Monthly Archives: March 2014

Taking Morgan

Taking MorganTaking Morgan is a thriller to keep you on edge until the very end.

It has a quality about it we seldom see these days; well written, cleverly constructed, it has a genuine realism which has its roots in actual events.

David Rose is a dab hand at this genre of storytelling, due to his vast experience in investigative journalism – which covered intelligence and covert action by agencies all over the world for more than twenty years. He’s highly respected for what he does and his track record of scoops have earned him great acclaim from his fellow journalists. Undeterred when it comes to risky assignments, he has the stamina and courage that his profession demands.

The book, which we published recently, is a must read for those who expect more of a thriller than the usual standards we have been accustomed to. It is full of action, highly gripping and reflects the violence of the age we live in.

To whet your appetite, here is what the critics have said so far…

‘Written by an acclaimed investigative journalist, using all his hard-won experience in the Middle East, this debut is based on a string of real events that bring it a refreshing authenticity. You can almost taste the dust of the streets, smell the explosions, and feel the fear that grips his female protagonist Morgan Cooper… The fate of Morgan and what it must be like to lose your liberty for months gives the story a fearsome grip that lasts to the final page’ Daily Mail

‘A compelling thriller and an invaluable guide to the most intractable conflict on earth’ Mail on Sunday

‘Among the novel’s strengths are the author’s in-depth knowledge of the region and its political complexities. Both an espionage yarn and the story of a marriage, it contains all the twists and double-crosses you could wish for, yet mercifully lacks the wham-bam formulaic clunkiness of more seasoned writers of spy fiction’ Sunday Times

‘Rose shuttles frantically but effectively between different worlds, ratcheting up the tension’ Guardian

‘A smartly paced political thriller’ Observer

‘The unravelling of Morgan’s plight, and Adam’s response to it, takes many interesting twists and turns, made the more convincing by Rose’s obvious mastery of his subject’ The Times

Francis Stuart

A highly divisive Irish writer and intellectual, his years spent in Nazi Germany broadcasting Nazi propaganda and scripting talks by William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw), have clouded his reputation; even when, in 1996, he was controversially elected an Irish Saoi (an Irish honour bestowed on writers and artists including such luminaries as Samuel Beckett and Sean O’Faolain).

Born in Australia in 1902, his alcoholic father’s suicide forced his family back to Ireland, though Stuart was educated at Rugby School. In 1920, he became a Catholic and married Iseult Gonne, the daughter of the iconic Irish patriot Maud Gonne. Always a turbulent marriage, both were caught up with the IRA and Stuart was interned by the British for gun-running.

By 1938 Stuart was seeking a way out of his marriage and the provincialism of Irish life, and in 1939 he moved to Germany where he eventually accepted an appointment at Berlin University in 1940.

Between 1942 and 1944 Stuart took part in radio broadcasts containing Nazi propaganda, though when he objected to the anti-Soviet material that was presented to him, his passport was taken from him by the Gestapo. In 1945 Stuart sought to return to Ireland with a former student, Gertrude Meissner; they were unable to do so, and were arrested and detained by Allied troops. After they were released, Stuart and Meissner lived in Germany and then France and England. They married in 1954 after Iseult’s death, and in 1958 they returned to settle in Ireland.

In 1971 Stuart published his best-known work, Black List Section H, considered by many to be his masterpiece. But I think The Pillar of Cloud is his finest book. Set in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of 1945, its first-hand account of love amid the suffering of a people in bombed-out streets without money or food, even clothes, and its brutal account of rape and pillage by the conquering Russian army, has a haunting savagery.

In his old age, he lived in County Clare with his third partner, Fionuala, and in County Wicklow with his son. He died on 2nd February 2000 at the age of ninety-seven in County Clare.

You are Australian by birth and Ulster Protestant by background. Did you have the feeling of being different from other people from the beginning? 

I did, yes, but probably more because of a certain mystery surrounding my father, who killed himself in Australia when I was only a few weeks old. I never got to know the full circumstances, except that he had made several attempts at suicide and was in a mental clinic in Sydney when he made a final and successful attempt. This haunted and obsessed me, and I began to identify with him very much. His twin brother used to tell me how he had questioned my father, asking him if he felt lonely or persecuted, to which I understand he answered yes. But psychology was not as it is today, and that seemed a very primitive way of questioning. My mother never spoke of him, and nor did her family. I think the marriage was almost certainly unhappy. Although I thought I understood his reasons for suicide, the whole business remained mysterious.

In an article in the Observer last year you were described as an outcast in your own country, ostracized and reviled. Would you agree with that? 

No, I wouldn’t mind if it was so, but it is absolutely ridiculous. In certain circles, among cultured people, I am highly regarded. I wouldn’t say I haven’t encountered hostility; as you probably know, I have encountered it everywhere, and here in Ireland not least, but on the other hand it is completely untrue to say I am ostracized and reviled.

You are often described as an incorrigible romantic. Do you wear that description as a badge of honour? 

Again, it’s not true. I’m not a romantic, I’m a realist. The imaginative writer must make a model of reality, taking in everything. I have a great admiration for Heidegger who asked: ‘Why is there anything?’ We don’t know a lot, but from what we do know of nature and the cosmos we might expect there to be nothing. I’ve always been astonished at there being anything at all, and I’ve written in poems that it’s a miracle we’re here. Our task, as I see it, is to tend that miracle of existence, experience, consciousness.

Do you think romanticism is dangerous? 

As I interpret it, yes, because it’s far from the real. If you make a model of all there is, as the imaginative mind must do, romanticism doesn’t enter into it. Realism, yes. It’s a very harsh planet on which we find ourselves.

In your autobiographical novel Black List: Section H you write: ‘Anyone whose behaviour collides with the popular faith of the time and place is automatically condemned.’ As someone who has experienced widespread condemnation, do you think it has been a price worth paying for your beliefs? 

Undoubtedly so for me. I can only do my work after isolation, and it doesn’t matter how I come to be in that condition of isolation. I can’t imagine writing as an accepted member of society, and in so far as I write for anybody, I write for people like myself – isolated, lonely, and very close to despair at times. It’s not necessary for me to have had the life I have had to experience near despair and loneliness; I would have those feelings in any case since they are conditions of living. Without being presumptuous, you very likely have them too. They’re surely common to intelligent, imaginative people.

You were a Sinn Fein sympathizer in the 1920s and 1930s, and you were interned by the British. How did that come about? 

I would say Republican rather than Sinn Fein. During the civil war here I was on the Republican and losing side, as I have always been. It is essential in my view to be on the losing side. I was interned for about a year, or perhaps nine months. I don’t remember exactly. I’ve been in six different prisons, mostly abroad, but never for very long. I was never sentenced – there was nothing I could have been charged with – but I was locked up all the same.

Were conditions harsh? 

Hunger was the worst. In most prisons we didn’t get enough to eat, but then people on the outside were also hungry. There was overcrowding of course – at one point we had twelve to fifteen men in a cell meant for one or two. That was in Germany where I was interned by the French on the recommendation of the British. I was told that by a French intelligence officer, who said they had to do what the British told them.

What’s your attitude to Sinn Fein today? 

If you mean the political party, I dislike all political parties. They give themselves airs and they make not the slightest difference to our lives. Any party could be in power here, it wouldn’t matter which. To my mind they are all a load of rubbish. I’m not the slightest bit interested in politics.

Your first marriage to Maud Gonne’s daughter, Iseult, seems to have all the elements of pain and uncertainty associated with first love and a love that was very young … you were only eighteen. Would you agree with that? 

I would, but I should add that the marriage lasted nearly twenty years, although we had terrific rows and so on. I felt very sorry for Iseult. She was one of these innocents, if you know what I mean; she put up with me, which wasn’t easy, and she also put up with her mother, who to my mind was an unpleasant woman. She suffered from both ends.

Was her mother against you? 

Yes, but that was understandable. I was an unknown boy from the north, with no background, no money, nothing to recommend me. A boy of eighteen marries her daughter, whom Yeats and other people would gladly have married … I wasn’t a great catch to put it mildly.

The poet Kathleen Raine, whom I interviewed a year or two ago, talks about the purity of young love, which she describes as absolute, the sense that you cant imagine feeling this for anyone else. Do you remember that first love, the intensity of it, or has it gone completely? 

It’s very hard to say with hindsight. What I find is that if I write about certain memories and then try and recall them later, what I remember is what I’ve written about them. If I hadn’t written about them I could perhaps go back to the real thing, but as it is I’m wary of many of my memories. The love we had was certainly one of great intensity, and that meant great rows and violence. We each destroyed things that the other valued. I did some sculpture in those days, and I had one of a bird which I prized very much, and Iseult took that and threw it on the floor. And I once took a pile of her dresses and poured petrol over them.

Do you regret all of that? 

In one way I don’t. But I have given hurt, and I do regret that and find it shocking.

In Black List the character H is jealous of the fact that Iseult and the poet Ezra Pound have been lovers … was that something which obsessed you at the time? 

I think it did undoubtedly. Sex – sensuality is perhaps a better word – is an extraordinary driving force. And to imagine your partner in the arms of somebody else, that was part of the sensuality. I became obsessed by it.

Did the fact that Iseult had rejected Yeats’ offer of marriage make for awkwardness between you and Yeats later on? 

I never found it so. I got on well with him, and he was extraordinarily generous to me. He said that with some luck I would be one of our fine writers. For myself I’m not an admirer of Yeats in one way. He is of course a great poet – it would be ridiculous to say otherwise – but he’s not a poet I would go to for comfort in times of stress. People thought Yeats put on a lot of airs, but he didn’t. He was in fact a very lonely man who would have liked to have close friends and didn’t. Ordinary people, even intellectuals, couldn’t get on with Yeats much. He had none of the normal social gifts. We used to stay with Yeats, I’d stay awake all night racking my brains to think of some profound statement to come up with the next day. Sometimes it used to go terribly wrong.

The marriage to Iseult broke up about 1940. So many things were changing and dissolving in those days – did it perhaps seem symptomatic of the times that it should have broken up in 1940? 

I suppose it did, yes, and so it was. Many more important things than my marriage broke up at that time.

Can you tell me what it was about Hitler and the Nazi movement which attracted you in the first place? 

