I knew Bristol was liberal; the city is famous for it. Me? I have traditional values, I am involved with the Conservative party, and I have been a Christian my whole life. But when I got an unconditional offer to study a course at the University of Bristol which ranked third in that subject, I accepted it without hesitation. Nine months into living here and I have seen advertisements for climate-crisis bake sales, intersectional feminist poetry slams, and students “occupying” the Wills Memorial Building (and subsequently whinging that their vegan Deliveroo wasn’t able to reach them) in solidarity with striking lecturers. However, having nonchalantly followed Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres on Twitter to see if any shows piqued my interest, I saw something that one couldn’t just dismiss as liberal lefty nonsense – this was something truly horrifying.
Tobacco Factory Theatres retweets ThisEgg (a theatre company) promoting their new show, The Family Sex Show (also promoted by The Guardian) The title is possibly alluding to incest, to Red Light District sex shows, and is definitely intended to shock. Already feeling slightly disturbed, I read on. The age recommendation is 5+ and the show description reveals it is intended as “an alternative to porn”. I read on to learn that “there is nakedness, yes. At one point in the show, everyone on stage takes their clothes off…” This is ringing every alarm bell possible.
Posing as “sex education”, the adults involved (who were hastily cast via Twitter only a month ago) don’t seem to know the first thing about safe, age-appropriate sex education. What five-year-old needs an alternative to pornography? Exposure to pornography is often used as a desensitising tactic when grooming children. In defence of this horror show, the website claims that “sexual development and behaviour in children starts from birth”. This is an argument which I have only previously heard from a documentary about PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) to justify removing the age of consent.
Speaking of consent, which this show claims to teach us all about, I have to question why the “actors” get to choose their level of comfort when stripping. A five-year-old child, however, cannot consent to seeing naked strangers. The only guidance for parents is that they can leave if they feel uncomfortable, yet the theatre manager has written extensively on how the actors will be supported if there was negative feedback. How, I ask, are the “actors” the victims in this situation? This show seems to be all about what the adults want to do in front of the children, convinced that they know best. Cyber-flashing has just become a crime, and yet the cast of The Family Sex Show feel it is their right to flash infant-school-aged children. Many Twitter commenters reminisced over days when “dirty flashers” would be chased off by police. Now, liberal parents pay them ten pounds a ticket to bare all on stage. These people do not deserve to be parents.
My sex education at school took place in Year Six. We were ten and eleven years old and were taught about sex and puberty in an age-appropriate, sensitive, non-embarrassing way. The teachers, surprisingly, didn’t find it necessary to strip naked and point to their genitals to get the message across. Most of my generation will have had a similar experience and don’t feel we have gaps in our knowledge. Of course, we have all witnessed the odd person getting changed at the beach rather indiscreetly – but this is contextual, and hopefully accidental. If children are taught that it is normal for strangers to want to show their genitals to them, then this completely undermines the preventative measures that parents, and trusted adults, take against grooming. And as for the argument that “children will encounter porn anyway, so why not teach them about it now?” I worked in Early Years education for four years and I didn’t meet a single five-year-old who could read, write or type well enough to access pornography. And if parents leave it accessible to children, someone needs to call CPS.
I am just thankful that the live show and tour was all suspended during the multiple lockdowns, or we could be two years into child-traumatising theatrical sex shows. The Twitter outrage has been huge, and the account, Libs of TikTok, made famous by Joe Rogan’s podcast, shared the story, at my request, to an audience of 591.3k angry followers. We also have riled up over 800 Bristolian mothers on Mumsnet who have taken this story to the Daily Mail, started a petition, and are boycotting the theatre. Grown adults are being paid to strip in front of little children, in UK theatres, funded by the National Lottery and Arts Council England. Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres want your money! In return, you and your five-year-old can watch simulated sex acts followed by a stage full of strange adults exposing their genitals. I have never been more horrified.
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By Christopher Winter — 3 weeks ago
At the end of 2021, I challenged myself to read at least 10 pages of a book a day. I was initially shocked at how difficult I found it to just sit down quietly and read a book. However, within the first month, I found it easier and easier to sit quietly, and enjoy reading. Having been unable to read practically anything for pleasure in the past few years, I am glad that I was able to accomplish this. By the end of 2022, I was able to read 14 books, and I decided that it would be prudent to compile a list of them, and to give a brief review of each one. All of these reviews were written within a few days of finishing the book, so as to give my most accurate opinions of them. This article, therefore, has been a year in the making! I hope that I am able to persuade you to take up this challenge in 2023.
Upon reflection, it has become clear to me that my reviews at the start of the year are not as good as the ones nearer the end of the year. Please excuse me for this, I have had no experience in writing book reviews up until now; but I feel as though this exercise has given me good practice in the area.
Book 1: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Read from: 01/01/2022 to 14/01/2022
When I saw this for sale in Waterstones, I chuckled to myself because I have seen the film so many times, and am very aware of all of the references and memes it has generated. I immediately bought it and I am extremely glad that I decided to make it my first read of 2022.
The book is an extremely well-written and unique dive into the horror nightmare land of Yuppie culture in the 1980s through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, Patrick Bateman.
For anyone who has seen and enjoyed the film, you will love this book. This novel fleshes out the character of Patrick Bateman and the accompanying cast and really helps to add the context and depth which would be impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to show on film.
The book is intentionally written in a repetitive and confusing style to try and put us in the head of Bateman, who lives a life surrounded by repetitive and confusing people constantly lost in meaningless conversations over what kinds of socks match with a certain tie, or who is calling up the newest celebrity-owned restaurant to make a reservation. As a reader, you may find this jarring at some points. But I beg you to be mindful of the point Ellis is trying to make. By about a third of the way through you will begin to appreciate the pages and pages of text covering the newest album from Huey Lewis and the News, and Patrick’s running commentary on what he, his girlfriend, his friends, and his victims are wearing.
Please be aware that if you have a vivid imagination, this book can be extremely difficult to read at some points due to the levels of violence and gore it portrays in excruciating detail. (I actually found myself feeling sick at some points, but this just lends more credit to the incredibly descriptive abilities of Bret Easton Ellis).
I thoroughly recommend this book, and I hope that you read it and enjoy it as much as I did.
Book 2: The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle
Read from: 15/01/2022 to 13/02/2022
I had never been very interested in philosophy, I had always found it unnecessary for myself to learn it. However, after a few debates and arguments with some of my friends who did enjoy learning philosophy, I decided that I would finally get around to reading some.
As I am interested in politics and public speaking, one of my friends recommended to me the Art of Rhetoric. I bought this book some time ago last year and had never read it, so I thought it would be best to start off my philosophical education with this book… that was a mistake.
I soon came to realise that, if you have never read any of Aristotle’s work, he can appear to be a confusing writer. He seems to love tangents and diversions and references to his own and other people’s work. Whilst it was certainly interesting to read about all of these tangents, it did make it quite difficult and confusing at some points to really understand his point or what he was talking about. One minute he would be talking about the different reasons people debate, and then he would suddenly be discussing the benefits of slave ownership.
