Arriving in Erbil, you don’t feel you are in Iraq, but another country altogether, which is what the Kurds would like. The city’s outer ring is shiny and new, a touch of Dubai in the smooth highways and glittering hotels. A London property developer told me he had made a 40 per cent return in Erbil. He was Jewish, too — might have been a different story in Baghdad. The Kurds are proud of their embryonic capital: open for business; tolerant of all faiths; you can even get a drink.
The ongoing Ferguson crisis in America is really two stories rather than one. The first story is the straightforward mystery of what happened when Darren Wilson (‘the white cop’) killed Michael Brown (‘the black youth’). The second story, much loved by the British and American media, is ‘America’s Racial Divide’.
The two stories are related, of course, but not in quite the way that links them in most reporting and commentary.
[audioplayer src="http://traffic.libsyn.com/spectator/TheViewFrom22_21_August_2014_v4.mp3" title="Douglas Murray and Shiraz Maher discuss Britain's jihadis"]
[/audioplayer]It is the now familiar nightmare image. A kneeling prisoner, and behind him a black-hooded man speaking to camera. The standing man denounces the West and claims that his form of Islam is under attack. He then saws off the head of the hostage.
As the fighters of the Islamic State drive from village to captured village in their looted humvees, they criss-cross what in ancient times was a veritable womb of gods. For millennia, the Fertile Crescent teemed with a bewildering variety of cults and religions. Back in the 3rd Christian century, a philosopher by the name of Bardaisan was so overwhelmed by the sheer array of beliefs to be found in Mesopotamia that he invoked it to disprove the doctrines of astrology.
[audioplayer src="http://traffic.libsyn.com/spectator/TheViewFrom22_21_August_2014_v4.mp3" title="Damian Thompson and Freddy Gray discuss Pope Francis's plans" startat=904]
[/audioplayer]If you want to understand how Pope Francis is planning to change the Catholic church, then don’t waste time searching for clues in the charming, self-effacing press conference he gave on the plane back from South Korea on Monday.
Anybody with an ounce of compassion would have been doffing caps in recent days to Frank Maloney — as, indeed, absolutely everybody with an ounce of compassion vigorously and noisily was. His announcement that he is undergoing a sex change has been met by plaudits from far and wide, notably from within the muscularly male world of boxing in which he made his name and from where his former client, Lennox Lewis, has led the cheerleading.
Imagine you bought a ticket for the opera and then a copper told you how you may travel to the opera house. You absolutely may not drive there, he says, nor take public transport, nor walk. You must go on a licensed coach, crammed in with all the other opera-lovers, under the watchful eye of the boys in blue. Yes, that’s right, the police will escort you to the opera, monitor you through the performance, and then escort you home.
On our second night in Seville we got lost. We’d been to a flamenco concert, my first, a little way out from the centre. Eight musicians sat in a horseshoe on a plain stage. Deep plaintive wails of the campo pierced a surface of jangling guitars. Men in the crowd murmured ‘Olé’ to applaud moments of virtuosity.
‘Let’s go for a walk,’ I said as we walked out of the theatre. I was emboldened by the soulful music and wanted to see more of the town.