One of the things which I have always thought so unjust is the powerlessness of the poet. The creative mind shouldn’t be powerless, and the only way the writer is not powerless is if he has a warlord to look up to, as Milton had Cromwell. Only then is he given that power in the world that he believes is his due. I know that to be a false belief now, but at the time I wanted a warlord to revere. If Hitler hadn’t had this manic anti-Semitic obsession, there was a lot to admire in him. But another reason why I went to Germany and later even broadcast from Germany was the business of war itself, which is a terrible thing. If one side wages war because they see another, foreign regime, committing awful crimes, they should know by now that they can’t possibly hope to win that war without using the same, perhaps even more horrible methods, and that was so in the last war. The Allies used similar methods in order to win it, but they went into it saying they were conducting a Christian Crusade, and to my mind that is a terrible thing. It seems to me you are polluting all moral values if you say that. They were defending Europe against a horrible regime, but they weren’t conducting a Christian crusade. By claiming that they were, they were doing something very evil.

Did you ever meet Hitler? 

No, but I could easily have done so because the American minister here in Ireland before the war, a man called John Cudahy, asked the Führer if he would grant me an audience. When the war broke out John left the embassy and went to Germany to work as a newspaper correspondent, for the New York Herald Tribune, I think. He had at least two audiences with Hitler, and on one occasion I told him about this neutral Irish writer whose books he had read and liked, and who was in Germany. Hitler apparently said to bring him along, but I never did go. I remember warning John about the dangers and telling him that the British were well aware of his meetings with the Führer and they’d be very happy to get rid of him. He rather scorned the idea, but then he went to Switzerland and within two or three days he was dead. It was reported that he’d had a heart attack or something of that sort, but there was no doubt whatsoever that the British did away with him. Understandably, of course. In war everything is allowable.

Was he very pro-Hitler? 

Not so much, but he was advising Hitler not to provoke the Americans into war, and that was the last thing the British wanted.

You have said that you soon discovered that Hitler was not the answer, but one of the reasons you stayed in Germany was because of your hostility to the British. On what exactly was this hostility based? 

It was based on their attitude of moral superiority. At one stage the Allied leaders, including Churchill, met in mid-Atlantic on a battleship and sang ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. That to me was so shocking.

Do you think the hostility might also have had anything to do with the English public-school system which you were part of? 

Rugby had a great effect on me – not so much a moral effect, but it toughened me up in a way that allowed me to survive six prisons . none of them was as bad as Rugby.

Do you still have residual feelings of hostility towards the British? 

No, not as a people, though I still think their attitude is moralistic.

During the war you broadcast to Ireland from Berlin on behalf of the Reich. What did you feel you were trying to achieve at that time? 

It’s not easy now, half a century later, truthfully to recall one’s real impulses, but I thought I might supply the arguments from the other side, since there was nobody to broadcast them to my own country. I never dealt with military matters or the conduct of the war, I never touched on that. I did expose the hypocrisy of the Allied cause, but as it turned out later I never met anyone who ever heard my broadcasts. They went out late at night when nobody was listening.

Setting aside the political aspect, what was life in Berlin like in 1940? Was it a lively place? 

Indeed it was, up till 1944. If you had plenty of money, that is.

Did you have plenty of money? 

Yes, and I looked to the black market for luxuries. There was plenty of night life too, though I was never one for that.

What about women? 

There were lots of women. I had one in particular called Roisin O’Mara, whose origins were obscure to say the least.

I presume she was Irish… 

No, I wouldn’t say she claimed to be Irish. She was adopted by an English family, an aristocratic family. Her adopted father was in command at the battle of the Dardanelles, which was a frightful mess-up for the British, as you know. That’s neither here nor there, but it certainly didn’t recommend him as a general. Roisin O’Mara had olive-tinted skin – I would imagine she came from the Middle East.

How did you meet her? 

When the war broke out some of my German acquaintances told me that there was an Irish girl studying in Berlin, and she was in a very precarious position as she was undoubtedly a British subject. They asked me to keep an eye on her. I had a very large flat at the time and so I gave her a room. She was actually pregnant and had a baby.

Was that anything to do with you? 

No, nothing to do with me. But we became lovers.

What happened to her? 

Nothing. She’s still around. She wrote a book in Irish, which unfortunately I cant read, but I told it makes a very strong plea for the other side of the war. There’s a photograph which I took of her in Berlin in the book. She was very beautiful.

You were very fond of her? 

Oh, indeed I was. But I never saw her after the war.

Do you find it surprising that fifty years later many people have still not forgiven you for broadcasting from Germany? 

Oh no, that is not surprising, that’s very understandable. But I have no regrets.

Your friend Samuel Beckett joined the French resistance and received the Croix de Guerre for his work. Did you never think you might have done the same? 

It was entirely convenient for the French to give a high decoration to a foreign collaborator, but I thought it was farcical.

In the afterword to the recent reissue of Redemption, you go some way towards explaining why you spent the war in Germany, ignoring the warning from a professor at Berlin University that by doing so you would be greatly damaging your own future. You explain it in terms of certain events in history having a counterpart, and despite the fact, perhaps because of the fact, that the fight against Nazism was almost universal in the English-speaking world, you thought there was a need, perhaps even a duty, to counter that consensus. Is that a fair way of representing it, do you think? 

I don’t think it’s completely fair, because I have always believed that consensus is evil. A consensus of intelligent people is to my mind always wrong. I think it was Simone Weil who said if you see the scales heavily weighed down on the right side, on the moral side, put your small offering on the other side. And I believe she was right.

Do you believe in evil? 

Yes I do.

Would you say that a movement, an ideology such as Nazism, could be said to embody evil, and to that extent it is our duty to resist it? 

I would answer yes to the first part, that it could be said to embody evil, but that it is our duty to resist it – I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. You just have to deal with it according to the precise circumstances as they arise in your life. There is no need for a general theory.

Were the Allies right to resist Nazism in your view? 

Physically in terms of arms, they were right, but they were not right to claim that they were waging a Christian crusade.

Were you ever afraid that you might actually be hanged alongside people like John Amery and William Joyce who were regarded as British traitors? 

It was unlikely because I did not have a British passport. I had one in my youth when I was in the North and we were all part of Britain, but after that I had a valid Irish passport. They could have hanged me, I suppose, but it would have been such a travesty of justice.

Do you think one can be morally neutral? 

You can’t have a morally neutral attitude in general but in precise circumstances I think you can. In my situation in Germany it was right to be neutral.

In the afterword to Redemption you also talk of Ireland as having ‘sat out the world conflict on bacon and tea’. That would seem to contain elements of judgement and condemnation… 

I was just stating a fact. In Ireland it was called the Emergency, which is a funny way of describing the greatest war in history, and they complained about rationing. They weren’t going to let the business of war interfere with their lives. I’m not condemning them. Why should I condemn them? If I’d been in Ireland I would have also been eating bacon and eggs.

You have sometimes been compared with Jean Genet. Is it a comparison you welcome without qualification? 

Yes, I think highly of Genet. He was a fine person. To the world he was amoral, but I think he undoubtedly acted from a certain moral faith, which is rare.

Edmund White, Genet’s biographer, said that again and again Genet was attracted to the person everyone else despised, the lowest person. Do you think that has been the case with you, either in life or in fiction? 

It could be, but I think with me that’s incidental. I’m more attracted to the so-called war lords, because they have the power which I think – or used to think – I should have. I believed that imaginative minds, explorers and probers into reality – they should all have power in a just society.

To what do you attribute your success with women? 

I wasn’t ugly, let’s say, but also I was positive in my approach to them. I never regarded a woman as just a passing passion or a piece of sensuality. The woman of the moment was always for me THE woman who was going to be with me for the rest of my life. I must honestly say that I think that was to my credit.

Were you sexually driven? 

Very much so, yes.

Were you considered a good lover? 

It’s very hard to say now. If you’re with a woman in a sensual situation she’s hardly going to say to you that you didn’t live up to her expectations. But I don’t honestly think I was especially good, no.

You seem to have been more than unusually interested in finding the truth, even if it was painful. That is the backdrop to a great deal of your fiction. Do you feel that you have found the truth – if one can put it like that – and was it worth the pain? 

I found what I call reality – I prefer the word reality to truth. Truth is somehow a bit pretentious. If you find only a limited reality there is no point in it. You have to ask, what is the greater reality in which this limited reality of daily life is contained?

As a Christian do you believe in an afterlife? 

I don’t really believe in heaven. When I say I believe in the Christian faith, I read the Gospels and get a lot of comfort and inspiration out of them. That doesn’t mean I’m bound to take their views as final about anything, but it would be very wrong, just because the Gospels report something which is more or less incredible, to reject them. As regards the afterlife, it’s not a question I’m in a position to answer from the intelligence I have been granted or from the experiences I’ve had. It’s beyond me to say yes or no to an afterlife. There is no point in doing so. In my long lifetime I have some very intense memories of far-back happenings, and I can’t see them being erased completely, even after I die.

Are you afraid of death? 

Yes, I would say so, although my fear of death would not take priority over all my other anxieties. I were to die tomorrow, my greatest anxiety would be what would become of my cat.

Going back to Redemption for a moment, one of the most striking passages reads as follows: ‘There is nothing in the world that couldn’t be called a few scratches, from music to love. It’s a question of making the right scratches.’ Is that a very significant statement for you? Would you say that you have managed to make the right scratches? 

It is a significant statement, yes. Whether on a music score or in your own situation, it is only a matter of making scratches, that’s all we can do. As far as my own scratches are concerned, all I can say is that they were always positive. They were always scratches of a believer, rather than a sceptic. 

One of the things that struck me when I read Redemption was the business of the girl who was raped. She recounts to Ezra the trauma and says to Ezra that it’s lucky Margaretta is dead because she wouldn’t have to suffer the torment of being raped. And Ezra replies that he would rather Margaretta had been raped twenty times over than be dead. Was that your own view? 

Oh yes. Because to be raped would have been nothing to be ashamed of, for her or for me, and to have her alive was everything. I meant exactly that.

Later when Ezra describes a young girl as being raped he said, ‘Violence never takes the shape you imagine it will.’ What has been the impact of violence in your own life? 

The impact of violence has been very considerable in my life. I’ve experienced many violent events, and been intimately involved with violence. I’ve heard executions from a prison cell, and I’ve been within earshot of several others.

