Abuse is Never the Answer

 

The Ukraine crisis will never be resolved by a barrage of continual threats against Russia by the Western alliance.

It can only worsen the crisis and cause mayhem rather than pave the way for a measured and sensible dialogue between all the parties concerned.

The age of bullying is no longer a viable factor, given that Russia is a formidable power and a very important player in world politics. The more isolated she finds herself the more aggressive will be her response.

China, which has now joined the league of superpowers, will side with Russia against the United States and its Western allies if it comes to the crunch – and no one can afford a global war which will have a catastrophic effect the likes of which we have yet to experience.

Every Tom Dick and Harry is now throwing abuse at Putin, whose precarious position will turn him into a diehard to the detriment of the West. His popularity in Russia is well established and make no mistake about it the more he’s pushed to the wall the more the present turmoil will persist – and more lives will be sacrificed in the killing fields of eastern Ukraine.

Western leaders should watch their language and try to be more conciliatory if their true intentions are to bring peace. They should refrain from the cheap abuse that can only fuel hatred and give scope to those whose power craze will lead us to uncharted and perilous waters.

Russia is not an inconsequential toy you play with. Napoleon tried it, so did Hitler. They paid a heavy price for their fatal mistake.

Let’s therefore be sensible and use the art of diplomacy as opposed to the murderous gun and hope for salvation.

A Cry For Sanity

The fighting in Gaza is a great blemish to humanitarian values and a return to the barbarity of centuries ago, when man settled a dispute by killing his foe and razing to the ground every standing monument and living creature to assert his domination.

And we call ourselves civilised. Far from it.

Is defending oneself a licence to kill and maim civilians as well as children, and in the process manage to get the backing of politicians worldwide who sing the tune which is expedient to their given objective so as not to antagonise one party as opposed to another? David Cameron is a prime example. Every time he speaks he drops a brick. He is rapidly becoming a master of platitudes.

In the meantime the killing continues and the world watches while the bells of calamity toll loud and clear.

Both sides bury their dead and mothers weep and see devastation all around them. Is that a recipe for peace or has man lost his head?

Hatred knows no boundaries. It is a plague that spreads so quickly and effectively, and destroys everything in its path.

The world must act now and stop the butchery before God loses His temper and confines us all to eternal damnation.

Berlusconi the Survivor

I’m glad that Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted last week of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute at his ‘bunga bunga’ parties for lack of evidence.

An appeals court in Milan reversed the conviction delivered last year by a lower court in which the former Italian prime minister was sentenced to seven years in jail and banned for life from holding political office.

The original trial was perhaps the most lurid and sensational of the many trials Berlusconi has faced since entering politics twenty years ago.

The seventy-seven-year-old billionaire was accused of paying thousands of pounds for sex with Karima el-Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer nicknamed ‘Ruby the Heart Stealer’, who was seventeen at the time of the alleged offences.

Prostitution is only legal in Italy if the woman is above the age of eighteen.

Both deny they ever had sex and Mr Berlusconi insisted his bunga bunga parties were ‘elegant dinners’ rather than orgies in which young starlets and showgirls performed stripteases and danced around a priapic statuette.

Berlusconi might be a rogue whose lifestyle is perhaps not to everybody’s liking, but at least he’s a character whose flamboyant ways strike a chord with the hedonistic world that so many rich people inhabit – and that includes politicians, of course, whose sexual perversions are kept under wraps while pretending to be morally puritanical and guardians of the nation’s high standards of conduct.

When one looks around the globe, there are very few people in high positions who inspire confidence and are genuinely role models to follow and don’t bore your arse off.

Berlusconi is at least a joker’s juggler whose deeds are not more reprehensible than most, but a likeable devil whose presence makes the political scene a merry-go-round of uninterrupted mirth.

Comedians of his calibre are a necessary evil, if the political arena is to survive its worst decline in living memory.

Call me what you will, for I have a soft spot for the old goat.

Baria Alamuddin

 

 

The future mother-in-law of George Clooney is now centre stage and I’m sure people might wish to know more about her, and especially her view on the role of women in our society.

I had the opportunity to interview her in 1987 when I was researching my first book, Women.

At that time I compiled the following biography for inclusion in the list of the extraordinary range of women I had interviewed:

 

Baria Alamuddin is Lebanese and was educated in Beirut. She graduated from the American University of Beirut in 1972 with a degree in journalism, mass media and political science. She has been editor of the Lebanese television news programme and of Al Assayad magazine and, since 1986, editor-in-chief and chairman of Media Services Syndicate. She is a freelance journalist, specializing in interviews with heads of state. She is also visiting lecturer on journalism to Lebanon and London Universities and a Middle East political advisor to Lebanese and British television. Baria Alamuddin is married and has two daughters.

