The weaponisation of political language

battleofideasFamously, the names of the two great parties of 18th century British and North American politics began as insults. In the 17th century, ‘Whig’ was a disparaging term for supposedly uncouth Scottish Protestant dissenters, while ‘Tory’ referred to similarly uncouth Irish Catholic outlaws. When the not-at-all-uncouth English establishment divided over the question of whether the Catholic Duke of York should be allowed to succeed his brother Charles II as king, these religiously-tinged insults proved convenient. They were eventually worn as badges of honour, and stuck even as their political significance was transformed over generations and continents. If only the etymology were little more obscure, you could just about imagine American politics a century or so from now divided between the Deplorables and the Nasty Women. Continue reading “The weaponisation of political language”

Whose mythical past?

In February this year, scientists unveiled a reconstruction of the face of Cheddar Man, who died around 9,000 years ago, and whose skeleton was found in a cave in Somerset in 1903. DNA analysis has now revealed that ‘the earliest known Briton’ – part of a population from which modern white Britons are thought to descend – probably had dark to black skin and blue eyes. Continue reading “Whose mythical past?”

The Reformation: a secular enchantment

If you ask most people with only a passing knowledge of Christianity to explain the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, they’ll probably mention communion. Catholics believe the bread and wine literally turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, while for Protestants the ritual is merely symbolic. Something like that? Martin Luther would have been horrified.

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The ways they are like us all

That Existential Leap: a crime story, was in production in September 2016, when Lionel Shriver caused a stir by launching a scathing attack at the Brisbane Writers Festival on the concept of cultural appropriation. In particular, she rejected the idea that writers should not write about characters from backgrounds different from their own, that it is exploitative, for example, for a white, male, British author to write from the point of view of a 14-year-old Nigerian girl. As a white, male, British author who wrote much of That Existential Leap from the point of view of a young American woman of Indian origin, I had to agree with Shriver. Continue reading “The ways they are like us all”

Rustom: populism and prejudice in the age of ‘post-truth’ politics

Last year’s Bollywood hit film Rustom was just the latest fictionalised retelling of the story of Indian Navy Commander KM Nanavati. In 1959, Nanavati shot his wife’s lover dead, only to be found not guilty by a jury that seemed convinced not so much of his innocence as his righteousness. Continue reading “Rustom: populism and prejudice in the age of ‘post-truth’ politics”