In the same book Ezra makes a distinction between what he calls ‘a real lover’ and ‘a real and final friend’, saying that a wife is actually a third thing, coming somewhere between the two. He says that ‘to be a wife is to be incapable of the final unjudging friendship’. Is that written more in sorrow than in anger? Has it been a personal disillusionment for you? 

Yes, I suppose so. That remark stems from the time when I wanted a ménage à trios with Madeline and Iseult refused. I thought our hearts has been changed by war – my own heart had been changed, and I thought I could bring back Madeline and Iseult would accept it. But their hearts had not changed like mine. And still I thought I could change them. I told a friend, a German professor at the university and he said that was very naïve of me. And then he said a funny thing – he asked me which of them I would go for walks with. I didn’t see it as a problem, but he obviously did.

But presumably there would have been problems. I mean, how would you have organized the sleeping arrangements? 

 I would like to have acted from impulse. As a writer it’s the only way to act, naturally, as it occurs.

You also write: ‘Marriage may be holy but it is also apt to be heartless as far as the rest of the world is concerned.’ What was in your mind when you wrote that, I wonder? Is marriage heartless? 

Oh yes. Couples are heartless, ruthless towards the rest of the world if something from outside threatens them. They don’t have any understanding or compassion…

In your novel Black List you write: ‘Dishonour is what becomes a poet, not titles or acclaim.’ What is the foundation of that belief? 

Experience. The creative mind can only write out of isolation which comes from dishonour largely, because if you’re honoured you’re not isolated.

You have – perhaps uniquely, certainly more than most writers – written books which reflect the events of your own life. One might almost say you have lived your own fiction. Do you see it that way yourself? Do reality and fiction ever blur in your own mind? 

Yes, they do. It’s partly the fault of my memory, but they do blur, and I believe that that is a fault of many good writers today. The life and work of a writer should not be separate; they should be completely joined.

In Black List you describe how H, after receiving Holy Communion, kneels down by a stone column and says again and again, ‘My Lord and my God’. He then asks whether, if all religion be myth, that invalidates the experience of the moment. How would you yourself answer that question? 

No, it doesn’t invalidate it. Even if the Catholic or any other religion is all legend and myth, it doesn’t invalidate it in the slightest. Just as a parable doesn’t invalidate the truth that is represented by the parable. The myth, if it’s intense enough, stands by itself.

Have you thought a great deal about religion during your life? 

I’ve thought a lot about it, yes. And still do. I’ve asked the questions, but the answers are quite beyond us.

In Redemption Ezra says to the priest: ‘In general what a horrible egoism family egoism is, and your Catholic family egoism is the nastiest of all.’ Do you believe that? 

Yes. I’ve seen it at work. Their absolute ruthlessness against anything from the outside that threatens them is quite shocking, and the Catholic church encourages that attitude.

You have a special affection for Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Why is that? 

She was brought up a very strict and pious Catholic, really maudlin – it was quite sickening to read of her early running to the church. And then she got into this convent where she had at least two sisters already, who made it very easy for her. She was a pious little creature, with that conventional piety which is so horrible. After a while, I don’t know how long really, but very soon, all faith, consolation and belief were taken from her. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it, but she lost her faith at any rate. She became as far as possible a sceptic, and I think that must have been a terrible experience. There she was, in the convent, more or less a prisoner. She went there out of belief that she didn’t have any more. And yet of course she didn’t say that she didn’t have it, because she couldn’t have borne it. Then she became tubercular. The Normandy climate didn’t help and she didn’t have enough covering on her cot. Once she woke up in the night coughing, and she could feel her mouth filling with blood. She spat it into a napkin but she didn’t put on the light. In the morning she saw it was obviously arterial blood from the lung and she knew her fate was sealed. The fact that she didn’t put the light on was a great act of self-flagellation.

Didn’t you write about her in a novel? 

Yes, it was funny – well, at least the consequences were funny. I was very attracted to Thérèse of Lisieux and I wrote that I was in bed with her that night when she coughed. When she put the napkin to her mouth, I said to her, put on the light, and she said, no I won’t. She only put it on in the morning, and of course when we saw it, we knew she was doomed within a very short period. I wrote all this in a novel and some people who were admirers of my work told me that it was simply horrible of me to write such a thing and vowed that was the last book of mine they would read. They found it offensive that I should have used this obviously very private and painful event in the life of somebody whom I was supposed to revere. I just thought, well, why not.

You have often been to Lourdes. Do you actually believe in miracles? 

No. I went to Lourdes because I wanted to wheel the stick down to the grotto, and then into the basilica for the blessing in the evening. I got to know them as I would not have done normally. You enter into other people’s consciousness that way. Of course in many ways it was heart-breaking.

In your novel Memorial, published in 1973, you quote Derek Mahon who speaks in a poem of the author living ‘in obscurity and derision’. Is that how you see yourself perhaps? 

Yes, I suppose so. It was certainly the fact of the matter when I wrote it. It’s perhaps changing somewhat now, but it used to be that if my name was mentioned it would arouse quite a bit of derision.

Do you believe you will be read more after your death than during your lifetime?


Is that not a bitter thought … or is it one which comforts? 

Neither one nor the other really. Historically speaking, I think I won’t be forgotten. But whether that’s a great comfort is another matter. Presumably I won’t be there to get any satisfaction from it.

Would you say you are at peace with yourself now? 

No, no. I’ll never be at peace with myself.

Why is that, do you think? 

Many reasons, the most obvious being that nobody of imaginative intelligence who finds himself on this very harsh planet can possibly be at peace. Our life is very cruel, and if there is a divine creator, let us say that one side of him is extremely ruthless. He has compassion, undoubtedly, but let us just say that his spirit is very complex.

You were selected recently to become an Irish Saoi, while on a previous occasion you were passed over. Has the establishment now forgiven your sins, do you think, and does it mean fuller recognition of your talent as a writer? 

Yes, it does of course. I write in English, which after all is one of the languages that really counts, and as a writer in English I am highly regarded. It would be rather silly of these people in the establishment not to take that into account. They are of course British, and a stupid lot, most of them.

Aren’t you pleased that you’re being honoured? 

Not especially, no. I don’t consider it a great honour, but I will go along with it.


Fatal Attraction

I was truly delighted when the actor Patrick Ryecart emailed me two weeks ago with an invitation to attend the press night of James Dearden’s play, Fatal Attraction, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, in his capacity as co-presenter with Robert Fox Limited.

The event brought back too many happy memories. Patrick’s links with my family go back to the 1950s when he lived in Haifa as a young boy, his father having been the Anglican vicar who looked after the British community.

Whenever his parents had to travel to visit their flock in the Holy Land, his mother would leave him at my parents’ house where my little sister had the task of minding him.

Being already in England by then, I only heard about him at that stage but we did not finally meet and become close friends until a year before his marriage to the Duke of Norfolk’s daughter Marsha.

Patrick and I were subsequently responsible for producing the play The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B by J. P. Donleavy at the Duke of York Theatre in September 1981, in conjunction with my friend Howard Panter, where Patrick and Simon Callow played the two major roles with Susan Gilmore as the female lead.

On Tuesday night the Theatre Royal was full to capacity, and I thought the play (not for the faint-hearted) was beautifully directed by Trevor Nunn with a wonderful cast and excellent performances from the entire troupe.

The two leading actresses were breathtaking, and the play should hopefully be a box-office smash hit.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for both Patrick and Robert Fox, as they deserve a rewarding outcome for this great theatrical endeavour.

Go and see the play and admire some bravura performances, which might raise your emotional tension to breaking point – and teach you to be faithful to your adoring wife. In brief, no fucky-fucky as a sporting sideline…

There’s No Accounting for Taste

A page-three girl attracted my attention a couple of weeks ago: India Reynolds, aged twenty-two from Reading.

I found her unusually alluring. She is what I would call a woman so structured as to resemble an immaculate work of art. Her femininity is plenteous without being raunchy, yet raunchiness, if any, is so weaved as to negate any whiff of coarseness. She looks like a beautiful flower undulating in a summer breeze, her lips tantalisingly parted with a promise of a honey-like dew to refresh whoever the gods choose to favour.

The nipples make any arbiter of good taste wish he or she were a child again, having the privilege of close proximity to these life-feeding, heart-throbbing, miraculously formed fleshy gems to entice and give comfort to human needs.

Her thighs are those of a woman well endowed to make sexual congress an unforgettable experience and a life-enhancing exercise to remind us of nature’s greatest gift.

Her vampish demeanour is a rhapsody, celebrating womanhood in a fashion the new generation of self-induced bony women have forgotten what it feels and looks like. Her frilly knickers conceal her mons pubis which is like a white orchid in full bloom.

Such a woman as India is a treasure of femininity to emulate.

I sincerely hope that women will one day revert to being the goddesses they once were and men such as I will then worship at their altar.

The Age of Global Warming: It’s Time to Find Out

The Age of Global Warming: A History by Rupert Darwall, published by Quartet Books in paperback tomorrow, is really hotting up.

It is now receiving international exposure, and is considered by many of the world’s leading authorities as the definitive work on this most controversial subject.

The hypocrites who maintain that man is totally responsible for the ills of what nature itself imposes on our climate are barking up the wrong tree. Statistics prove the contrary.

In a recent interview the author said: ‘Nobody really knows by how much increased levels of carbon dioxide cause the atmosphere to warm. When you look at the climate models, they have had a terrible predictive record. They completely missed the fifteen-to-seventeen-year pause in global temperatures that we are now seeing.’

Darwall said there is powerful evidence to suggest that the huge push for de-carbonisation is ‘literally insane’.

‘And that is the big emerging economies absolutely refuse to sign up to a global treaty that hinders their ability to grow their economies and pump out carbon dioxide.’

He also said former vice president Al Gore, a major booster of global warming theories, was drastically wrong.

‘At an early climate conference, which was in 2007…he predicted that the Arctic Sea ice would disappear in the summer by around about now, 2014, 2015,’ Darwall said. ‘He also in his movie An Inconvenient Truth… oh, the Greenland ice sheet is going to melt and now cause a new Ice Age in Europe. What he didn’t tell anyone is that the melting, if it happens, of the Greenland ice sheet, isn’t in a case of centuries – it’s millennia. The earliest it would melt is in one thousand years’ time. Why didn’t he say that?’