 

Here is what she told me then…

 

ON HER EARLY INFLUENCES

 

‘My father and mother divorced when I was one year old, so the biggest influence in my life up to now has been my mother. She’s the image I always try to follow, because she was among the very few educated women of her time. She was a Palestinian Jordanian, and when she came to the American University in Beirut she was the first Jordanian woman to study there. I was always influenced by her beauty, her charm, her intelligence, everything she did. I don’t know that I still try, but I copied her for a long time, and I always stop and ask, would my mother like this, would my mother like that? There was no other person in my life.’

 

ON ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

 

‘Sometimes I feel emotionally disadvantaged because I feel things differently from the way a man does. Sometimes I lie awake all night because of one word that’s been said to me, and the man doesn’t even notice what he’s said.

 

‘I always tell my two daughters to enjoy their souls and their bodies, because I think at the base of all this repression of women in the Middle East is a lot of sexual and soul problems. The women in the Middle East are not sure of what they want to give, and what they have to give. Many people of my age who went to university with me wanted to have lovers, to have sex, yet inside was this tremendous struggle: what would society say, what would my aunties say, what would the man I love and marry say? There is a very long struggle, and not everybody in the end wins, and this is why you see lots of complexes in our society. In the West, I see this to a great extent, too, because women are basically the same all over the world.’

 

ON FEMINISM 

 

‘I am not a feminist. I don’t want a woman to be a fighter, or to rule the life of a man. I would still like the man to ask the woman to marry him, not the woman to ask the man to marry her. I still would like him to buy her a rose and call her and tell her I love you. I don’t like the roles to be switched. In general, I think a woman is much more emotional, she is a softer person, she can live her emotions and her feelings a lot deeper, by the nature of her own being. Why so we want two creatures exactly the same? The world would be a very boring place to live in, But, to have a productive society, we should have equality between men and women. You cannot run the world with half its powers. In the West, I think it is slowly improving, although sometimes in the wrong direction, but in the Middle East, it’s taking longer because of different factors, basically the wars. People are not busy educating women at the moment. In Lebanon now, there is a whole new generation of boys and girls who have nothing to do with education and refinement or culture, and the same is true in many other Arab countries.

 

‘I think a liberated Western woman is a woman who can easily shed all the social factors and just walk away from them and go towards whatever she wants as a completely liberated individual, regardless of tradition. This is something that people in our part of the world can never do. I have often felt I have been a pioneer of this in my society, because, even as a child, I always wanted to do things differently. I remember wanting to hurt society, to attack society and do things just to spite society because I felt it interfered in every single detail in my life. My God, society in our countries can even marry you off! There will always be a difference between the woman in the West and the woman in the East. A woman in the East has femininity which the women in the West never had maybe, and never will have. Basically, I like the evolution in the Middle East, in the Arab countries, better than in the West.’

 

ON SEXUALITY

 

‘Needs are basically the same in men and women, and sex is a matter of education and culture, upbringing and training. In our society, a man is brought up to be aggressive, to look for it, to go and get it; whereas a girl is not. She also has the need, but the application is different. Application is a very individualistic thing. I don’t think any two people can make love like any two other people. I always have the feeling that there is a misconception about sex in the world, both in the East and the West. I have personally interviewed people about marriage, and to some women it is just a means to get children. I interviewed one woman who had never even been kissed. I know women in the Middle East who hate sex, who think sex is dirty and not something you talk about. I am sure in the West too, if you have a father attacking a daughter, then this girl’s perception of sex will never be the same. There are many elements involved in the application of sex. To me, sexual relations only make sense in the context of love. Any other time it is just like eating; you can go and get it in this restaurant or another restaurant. And I don’t believe a man can make love to another woman if he loves his wife.’

 

ON RELATIONSHIPS 

 

‘I feel most comfortable with men by far. There is no comparison. Most women actually bore me, and most women I find unsure of themselves, especially in the Arab countries, and that really upsets me. They are not in control of their destinies or lives, and I feel they are just souls floating around waiting for things to take them away, here or there, and I find it a waste of time.

