The Aardvark Blog
Too Many Tears
Too Many Tears
It seems like I have found myself writing a lot about non-book matters over the last year or so. After the appalling deaths last year in the two Paris attacks, Bastille Day plumbed a new low in ideological homicide. The stories of families running for their lives, and of people sacrificing themselves for their family members are respectively chilling and uplifting. Yet it seems like we are running out of whistle in the dark platitudes, and we perhaps have to begin to accept that Europe and the Middle East are, as one French commentator put it, a single continuum. Having accepted this we need to look for new solutions that allow both regions to find a safe, secure future, based on more meaningful cooperation than has previously been achieved. Security alone will sadly not make us secure, nor will building walls remove us from the evil that is already present on our own side.
And if this is true then this week's other world defining event - the attempted coup in Turkey - takes on even greater significance, since Turkey is a nation that spans both continents. Amongst my favourite countries to visit, Turkey contains so much archaeology, art and history that no person could explore it all properly in a single life time. I have visited many times, but have only scratched the surface. The pictures of troops blocking the bridges and shooting at demonstrators last night were therefore even more shocking for me. I fell asleep listening to the excellent commentary on Radio 5 Live ( what a wonderful and under appreciated Radio Station it is).
Meanwhile back at home we have a new government charged with the nigh impossible task of squaring the circle of economic reality and public fervour. It is clear that at best some people will be disappointed, and that there will be more marches and unrest. The question of popular mandate returns again to the fore, since we have developed a strange quasi-presidential model of government that gives a hugh amount of power to the Prime Minister (far more than the role originally had when it was considered 'primus inter pares'), yet does not elect him or her directly. In ordinary times this may not be a major problem, but at times of national unease or struggle, it leaves the electorate feeling cut off from the politicians who govern them. Following the long delayed publication of the Iraq Report it is possible now to see the period from 2003 to 2016 as a single uncomfortable epoch. The feelings that were stirred up by the War, and the subsequent expenses scandal and deep recession and austerity, reached their full expression in the vote on June 23rd. Having had Chilcott and having voted for a new dispensation with Europe, perhaps we are approaching a point when a new era in our political life can begin. One thing is certain however, and that is that we cannot truly move forward until we have had another General Election and the different parties have had a chance to lay out their competing visions for Great Britain over the next generation.
In this somewhat febrile climate it is therefore a good thing that the Booksellers Association led by the redoubtable Tim Godfrey has put forward some very sensible ideas for how the booktrade can survive the next few years. Such is the quality of those booksellers who remain in this country, that I feel confident that the trade will prosper and that books will continue to occupy a central position in the nation's imagination and affections. And speaking more directly of books I have now finished processing the 750 academic history books that I purchased a fortnight ago, and am also nearly finished with the 900 folio titles that I bought last month. To celebrate the Aardvarks will be taking a short tour of France to recharge batteries and gather new ideas (the Aardvark Café emerged from just such a trip many years ago). It will also be an opportunity to express our own solidarity with the people of that great and abiding nation. It is worth perhaps ending with Andrew Neill's great tyrade following the Bataclan shootings. Watch it on Youtube for the full effect, but the written words give a flavour of its power and truth:
'Evening all, welcome to This Week. A week in which a bunch of loser jihadists slaughtered 132 innocents in Paris to prove the future belongs to them, rather than a civilisation like France.
I can’t say I fancy their chances. France. The country of Descartes, Boulez, Monet, Sartre, Rousseau, Camus, Renoir, Berlioz, Cezanne, Gauguin, Hugo, Voltaire, Matisse, Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saens, Bizet, Satie, Pasteur, Moliere, Zola, Balzac, Poulenc, cutting-edge science, world-class medicine, fearsome security forces, nuclear power, Coco Chanel, Chateau Lafite, Coq Au Vin, Daft Punk, Zizou Zidane, Juliet Binoche. Liberté, égalité, fraternité and even crème Brulee.
Versus what? Beheadings, crucifixions, amputations, slavery, mass murder, medieval squalour and a death cult barbarity that would shame the Middle Ages.
Well, IS or Daesh or ISIS or ISIL or whatever name you are going by... I think the outcome is pretty clear to everyone but you. You will lose. In a thousand years time, Paris, that glorious city of lights, will still be shining bright as will every other city like it. And you will be as dust, along with the ragbag of fascist Nazis and Stalinists that previously dared to challenge democracy and failed.'
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