This highly emotive book uncovers the myths and does not suit those climate doom-sayers who have wrongly galvanised the public, aided and abetted by governments throughout the world who have their own agendas, to maintain this scaremongering for reasons unbeknown to us.

Get a copy of this important book and find out for yourselves…

The Age of Global Warming: A History by Rupert Darwall, PB, £15

Beauty May Have Fair Leaves, Yet Bitter Fruit

Beauty versus ugliness has always been a contentious subject since the eye of the beholder differs greatly from one person to another.

Although a beautiful person is unlikely to be viewed as ugly by the great majority of people, an ugly person is rarely found to be attractive except by very few dissidents. Vision can sometimes play havoc in determining the vast difference between the two extremes but in general it can distinguish between symmetry in looks and lack of it.

It is now claimed that ugly people are doomed to a life of discrimination because, unlike other historically oppressed groups, they will never rise up together to demand the same rights as their more handsome rivals.

That’s the opinion of academics who have been studying the inequalities between the winners and losers of life’s lottery of looks. They claim that the age-old beauty bias has been allowed to run rampant through society, in a way that racism, homophobia and sexism have not. The reason stems from the fact that there are no campaign groups for the foul of face.

‘Why haven’t we been as concerned with oppression of the ugly as with other forms of oppression?’ asked Jonny Thakkar, a lecturer in philosophy and humanities at Princeton University. ‘One point is that we tend to address oppression when the oppressed themselves band together to campaign. But ugly people do not band together; there is no conscious group formation around the idea of ugly. Part of this is just that one doesn’t like to admit one’s ugliness; ugliness is always deniable especially given the fact that standards of beauty are culturally relative.’

Mr Thakkar said that unlike other groups whose long and continuing battle for equality have led to protection in law, there is an additional obstacle standing in the way of the facially unfortunate. Membership of the group is arguably a matter of opinion. ‘Membership of the group can be temporary, whether because cultural standards change in your favour or because your own looks change,’ said Mr Thakkar, whose essay ‘The Ugly Truth’ was published in the digital magazine Aeon. He added that the oppression of the ugly was most similar to the situation of the working class.

One of the few cases to reach the courts was that of Shirley Ivey, who sued her former employer, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in Washington, in 2011, on the grounds of ‘personal appearance-based’ hostility after she was told by her boss that he would like her better if she was prettier. She was awarded nominal damages.

Such cases are rare, said Daniel Hammermesh, professor of economics at Royal Holloway, University of London, because so few of the aesthetically challenged are prepared to stand up and demand compensation. ‘I don’t think many people want to stand up and say: “Yeah I am ugly, give me the money,”‘ said Professor Hammermesh, author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful. He argues that the ugly and oppressed deserve their own legal protection, saying: ‘It is as hard to change your looks as it is to change your gender or your ethnicity. That being the case, I see no issue in extending protection.’

His studies showed that those on the bottom sixth of the attractiveness scale suffered a loss of earnings equivalent to missing as much as an extra year and a quarter of education, when compared with their more attractive counterparts in the top third.

‘These are substantial differences,’ he said. ‘Better-looking people really are happier. There is no question about that. As well as all other direct effects such as increased income and improving success in the marriage market, it also makes you happier because you feel happier about yourself.’

I am not so sure that beautiful people are necessarily happier, or, for that matter, those who have reached the zenith of their professions be it in terms of wealth or idolisation. The complexities of defining beauty and the benefit it brings is not an easy subject to analyse.

There is also the assumption that ugliness is always off-putting, which is not often the case.

Sexually, some ugly women are torridly engaging in the bedroom as well as intellectually seductive. They become what we might call ‘attractively ugly’ with a dominant personality to make one’s eyes glitter and see beauty in a different dimension.

I have encountered many a stunningly attractive and successful woman whose husband was truly ugly and yet he had invariably the sort of charisma that made women flutter around him with girlish, school-like excitement.

In many ways, it goes to prove that inner beauty is more potent than an external one and that ugliness often carries with it inborn humorous tendencies that make life more pleasant and tolerable.

And lastly, equating ugliness with sin is a parody that does not ring true.

Lord Soper

Donald Soper was born in South London in 1903 to strict Methodist parents. He read history at Cambridge and took his PhD at London University. As a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he became the nation’s best-known pacifist. One of the leaders of the first Aldermaston March in 1958, he regularly spoke on Tower Hill and made Kingsway Hall, his London Methodist base, a centre for radical, pacifist resistance for over fifty years. He was chairman of Shelter from 1974-8 and was president of the League against Cruel Sports for twenty years. Created a life peer in 1965, he died in 1998, aged ninety-four.

I found Lord Soper easy to talk to, unlike some who were prickly and unashamedly self-involved. It was a welcome change to meet someone who was perfectly at ease with any question one pitched to him without being embarrassed or offended. Needless to say, I liked him a lot.

My interview with him was reprinted in my anthology Of a Certain Age. Andro Linklater in his review in the Spectator said I made a ‘good interviewer’. He thought me:

indiscreet enough to ask Lord Soper about masturbation and von Bülow about rumours of murdering his mother, and above all sufficiently sensitive to let them espouse their true character. It is an indolent way of making a book, but the result is unexpectedly satisfying. I hope St Peter will study Attallah’s technique when it comes to dividing the sheep from the goats. It will make Heaven a place worth getting to.

My interview with Claus von Bülow can wait for another occasion, but here is my encounter with the redoubtable Donald Soper.

If I were to ask you for a profession of religious faith, what would it include? And perhaps more interestingly, what would it exclude? 

I am professing Christian in the sense that for me Jesus Christ is the centre of my thinking and the dynamic power for the kind of life I want to live. I find in the Christian faith centred upon Jesus, the expression of that which I find inarticulate in myself. Christianity for me is therefore the endeavour to copy and fulfil in my life those elements of truth and goodness which I have found in Jesus Christ, and in the Christian church. This does not by any means exclude a devotion to the literature of Christianity but it’s certainly not the same thing as an attitude of acceptance of the word of God, so to speak, because the word of God comes to us only through the very imperfect media of human beings. I’m therefore not a sabbatarian and I’m certainly not fundamentalist in the sense that I regard the Bible as the final authority. The final authority is a spiritual concept which is fragile but very real.

How orthodox do you think your religious views are? Do you think orthodoxy matters all that much? 

I don’t think that orthodoxy matters until you put it in its true context. Orthodoxy for the primitive church was a very important element in the continuing story of Christianity. If, however, we take orthodoxy in the sense of the various commitments in theological terms that the Christian Church has made from time to time, I find some of them disturbing, some of them impossible, and most of them fundamentally irrelevant.

Isn’t there a case for saying that very liberal clergymen give scandal to the faithful? There appear, for example, to be clergymen who don’t believe in God and yet they are supposed to have the fullness of the faith. You appear to think that God is a vindictive old man and to deny the divinity of Christ. Is there anything left besides a sort of kindly rationalism? 

I do not deny the existence of God and I do not deny the divinity of Jesus, but I am conscious of the fragile nature of what is called the vocabulary of Christian thinking. Many of the greatest truths of the Christian faith go far beyond our capacity to put them into precise words; God is altogether too mighty and too profound. The very word conveys, or should convey, profundities which are better expressed in Pascal than in a great deal of the theological documents which I’m invited to read and subscribe to. With regard to Jesus, I have always believed that if you can be sure of his humanity, his divinity will look after itself. But if you start with some concept of divinity you may never get down to the basic reality of his common humanity with us. It is for me a fundamental fact that if Jesus is divine, it may be impossible for me to follow in his steps, but if he is circumscribed within the humanities that I have to put up with, then I can look up to him as leader as well as lord.

But do you still believe that God is a vindictive old man? 

Of course I don’t. I believe that God is a word we use to describe all kinds of personal attitudes which have nothing to do with the ultimate truth whatsoever. I have never tried to define God because I believe a definition is an impossibility. It’s only when I find God in terms which I can understand, that is to say in the life of Jesus, that the reality of God comes home to me. Otherwise God is the ultimately mysterious entity. Pascal’s final argument for God’s existence was that there has to be a reason for there being anything at all, and I’m content with that. I have a very imperfect piece of machinery with which to make sense of the life all around me, but what I can do is see in a human person those qualities and elements in the nature of God which I think are real.

If your views are heterodox, what is it exactly that you preach? It can hardly be ‘Christ crucified’ in the traditional evangelical mode. 

You’re asking a question which depends on what we mean by evangelism. I do not believe that evangelism is the proclamation of some kind of completely faultless doctrine and offer of salvation. And therefore for me heterodoxy is the necessary care that I have to take to realize that everything that does come to me from God or through Jesus Christ comes through the very imperfect channel of human life. Jesus was not faultless but he was divine in the sense that he made a complete acceptance to God instead of what for everybody else is a partial and imperfect one.

There has been a good deal of controversy in recent years about the relationship between religion and politics. Mrs Thatcher’s effort to convert the General Assembly to capitalism was one example. But should they not in some sense be distinct spheres? After all Christ said: ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ 

But Jesus also said: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness’, which is very much in this world. His acceptance of leadership when he entered Jerusalem was a plain acceptance of the fact the for him the gospel was the good news of the fulfilment of God’s purposes in so far as they can be fulfilled on this planet and in human affairs. For me the distinction between piety and politics is a very imperfect one. I am quite sure – and this comes from my experience of being a parson for so many years – that in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred our personal belief has a deep and clear relationship to our economic and political environment. And therefore the kingdom of God is far more important than the seeking of some personal identity when I die. The Christian Church time and time again has not been prepared to face the pacifism that is the essence of the teaching of Jesus, with the result that Christian propagandists have very largely concerned themselves with private piety, which is a very imperfect representation of what you can read in the Sermon on the Mount.

You once described your socialism as a logical consequence of your religious faith. Has your faith in socialism ever been shaken – Maxwell was a socialist after all. Socialist rhetoric can surely sound as hollow as the capitalist sort, in that they both seem to be endemically self-serving. 