 

‘Marriage has all the disadvantages the world has. It is a very difficult institution. I think most people are married because they are scared of society, because it is convenient and they have a car, and they carry a name and the children are there. I know of hardly any marriages that are there by virtue of love. I’m not taking about my marriage, because that is another story. I look at my marriage differently. I work very hard at it and yet I am always afraid. Not of losing the marriage, no, but of losing me in the marriage, or of losing the marriage to me. I am scared.

 

‘For the world to be straightened out and for us to be able to have a peaceful, strong, productive society, the woman has to change her attitude towards life, and the way she expects things from herself. I think she controls society since she brings up the child. For example, my husband has two boys from a previous marriage, and I brought them up. It was a beautiful experience as far as I am concerned, and I think for them, too. While they were growing up, they started coming and saying to me, today I kissed her, or I did this or that to her. I used to say to them, it takes two to kiss, it takes two to make love, it takes two to love, to build, to bring up a child. Anything not done together with the same intensity is not done properly. You can kiss a wall.’

 

Rereading this interview, I still remember the encounter with this formidable and enchanting woman. No wonder George Clooney has fallen for her daughter if she’s anything like her mother! He will be a lucky guy.

 

 

 

 

 

Killing is the Enemy of Man

The carnage in Gaza is much too painful to describe.

It has happened much too often and the civilised world as we call it has stood by and watched despite its ferocity and found itself unable or unwilling to intervene or put a stop to it.

The same old story that becomes a recurrence and manifestation of deep-rooted hatred that seems to grow in intensity with the passage of time is too horrendous to contemplate.

However, the signs are emerging that some of those who suffered most in this latest tragedy have stepped forward from their grief to offer moral support.

In an article in the New York Times that appeared on 16th July Nicholas Kristof writes that the family of Naftali Fraenkel, a sixteen-year-old Jewish boy who was one of the three kidnapped and murdered, said in a statement after the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian boy: ‘There is no difference between Arab and Jewish blood. Murder is murder.’

Likewise, the father of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian boy, said: ‘I am against kidnapping and killing. Whether Jew or Arab, who would accept that his son or daughter would be kidnapped and killed? I call on both sides to stop the bloodshed.’

Thus, the writer maintains, those who have lost the most, have the greatest reason for revenge, offer the greatest wisdom.

‘Yet, instead, it is now the hardliners on each side who are driving events, in turn empowering hardliners on the other side.’

Right-wing politicians take comfort from the hardliners and their tacit backing of those who seek conflict as opposed to reconciliation are growing in numbers.

Politics in general is bereft of any moral standards simply by reason of the fact that power is the motivating factor of any ambitious politician who wants to leave his mark for posterity, even if it is clad in notoriety.

I had one personal experience that I am unlikely to forget in a hurry.

In 1983 Quartet published God Cried by Tony Clifton and the famous war photographer Catherine Leroy.

The book was about the siege of West Beirut in 1982 and the successful defence of the city by Palestinian fighters and their Lebanese allies against far greater Israeli forces.

The city experienced the most brutal combined assault launched against a capital city since World War Two.

When the book was published the Zionist lobby organised a campaign from hell to discredit the book and me personally. I found myself deserted by many friends and was called every name under the sun by sympathisers of Israel who took exception to the book.

The saga continued much longer than I expected but those zealots who created all the fuss realised in the end that none of the accusations levelled against me were true in essence or reality.

Quartet have always defended the underdog, whether Jewish or Palestinian or African – and our publishing record proves it.

An interview with me in the Jerusalem Post when I said that the spilling of Israeli or Palestinian blood is a sacrilege quietened matters down, and the war of attrition against me or any of our publications stopped forthwith.

That was a bitter experience to undergo but it taught me that we should all learn the lesson of history and realise that peace is the only answer. Killing brings more bloodshed and bloodshed is the true enemy of man.

Banish the killing fields and the world will be a paradise worth inhabiting.

Murdered in Chelsea

Last night saw the launch of Murdered in Chelsea, by Ticky Hedley-Dent, at Daunt Books on the Fulham Road.

The glamorous author was in excellent form and enchanted the crowd through her mere presence.

Here’s the short speech I made on this occasion.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are assembled here today for the launch of Ticky’s fabulous book - which has already received critical acclaim from those of us who have had the privilege of reading it prior to its publication. Among them is my friend Geordie Greig who was responsible for hosting the launch of my book Fulfilment and Betrayal in May 2007. To him I owe a great deal.

Here is what he said about Murdered in Chelsea:

‘A high-octane novel which shows the author’s insider knowledge of life in the fast lane.’