Another issue I had while reading the book is that it introduces some new terms and words that I had never heard of before such as ‘Enthymemes’ etc. I had to spend considerable time actually learning what all of these specific terms meant before I could even understand what a large amount of the book was talking about, otherwise, I would have completely missed the context of entire chapters. That is not the fault of the book but a fault of mine (as mentioned earlier this was the first philosophical book I have ever read, and that was my mistake).
The book is actually split into three books (all relatively short). Without spoiling anything, The first two books give a lot of context to the third book which is where the actual ‘art of rhetoric’ is discussed at length. This made the first two books feel very slow compared to the third. It is also worth noting that the first two books are where most of the tangents can be found, whereas the third book seems laser-focused on the topic at hand.
Overall, I found the book very enjoyable. It pushed me to actually learn new concepts and terms I had never heard of before, and gave me new ways of looking at debate and argument as a practice. I would definitely recommend this book to people interested in improving their debate and public speaking skills, however, I would also warn you that, if you have never studied philosophy before, don’t be surprised if you have to re-read a few pages and do some research on some of the concepts Aristotle talks about.
Book 3: Trans-Siberian Rail Guide by Robert Strauss
Read from: 13/02/2022 to 19/02/2022
I found this book completely by accident at the ‘Barter Books’ second-hand book shop in Alnwick. I saw the cover, saw the low price, took a guess at what it might be about, and decided that I had to have it! At first, I assumed that this would be a simple guide for tourists of the Trans Siberian railway, but as soon as I started reading it, I discovered that it was so much more than that. It is a charming collection of history, anecdotes, and stories about the Trans Siberian Railway; and an assortment of (now obsolete) information about the various ways one could successfully navigate the journey across the Soviet Union to China and Japan (or vice versa) via train in the late 1980s.
This is by no means a history book, however, it is a very dated guidebook that was written for an 80’s audience, and it contains an absolute heap of useless and obsolete information about how to behave properly around Soviet border agents, the addresses of various consulates and embassies for countries which no longer exist, and tips on where best to buy camera film and cheap Hi-Fi’s when lost in Beijing. I found that this added to the charm of the book, and made it more interesting to read about the lived experiences of those bold adventurers making their way across Communist Russia, Mongolia, and China.
What makes this book even more endearing is that, when it was written, the author put out an advert for readers of the Times newspaper to submit their own stories of their travels along the Trans Siberian to him. He features these stories throughout where relevant, which really adds to the human touch of the book.
The book is broken down into 5 parts. Some of these parts are more focussed on the history of the railway and various anecdotes and stories of travelers’ experiences over the last 100 years on it. Other parts of the book are more instructional and list embassies, hotels, hostels, useful numbers for Visa applications, etc. The author, Robert Strauss, does an excellent job of weaving these two very separate kinds of information together to make for a very delightful read.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Trans Siberian Railway, anyone who wants a brief flashback to the late 1980s, and anyone who is sad enough to spend their time reading pages and pages of completely useless and obsolete information about how to purchase train tickets from the Hungarian Socialist Republic (people like me).
Book 4: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Read from: 20/02/2022 to 08/04/2022
This book was bought for me as a gift by my girlfriend after I had expressed some curiosity in it (it is her favourite book and I was interested to see why).
This book (sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divider’) is a tricky one to get through at times, it brazenly challenges you to keep reading it, despite its cruel themes and evil characters. I found some parts of the book particularly difficult to stomach due to the horrible issues which it covers, but I did soldier on through it to the end. This is why it has taken me almost double the time to get through this book as it has to get through other books of a similar length.
The book tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a handsome young European academic who comes to America after the death of his first wife. The story is told in the past tense from his perspective as he desperately tries to convince the reader, using all of his intellectual charm and cultured European graces, that his attraction to young girls is completely fine, and that the rape of his landlady turned wife’s daughter, Lolita, is justified.
It is fair to say that the book is a heavy read, and forces you to stay on your toes in order to not sympathise with him. Humbert Humbert is the king of unreliable narration, and phrases the most disgusting events in ways that can become very palatable to the reader if not considered properly in context.
This is indeed the crux of the book’s appeal, it is astonishingly beautifully written, even if it leaves you feeling sick or sad afterward. The writing style of the author, Vladimir Nabokov, in this book is absolutely impeccable and suits the theme and character of Humbert Humber almost too perfectly. It made the characters feel so alive and real.
My main complaint about the book, and what is stopping it from receiving five stars in my opinion, is that some sections (specifically the road trips) seem unnecessarily drawn out and overcomplicated, whilst other parts (specifically the ending) seem too rushed and simple – it feels as though you waited through a huge build-up over hundreds of pages for an ending that is covered in less than 30! I understand that this is because the book is framed as a retelling of a story from one person’s blinkered perspective, but I would have enjoyed it a bit more if the book spent more time fleshing out other parts of the story, and perhaps cutting back on excessive detail in others. However, this issue did not kill to book for me and I did still find it very readable almost all of the time.
In conclusion, an absolutely fantastic read that I would definitely recommend to anyone bold enough to take on Nabokov’s challenge.
Book 5: Mine Were of Trouble by Peter Kemp
Read from: 08/04/2022 to 13/05/2022
This book was completely unknown to me until I started being recommended it by various anonymous accounts on Twitter. My curiosity peaked after I had heard the general theme of it; and I must say, I am extremely glad that I took the decision to buy and read it.
This is arguably one of the most interesting, thrilling, and charming books I have ever read, and most certainly is a contender for my favourite of the year. The author, Peter Kemp, has a superb skill for structure, detail, and storytelling that makes it extremely difficult to put this book down. It gives you just enough detail to help you understand the situations he was in without being too heavy-handed and boring. At some moments, ‘Mine Were of Trouble’ reads almost like an adventure book; not because the events are so unbelievable, but because of the great lengths the author went to describe the acts of heroism and horror he saw in real life.
The book tells the true story of the experiences of Peter Kemp (the author), a 21-year-old English law student who was so moved by the stories coming to Britain of the horrors experienced by Catholic priests at the hands of the Republicans, that he decided to join the Carlists (a monarchist faction within the Nationalist army during the Spanish civil war). The book does not read like a diary, and instead is more of a lengthy account of his entire time before and during his service in the Spanish Nationalist military.
The true tales told by Kemp range from the humourous and charming to the horrendous and despicably ugly. At times during the book I was chuckling, and at other times I was almost crying. The book is not attempting to engender these emotions within you, it is simply telling you the story of Kemp’s fascinating journey through the civil war. It serves to remind us all that not all of war is horror; and not all of war is camaraderie, fun, and games.
This book has generated within me a great desire for travel and escapades. I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone interested in the history and politics of inter-war Europe and the Spanish civil war. I would also recommend this book to anyone interested in the concepts of masculinity, heroism, and the call to adventure. Whilst not saying it directly, Kemp touches on all of these topics in great detail. His time and actions in Spain reflect his values of faith, honour, courage, and compassion. This book has served as a great insight for me into all of these topics, and I am sure that it would do the same for you.
