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6 October 2021

Letter of the week: The future lies in the East

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By New Statesman

I like the magazine’s new look. What’s more, you boast an impressive line-up of contributors, and the line sketches make them look younger. In many respects this redesign puts the New Statesman in the top rank of the international media I rely on. But there is one missed opportunity. It feels like a current affairs perspective that is still stuck in a transatlantic, liberal-democratic bell jar.

The future lies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific in every sense – demographically, economically, geopolitically – and it needs the contribution that the New Statesman has to offer, just as much as you need the reality check to the bell jar of the West that the region presents. If liberal social democracy cannot engage with this region, it is in danger of becoming an increasingly irrelevant Eurocentric view of the world.
Peter Davis, Auckland, New Zealand

Winning with class

I do not know how Michael Meadowcroft (Letter of the Week, 1 October) can sustain his argument that a party cannot deliver a government by relying on class loyalty.

How does he think the Tories have managed? England is conservative and class-ridden; it just prefers the upper class. Our prime ministers seem to be Old Etonians after Old Etonians. Blair was a public school man who didn’t get on with the trade unions so was acceptable.

Someone has got to fight for the underdogs. Labour mustn’t give up. Even Corbyn won 40 per cent of the vote in 2017.
Tim Mann, Waterlooville, Hampshire

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Inside Afghanistan

It is certain the West lost in Afghanistan, but not as much as the people of that country. Jeremy Bowen (Diary, 1 October) posits that the correct course of action after the Taliban’s defeat in 2001 would have been to talk to the group. But, given the Taliban’s atrocious behaviour during its rule in the 1990s, that was not a realistic option.

What would have been realistic is to have recognised that effective government in Afghanistan meant recognising local power brokers and ethnic leaders. Inevitably, that would have involved talking to Taliban leaders – not as Talibs but as leaders (not exclusively, but mainly) of the Ghilzai Pashtuns, one of the major Pashtun sub-groupings. Rightly, the former president Hamid Karzai said that the prime characteristic of the Afghan conflict was that it was first and foremost an intra-Pashtun war, then an Afghan civil war, and only lastly an international conflict. If the reader is confused, good, because the West was hideously naive when we entered Afghanistan, and only a little better enlightened when we left. If anyone thinks Afghanistan’s nearly 50 years of conflict is over, they should think again.
Simon Diggins OBE, colonel (retired), defence attaché, Kabul 2008-10, Rickmansworth, Herts

I smiled when I read about Jeremy Bowen’s adoption of the shalwar kameezwhen in Afghanistan. Sharp-eyed observer that I am, I never noticed him wearing a kippah, kappel, or yarmulke – call it what you will – when reporting from Israel as a courtesy to the local dress code. The cost would have been only a few shekels and there would have been no need for a tailor since they are readily available from any good Judaica shop on any high street in Israel. Is this another example of the Jews-don’t-count syndrome described by David Baddiel in his book of the same name?
Joe Hayward, Stanmore, Middlesex

[see also: Jeremy Bowen’s Diary: Where the West went wrong in Afghanistan, the ruins of Helmand, and my sharp new attire]

How to read Houellebecq

In Andrew Hussey’s article “The decadent society” (1 October), there is mention of “the great replacement” theory “popularised by the white supremacist author Renaud Camus… that French universalism will be replaced by the universalism of Islam (this is the plot of [Michel] Houellebecq’s 2015 novel Soumission)”. Attaching the theory to Houellebecq’s novel is reductive. There is more familiar territory with France’s recent criticism of Islamo-gauchisme, whereby political leftism and Islam walk hand in hand (but with fingers crossed behind their backs). Anyone familiar with Houellebecq will take note that the text is more about a spiritual void in France, which is satisfied by Islam, and the protagonist’s/France’s apathy towards this, allowing for an Islamic party to become a driving force. The result? The protagonist (a male university lecturer) finds himself quite comfortable.

Associating a conspiracy theory with Houellebecq’s book does not do justice to the work, and I would urge anyone to read the text without this expectation.
Simon Crosby, via email

[see also: Éric Zemmour: the “TV-friendly fascist” who thinks he can be France’s next president]

Early learning

I wrote in January to tell you about my two-year-old son’s interest in the NS and its staff through his recognition of the byline portraits. No Saturday morning has been complete without the yells of “Stephen!” and “Philip Collins!” over his Cheerios. I am sad to report that since the (most excellent) redesign, he has shown no interest in assisting me with my knowledge of your writers. I am sure the change will garner many more discerning readers, but you may have lost one of your younger ones.
James Vickers, Bourne, Lincolnshire

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This article appears in the 06 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Unsafe Places