Geordie should know for he is well versed in the ongoings of British society as a previous editor of Tatler and one time literary editor of the Sunday Times. His grasp of books is very impressive to say the least.

Ticky Hedley-Dent is, as you can see, a personable young lady. A freelance writer, she was features director of Tatler and a features writer on the Daily Mail.

Murdered in Chelsea is her first novel and what a brilliant start.

‘It glitters with privilege and mystery… a dangerously addictive novel’ – so says Sophie Winkleman.

While Kate Williams’ assessment of the novel is equally riveting.

‘Enormous fun! Lily Cane is a fabulous heroine, spunky and full of heart, and her journey through the poshest parts of London society is a real roller coaster ride.’

A review in Glamour magazine sums it up.

‘Lily Cane is a newspaper journalist assigned to cover the mysterious life of aristo It-girl Zuleika Winters. Was it an overdose or is there a killer on the loose on London’s party scene? This debut from ex-journalist Hedley-Dent romps along at 100mph. Perfect sun lounger fodder.’

As I began reading the manuscript when it was first submitted I could not put it down. It had an air of mystery, a pedal power view of Chelsea’s fast moving society and a comprehensive study of the main characters in this absorbing thriller.

Ticky is a good bet to back. I know we are in a recession and money is in short supply for some, but I urge you to buy more than one copy of the book and show Ticky the encouragement she deserves.

A book to take on holidays is its best recommendation. The word of mouth is equally potent. In the meantime, please spread the good word around and make her happy, make her publisher happy, and make the shop happy.

Here she is, a star in the making, to say a few words to you – and I am sure her charm will go a long way in persuading you to heed my words.

She did her magic on me, why not on you…

Has the Israeli Government Lost its Way?

The conflict between Israel and the people of Gaza is much too brutal and inhumane while the civilised world watches and finds itself in a kind of self-imposed paralysis for fear of taking sides with one of the combatants or the other.

Both peoples have a history of suffering and seem to forget that victims tend to become the perpetrators of heinous acts of oppression and cruelty.

Those of you who watched Monday night’s main Channel 4 News @ 7 would have seen a gruesome report from their correspondent, Jonathan Miller, in Gaza, reporting an Israeli rocket attack on the home of the chief surgeon at the main hospital in that beleaguered city.

‘The precision of the targeting is extraordinary,’ reported Miller. ‘The home of Dr Nasser al-Tatar, Director of Shifa Hospital – Gaza’s biggest – was destroyed by three missiles just before he joined his family to break the Ramadan fast last night. A warning was phoned through to his nephew; he had ten minutes to warn neighbours and get his wife and four children out. He thinks two were fired from drones and one from an F-16 fighter. He watched his home of thirty years blown up in less than a minute. One big missile left a ten-foot-deep crater in what was his front room. But the houses on either side of his were hardly damaged. A couple of windows were broken — probably from the pressure wave.’

Here’s the link for those of you who missed it: http://blogs.channel4.com/miller-on-foreign-affairs/gaza-live/768

The second surgeon in the interview is one of Quartet’s authors, Mads Gilbert. A Norwegian doctor who’s also a Professor of Medicine at the University of North Norway in Tromso, Mads has regularly worked for the Norwegian Palestine Committee in occupied Palestine.

Eyes in Gaza, his shocking account of Israel’s twenty-two-day military offensive in 2009 on the Gaza Strip where one thousand, three hundred Palestinians were killed, a large majority civilians, with many more thousands injured, written with another Norwegian doctor, Erik Fosse, remains essential background reading to this appalling conflict.

The book should be read for its fearful lesson that war has never solved a problem in the long term but essentially fuelled hatred at a level beyond the comprehension of any sensible human being, whose quest for peace is paramount in a region where the scripture of the three main world religions refers to it as The Holy Land.

In an article written by Roger Cohen entitled ISRAEL’S BLOODY STATUS QUO published in the New York Times, 14th July, he ends by saying:

Jews should study the Nakba. Arabs should study the Holocaust. That might be a first step toward two-state coexistence. And everyone should read the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s lines about redemption only coming for all the peoples of the Holy Land when a Jerusalem guide tells his tour group: ‘You see that arch over there from the Roman period? It doesn’t matter, but near it, a little to the left and then down a bit, there’s a man who has just bought fruit and vegetables for his family.’ 

These are wise words. I hope they will not fall on deaf ears and when you read Eyes in Gaza you will find it the best antidote to war.