A few years ago, in a Lords debate on the treatment of Christians in the Middle East, the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminded his peers of some famous words of Martin Luther King: ‘In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.’
That reflection may now be going through the head of the French President, Emmanuel Macron. In recent weeks he has been left alone on one of the most dangerous and delicate ledges of our time: that of Islamic extremism.
It’s easy to see why so few western leaders have come to Emmanuel Macron’s defence: when they scrutinise extremists, they are accused of being ‘Islamophobes’. Since the French President’s speech last month about Islam in the West, he has been accused — by populist Muslim politicians such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Imran Khan, as well as publications that should know better, such as the New York Times
— of being anti-Muslim.
After a difficult nine months, we are naturally all sick of lockdowns and other Covid restrictions. Everyone misses parts of their pre-coronavirus lives, from seeing friends and family, to pubs and restaurants, to the theatre and concerts and, yes, even our workplaces. It was therefore no surprise that this week’s news of a vaccine breakthrough was widely applauded. It is human nature, after all, to cling on to things that give us hope.
Donald Trump is now showing exactly why he had to be defeated. Well after the votes have been counted, with no evidence of anything but the usual minor glitches — none of which is sufficient to dent Joe Biden’s margin of victory — the President of the United States is doing what he did for four years: sabotaging American democracy because of his pathological narcissism. Trump remains what he has long been — a purely destructive force, a vandaliser, not a builder.
In all the excitement about the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, it was easy to miss news of the other great hope for getting our lives back to some form of normal. Vaccines are not expected to have much impact for most of us this winter and it will be several years before they suppress Covid-19 globally. For now, a mass testing programme — not any jab — is probably the best chance of putting Covid back in its box. It has been piloted this week in Liverpool and it might be coming to us all in the near future.
Eighty years ago this month, the cartoonist Graham Laidler — better known as Pont — died of polio. He contracted the disease while evacuating refugees from London in his car. He was only 32. In 1940, thousands of people were dying in the war, but Pont’s death was marked by an appreciation from J.B. Priestley in the Times, and an outpouring of grief in readers’ letters to the magazine with which he had become synonymous: Punch.
Bomb shelters have come a long way since the Blitz. As missiles from Azerbaijan rained down on Nagorno-Karabakh a few weeks ago, Hayk Harutyunyan and his family took refuge in a basement with wifi, an ensuite toilet and a makeshift mini-bar. There were 12 people crammed in there every night, he told me, ‘but we Armenians are very close as family, so we get on well’.
Indeed, sipping brandy with them in their shelter, I was reminded of that other Armenian clan, the Kardashians, who spend their time sitting around and chatting.
In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy has a running skit about the alehouse in his heroine’s home village where her father, and quite often mother too, disappear for hours at a time. People aren’t allowed to drink on the premises, so are strictly limited to ‘a little board about six inches wide and two yards long, fixed to the garden palings by pieces of wire’. But as the locals don’t like drinking while standing outside, they all head into the landlady’s bedroom and perch on her bed, chest of drawers and washstand while supping ale.
Mink keeps you warm. That’s a most acceptable bonus, but its prime function is status. This week, however, the focus on mink has been for an altogether different reason. Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of mink skins, began culling 17 million minks to stop a mutated form of coronavirus. As a precaution, Britain has closed its borders to anyone travelling from Denmark.
There were once three species of mink: American, European and the sea mink of North America.