Book 6: Convenience Store Woman by Murata Sakaya
Read from: 13/05/2022 to 16/05/2022
As I was strolling around the Waterstones near Monument Metro Station in Newcastle, my girlfriend and I came across a small ‘Japanese Literature’ section. I have never read any Japanese literature of any kind ever, so I was intrigued by it. I was curious to see what was on offer and, as I was looking at the table, I was passed a copy of this book ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by my girlfriend who said to me that she had really enjoyed reading it in the past. I took her advice and, as it was only £8.99, I decided to buy it. This was a very good decision, and I am very glad that I bought this book.
The book itself is very short at just 160 pages with barely more than 200 words a page on average, so you can get through this extremely quickly. I consider myself to be quite a slow reader and I managed to complete it in just 3 days! I found the book to be very difficult to put down, the pacing was just right and kept you hooked into the story all of the time. I didn’t feel as though the story dragged at any point, and the general theme was one which I found quite relatable.
The story itself centres around Miss Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old Japanese woman who has been working the same part time job at the same convenience store for the last 18 years. Whilst never stating it explicitly, it is obvious that Keiko has autism and struggles to understand the actions of the people in the world around her, except for when she is working in the store. Keiko’s whole life revolves around her job at the store and it seems as though, to her, it is the one thing that gives her a purpose. She sees no reason to keep herself healthy, except for the benefit of the running of the store; she sees no reason to take a shower and shave, except for the benefit of the running of the store etc. This all changes when a new employee, a man name Shiraha, enters the picture.
Both of these characters are outcasts who take a different approach to dealing with the similar situation that they find themselves in. Shiraha is a failure who cannot find a wife. He is angry at the world for forcing him to work and just wants to hide away and do nothing. Keiko, on the other hand, has no anger to the world and just cares about the running of the store. The author does an excellent job at contrasting their opinions and methods for dealing with their problems, and it proves to be an excellent commentary on the expectations that Japanese society places on men and women.
If you are looking for a light and quirky book, this is certainly one for you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I was sad to have finished it so quickly. It has been a refreshing brake from the other books I have read so far, and I will certainly make an attempt to read more Japanese literature in the future as a result of it.
Book 7: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read from: 16/05/2022 to 24/05/2022
This particular book was of great importance to me because of how I came to have it. It was given to me as a gift by my English teacher back in 2016 just before I took my GCSEs. I had never read the book and we did not study it at school, I knew absolutely nothing of the plot and I used to ask her questions about it. Instead of giving the answer away, she bought me it as a present so I could come to the answer myself. Well, after almost six years of starting it, stopping it, and starting again, I finally got myself into gear and finished it. This was a great relief to me, as it means that I wont have to read the first chapter over and over again any more.
The book is relatively short but the pacing of the story can make it quite difficult to read at times. I found the start and end of the book to be very slow and drawn out whilst particular sections were very rushed. I’m sure that Fitzgerald was doing this for dramatic purposes, however I felt as though I should have been given more information at certain important moments. Fitzgerald is clearly a master of the English language and his usage of it in the book is interesting and unique. I found that some of the speech patterns in the book are very dated (this is the original unabridged version after all) which certainly gave it a 1920s feel. Whilst I had no problem with this, you do sometimes find yourself re-reading the same lines to make sure you understood what was being conveyed in this older style of writing. If you are not used to certain aspects of 1920s speech patters and history, try and buy a copy like mine which came with context explainers at the back. This helped me in my own understanding of what was going on in certain scenes.
The story is a somewhat reliable narration by Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner come to seek his fortune in New York City in the early 1920s. There he meets his neighbour Jay Gatsby, a mysterious and extremely wealthy man who, by complete chance, happens to be madly in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy, who lives just across the water from him. Daisy is married to the equally wealthy adulterer, Tom Buchanon. The story follows Nick as he is pulled further and further into a disgusting web of deceit, lies, and deception that surrounds Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom.
I found that the 2013 film adaptation of the book is fairly true to the source material, but it does skip over a large chunk of the relationship between Nick and Jordan Baker. The book does a better job of fleshing out the relationship between the two and it also does a much better job of making the characters less fantastical and more realistic. The film portrays Nick as a clueless do-gooder who just happened to be caught up in rich peoples cruelty whereas the book assures you that he knows what he’s getting himself in to.
In conclusion, a classic book which I would highly recommend. Not too long and certainly recommended if you have seen the film and wanted a bit more from the characters.
Book 8: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Read from: 24/05/2022 to 22/06/2022
This is arguably the first book of the year that I have read that I went into with absolutely no idea of what to expect. I had never heard of Amor Towles or his works, and this book was more of an impulse purchase after a friend of mine saw it on sale for a ridiculously low price and recommended it to me. I am glad that he made such a frantic bid to get me to but it. I have also just noticed that this is the third book of the year that I have read to be based in New York City (with American Psycho and The Great Gatsby being the other two). I suppose, through the lens of these fictions, I have taken a journey of the history of New York from the 1920’s to the 1980’s.
This book follows the life of Katherine Kontent, a typist at a law firm, as she makes her way through the year of 1938 in New York City. The concept of time passing is a big factor in this novel, the book is structured heavily around the changing of the seasons and the progression of time. It is no surprise that the main story starts on New Years eve 1937 and ends on New Years eve 1938. She, along with her room-mate Eve, meet Tinker Gray, a very curious individual who they both take great interest in. Over the course of the year, this typist is pulled from the bottom of New York society to the top. She becomes close and personal friends with the wealthy and not-so-famous member of society who keep the machine of the city moving along. She seems to find herself both disgusted and fascinated by it, and keeps venturing into it for more.
This book had the ability to trigger a very strong emotional response from me. It reminds us (bluntly in some places and subtly in others) that time is indeed passing and slipping through our fingers, and that we are the total sum of all of our decisions and all the decisions of everyone around us. Fittingly, I found the ending of the book both beautiful and agonising; all of the separate story lines of the small array of characters that Katherine meats neatly come to their conclusions. It left me felt feeling so sad, and I am not entirely sure why this is. Perhaps it is because it reminds that, no matter how eccentric or interesting we try to be, we too are side characters in someone else’s story; and one day, our relationship with those people will end as well one way or another.
The book’s structure is well put together, and it is clear to me that Amor Towles has an incredible grasp on the English language. His writing style is very unique and enjoyable; however, the method he uses to represent conversations (long flows of text rather than broken up sentences with quotation marks) can be quite jarring at times and it sometimes became very difficult to tell who was talking to who. I would also argue that the pacing of the book was a bit strange. The story seemed to race at the start, then slow down toward the middle, and then jump to a breakneck pace at the end again.
In conclusion, this was definitely an enjoyable book and is one which I shall be recommending to others.
Book 9: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Read from: 23/06/2022 to 23/06/2022
Due to the nature of this book and my political biases, I think it unfair to attempt to give this book a true ‘rating’, so I have opted to give it a 3 out of 5 – truly, the most neutral of ratings you can award a book (or anything for that matter).
I read this book many years ago when I was only a child, and so I saw that it was high time to read it again. Whilst I do not agree with Marx and Engels, I found the book to be very interesting and insightful into the initial aims of Communism.
