But the external border needs to be much more secure and European border guards need to be present.
I’m glad that, after a tough summer, our message that Calais is only one part of a Europe-wide migrant crisis seems to have got through. The kind of criticism I heard in July, when I was asked time and again by the press why France wasn’t doing more to prevent migrants crossing the tunnel, is now much rarer. Indeed, Franco-British co-operation has been effective in Calais. But the “Jungle” is still there, inhabited partly by people who would qualify for refugee status and who will need to be taken care of. France is already doing a lot in that regard.
On Monday I attended a breakfast in Paris between David Cameron and François Hollande. Witnessing this new testimony to the strength of the century-old Entente Cordiale, I could not help but think, bemused, of those commentators who claim that to ensure the success of the British renegotiation, there will have to be a highly visible Franco-British spat at a forthcoming European council . . . Speaking of friendship in times of crisis, two days before the Paris attacks, I presented 19 British veterans with the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest honour, in recognition of their role in securing France’s liberation during the Second World War. Over 1,000 have received their medals so far and many more will get them in the months to come. I’ve received a number of poignant letters from them as a result. In the midst of the grief and despair, it will be all the more moving to honour these veterans. They are a reminder that courage, determination and, above all, solidarity will triumph.
Leading article: No sense of an ending to austerity
This week’s leading article offers an analysis of today’s Spending Review and argues that “the aim of achieving a Budget surplus by the 2020 general election is a political choice, not an economic necessity”. The most “egregious” of the cuts announced, it suggests, is the £12bn reduction in welfare, “which will ultimately penalise millions of households in low-paid work”:
The UK is now committed to another five years of excessive and ill-directed austerity. Should growth again fall below expectations, as in the last parliament, the consequences will be serious indeed.
Karen Armstrong on the spread of Wahhabism
Karen Armstrong, author of Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, argues that the West is now paying the price for having “tacitly condoned” Saudi Arabia’s “Wahhabisation” of the Muslim world:
We cannot afford to allow our grief and outrage to segue into self-righteousness. This is not just the “Middle East problem”; it is our problem, too. Our colonial arrangements, the inherent instability of the states we created and our support of authoritarian leaders have all contributed to the terrifying disintegration of social order in the region today. Many of the western leaders (including our own Prime Minister) who marched for liberté in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo massacre were heads of countries that, for decades, have backed regimes in Muslim-majority countries that denied their subjects any freedom of expression – often with disastrous results. One of these regimes is Saudi Arabia. Despite its dismal human rights record, the kingdom has been central to western foreign policy in the Middle East since the 1970s . . .
Michael Axworthy: Why Tehran hates Isis
In an essay for this week’s issue, Michael Axworthy, senior lecturer at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter and the author of Revolutionary Iran, explains that the Islamic republic wants stability – and to fight back against Isis, a group that despises Shia Muslims:
The extreme Wahhabi/Salafi form of Sunni Islam that underpins Islamic State regards Shia Iranians – and, indeed, all Shia Muslims – as heretics and apostates. This hostility is not somehow theoretical or theologically abstract: it is visceral, bitter and deep. It inspires frequent suicide bombings of Shia mosques and other targets in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and (more recently) Saudi Arabia. It is a major threat to Iran and to all Shia Muslims – a greater threat to them than the Isis threat to us, because they are geographically closer. The Iranians are supporting the fight against Isis in Syria and Iraq in self-defence and supporting the self-defence of those they are sympathetic to in those countries (the Iranians back the Alawite Assads in Syria because of their long-standing alliance but also for sectarian reasons). They are not acting, as the Saudis and some other Gulf Arabs would have us believe, because they have hegemonic ambitions in the region. That view arises from the insecurity and paranoia of the ruling elites in those states and their dislike of Shia Muslims.
Though we might “deplore” aspects of the Iranian regime – not least its treatment of women – Axworthy argues that we should have a pragmatic regard for “Iran’s record as a force for stability or instability”. At the same time, he warns, we must urgently “re-examine our relations with the Saudis and the other Gulf Arab States that have supported and encouraged the spread of extreme Wahhabism”.
Jim Murphy on backing Les Bleus and the politics of football
NS columnist Jim Murphy describes the attack on Les Bleus as an attack on the soul of France:
As bombers detonated their suicide belts outside the Stade de France, French and German football fans cheered what they thought were fireworks. They were unaware that it was the opening salvo in a night of barbarity. One of the bombers had a ticket for the game but, mercifully, was turned back at the turnstile. Had his bomb gone off inside the stadium, the immediate loss of life, plus the panicked stampede and two more suicide bombers lying in wait outside for escaping fans, could have produced a death toll higher than at Hillsborough, Bradford, Heysel or either of the Ibrox stadium disasters.
The French intelligence services have yet to conclude publicly whether the attacks were timed to coincide with the prestigious friendly or whether the crowd of 80,000 was simply another target of bloodthirsty convenience on an already preordained date. Either way, there’s no mistaking that an attack on Les Bleus was an attack on the soul of France. In the aftermath, the Germany-Netherlands friendly game was called off and Belgian football went into lockdown.
How should British football respond? To those who think that the sport is just 22 players kicking a ball around a field, this may seem a peculiar question. But ever since the tail end of the 19th century, when football escaped from its self-enforced ghettoisation in Britain’s public schools, it has had a greater purpose.
More than any other sport, football has been intertwined with politics. As Harold Wilson said: “It’s a way of life . . . a religion.”
Murphy insists next year’s European Championships in France must go ahead:
There’s no liberté in cancelling. In the name of fraternité, let’s all back France as our second team. Allez les Bleus!”
In praise of Ian Botham: Michael Henderson on an English hero at 60
The former Daily Telegraph cricket correspondent Michael Henderson reflects on the career of Ian Botham as the cricketing legend enters his seventh decade:
Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible “to honour the vertical man”, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turns 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half century, and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions is unassailable.
[. . . ]
A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.
From NS.com: John McDonnell interview
In an interview with the NS political editor, George Eaton, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell rules himself out of the Labour leadership, pledges to destroy George Osborne’s credibility, and says he would back trade unions to break the law:
Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ simple message of a “long-term economic plan”, he says: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’, I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate – intellectual debate, economic debate – to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.
[. . .]
We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . We’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future
of the economy.”
[. . . ]
He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the Trade Union Bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I will support them.”
[. . . ]
McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010]. I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”
Read the interview in full here.
Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential: the Lorraine Kelly mug in Jeremy Corbyn’s Westminster office and selfies with the Labour leader in the queue at Pret
Ed Smith on Mourinho the tactician and Wenger the educator
Laurie Penny takes refuge from a dark world in utopian fiction
Tom Gatti, the NS culture editor and a father, attends a toddler rave in Hackney
On Location: Will Self visits Manchester’s Trafford Centre, a 207,000-square-metre “non-place”
Erica Wagner on Jonathan Coe’s Number 11, the sequel to the much-loved novel What a Carve Up!
Felix Martin on two new portraits of money by John Kay and Adair Turner
Television: Rachel Cooke marvels at the grotesque couples in BBC1’s Capital
For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396