The sting is in the tail. Let me deal with the substance before I get to the tail. I have very frequently lost my faith in socialists, but I can say, without undue pride, that I have never lost my faith in socialism. It’s not been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and not tried. So much of what passes for socialism today is in fact an acceptance of compromises which I feel are unworthy, and though I don’t pretend to be looking for a martyr’s crown, I’m quite sure that we haven’t been prepared to pay the price for the socialism we’ve advocated. In that sense, the programme of our Christian faith increasingly has to be knitted together with the economic and political structure of society. I have never doubted that the second strongest thing in the universe is sin. That is to say, it doesn’t surprise me when I find people not living up to the standards they profess, or not accepting the consequences of what they profess. That applies to me as much as to everyone else. It is a constant struggle. I wish I knew more about Maxwell – for one reason. I’ve been a prison chaplain and a practising parson, which has given me an increased and deepened sense that if you get to the bottom of things you’ll find that people are better than their practice.

Do you ever think the problem might be original sin? 

This is the ultimate question which I feel it’s impossible to answer, but if I do get to heaven by a circuitous route, as I suppose is possible, then I want to ask God why he didn’t give us a bit more information as to where original sin comes from. It is a problem, and in some cases it’s a dilemma, because in the inscrutable wisdom of God we’ve got to find a place for the process of evolution in thinking and practice which is the background out of which we can think of ourselves as better than we were, or think of ourselves as striving for an ideal.

But are you yourself certain of going to heaven? 

I am certain that I fulfil certain conditions down here, heaven will be attainable and in the infinite mercy of God I think there’s a chance of forgiveness on the other side. I don’t claim to know much about it, however, and I’m a bit suspicious of those who seem to know more about heaven than they do about their next-door neighbours. ‘in my Father’s house,’ said Jesus, ‘there are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you.’ What I think Jesus was saying was, don’t clutter up your mind with these impossible questions about the next world but believe that there is a continuity between this world and the next in which there is the same love and the same purpose and the same ultimate end.

You once said: ‘I believe the principles of Toryism, enlightened self-interest, are incompatible with Christianity.’ 

I have never dared to say you cannot be a Christian and a Tory.

Do you nevertheless doubt that Tories can in Practice be fully fledged Christians? 

I’m quite sure they can’t. One can’t be a fully fledged Christian anyhow, but I think Tories are further off that attainment than other people. I get tired of denouncing other people as being unChristian, but what I’m prepared to say is this: the structure of Toryism – enlightened self-interest, market values and the concentration upon the individual – is not something that belongs to the Christian faith. Enlightened self-interest is in fact a rather kindly word for selfishness. Our involvement in the community is the essence of the Christian faith; individualistic emphasis in my judgement, are to be deprecated. The reason I have never been prepared to say that you can’t be a Tory and a Christian is that it depends very much on one’s definition of the terms, but I am absolutely certain that Toryism in principle is a contradiction of the Christian concept.

You reject the capitalist ethic totally. Yet you obviously believe very much in the practical application of Christianity, i.e. that the church should have relevance to modern life. Is it not unrealistic to expect to have an impact on the country at large without embracing some aspects of capitalism? 

It all depends on what you mean by capitalism. I can accept the machinery of capitalism in some aspects of corporate living; I cannot accept the principle of capitalism as a worthy method whereby we conduct our public affairs. That could be regarded by some people as a bit specious, but you’re asking a very difficult question. I do not believe that the capitalist is totally bereft of moral principal; it would be impudent and stupid of me to say so. One has to draw a distinction which is not easy to draw between capitalism as a working programme and capitalism as an ultimate principle. I totally reject the second but I think there are necessary ways in which this very imperfect world we have to make use of the imperfect machinery until we can find a substitute for it.

Do you think we’ll ever find a substitute for it? 

Not on this planet, no. That’s why I believe in eternal life.

Why is it so important for you to adhere to methodism, to serve under the banner of Methodism, when you clearly are at odds with at least some of the methodist tenets and are not wholly approving of its founder John Wesley? 

No one who took the precaution of reading John Wesley’s life could totally approve of him. At the same time, he was a dynamic leader, and since I was brought up within the framework of methodism I see no reason to discard my background (even if I could). It doesn’t seem to me to be very important which particular club you play for, providing you play the right game. In that regard there is a first-class argument for multiplicity of churches with a common faith. One reason I’ve taken to the open air for the last sixty years is that John Wesley established the importance of open-air preaching, and in that respect I’m his dutiful son.

You have said that all statements to the effect that Jesus was the son of God are inexact, and that if only people could accept the humanity of Jesus the divinity would look after itself. This is something which doubters and agnostics would have no difficulty with, and certain humanists have always emphasized the humanity of Jesus, but the idea seems rather strange coming from a man of God like yourself. In a different century you might have been burnt at the stake for saying such things. 

I quite agree. You’ve only to read your history book to realize how tyrannical has been the attitude of official Christianity time and time again. Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is a perfect example of the way in which the official church has betrayed the gospel in the interests of the power which it was desirous of maintaining. Whenever there is an attempt to reconcile the kingdom of God with any particular regime, be it imperialism, or colonialism, or the capitalism of today, it simply doesn’t work.

There was a proposal some years ago that you should be ordained as a priest in the Church of England. That was abandoned in the face of expected Anglican hostility. From your point of view could such a step have been anything other than a rather desperate attempt at Church unity, and given the divergence of beliefs, would this not have rendered the appointment purely symbolic? 

The answer is conditioned by the fact that I didn’t promote the enquiry. It was initiated by others, and I saw no reason to reject it in the light of what I believe to be the imperative need for church unity. I found a better way of expressing it later on in conversations we had with the Anglicans, but there was no reason why the methodists and the Anglicans shouldn’t come together in one church. After all, John Wesley was an ordained Anglican priest. It is imperative to avoid the most damaging of all criticisms of the church, that we can’t make up our own minds as to what we commonly believe and that we are separated at the point where the very concept of Christianity means unity. For me this is a desperate situation.

But do you think unity with the Catholic Church will ever be possible? 

As things are at the moment, if unity means signing along the dotted line, that is out of the question. The hope of unity rests upon the ability of the Roman Catholic Church to abandon some of its cherished attitudes, and although there is some evidence of that already it is highly unlikely in my time. I’m not being cynical when I say that unity can be more realistically conceived within the framework of the non-Catholic churches, there being a certain intransigence that is part of the absolutist concept of Rome. It is not nearly as rigid as it was, but until they change their attitude on, for example, the ordination of women priests, there’s not much hope of progress. Female menstruation has been seen by the church as the time when a woman is impure, and you cannot have an impure priest. This is absolute rubbish, of course, and on this, as on many sexual matters, the church is back in the middle ages.

From time to time you have spoken of you allegiance to the catholic church. I know that you use a small ‘c’ and that the word means universal, but in view of the fact that methodists do not approve of various doctrines about the Virgin, about the intercession of saints or about the real presence in the Eucharist, how is a universal church possible? 

It is possible if the unity does not depend on a vocabulary which is assumed to be infallible. I’m not interested in the vocabulary of orthodoxy. With regard to the Virgin birth, for example, Mark didn’t know anything about it, nor did Paul, nor the early Church, or the primitive Church. Jesus didn’t know anything about it either. It seems to me to be a waste of time to ascribe to Jesus some kind of authority and divinity which is totally unnecessary. That is the way in which I would approach these problems.

Have you never felt tempted to move up to the high church, to graduate from the church hall to the church proper? 

Yes. I am high chapel, if not high church; that is to say I have a firm belief in the eucharistic worship is at the heart of the Christian practice of the faith. I should not feel able to go to Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon if I didn’t receive the bread and wine on Sunday morning. Someone once said to me, ‘I got to mass because it is the whole of Christianity in twenty-five minutes’, and there’s a very great deal of truth in that. Of course reality is far deeper than thought, far more than that which can be encapsulated within the framework of a doctrine. But I can honestly say that when I receive the bread and partake of the wine, that is a symbolic acceptance of my belief in the reality and the presence of Christ; unworthy as I am to receive it, I believe it to be the evangelical offer of salvation.

Can the Methodist Church or for that matter the Church of England survive? 

They have already survived crises which would have destroyed other more rigid churches. There is an adaptability within the Anglican Church of which I very much approve. One thing I am certain of: the City of God remaineth and so long as we are in that city, there is a permanence which can defy the various vicissitudes and difficulties.

You had a crisis of faith when you were at Cambridge. Looking back, do you think the doubts presented a serious challenge in your life or were they merely a necessary path to the further consolidation of your faith? 

Both. The doubts were very considerable, serious and hurtful. I had grown up within the close framework of a methodist tradition and when I went to Cambridge I was suddenly exposed. A friend gave me something to read about communism or rationalism, and it opened up a new world which was very disturbing. But it didn’t last very long and the decisive factor was that the requirement of faith was a necessary filling of a gap which couldn’t be filled elsewhere.

Your faith, and specifically your methodism, seems to be wholly a product of your parentage and background and upbringing. It was not something you came to by yourself or stumbled on by chance. In other words, it is very much an accident of birth. If you had been born in a Catholic or a Moslem you might have embarked on a very different religious and moral crusade. Does that ever worry you? 

It perplexes me in the sense that I can’t put myself in a position of an entirely different environment. What I can say is that the changeover from the narrow methodism of my childhood to the socialist Christianity which I began to imbibe as a student was as fundamental a change as would have happened if I had started off as a Moslem and ended up as a Catholic. It was a radical and absolute difference.

Do you think that doubt is a necessary forerunner to the fullest kinds of faith? 

Of course. You cannot believe unless you resolve doubt. Doubt is the precondition of questioning and enquiring. I have often been asked why I go to Tower Hill, why I go to Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon. It is because I believe in the fellowship of controversy. It is the only way in which we can deal with questions which otherwise accumulate in our minds or our make-up and are never resolved. There’s no such thing as neutrality, and doubt is the first way in which you deal with that neutral presentation of brute fact.

The logic of your faith, besides leading you to socialism, also led you to pacifism. Doesn’t the refusal to defend the right by arms if need be necessarily imply subjection to those who are prepared to use arms? 