I think today in the world of debate, we get very caught up in politicking, good and bad looks, and the humdrum of boring arguments. Sometimes we forget what certain people actually sincerely believe. It was quite refreshing to read straight from the source. I appreciate the fact that there have been many different iterations and interpretations of communism over the last hundred or so years, but it was nice to actually be able to get a grip of what the original idea of it actually was. As we live in the age of gutter politics, Marx is someone who has been warped and twisted beyond disbelief by people on both sides. Rereading this book reminded me that the chap, at the end of the day, was a philosopher trying to make sense of the modern industrial world and make predictions on the upcoming class struggles between proletariat and bourgeoisie.
Has this book changed my opinions on economic and social relations? No. I am just glad to have been given a fresh perspective on what communism is, and what Marx and Engels were trying to put forward. I am curious as to what they would think of the modern world if we could reach through history and bring them to now. I wonder if they would rejoice or shudder at the state of the modern communist movements. I wonder what they would say about the history of the last 100 years. I wonder how they would view the states of China, Cuba, and the like.
In terms of the books structure, it is incredibly short. You can read this in an afternoon if you really wanted to. I found the first half and the last tenth to be the most interesting, whereas the middle of the book was very slow.
In conclusion, it’s a short read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the communist movement. I would be interested in reading more of Marx’s material after this as I personally found it very interesting.
Book 10: Silence by Shusaka Endo
Read from: 24/06/2022 to 16/07/2022
I picked up this book at the same time that I got ‘Convenience Store Woman’ from the Japanese section at Newcastle Waterstones. It is funny as I had not intended to get any books at all and wound up buying two. I have also now purchased this book again as a present for a few friends as it is relatively cheap and extremely worth a read. I loved this book and I am glad that I made the impulse purchase after admiring its cover in the Waterstones.
This book follows the journey of Father Rodrigues as he journeys to Japan in the 1640s with his friend Father Garupe to act as a missionary and to discover the fate of his former teacher, Father Ferreira who has been rumoured to have apostatized and to now be assisting the Japanese government in hunting down and persecuting Christians. The journey of Rodrigues is a sad and miserable one. He starts with, what he believes to be, complete faith in God and the Catholic church. This faith is tested repeatedly by the misery and suffering of himself and the Christians of Japan that he sees around him. He is constantly doing battle with the silence of God when he sees injustice and cruelty done upon himself and his fellow Christians.
The novel’s author, Shusaka Endo, was a Japanese Catholic, and I believe the book itself was an attempt by himself to understand his relationship with God and his Christian faith through the abstraction of historical story telling. I believe, therefore, that this book is a good way of understanding my own faith better and coming to terms with the reality of the world around me and my relationship with God. If you are a Christian as well, I would thoroughly recommend this book.
The book, at just 267 pages, is relatively short and I found it very readable. The author uses letters, diaries, and reports from different sources as a framing device for good chunks of the story which helps to break it up and adds a layer of depth to the various characters that are met along the way. The general arc of the story is good and has a sound progression. Do not go into this book looking for a happy ending, you will not find one. The story does not finish with some grand triumph for any character, it merely reflects on the situations that they find themselves in.
Overall, I would certainly recommend this book. It is a brilliant example of 20th century Japanese fiction and, more specifically, provides an excellent retrospective on the persecution of Japanese Christians in the early Edo period by a practicing Japanese Christian. It is a great shame that the film adaptation by Martin Scorsese (himself a great admirer of this book) was such a commercial flop.
I would like to take a moment, if I may, to reflect on the books I have read so far. It is now the 17th of July 2022 and so much has happened since I started this challenge. Russia invaded Ukraine, I turned twenty-two, Boris Johnson has resigned, I bought my first house, and now we are all suffering through an absurdly hot heatwave and sky-high energy and commodity prices. It has indeed been a strange year for me, Britain, and most of the world. My one constant, however, has been the reading I have been doing. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, I barely read at all in the last decade, and it has been thoroughly enjoyable to burn my way through so many of the books that have been sitting gathering dust in my room.
I did not think, when I set myself this challenge, that I would have already finished 10 books by the end of the year… let alone the middle of July. I am very proud of this achievement, and I am looking forward to carry on reading throughout the year and into the next (and so on and so forth). I have learned so much from these books, not just what they contain, but also the foundations of what makes good fictions and non-fictions so enticing. I also think that my reading comprehension and patience has increased dramatically, and my ability to review the books has improved too.
If you are still reading this behemoth of an article at this point, I hope that you have been finding it of some use or interest. I sincerely hope that it motivates you to pick up some of the books laying around at your house that you’ve been telling yourself you would actually read too.
Book 11: Patriotism by Yukio Mishima
Read from: 17/07/2022 to 17/07/2022
This book was recommended to me by a friend. I did not intend to read it so quickly but it is an incredibly short book and is an extremely compelling read. It is also the second Japanese book I have read in a row. I am glad that I bought it and I hope that I can convince you to buy it too.
The book is set over a period of three days and follows the story of a Lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, Shinji Takeyama, and his beautiful young wife, Reiko. Being instructed to command troops destined to fight the forces of rebellious officers (many of whom are his close friends), Shinji is faced with the impossible choice of loyalty to his friends, or loyalty to the Imperial Army and the Emperor of Japan. Shinji, instead, chooses to commit seppuku (ritualistic suicide) with his wife as his witness.
The book describes, in graphic detail, the couple’s last few hours together on the night that they will take their own lives. It explicitly takes the reader through the couple making love multiple times before then agonizingly describing every moment of Shinji and Reiko’s suicide. Reading this part of the book was genuinely difficult at some points due to the gruesome nature of Yukio’s writing style.
Achieving a ‘glorious death’ was something that the author was very focussed on in his own personal life, so it is easy to understand why he would write about ritualistic suicide so positively. After further investigation, I discovered that the rebellion in the book was a real event that took place known as the ‘Ni Ni Roku’ Incident. This incident, along with many other events in Japanese politics, would shape Yukio’s worldview and drive him further into his beliefs surrounding right wing politics and the future of the Japanese nation and people.
In terms of structure, the book is incredibly short and can be read easily in less than an hour. I would thoroughly recommend the book to anyone interested in Yukio Mishima, this is an excellent way to ingratiate yourself with his beautiful and graphic writing style, and a good way to get a glimpse at his views and beliefs.
Book 12: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
Read from: 17/07/2022 to 13/08/2022
This is the fourth Japanese-authored book I have read this year, the third in a row of Japanese books, and the second from the esteemed author Yukio Mishima. I heard about this book from various accounts on Twitter and have seen it recommended numerous times but I had absolutely no idea what it was about. I am still not entirely sure if I have fully understood the book, but I will do my best to review it here.
The book is set in Japan a few decades after the second world war, and follows the story of the child Noboru and his wealthy widowed mother Fusako. Noboru is part of a gang of self-proclaimed genius boys led by ‘the chief’ who have become radically angered and dissatisfied with the modern world and modern rules and morality. Noboru is obsessed with the sea and ships and, when he is taken by his mother to the docks to actually see some vessels, they meet the ship’s second mate, Ryuji.
Fusako and Ryuji are smitten with each other and they have sex soon after meeting, whilst Noboru watches on from a peephole he has discovered in between his wall and his mother’s. Initially, Noboru is very pleased with Ryuji. He likes the fact that he is connected to the sea and he sees him as perfect. However, after a series of faux-pas on the part of Ryuji, and Noboru’s excessively high standards and non-standard morality, he soon finds himself disgusted by Ryuji.
