It's time for another digest from the Spectator (an intermittent Is the BBC biased? feature that falls under our '...and other matters' remit.)
Here are some choice extracts from this week's edition:
Here are some choice extracts from this week's edition:
A quiet rural county in a peaceable dominion may seem a planet removed from the violence of the Middle East. But my wife and I wake up before six to read about the latest rocket attack upon Israel from Gaza. Our eldest daughter, Miranda, travelled to Tel Aviv in search of adventure early last year. She was recruited by a local modelling agency, and her face now decorates magazines and billboards. Her body, however, is frequently to be found in bomb shelters. When Hamas shoots at Israel, they’re now shooting at my kid. That makes this latest round of Middle Eastern war even more personal than usual. Miranda carries an American passport, and so — unlike most Israelis — can leave for safety at any time. She has repeatedly refused. This beautiful young woman who had never cared much about Jewish life has discovered under fire a new sense of belonging. One of the hardest things in raising a Jewish child is the question from young lips: ‘Could it ever happen again?’ Parents of course wish to promise that hatred and persecution and murder have faded into the past; that people have learned to live together. But we do not promise, because the promise would not be true. As rockets hurtle into Israel, gangs attack Jews in the streets of Europe — and eminent persons in media and politics condone what they do not outright justify. Again? Yes, again.
At the impressive Westminster Abbey vigil to mark the centenary of the first world war on Monday night, there was one big candle for each quarter of the Abbey, and one dignitary assigned to each candle. At different points in the service, each dignitary would extinguish his or her candle. Then the rest of us in the relevant area, all equipped with candles, would follow suit. The lamps went out, as it were, all over Europe. One thing niggled. I was in the South Transept, and our big-candle snuffer was Lady Warsi, Minister of State at the Foreign Office. I complained to friends that her prominence fell below the level of events. She was always a self-publicising minister — an Asian Edwina Currie — and she is notably sectarian. I had no idea, however, that she would resign the next day, once her little moment of history was passed, professing anger about Gaza policy. Her ill-advised appointment by David Cameron was tokenist, and so she gave no loyalty. Her resignation was tokenist too. How long before she pops up in another party? ['Is the BBC biased?' prediction: Baroness Warsi will join the Lib Dems before the year is out].
Last time I was here (I’ve been away, as it happens, in somebody else’s holiday home), I wrote about Israel. This was before the latest war began, but after it looked like it was about to, and I shared the concern that this country, once so familiar to European sensibilities, was starting to feel decidedly foreign. And the good people of The Spectator put it online twice.
The first time, it ran under the headline ‘I’m not comfortable with Israel any more. And I’m really not comfortable with that’. It was a fair reflection of the text. The response was sizeable, and appeared to be mainly from sad Jews, hurt Israelis and furious Zionists. Douglas Murray wrote a very good blogpost about how I was the one suffering moral drift, not them.
The second time, it ran under the headline ‘If Britain was being shelled, as Israel is being now, how would we respond?’ This was a less fair reflection of the text, but only marginally, and the response was again sizeable. This time, though, it was from sad peaceniks, angry pro-Palestinian activists and furious anti-Zionists. A columnist in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News even wrote a (less good) column about what a mindless Israeli shill I was.
The text in both was identical. As a columnist, I know I quite often sit on the fence. It’s a first, though, even for me, to be on both sides of it at once.
So yes, the problem is bigger than one man, even a man in the position which for almost a century could have shifted such global drift [Barack Obama]. There are also the problems which are, if not unique to our time, then certainly exacerbated by it. For instance there is undoubtedly the problem of the West’s attention span in an era driven by 24-hour news. Like a lighthouse, we seem able to fix our beam on everything at some point, but settle nowhere, and focus on nothing. For many people, the downing of MH17 was a sharp reminder that the Ukraine crisis is still going on.
It’s not just in Ukraine that this attention deficit disorder is manifesting itself. It is now three years since David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy led the international effort to topple Colonel Gaddafi. But after the toppling and the victory tour everybody lost interest in the country. The American ambassador was murdered in Benghazi in an act that the current administration still insists was something between a random act of violence and the more exuberant variety of movie criticism. But apart from that incident, the world’s attention just couldn’t stick around. This week British and other western diplomats were pulled from Libya and the Royal Navy evacuated hundreds of British and other EU nationals. And all this in a country which is one of the main launch points for illegal migrants seeking to enter Europe.
That is more, the cycle of avoidance is self-reinforcing. There’s no political focus because there’s no popular pressure for anything to be done. And there’s no popular pressure because — unlike in, say, Gaza — Libya, Syria, Iraq, parts of Ukraine and numerous other places are now too dangerous for reporters to work from. So the world’s attention only ever focuses on moderately dangerous situations.