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18 October 2023

Letter of the week: Changing the future in the Middle East

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By New Statesman

Munira Mirza writes (Comment, 13 October): “Why, we ask, would any sane person kill himself or others in pursuit of the restoration of the medieval Islamic caliphate?” This quasi-religiosity, as she characterises Hamas’s Islamism, is not the sole extreme quasi-religiosity involved in this intractable conflict. Israel, too, has its extreme religionists. Both sides rely on a contested view of whose land it occupies.

The hope, for many, is that the possibility of peace in the long term rests on the premise of less religion (secular constitutions) and more women involved in the development of two nation-states living side by side.
John Bishop, Edinburgh

Saudi effect

It is a shame that in an otherwise strong piece Munira Mirza (Comment, 13 October) doesn’t mention the role of Saudi Arabia in promoting and funding Islamist extremism, choosing to focus on Iran. Covert Saudi support for fundamentalist organisations is far more widespread and arguably more pernicious, coming as it does from a regime that Western democracies treat as a friend. Just as liberals may rightly be accused of being too tolerant of militant Islamism, so too can conservatives be of a country they are happy to sell arms to.
Pat Hayes, London E11

War on Hamas

The Hamas attack (Cover Story, 13 October) may well be Israel’s equivalent of 9/11. George W Bush’s first priority was to save his own political skin – hence the invasion and destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, then the chaos and rise of Islamist militancy in so much of the Middle East. I am worried that Benjamin Netanyahu might follow a similar course, of lashing out wildly to save himself. The 9/11 attack was a wake-up call for the US that huge military expenditure was not enough. The US did not learn. Has Israel learned the same since Yom Kippur in 1973? I worry that it has not.
Martin White, Sheffield

Following the Hamas attack on Israel, with many hundreds of civilians massacred, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, insisted, “We are not subhumans.” This is correct, in respect of most of his people.

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Mansour should now be asked, and encouraged in the strongest possible terms to answer without deviation: “How would you describe those who murder innocent citizens, who take women, including an elderly Holocaust survivor, as hostages, and who gleefully celebrate such barbarism against Jews by cheering and dancing?”
Gavin Littaur, London NW4

Presidential ambitions

If Andrew Marr (Politics, 13 October) is correct that Rishi Sunak wants to make the next election a presidential contest between himself and Keir Starmer, then Labour and the Tories should beware. Most voters will find neither on the ballot paper. In this age of brand recognition, many people only have a vague perception of policy and the party brand will be as important as ever.
Mark Thorp, Manchester

On a sticky wicket

Jon Holmes’s Diary (13 October) ruminated on a north-south divide in cricket, violence and alcohol consumption. Holmes states that he originally hails from Leicestershire so surely he knows that Trent Bridge and Nottinghamshire are in the Midlands, not the north. Furthermore, there are a great many people in the towns and cities beyond the Watford Gap who would challenge his suggestion that southerners are better at handling their booze.
Tom Douglass, Nottinghamshire

Question time

An interesting piece by David Muir (“What if China invaded Taiwan?”, 6 October) on a scenario that hopefully will never happen. Although it provided insight into the likely initial process within No 10, I’m not sure we know any more about what Keir Starmer’s thinking is on Taiwan and China, or Labour’s wider foreign policy (including on developing Aukus, UK defence spending, or on the UK’s soft- and hard-power global role). The article raises more questions than it answers. Isn’t this revealing in itself?
Christian Bull, Birmingham

Peak TV

The best and worst of the New Statesman was on display last week (Critics, 13 October). Rachel Cooke’s superb piece on the BBC Jimmy Savile drama was fuelled by moral indignation and aesthetic revulsion. Will Lloyd’s TV review of Keir Starmer and the Labour conference was so abusive it would have found a natural home in the Daily Mail.
Michael Billington, London W4

Subscriber of the week

Repelled by Corbyn and uninspired by Starmer, having voted Labour all my longish life (73 years), I cancelled my subscription to the New Statesman and avoided political commentary. The 6 October issue, however, demanded at least a quick flick through at the airport. I was spitting nails at the thought of Farage leading the Tories, outraged at the government’s misleading interpretation of the “15-minute cities” concept, and laughing out loud at Nicholas Lezard’s cat story. Needless to say I nearly missed my flight, but boarded, magazine in hand, insisting my (determinedly right-wing) partner read it. (He has, and acknowledges a grudging degree of moral, if not political, confusion – common for many an ageing Tory, I suspect.) I have renewed my subscription. Thank you.
Patricia Kerr, Wiltshire

The pedants’ revolt

I must agree with Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 22 September) – I dumped Richard Osman’s first book because I thought it was so badly written. I appear to be in the minority but I do struggle with less-than-perfect English. I can’t get as far as the story because I am too busy gnashing my teeth over dangling modifiers. I get more than mildly exasperated and could lead the pedants’ revolt.
Ann Markwick, London W13

[See also: Richard Osman’s bland Britain]

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This article appears in the 18 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, War on Three Fronts