This book is strange. I very much enjoyed it, but sometimes it was difficult to get into. Yukio Mishima was exploring his own philosophies and ideas on modern morality through the character of an extremely intelligent child, however, sometimes this came across as very unbelievable and annoying. The only truly sympathetic character is Ryuji.
Mishima, of course, uses his masterful command of language and metaphor to create beautiful images in the reader’s mind, especially when discussing sex and violence. This is a theme seen throughout all of Mishima’s work.
In terms of structure, I found that the pacing of this book was actually very good. The book is split into two halves, ‘summer’ and ‘winter’, each having its own distinct tone. The book is quite short at just over 100 pages and was paced in such a way that it never felt too quiet or too busy throughout.
Overall, a good book that I enjoyed. I would recommend it to you if you were especially interested in understanding Mishima’s personal philosophies and worldview.
Book 13: The Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung
Read from: 14/08/2022 to 25/08/2022
As someone who has struggled with weight their entire life, this book was a real eye opener. This book was bought for me years ago by my dad, but I never once opened it. I did not know who Dr Jason Fung was, and I had no intention to read what I assumed was just another self help book. Fast forward to a few months ago when a friend of mine suggested buying this book (as it had really helped them with their weight). I realised that I already had it buried away on my book shelf, and I made it my aim to at least try and get through it. As soon as I saw the cover, I realised that this Jason Fung was the same Jason Fung whose YouTube videos I had been watching for the past few months. Given the high quality of his channel, I went in with high expectations, and I was not disappointed!
Firstly, this is not a self help book. Dr Fung uses this book to meticulously and thoroughly dismantle commonly held misconceptions about diet, exercise, and weight loss. His calm and methodical approach to explaining problems with the diet and pharmaceutical industry (especially in North America and Europe) is eye opening and fantastically interesting. I found myself unable to put this book down (hence why I was able to read it so quickly).
I wouldn’t be doing the book justice by trying to fully explain Fung’s take on weight loss, but the general lesson he teaches is that insulin and cortisol are the two hormones that contribute the most to weight gain and obesity; that the post-70s western diet and lifestyle has made us prone to insulin resistance and excess cortisol; and that the standard ‘eat less, move more’ advice so often given out by doctors and government health agencies is unhelpful for people truly trying to lose weight. Dr Fung’s solution to these problems is intermittent fasting, which he claims is beneficial for reducing insulin resistance and being the most effective tool for obese people to lose weight.
The vast majority of the book is spent focussing on his main hypothesis that insulin causes weight gain. He only goes into fasting in the final section. This is why I do not consider this to be a ‘self help’ book. He spends far more time helping the reader understand what the problem is then actually giving specific solutions for this to be thought of as ‘self help’. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to you, but personally, I liked it. The book didn’t feel preachy or like quackery.
My only complaint, and the reason I don’t think I can award 5 stars, is that Dr Fung spends a huge amount of time going over the same points again and again. I appreciate that he is attempting to drill an idea into the reader, but it can get quite monotonous after a while.
Since watching his YouTube videos last month and reading his book, I have lost roughly 12kg in weight (about 2 stone/28lbs). This is evidence enough for me that his methods work, and I am fervently carrying on with them. If you struggle with your weight or are just interested in a fresh take on why the world has an obesity problem, I would most certainly recommend this book and his YouTube channel.
Book 14: No Colours or Crest by Peter Kemp
Read from: 28/08/2022 to 31/12/2022
This book took a much longer time to finish than normal due to personal issues and should not be taken as a slight on the piece of work. This book is the second of Peter Kemp’s three books detailing his activities before and during the second world war (see review number 5 for a cover of his first book ‘Mine Were of Trouble’).
We follow him on his journey after the Spanish civil war, joining the British army as a liaison officer and being sent into Albania to act as a representative of Britain and to gather information on partisan activities in the area. Being parachuted into the country, he is forced to deal with the complex political issues that drown the region in mistrust and curtail any effort to form a united front against the Italian and German occupying forces.
This first section of the book was very interesting to me, Enver Hoxha (the post war Communist dictator of Albania) is a character which I have known about for a very long time, but never seriously investigated and researched. In this book, Peter tells of his regular dealings with Hoxha, along with his other Communist, Monarchist, Republican, and Reactionary counterparts in their desperate bid to repel the invaders and attempt to seize legitimacy in forming a new government for Albania after the war has ended. Peter’s writings about these figures and his travels through Albania showcase the chaos and unpredictability of a small nation at war not only with an outside power, but also itself.
The second, much shorter, section at the end of the book tells of Peter’s brief time in Poland in 1945, and his capture and mistreatment by the Soviet Red Army, who viewed him as less of an ally than a potential enemy once the war was over.
The book is an excellent read for any history nerds interested in the niche fringes of the second world war, featuring a very unique insight and detailed description of war stories not often talked about in Western media. Kemp’s keen memory and light-hearted nature make for, not only a detailed read, but also an enjoyable one.
The pacing of the book can be a bit slow at times. I thought it was a shame that Kemp talked for so long about his time in Albania, but very little about his time in Poland. I appreciate that he was in Albania for much longer, but it would have been nice if he could have been a bit more detailed in his discussion on his time spent in Eastern Europe.
Peter has a distinctive writing style which became more and more obvious as I read through this piece, and I would struggle to define it. He writes memoirs like no other memoirs I have read.
Overall, an excellent read which I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend. I will be reading and reviewing his third book ‘Alms for Oblivion’ later in 2023.
It is the 1st of January 2023 and I cannot believe how much my life has changed since my last writing on here on the 17th of July (just after review number 10) and over the year as a whole. I am now a settled homeowner on the other side of a breakup, I have spent time living in London to escape family drama, and I am 30kg lighter than when I started the year. The war in Ukraine still rages on, and inflation seems to have calmed down just a little bit. I have been totally blown away by the rate of change I have experienced this year, and I am reminded whilst writing this that one of the only constants I have had throughout 2022 was the challenge to myself to read more this year. I am extraordinarily proud of what I have accomplished, and I sincerely look forward to doing it again in 2023, I hope that next year I am able to read at least 20 books.
I hope that these reviews and remarks have given you some encouragement to take up reading this year, it really was one of the best decisions I made at the start of 2022, and I hope that you see fit to make it one of your own resolutions for 2023.
Post Views: 470
By themallard — 1 month ago
When faced with the utter treachery of progressive intellectuals, there are times when one is tempted to go back to the old ways. Show up to their threshold, give them a slap with your glove and then hopefully grant them eternal peace from their nightmarish debility in a duel at the next daybreak. Peace would then return and one would tread home with the gratifying thought of having served mankind. But alas, the time of blood feuds is spent, and the resting lion who could once easily crush the hyenas troubling his sleep is now constrained to articulate his maw into words; explaining to them why it is uncourteous and inappropriate to come to his dwelling and trouble his sleep.
So be it. Let us contend defamation with apology, caricature with truth, and cede the arma to the togae; after all, we have no army at our disposal to cross the Rubicon.