I believe we have yet to discover the power of non-violent resistance and indeed the power of self-sacrificing love. This is the only meaning I see of the Cross as distinct from the gun. The Cross of Jesus was his reliance upon the power of non-violent love, even when Pontius Pilate was perplexed by it, the disciples frustrated by it, and a great many ordinary people felt that Jesus was wasting his time and was no more than a lovable failure. Nobody can tell me that the way of non-violent love would not succeed, because as yet it hasn’t been tried. The essence of the Christian faith today lies in finding an alternative force to the force of guns, and unless we find it I think that the prospect of the termination of this human race is as likely as that of the creatures that have disappeared already on this planet because they couldn’t adapt themselves to the paramount need of living. We are in a very desperate position and in this instance I’m by no means a cheery optimist. I believe that there is a real prospect that we shall opt out of this life by the use of an ever increasing destructive force. The emergence of the nuclear age has emphasized this as nothing previously could have done.

Is it not the case that pacifists trade on others’ willingness to sacrifice themselves for the public good? Pacifists surely have a quiet conscience, but doesn’t someone else just as surely pay the price? 

I don’t have a quiet conscience. In the cadet corps when I was a boy I was a bayonet-fighting instructor and loved it. I agree with you that if you regard pacifism as an easy option, it’s discreditable, but I hope by the grace of God I should be prepared to pay the price of the pacifist case as soldiers pay the price of going to war.

Whatever good may accrue from pacifism in the long term, is it not true that in the short term individuals will suffer terribly for those ideals – and those individuals only have a short term? 

This raises a fundamental question. I don’t know very much about the long term, that is to say, I believe that the essence of the faith is that by doing things which are consonant with what is right, you release into the world forces which otherwise would be damned up. I think the man who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square or those who decorate tanks with flowers and engage the tank commanders in argument are opening up in a way. I have been asked what I would do if the Germans invaded Kingsway, and I said rather facetiously that we’d offer them a methodist tea; those who haven’t appreciated the cathartic effects of a methodist tea shouldn’t underrate it. Of course, this is regarded by most people as just sill nonsense, but I do believe in one sense you can create an atmosphere of non-violence which is far more dynamic than the atmosphere of combat.

But who is to defend the old, the young, the vulnerable from the bully boy who is not open to rational argument? Are they to be sacrificed to a higher ideal? 

The answer is that if you attempt to save people who are violently abused by the use of violence, the sum total of violence is not diminished. It’s no good telling me that you fundamentally protect people by the use of war or violence; you don’t. You can provide temporary asylum for them but sooner or later that asylum turns into a fortress.

If conscience is a reliable guide to action, as you have often stated, what about those who in conscience believe that blacks are inferior or the Pope is the Antichrist…are their conscientious objections to be respected too? 

It all depends on what you mean by the word conscience. When somebody says he believes he was justified in killing, or stealing something, I don’t accept that as conscientious attitude. That sort of conscience only records your condition at the moment you consult it, whereas the whole purpose of a conscience is to educate so that when the particular environment demands a response, it’s an enlightened conscience which moves with the promotion of goodness and doesn’t just lie fallow until it’s called upon. When it’s called upon in that fallow condition it isn’t conscience at all; it’s prejudice.

You have stated that it is more moral to risk the evil of somebody else than to apply that evil in order to prevent it. Would you really have had Britain submit to the Nazis in 1940 with all the consequences? It is hard to see how they could have been avoided without armed resistance. 

The answer is if you chop up the film of life into a number of stills, you can provide yourself with insoluble problems. We could not have done anything other than what we did in 1940; but we could have done something very different in 1940 if we’d begun to do it in 1930. We very largely promoted the Hitlerism which afterwards we had to resist. I don’t believe that you can at any moment, so to speak, isolate a situation; a situation is that which has developed from something that has gone before. We now have time to prevent the next war. We hadn’t time in 1940 to avoid the war that happened.

It will surely seem extraordinary, perhaps even offensive to many people, that you should blame the British for the Nazi destruction of the Jews and others. You said that after we went in to defend the Jews they were massacred – they were merely persecuted before.

That is the first time I have objected to something you have quoted me as saying. I always take great care to say that I abominate the persecution of the Jews. The Christian Church should always make that humble apology since we have behaved disgracefully towards the Jews. But what I’ve tried to say again and again is this: that to go to the help of a persecuted people by fighting a war that meant many more of those persecuted people were in Auschwitz than if we hadn’t fought a war. As a matter of fact, war exacerbates the problem you go to try and solve. Let no one accuse me of saying the Jews were getting on fairly well under Hitler; they weren’t, they were in a condition of persecution which was an abomination, but the Auschwitz camps were the result of the war in the sense that Hitler was then able to isolate the problem from his own people.

The nuclear threat is certainly very real but it’s difficult to understand how matters would improve by having the Western democracies surrender their weapons while leaving others in the hands of terrorists or fanatics. 

The risk of peacemaking is of course tremendous but we are so accustomed to accepting the risks of warmaking as to be the victims of very imperfect thinking. To me and to an increasing number of people, the emergence of a new situation in Europe demands the recognition that change is by no means limited to changes in the political field of power. There are radical changes now taking place in the culture of modern generations, and I take great comfort in watching the way in which new ideas are laying hold of communities who were previously immune from them. This isn’t a complete answer, and I hope you don’t think it’s an evasion of the answer, but it’s about time we realized that the traditional concepts of dealing with the evils in the community manifestly fail when they are linked to the requirements of violence.

But the question is, really, that if you were a man of power, would you do away with nuclear weapons at this point in time knowing that others who are much more fanatical than you are, less democratic than you are, were retaining their weapons. 

Yes. If I had the power then I should have been elected, and therefore there would have been behind my decision a community which was committed to it.

So you mean others would take the risk with you? 

They would take the risk with me, and if that risk were generated within a community I believe it would spread like wildfire. The resistance to the communist regimes, which is the most remarkable thing to have happened in my life time, has come about because there has been a community which has taken a new road. I believe that is the hope of our survival.

You became a peer in 1965 and made the immortal remark that the House of Lords reaffirmed your belief in life after death. Is your seat in the House of Lords one which you occupy easily and happily, or are you ill at ease with the power and privilege which undoubtedly characterizes the Lords? 

In some ways the House of Lords can be a very useful instrument in the propagation of ideas which otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day. I’ve had the opportunity of expressing my views on pacifism in the House of Lords and they’ve treated me with kindness. There is a value in the House of Lords, which is that it can be the occasion of an enquiry into matters which can take place one afternoon and can be reported in Hansard the next day. It isn’t the same as a general inquiry but it is a way of fertilizing the intelligence of the other House on matter about which they may be less informed than they should be.

Although you sit in the labour benches, does it never seem to you as if you’re supporting an institution which runs counter to the whole socialist ethic? 

I have my temptations as of course many people do, but I must be very careful not to assume a degree of piety with which I can look down on these sinners as if they’re scoundrels. I have much to be thankful, for in the steadfastness and the attitude of socialists whom I’ve loved and revered and who have been an example and an inspiration to me, and I’m not prepared to be cynical even if you wanted me to be. But I would say this: that sooner or later the House of Lords should be abolished. In the meantime I’m prepared to make use of instruments which sooner or later will be out of date.

On one occasion you spoke in the Lords about the way opposition to restricting homosexual propaganda had the whiff of fascism about it. Do you actually approve of sodomy? 

Of course I don’t. What I do approve of is the distinction between the condition of homosexuality for which you are not responsible, and the practice of homosexuality which can be bad. There is a prime case for saying that homosexuality is no more within the moral code than the colour of your hair or the size of your nose; what matters is what you do with it. The desecration of sex for the mere flippancy of enjoyment is one of the most dangerous and difficult of all issues, and at the same time I believe it’s wrong. The prostitution of the body either in heterosexual or homosexual practice is to be regarded as a sin.

But where do you stand on the question of homosexuality? If we follow the argument that it is a natural human practice, because human beings do it, will we not logically have to count everything that human beings do as natural…murder, rape, slander, ect., ect.? 

The distinction between the satisfaction of an appetite and the refusal to regard that satisfaction as right or wrong is a question which has to be faced. There are handicaps to the perfection of life. If, for example, you lose a leg or an eye, these are conditions which have to be accepted because they cannot be altered. In this sense one has to have profound sympathy for the homosexual because he is condemned to a world in which what is the creative and natural function of sex is to some extent changed by the fact that he is not heterosexual. In my judgement that involves a discipline which he is required to exercise which other people don’t have to exercise. Far from blaming the homosexual who indulges in sodomy, I believe we have to have a great deal of sympathy with him; to condemn the thing he does but to recognize that he has a much more difficult way of dealing with himself than those who are heterosexual. That’s the sympathy. I do not believe it is impossible for a future generation to find the answer to what is now the insuperable problem of how a homosexual changes into a heterosexual if he wants to. There are of course many relationships between homosexuals which are entirely right. Indeed in the lesbian field I can think of many women in the church who have been denied the opportunity of marriage or have lost their loved ones and who with other women have formed relationships which are of benefit to society. I can think of dozens and dozens of women who have in a very real sense loved one another but have avoided the cruder forms of sexual satisfaction. Of course this is easier for lesbians and not possible in the same way for the homosexual male. It’s a very complex issue and when I criticize the church’s attitude it is because I think we have to be much more charitable and to realize that some people have enormous problems which other people don’t have to face, and that those problems are ineluctable in many respects. We’re in a shocking mess over this whole question, and I believe only the grace of God is sufficient to meet these otherwise intransigent issues.

What are your views about allowing homosexuals within the church to give expression to their homosexual love? 

It depends what you mean by giving expression to their homosexual love. I think it would be wrong to baptize, so to speak, the perversities of physical relationships; they are to be condemned as ugly. The consummation of the sexual act between a man and his wife can be regarded as a sacrament, it’s beautiful. But in this very imperfect world one has to discipline oneself against misusing one’s faculties in order to provide a satisfaction which is impossible in the same sense that a married couple can find that satisfaction.

Do you believe sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed? 

Yes, but to be enjoyed within the framework of a creative concept and not merely the idea of enjoyment for its own sake. It is important to remember that when, for example, it is said that the Moslem believes in that enjoyment, it results in the degradation of women. There’s no doubt about that in my judgement; the woman is the instrument to provide the means of enjoyment for the man, and therefore the whole concept of the inferiority of women is part of that claim that sex is to be enjoyed.

Despite your own ardent teetotalism and belief in the monogamous purpose of marriage you are said to believe that heaven might just contain some light wines and that premarital sex might just be tolerated. What led you to this concession? Was it an attempt to take on board the reality of the times we live in or was it an unhappy recognition of falling standards of morality? 

