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25 October 2023

Letter of the week: World leaders must show the way forward

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Andrew Marr’s entreaty to look “beyond the binary” (Politics, 20 October) is apposite. Unequivocal condemnation of the atrocities committed by Hamas is demanded of everyone with an ounce of humanity. We should also condemn Israel for the horrors it has so far visited on ordinary Palestinians, in its efforts to protect its citizens from further harm. These positions are not mutually exclusive. They do not depend on a side having been chosen.

The way forward that Andrew Marr proposes will not be possible if world leaders continue to proclaim their unquestioning support for one side or the other.
Gary Seabourne, Gloucestershire

Violence begets violence

Andrew Marr (Politics, 20 October), with reference to the Israel-Hamas war, quotes WH Auden: “I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.” But it is a glib maxim. What about those victims of the Holocaust, of the gulag, of Pol Pot, etc, to all of whom evil was done?
John Boaler, Calne, Wiltshire

Andrew Marr’s perceptive analysis of the consequences of Hamas’s monstrous actions on 7 October is welcome, but when he points out that the underlying meaning of the chant “from the river to the sea” is the eradication of Israel, he ought also to point out how successive Israeli governments have been working to remake “from the sea to the river” for themselves by taking more and more Palestinian land and settling some 700,000 Israeli citizens there.

Also, accepting the constant assertion that Israel has an “absolute right to defend itself” presumably means that this is a right belonging to all countries and that Palestine has the same right to defend itself.
Michael Meadowcroft, Leeds

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Split resistance

Munira Mirza’s article (Comment, 13 October) gives a clear account of radical Islamism. However, it is a pity she did not mention the main Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which was founded in 1981 and has played a leading role in multiple uprisings against the regime. The coalition to which Masih Alinejad was a part of, on the other hand, fell apart in a matter of weeks.
Carolyn Beckingham, Lewes, East Sussex

Grey area

I was interested to note that Rachel Reeves drinks Earl Grey tea (Diary, 20 October). Is that because, in the words of Proudhon, “all proper-tea is theft”? Or is that too “Old Labour” for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party?
Mark Thorp, Manchester

Credibility gap

Nothing irritates me quite so much as people referring to Watford Gap as a sort of “Checkpoint Charlie” (Correspondence, 20 October) between the perceived North and South of England (capitals are deliberate). Watford Gap is a service area on a motorway near Northampton, and has no connection with any demarcation of socio-cultural or geographical significance in the United Kingdom. “North of Watford” is the correct term that should be used to reference many southerners’ supposed perceptions of the beginning of the great wastelands of “The North” – not a Roadchef and petrol station on the M1.
Tom Hill, Galashiels, Scottish Borders

Reality check

The essay by one senior doyen of Anglophone philosophy, Thomas Nagel, on a book by another, Daniel Dennett (21 October,, reflects what both men call a major fault line in philosophy of mind. The line divides those who, like Nagel, believe in the reality of our inner conscious life, and materialists such as Dennett for whom such belief is a “useful fiction” bestowed on us by natural selection. As Nagel puts it, Dennett “denies the authority of the first-person point of view over what our conscious experiences are really like”. But what could “really” mean here? What is the function of the purported distinction between a subjective experience and the illusion that one is having a subjective experience? Presumably one reason anti-materialists insist on the first is that the second seems to threaten human freedom.

But suppose that, as Dennett holds, everything, including ourselves, is the basic stuff of the universe, organised in certain patterns and subject to deterministic laws. Then it is self-evidently true that from the very beginning reality itself has had the potential to develop social, linguistically endowed creatures who take themselves to be (whether “really” or not) the bearers of feelings, intentionality and much else. In this picture, for anti-materialists, the “reality” of free agency may seem to be negated by the determinism of the basic stuff. But can we not take the opposite view, that in evolving the human lifeworld, reality has created new, transcendent levels of itself? This is a source of wonder.
Alan McKay, Holywood, Northern Ireland

With you all the way

I was saddened to read the last paragraph of Nicholas Lezard’s column (Down and Out, 20 October) in which he expressed his feelings of solitude. He should be assured that while not all his readers will agree with everything he writes, nor know him personally, he is still a cherished presence in our lives through the columns he writes.
Richard Dargan, Coulsdon, Surrey

Music for the ages

Tracey Thorn writes so beautifully about the power of understated music (Off the Record, 20 October). Having enjoyed her reflections on hearing Bridget St John perform, I sought out her 1969 album Ask Me No Questions, having never heard it before. A wonderful listen and yes, I can hear the similarities between St John and Thorn’s voices. In these dark times, writing and music like this really do lift the spirit.
John Adcock, Ashtead, Surrey

I wanted to thank Tracey Thorn for her lovely piece about Bridget St John. I was transported back to Strawberry Hill Folk Club in 1970, blissfully singing along to “If You’ve Got Money”. I have not fully lived up to the rest of her lyric, to give it all away, so I still feel I have let her down. I wish I had been at St John’s gig in Dalston to apologise, and to thank Tracey personally.
John Dilworth, Twickenham

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This article appears in the 25 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Fog of War