An anglophile, and an admirer of Anglo-Saxon famed freedom of speech and liberalism, I must say I have been rather disappointed by how sententious the analysis of British and American newspapers of Mr Zemmour’s political position has been. After having observed now for two months or so the unceasing manhunt of the candidate by mainstream British media, I thought that one should not let this monochord blabber follow its course without a single objection. For example, let us take a look at this stereotypical leftist hit piece from The Guardian.
Written by what many would call an academic demigod, Didier Fassin, professor in anthropology at the Collège de France, one could have expected this article to be a dense synthesis of a profound analysis of French society and politics. How mighty was my astonishment when I found that the author’s main source regarding Zemmour’s ideas was one pamphlet from the junk information website Slate. I can easily guess that Professor Fassin never thought it worthy of his rank to listen to Mr Zemmour with his ears once in the past decade. Here is the only grounded and meaningful paragraph extractable from Professor Fassin’s article about Mr Zemmour:
“Indeed, he [Mr Zemmour] has said that parents should only be allowed to give their children ‘traditional’ French names, approvingly referred to people comparing Nazism with Islam, propagated the so-called ‘great replacement’ theory and argued that employers have a right to turn down black or Arab candidates. He believes that political power should belong to men and that women’s role should be to have and raise children. He has claimed to be on the side of General Bugeaud, who massacred Muslims during the colonisation of Algeria, has contended that Marshal Petain saved Jews during the second world war, and would like the death penalty to be reinstated. His overarching narrative is reversing France’s supposed national decline, which featured again in the video announcing his candidacy.”
Let us dissect these eight claims, in which the author restitutes eight of Zemmour views that he thinks should be problematic and let us try to display to the reasonable and discerning Anglo-Saxon reader how Zemmour’s real positions are not as grossly fascistic and vulgar as Professor Fassin wishes to make it seem.
1. “He has said that parents should only be allowed to give their children ‘traditional’ French names.”
Zemmour argues that the civility under which French citizens are recognised in the public space should be a French traditional first name. That is either from the calendar of Saints or prior traditions such as Greco-Latin history. Let us be clear, he does not speak of the use of a foreign name in private life. He does say that one’s ID and passport are not of the private but of the public domain, which is true.
Indeed, the elites of the now frighteningly multicultural city of London might be revolted by this proposal. These “enlightened divines”, as Burke would call them, would also be edified to know that this was a French law, passed by Napoleon. It was only repelled in 1993 when it was stated that parents had the right to freely choose their children’s names. Still to this date judges may forbid names that are judged disadvantageous to one’s future, such as: ‘Borat Miller’ or ‘Mr Bean Smith’. Anglo-American progressives are prompt to project their multicultural conceptions on France, but our histories differ.
At any rate, for most great societies until the twentieth century, the adaptation of foreign names or their outright changing, especially between Western nations, was the rule. In particular, virtually all French Jews between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, adopted French names as they were finally integrated into French society after centuries of rejection.
“We must give the Jews everything as individuals, but nothing as a nation” is a quote from the revolutionary nobleman Clermont-Tonnerre, often uttered by Zemmour, for it matches entirely his own family’s choices and trajectory, that of Jewish France. This cultural assimilation was the way of integrating migrants in France for the past 200 years, since the founding of the Republic and before.
2. “[Zemmour] approvingly referred to people comparing Nazism with Islam.”
Muslim people do not share this tradition of adapting names and they never have. After all, Muslims seldom moved to a country outside of the context of invasion and this wasn’t to change until the 20th century when Muslims immigrated to countries for other reasons. Like Judaism, Islam is a religion of law but even more so. Islam requires not only material compliance of its followers but sets a legal and political order of which they are a part. Thus, the historical distinctions of Muslim countries (Caliph, Sultan, Emir, Sheik) are both religious and feudal titles.
Islam also took from Christianity its universal purpose. Islam sought to establish a universal caliphate. But the lector knows of this, as recent history does not cease to recall us that fundamental difference.
In that aspect, Islam is of all religions the closest one to modern totalitarian ideologies, because it seeks to change every detail of private life in a codified manner, and seeks to bring about these changes universally, willingly or by legitimate force. In short, Islam seeks to transform the individual and the world in their totality.
Hitler himself was an admirer of Islamic values, and said, quoted by Albert Speer:
“Theirs [mahomedans] was a religion that believed in spreading the faith by the sword and subjugating all nations to their faith. The Germanic people would have become heirs to that religion. Such a creed was perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament.”
The comparison of Islam and Nazism has at least this much relevance but, of course, it does not aim at saying that Muslims are Nazis, nor that Imams are Gestapo officers.
3. “[Zemmour] propagated the so-called ‘Great Replacement’ theory”
Here, there is no need even for discussion, let alone debate, but just for a brief word.
The ‘Great Replacement’ is but the junction of two simple facts. Firstly, contrary to America, which is based upon no ethnicity, France, as most nations or peoples in the Old World, is very much based upon ethnicity, although not limited by it. France emerged as a nation of people who had shared the same land, history, culture and even religion for 2000 years. In terms of ethnology, France is much closer to the Iroquoian confederation than to the USA. As General Charles De Gaulle famously said to an American diplomat telling him “I know France well, I have lived here for 10 years”, De Gaulle answered, “Well, we have for 2000 years!”
Now, the second idea is even more genuine: The fact that several hundred thousand migrants enter France each year, mainly from African and/or Muslim countries, and that the birthrate of women from these countries is on average twice that of white French women, mathematical law implies that there is a demographic landslide, or “Grand Remplacement” of “European” descendants. Whether it is desirable or not, whether it is even worth discussing, is a question begging to be answered.
So there isn’t anything for Mr Zemmour to propagate but a trivial collection of facts. Most of the people who are willing to vote for him would consider this a major issue independently of his candidacy. Someone ignorant of the ethnic change that France is going through was either in hibernation and has only just woken up, or a very biased leftist who would rather point out the risk of alien invasion than the risk of Islamisation.
4. “[He] argued that employers have a right to turn down black or Arab candidates.”
Zemmour indeed argues that it is an employer’s right to refuse or grant someone a position for any reason he should see fit, whether it is competence, character or skin colour. To discriminate is to choose. It is a most rational and simple argument: an employer is not a public service and refusing to give someone a job, lease him a car or a property cannot be earnestly considered as harm done to this person.
Let’s be clear, a crime committed for any reason related to race, sex, sexual orientation, colour, religion or even competence, regardless of the reason, is a crime and should be punished as such. But rejecting an application is not a crime. How could an act that is not a crime in itself, be called a crime once the intention underlying it is known? In the end, this is nothing but an impugnation of motives. Undoubtedly, society should in any way possible facilitate the life of those who suffer from objective physical and mental handicaps. I ask Professor Fassin and his Londoner friends: Is Muslim religion a mental illness? Is dark skin a physical handicap? Is sexual orientation an objective deficiency?
No, will they will inevitably answer, but it is perceived as such, and this law should be in effect until all prejudice has been removed from society. Should law have a curative purpose? Justice is absolute, and so are good and evil. Crime is a crime, regardless of the time and context. The circumstance may affect the gravity of it, but not the nature of the act. Therefore, by mindlessly stuffing everything they find disagreeable into the criminal category, the left yields to the reproach made to it by conservatives for two centuries: the progressive idea of justice a contingent one, they ultimately subscribe to sophism, that is believe in nothing except themselves.