It was a further understanding of the spirit and teaching of Jesus. The evidence is increasingly obvious that Jesus had a relationship with Martha and Mary which was in part sexual. The essence of any relationship I’ve had with other people has always contained something of sexuality within it. The question is, at what point does the sexual behaviour pattern interfere with the creative purpose of sexual relationships? I’m a teetotaller, but not because I believe there’s something necessarily wrong in the ingestion of a particular liquid. I’m a teetotaller because of the social environment of drinking which I believe inhibits a great many people from leading a good life. The same hold true of premarital sex. No one is suggesting that the couples who kiss ought to wait until they’re married. We have to be a lot more healthy about this, and in my judgement it would be better, strangely enough, if we didn’t think so much about it. I think there’s an obsession with sex now. Sex in its right place is very important, but not too much of it. I’m eighty-nine now, so I can talk objectively about this, although I can very easily become a hypocrite unless I’m careful.

Do you still desire women at the age of eighty-nine? 

Yes of course, but it’s rather different. In any case I’m blessed with a marvellous wife. But I see nothing wrong in admiring a pair of good legs. Why shouldn’t I?

No, I think it’s a very healthy attitude, I’m not opposed to it at all. You take a very liberal view of prison reform. But is there any real evidence that one can reform prisoners in any great numbers? Should public safety not be the first consideration? 

I think the prison system is basically wrong, and can never be improved to the point at which it can be acceptable in a civilized society. That raises the question of what we do with the person who misbehaves, and unless we are prepared to think about that matter honestly we shall go on perpetrating the awful system we have at present; putting people away and forgetting about them. Very few people in my judgement are suitable for isolation.

You have suggested that prisoners should be treated well, be given holidays, and even be allowed sexual intercourse in prison. Would prison then be any deterrent? A lot of people might actually want to go to prison under these conditions… 

Whatever you do, there are likely to be people who abuse the system. But if you force me I would have to say I believe the evils of masturbation in prison to be greater than would be the dubious consequences of allowing prisoners who are married to have sexual intercourse. That on the whole would be better.

Are you totally against masturbation? 

No. I think masturbation is an imperfect way of fulfilling a genuine impulse, and I’m not going to stand in judgement. It is a lack of self-discipline, but for people locked up for twenty years, I’m not going to say that masturbation is a crime or a sin.

You have practised open-air preaching for over sixty years now. It was forced on the first methodists, but what good do you actually think it does in a television age? 

It offers a fellowship of controversy, and it remains the one free forum. I’ve enjoyed a lot of television, but I’ve suffered a good deal from it. That is to say, the necessary rules that govern television programmes do impair the kind of free for all which you can enjoy in Hyde Park. Open-air preaching provides a way to develop a particular argument in a real atmosphere in which there are no artificialities as there are in television programmes.

You have always pressed the need for man to be morally superior to his circumstances. In today’s world, with all the modern pressures, isn’t that just too daunting a task for most people? 

Yes. That is why to ask them to do it on their own is an impudence. Most people are better able to face moral problems if they find somebody else is trying to face them with them. That’s the great virtue of the church, not so much the sermons preached but the comradeship of effort.

Does it ever strike you that you are in a small dwindling church in an increasingly secular society. What is the point of your mission unless it is primarily a self-fulfilling one?

I can’t distinguish between a self-fulfilling ministry and a public responsibility; to me they are both sides of the same medal. I believe that we are pack animals as distinct from isolated creatures who have no desire to run with the pack; at the same time we need fellowship, a word often misused. There’s nothing so dangerous as the high-rise flat, the singularity and individualism of so much of modern life. One of the few real advantages of the mediaeval village was that everybody belonged; even the village idiot was a member of society.

Do you believe ultimately that faith is a gift of God? 

Yes, but then I believe that everything worthwhile is the gift of God, though not something which God hands out as presents to certain people who are entitled to receive them. Faith is the way in which you deal with questions that you ask. Faith is a leap into the dark but only in so far as you have something firm underfoot to be able to make it. You can’t leap out of a bog.

If faith is a gift of God do you think it is the duty of a minister to maintain a pious silence when it comes to something in which he cannot compel himself to believe even though he may wish to? 

There is great value in preachers telling their congregations what they don’t know as well as what they do. The preacher who gives the impression of knowing everything is going to lose his congregation; and he isn’t worthy to retain it. There is a place for ignorance as well as the assertion of truth; a place for the confession that we are all sinners, doubters. Unless the preacher is like Jesus, a man among men, and unless he recognizes that there is a whole world in which we are all experimenting, I don’t think he can do much good.

Do you ever consider that even the most honest, decent, and well-meaning men like yourself may be mistaken in their view of the world? 

Yes. One of the great advantages of speaking in the open airs is that you’re soon persuaded that you’re not omniscient. I have any number of doubts, but one of the values of the Christian attitude embodied in the trilogy of faith, hope and love is this; my faith can be pretty slim and my love can be pretty imperfect, but there’s nothing to prevent me hoping, since hope is a matter of the will. Faith is a matter of the intellect and the disposition, and love is the gift of God, but hope is something that you and I can do if we make up our minds. If you leave your mind to make itself up it’s highly unlikely to do so, but hope is that solvent which brings the various facts into a focus of opportunity.

Have you ever been wrong in the sense that you believed an idea, then changed your mind? 

Oh yes, very often. For example, I was a teetotaller in the Methodist form of regarding alcohol as the devil in solution. I don’t hold that view any longer. Now I believe that temperance is required as is social responsibility.

Why has it been left to people like Mary Whitehouse to speak out on obscenity and related matters, do you think? 

It hasn’t. There have been a great many people who have spoken out just as clearly but, by accident or achievement, they haven’t had the publicity. There’s a great deal of the leaven of the Christian proclamation that proceeds only to make fairly small loaves. I admire Mary Whitehouse immensely, but, if I may say so, some of us have been saying the same thing for very much longer than she has.

Do you approve of all the things she says? 

Not everything. But I approve of the intention she has and the general thrust of her argument which is that there’s far too much dirt in the world of the media and the practice of people. My only criticism would be that in some cases there is a danger of doing more harm than good unless you can preserve an attitude of general charity. I’m not saying she doesn’t, but she is representative of some elements which are not as amenable to general understanding as others.

Now that you have reached the age of eighty-nine, are you concerned about the day of judgement? 

I find it a waste of time to speculate how long I am going to last. I am more concerned with what I take with me to the next world than what my mansion in the sky or my hovel on the outskirts of the city of God will be in the next world. Most of my friends of my own generation are now dead. I’d like to see them again though I’m quite sure they’ve changed a good deal in the interim as probably I have. In my old age I’m beginning to learn about the virtue of living a day at a time, and believing that all things work together for good for those who love God. I hope at least that the next world will be as exciting in the sense of producing all kinds of issues and problems of which we know nothing now. I don’t want to be dull…sitting on a cloud playing a harp.

Setting modesty aside, would you consider yourself to be a saint? If not, why not? 

The answer is that a saint is somebody who is on the right road with his eyes persistently fixed on the horizon of the kingdom. If that is a saint, then by the grace of God I hope to be one. But it’s a sheer waste of time to accord to oneself certain categories of goodness or badness; it is much more important to aim for what by the grace of God you can be. There is nothing so boring as people who feel that they have to be everlastingly telling you how good they are and how bad you are. Piety is a word which has fallen into disrepair, because true goodness is exuberant as well as faithful, and the exuberance is a part of goodness, and if you haven’t got that you’re about as useful as mutton.

The last question…have you any regrets? 

An infinite number. At my age one’s sense of failures in the past is an interesting and solemnizing experience. You haven’t much time in which to put things right, which makes me say better prayers than I used to.

Médecins Sans Frontières

A new French film, panned by the critics, is set to become a box office sensation. More people have seen it on its first day of release than any film in France for two years – 360,299 in all.

Called Supercondriaque, it is the story of a thoroughly modern Frenchman who refuses to kiss women for fear of catching an illness, panics at the slightest sneeze and douses himself in anti-bacterial handwash when he goes out. The neurotic Romain Faubert is the main character in the film that has sparked a nationwide debate on what one newspaper called ‘the disease of the century’ in France: hypochondria.

Commentators have blamed the condition for the mammoth health expenditure that fuels high taxes, budget deficits and low growth in the French economy. The statistics are almost hard to believe. The French consume forty per cent more pills than most of their European neighbours and spend thirty-five billion euros on medicines, compared with eighteen billion in Italy and only twelve billion in Britain.

The film’s popularity stems from its star Dany Boon, who plays Faubert, despite the damning of his performance in two reviews as disastrous and charmless. Yet the character he plays brings to the fore a striking social trend. Faubert lives alone and has only one friend: his GP. When he tries to seduce a woman, he entices her to the shower to make sure she’s microbe-free.

Medics say he is typical of the sort of patient they come across with increasing frequency. ‘They are always complaining about something,’ said Sauveur Boukris, a lecturer at the Medical Faculty at Diderot University. ‘We reassure them with blood tests and scans but nothing works. They continue to have multiple tests.’

A survey published to coincide with the release of the film shows that thirteen per cent of French people were hypochondriacs – convincing themselves that they were ill, in the absence of any symptoms. The condition is not new. It was the theme of The Imaginary Invalid, the seventeenth-century play by Molière. However, specialists say it has been exacerbated by a healthcare system that sets few limits on the number of consultations or medicines available to patients.

The NHS in Britain is not as lax. In fact many medicines here are not sanctioned to patients unless they pay for them.

Vincent Renard, the Chairman of the Union of Medical Teachers, said that far from offering reassurance, the numerous scans and X-rays generated new demands and increased fears. The welfare system in France recorded a deficit of 16.2 billion euros last year despite costing households about fifteen per cent of their income in taxes.

Faubert, the star of the film, finds a cheap solution to his phobia. He falls in love with his GP’s sister, played by Alice Pol.

If you are a hypochondriac, I suggest you emigrate to France where you are well served without being looked upon as a freak of nature. And find yourself the pretty sister of a GP and live happily ever after. With your paranoia in full bloom, who dares say that La Marseillaise is in decline? It merely suffers from a bout of anxiety.

A Class Act

Tony Benn, the veteran Labour politician and icon of the Left, was praised by friends and foes alike as a man of great principle and deep conviction when he died last week, aged eighty-eight.

A towering giant of British politics, he was nevertheless a controversial figure who campaigned throughout his life to give the British Left a more dominant role in Labour’s ideology, as he saw it. In so doing he alienated his own party, causing dissension and alarm among its ranks; yet to many, some of whom were opposed to what he preached, he was considered a decent man who had perhaps lost his way.

A brilliant writer and formidable speaker his popularity was never to be dismissed, for the crowds were truly moved by his charisma and emotional oratory. As a messiah of the Left he was undoubtedly without parallel.

British politics will be the poorer for his loss. And, like the Last of the Mohicans, he leaves a vacuum hard to fill.

I got to know Tony Benn by accident. In the late 1980s my chauffeur stumbled on a chequebook belonging to him, which he found in Holland Park Avenue while trying to park. Rather than post the chequebook to the politician’s house, I opted to deliver it the next day. That’s when we first met very briefly, and I was rather surprised that he knew who I was.

Then, in 1993, I went back to his house to interview him at length, to talk about his life in general and his political career in particular and what were his aspirations and hopes for the future. (For those who wish to read the interview in full, the link is here.)

I found him to be a highly principled man, who believed strongly in the ideals of Socialism while maintaining an open mind about those whose political philosophies he totally disagreed with. In many ways he was a dreamer, prone to go on a bit, to emphasise a certain point or an argument which in theory could be workable but in practice was almost impossible to achieve. The ideology of the Left I find to be cumbersome, for it often lacks the impetus of a competitive edge for our deeply inherent nature.

Tony Benn was a complex amalgam of many things. When I asked him if he could detach himself politically, how would he assess Mrs Thatcher, he answered:

She was a strong, principled woman who defended her class with absolute commitment, and was determined to crush trade unionism, local government and democracy itself. I regard her politics as absolutely evil and destructive, but at least you knew where you were with her. By contrast Labour Party policy is like a bit of cloud blowing up – you don’t know where it is, what it’s covering up, and where it’s going next.

I’ll tell you an interesting thing. When Eric Heffer died, there was a memorial service in St Margaret’s, Westminster, at which I gave the address. The Labour Party didn’t send anybody, but Mrs Thatcher was there, standing just behind me. As I get older what matters to me is not so much whether I agree with people but whether I respect them, and I can respect people with whom I profoundly disagree if I think they mean what they say and say what they mean.

In a further question about those political commentators who were comparing him to Enoch Powell, pointing out that they were both great debaters, he said:

I’ve known Enoch for years, and I respect him in the way I respect Mrs Thatcher. He made one terrible mistake in the speech about rivers of blood, but he is a thoughtful academic, and I’m not an intellectual in the way he is at all. People compare me to Enoch in order to make me seem extremist, but the difference between Enoch and myself is that he has never been elected to any position in the Conservative Party, while I have been elected for thirty-odd years to the National Executive. Enoch is worth listening to; you can disagree with him but at least he is motivated by a desire to illuminate.

There are three ways in which politicians can operate: they can oversimplify like the demagogues, they can mystify like the people who say you can’t discuss unemployment unless you have a PhD in economics, or they can clarify. Enoch is a clarifier. I also try to be a clarifier, and I like him very much.

Wanting to ask him about what will probably be his greatest legacy, his voluminous diaries and correspondence, I wondered whether his last volume of Diaries at the time of my interview (The End of an Era 1980-1990) was the era referred as the ‘Bennite’ era, and he replied:

No. It was the end of Thatcher, and the end of Communism. It wasn’t the end of my era – in fact, there’s probably more public support for my ideas now than there’s been at any time in the last ten years. People have rejected Thatcherism, they’ve rejected selfishness; they see our industry being destroyed, they see homeless people, unemployment, and much of what I have argued for has now won support.

People wrongly thought it was the last volume of the diaries, but I’m working now on 1942-1962, and the one after that will be 1990-2000, and the final one will take me up to my 100th birthday.

I couldn’t resist my next question: How would you like to celebrate your 100th birthday? ‘I’d like to be re-elected to Parliament on that day for the first five years of my second century,’ he replied.

It was not, in the end, to be as he wanted. But his legacy, both written and remembered, will surely last well beyond the next century.

A Dove of Peace from the Mountains of Lebanon

A beautiful voice from the mountains of Lebanon calling for love, peace and religious tolerance, expressed by Lydia Canaan – a Lebanese chanteuse and an artist of great merit – has a poetic resonance that melts the hearts of the most hardened of people.

Lydia, through the medium of her art, has whenever possible fought for the disadvantaged, the poor, the infirm and those in our society who suffer great want and political persecution.

Her art has become the most potent in her armoury and her voice the most soothing when the pain of misery overwhelms the senses.

Lydia, whom I have never physically met but exchanged emails with for the past three years, is a woman driven by powerful romantic impulses that make her vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life and circumstance.

She bubbles with hope and optimism and despite her continual struggle as a recording artist she remains a stalwart of confidence, banishing despair by nurturing her God-given gift for the benefits of her legion of admirers.

I salute her commitment and her multiple endeavours, for in a sense and without much ado I unconsciously feel that she has turned herself into a kindred spirit to those who share her ideals of goodness and aspirations for a better world.

Speaking yesterday in Geneva at the invitation of the Human Rights Council, this is what she had to say – in a speech entitled, ‘Islamophobia and Art’.

In the words of the great British nobleman Bertrand Russell: ‘Most of the greatest evils that man inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false.’

Islamophobia is, in all actuality, religiophobia, and its validation feeds off ignorance and isolation. Art is the indelibly effective medium by which to combat it.

Art is a universal language, a mighty bridge that transcends religiosity. It is embraced and appreciated not by adherents, devotees, believers, or converts of any certain sort, but by members of the religion that is Love. Artists of all cultures, nationalities, and religions are, at their most irreducible, kindred spirits, and have more in common internationally than intra-religiously.

Art is non-divisive, all inclusive, and universally accessible. It is the primal and sacred heart of the mind, the DNA-deep instinct to express the human soul and to appreciate and delight in the expressions of others. It is the innate Divine Creative Power with which humanity is endowed.

I was born and raised in Lebanon, a country dictated by war and sectarian violence. Despite atrocities committed at the height of the civil war and the current attempts to ignite religious strife, my experience is that violence and Islamophobia do not overwhelm and dominate the lives of the Lebanese people.

As an Artist and a Humanist interacting with people of different faiths and ethnicities while performing, recording, and touring in Lebanon and supporting the Syrian and Palestinian refugees, I witnessed first-hand hope, faith, compassion, empathy, tolerance and understanding. It is a testimony to the human conscience and a prevailing force to subvert fear in all its unconscious forms. These shadows of the human soul can only be illuminated by the very force that is its antithesis: Love.

Though I am not of the Muslim faith, it is strikingly clear that the very essence of Islam is Peace. There is something to be said for the observant whose religion calls for halting all activity, no matter its seeming importance, in order to pray. There is altruistic value in a religion that fasts an entire month out of the year as a reminder of the suffering of those who are hungry.

Islamophobia is an illusion born of ignorance, a twisted ideology of its own, the political and theological tools of Islamophobes – both non-Muslims and Muslims alike – to mar the true image and essence of the reverent mindfulness that is Islam.

But the very nature of an illusion is the brittleness of its unreality, the weak supports that clumsily balance its inherently defective logic. Hatred has a peculiar sleepiness to it, a confused belligerence. They are as sleepwalkers, as much a horde of the undead as their equally extreme and misguided fundamentalist counterparts. Each are terrorists of the heart!

And as seen painted in blood, sweat, and tears on the separation wall of Palestine, Art is the ultimate weapon in love’s arsenal. Art awakens the heart, and an awakened heart will awaken the mind. It is a weapon that sheds no blood and wreaks no hate. It is the enlightenment of King Solomon; it is two cracking pillars painted on concrete walls that will manifest their crumbling with the trumpet call of love.

There is a stark increase in individual awareness among all people, particularly the youth, to independently seek the truth by seeing past the bombardment of propaganda which we are constantly fed by the media. There is a New Order that is emerging, what is referred to in the I-Ching: Book of Changes as the ‘thunder from beneath’. It is an unstoppable, primal rumbling at our soul’s well bottoms, an irrepressible force of a new era, outer and inner, a tidal wave of truth as peace that begins within each one of us and expands past our rigid individuality and transmutes everything around us into its purest beginnings, returning us to the beginning of All.

Religious intolerance is devoid of love. Let us all return to a state of spiritual innocence so unconscious of itself that it transcends concepts and is experienced only as the ultimate; the spiritual root of all religion, the all-inclusive: Love.

How, then, do we begin this journey back to the Source? How do we regain the lost sense of tribalism that has allowed us to recede into the brutal trap of bigotry? If the lessons of history have not sufficed to warn us of the dangers of exclusionary dogmatism, what, then, can shake us from this aggregated nightmare and open our eyes wide? The paradoxical irony is that unity begins with the individual. We must each look past our often mislead minds, to fearlessly assess the recesses of our own deepest self: the heart. For though the mind can make mistakes, the heart is never mistaken; the heart knows no judgement. So may this be a call to arms: we must fight!  

I would like to end by sharing the lyrics to my song, titled ‘Humanity Wake Up and Fight’.

When you’re beaten to death

And your hope is raped

In the absence of defence

More attacks more raids

When mercy is far away

A plead for help is not near

And justice fades away

You live in constant fear

When you are left without a choice

To have a say or raise a voice

Stand for your right, and shout

Humanity wake up and fight

When violence sets the rules

Hatred starts to breed

With torture and abuse

You fall into defeat

When you’re convicted to pain

Suffering never ends

Faith seems in vain

Cause you don’t have a chance

When you are left without a choice

To have a say or raise a voice

Stand for your right, and shout

Humanity wake up and fight

Come, here is my hand

No no you’re not alone

Your agony will end

Cause not all hearts are made of stone

When you are left without a choice

To have a say or raise a voice

Stand for your right, and shout

Humanity wake up and fight

When you are left without a choice

Have a say, raise your voice

Stand for your right, shout out loud 

Humanity wake up and fight

Humanity wake up and fight

Well done Lydia. I hope your star will shine more brightly than ever before, for your message is a cry for help on behalf of us all.