The proof that recruitment discrimination cannot be called a crime or an offence, is that it is in practice undetectable. How do you prove that someone was hired or rejected based on their ethnicity rather than on their competence? In most cases, you cannot. How do you prove an organisation has a hiring bias? You have to organise tests, which is akin to pursuing a fly with a sledgehammer.
5. “He believes that political power should belong to men and that women’s role should be to have and raise children.’’
The French candidate says some qualities are more closely related to one or the other gender. He states that political power belongs by default to manhood. A clear example of this is the traditional virtue of virilitas so cherished by Republican Rome. For biological reasons, the functions of power, war, and political decision making were, for dozens of millennia, by default masculine functions. Those of education, housekeeping, cooking and, even I dare say, finance were by default feminine ones.
He is right. Of all the folks and communities of mankind ever known on this planet, there was never a single matriarchal society. Some societies are more matriarchal than others, but it is only relative and never absolute. Processor Fassin knows this perfectly well, for he is himself an anthropologist, and in order to disagree with Mr Zemmour, he would have to go against the scientific consensus in his own field.
This again should not be an inspiration for fixed laws in a Republic founded upon the principle of equality between individuals regardless of their sex, and it would be absurd for a patriot of the nation of Joan of Arc to try and relegate women to the household. But that it is not in any way part of Zemmour’s agenda, even by extrapolation.
6. “He has claimed to be on the side of General Bugeaud, who massacred Muslims during the colonisation of Algeria.”
None will disagree that the massacre of innocents can be excused or even explained. But then again, this is not what Zemmour did: Zemmour lauded a military man’s uncompromising patriotism. He did not excuse this particular command of Bugeaud to suffocate an entire tribe into the cave where they had taken refuge.
Being coherent with my own words, I believe that statues of General Lee should not be taken down in the US, because despite fighting for an evil cause, he was still a great military leader, a patriot, and even freed slaves that he should have received has inheritance, before the war. Alas, few heroes of American, French or British history were saints, and fewer even by modern standards of sanctity. If Lee is taken down, how long before Nelson, Napoleon, Churchill and De Gaulle receive the same fate?
To remind Anglo-Saxon readers of the historical context, one of the casuum belli of the French conquest of Algeria from 1830 onwards was to put an end to slave raids that had plagued the Mediterranean for a millennium. And this was far from being a pretext, as some historians like to put it. When the French expedition took Algiers it immediately freed several hundreds of French slaves – thousands of European slaves altogether. This excuses nothing but explains how the struggle between the Western and Muslim worlds is not a recent, superficial or arbitrary one, and how the situation cannot be naively diagnosed in all abstraction of history.
7. “[Zemmour] has contended that Marshal Pétain saved Jews.”
Marshal Pétain and the regime of Vichy generally speaking – despite being regimes founded upon the treason of the French nation, forsaking the alliance with Britain, and collaboration with Nazi Germany – spared France from total defeat. Fighting to the end would have meant that the whole of France would have been conquered and placed under direct German governance, like Poland, Czechia or Greece. One knows that in the latter countries, the proportion of Jews who died in the Holocaust reached 90%, in the case of Greece or the Netherlands. In France, it was around 10%. Vichy leaders still instinctively rejected Nazi racist axioms. In France, in Italy, in Spain, Jews undeniably found a better shelter from hatred and deportation than under direct German rule.
This does not mean that Mr Zemmour ignores the existence of the Vel d’Hiv deportation, of the Lois Juives, or of the militia’s massacres, and general servility of Vichy towards Germany. He acknowledged it and maintained his position all the same.
Be that as it may, this historical thesis was not at all invented by him. It was generally accepted in France, even defended by Jewish and Israeli historians, until the publication of Robert Paxton’s book Vichy France which condemned Vichy as altogether evil. Recently, an Israeli historian has published sources that demonstrate the active role of Vichy in attempting to protect French citizens, regardless of their religion, from the Gestapo and the SS.
I think that Pétain was a traitor to France, but history is complex. This matter is still an area of academic debate, and I believe it will forever remain a matter of opinion. Only the party that wants to censor the other one will truly be wrong.
8. “[He] would like the death penalty to be reinstated.”
One can reasonably disagree with Mr Zemmour, and join the liberals who believe, like Victor Hugo, that “Vengeance is human, Justice is divine. The State is in between, its role is to heal, to better the men.”
Nevertheless, support for the re-establishment of capital punishment is widespread among French people. Some months ago, the Rwandese refugee who burned the cathedral of Nantes, that had been left to roam about by the police because “He was not subject to detention under European laws of asylum” said the French interior Minister Darmanin, eventually found the primary target of his arson, the vicar of the cathedral, and stabbed him to death, in the Vendée. Most of the perpetrators of the past ten years were known to be dangerous by the intelligence services but were still left free because of lack of space in prisons or EU legal restrictions.
But there again, Mr Zemmour’s support for the death penalty is anecdotical in the greater picture of his battles and it is certainly not something he would have the leisure and popularity margin to reinstate if he managed to beat Le Pen and Macron.
As a way of conclusion, I will say that it matters greatly for foreign conservatives or reactionaries to understand their French comrades and comprehend the hope we put in Mr Zemmour. For every new decay brought by progressivism in any one of our nations inevitably ends up plaguing the other ones, and we have a common interest in vanquishing deconstructivism in the West as a whole. One could not forget how the French theory (it is a shame in itself that such devilry should be characterised as French) crept from the intellectual boroughs of Paris, insidiously wrecking itself on the shores of New England, and eventually mutated into the notorious, dreadful and destructive cancel culture that scourges our time.
The fact that a member of the Collège de France, pretty much the equivalent of Cambridge Trinity College in England, should write a derogatory article about a French presidential candidate in the British media demonstrates what is wrong with France’s establishment. The establishment of my country lives in an enclosed penthouse, more concerned about what foreign elites think of them than about what their own people think about them. Sound familiar?
Where their fate might be worse than that of Britain’s establishment, is that their minds and their logos are colonised by Anglo-Saxon structures, and they play the role of New-England progressives more readily than that of French scholars. Professor Fassin is probably eminent in his field, but in this particular case, he blatantly used his position and network at The Guardian to cast a stone at My Zemmour, because of political enmity. Even in the case that The Guardian did ask him for his contribution, he could have passed, quite obviously not being an expert in the matter.
I will also indulge in begging The Guardian, or any British media outlet, that if they should wonder about Mr Zemmour’s views they should simply ask him directly and let Professor Fassin return to his studies, by which he is certainly much beguiled so that he has no spare time to come down from Mount St Genevieve and seek quarrel in the political arena.
One last sting: The Guardian seems to gather and spread information about France only through those with whom they are in ideological communion; the same way that the American or Soviets informed themselves about the countries they invaded or ‘freed’, only with the local communists, pro-West or Shia Muslims. I think I am fair to call this a colonial method.
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By Mike Bevan — 3 days ago
Compassion for asylum seekers is a traditional British value – a real British value, not a Quango-invented value like ‘tolerance’ that wouldn’t be out of place in any Western European country.
Britain’s reputation as a friendly haven for the oppressed is wholly based in historical fact – and I don’t mean “we found the skeleton of a 15th century black man in Cornwall, and that’s why unfettered channel boat crossings are a good thing”.
Now to be clear: a refugee is not a migrant. Most channel crossers are economic migrants looking for wealth, which I am not here to defend nor discourage. When this article says “refugee”, I am referring to those fleeing war or persecution, such as Ukrainian civilians, Iranian political opposition, or Uyghur Muslims from China. And while I do not advocate handing out visas to all 21 million stateless refugees in the world today, it is my opinion that we should take in many more than we currently do – regardless of any policy towards other forms of migration – and make the United Kingdom the best and most welcoming place in the world to be a refugee. Not just for altruistic reasons either – we can greatly benefit from this arrangement.
From 1828 to 1905, at the height of her imperial power, the number of immigration restrictions the British Isles had was zero. The borders were completely flung open, allowing anyone who was downtrodden, oppressed, or impoverished the chance to live a life of freedom and security behind the protection of the Royal Navy.
This was a point of pride to the Victorians – the Times newspaper wrote in 1858;
“Every civilised people on the face of the earth must be fully aware that this country is the asylum of nations. We are a nation of refugees. There is nothing on which we are prouder and more resolute.
All Europe knows and respects the asylum of these isles.”
The first wave of refugees from the continent – since the Huguenots – were the French clergy and nobility fleeing the Reign of Terror. Around 4,000 arrived in 1792, settling mostly in Soho and other affluent areas of London. They were forced to undertake manual labour for the first time in their lives, working as tailors or publishers. Due to a lack of Catholic churches in London at the time, Anglican churches such as Saint Pancras welcomed their brothers in Christ and offered church facilities for Catholic masses and burials. No fewer than eight former French bishops are interred at the church.
The Duchess of Gontaut wrote of her arrival to England;
“Arriving at Harwich…made my heart beat faster in the hope of a better future. It was a happy premonition because from that moment we experienced the good and loyal hospitality of the English.”
Successful integration of refugees is surprisingly easy – give them the chance to work, and access to resources. Economic deprivation is the number one predictor for whether or not an ethnically diverse neighbourhood is socially coherent, but current policies make this nearly impossible; Refugees in Britain must wait 12 months after arrival before they have the right to employment.
Labour is the world’s most valuable commodity—yet for 12 months, a refugee is forced to relax in a four-star hotel and eat free chef-prepared meals, all paid for by taxpayers. The faster a refugee can obtain a job, the faster they can be turfed out of hotels and become productive members of society.
The Victorians were so committed to the policy of free asylum that they were even willing to create diplomatic scuffles to uphold it.
In the mid-century came the socialists. Marx, Engels, Kropotkin and co. all escaped harassment from tyrannical European governments by making the free and prosperous shores of Britain as their home.
In 1858, a collection of these continental anarchists based in a London lodging house plotted a failed assassination of Napoleon III. One man who stood trial for this conspiracy was French exile Simon François Bernard. The French government demanded he be punished – but the British press were steadfast in their opposition to a conviction. Partly because it would undermine the policy of open borders (some things never change), but also because anything that frustrated our eternal rivals was surely a good thing.
While I don’t suggest we invite any Islamic terrorist groups to set up an embassy in Fitzrovia, we can learn from this example to forge our modern-day policy on political refugees.
I and many readers of The Mallard yearn for a restoration of Britain’s prestige on the world stage, a way for our now Empireless nation to regain that global reach. So what could be more of a leverage over our enemies than aiding those who are consistently a thorn in their side?
Several Hong Kong dissidents such as Nathan Law have already fled here and continue to campaign for a free Hong Kong from the safety of the UK. We could extend this to other Chinese, Iranian, or Russian political dissidents, and be the first port of call for Governments-In-Exile. Provided that they do not actively harm British or Western interests, we can only gain geopolitically by being the prime destination for exiled activists the world over.
The open borders policy came to an end at the start of the 20th century. The last wave of refugees were impoverished Poles and Jews escaping persecution from the Russian Empire. One such refugee named Israel Lipski was hanged in 1887 for the murder of a woman in Whitechapel, and the story gave rise to the notion of “pauper aliens” committing crimes, stealing jobs, and pushing up rents.
The Conservative government of the day proposed the first restrictions on immigration in 1902. But they weren’t completely without opposition – it was none other than Winston Churchill who said these new rules were;
“a loathsome system of police interference and arbitrary power that would harass the simple immigrant, the political refugee, the helpless and the poor…This country has so greatly gained from the old, tolerant, and generous practice of free entry and asylum. This law is expected to appeal to insular prejudice against foreigners and racial prejudice against Jews.”
And Churchill was right. Even today (despite eye-catching headlines) the effect refugees have on the crime rate is low. During the 2015 European migrant crisis, Germany took in over 1.4 million refugees – yet by 2019, their crime levels had fallen to the lowest in thirty years.
And if a refugee does commit a crime, surely the only person who should be punished is the guilty refugee – not the thousands of other innocent, law-abiding evacuees with whom they arrived alongside.
Nonetheless, the Aliens Act introduced the first restrictions in 1906; immigrants were required to prove they could support themselves financially, not be “liable to become a charge upon the public rates” (i.e. disabled), and have a clean criminal record.
But this was not the end for Britain’s role as an international safe haven for the oppressed. During the Great War, almost 250,000 Belgian refugees were given shelter on these isles, all housed and fed for the duration of the war despite the hardships and food shortages suffered by the nation. The generosity displayed by the British is illustrated in the 1916 Fredo Franzoni painting “Landing of the Belgium Refugees”, showing dozens of boats carrying huddled masses landing in Kent. They are being welcomed by a large crowd led by the mayor of Folkestone. To the side, a nurse stands ready to tend to the sick, while two children bear welcoming gifts. A British ensign flies prominently from one of the ships.
Many of the Belgians were housed by individuals volunteering a spare room. Others were housed in purpose-built villages ran by the Belgian government-in-exile, where inhabitants used Belgian currency and spoke Flemish. Despite some local objections to these ethnic enclaves, within a year of the war being over, 90% of refugees had returned to Belgium. Their only lasting impact being a few memorial plaques, and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot – who was based on a Belgian that Christie had housed during the war.
If we could do it in 1914 during total war, we can certainly do it today.
Granted, the cultural differences between a Brit and Belgian are smaller than a Brit and a Syrian, or an Iranian, or a Venezuelan. But those of you who are worried about the social and ethnic composition of Britain needn’t worry about refugees – like the Belgians, the average refugee spends less than ten years in exile before returning to their native country, and only the most protracted conflicts such as in Afghanistan or Vietnam produce refugees who stay longer than 20 years. Those who choose to stay permanently are clearly integrated Anglophiles who prefer British society over the land most of their compatriots have since returned to.
Overall, while you and I may disagree on general high or low skill migration into Britain, it’s quite clear that compassion for asylum seekers is a long-forgotten tradition that we should reclaim. We can learn from the 19th century to build an asylum system that is both economically and geopolitically a benefit to us – as well as, of course, being the moral thing to do.
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