Is The Undoing properly great or just a run-of-mill thriller with a brilliant casting director?

There must be some people somewhere who vaguely know their own spouses — but if so, they don’t tend to appear in domestic-based thrillers. Last week when Sky Atlantic’s The Undoing began, Jonathan and Grace Fraser (Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman) seemed to have the happiest of middle-aged marriages. They still laughed at each other’s jokes. They still kept each other fully informed about the kind of day they’d had at work: he as a kindly child oncologist, she as an unfailingly wise therapist. Not only did they still have sex, but when they did, it wasn’t always in bed. True, they weren’t wholly without their problems. Their loving son

A losing battle

Foreign fighters are returning from the battlefield — not Islamists but the Americans, Europeans and South Americans who fought to rid the world of Isis. But for all their bravery, their homecoming is a tricky one because their home countries do not want them back. I have now interviewed more than a dozen volunteers. Many of them share similar stories of arrests and detentions. They have been stripped of their ability to travel, have their movements monitored, their bank accounts closed. One of them, an American, has since committed suicide. One fighter, who wishes to be known as Max, tells me in an email that he has left his home

Syria Notebook

In order to avoid the Labour conference and yet more predictable media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, I escaped late last month to Syria, where children were returning to school after the summer holidays. Large tracts of the country have recently been liberated from the control of jihadi groups, meaning that in some places children are going back to school for the first time in five years. At Sinjar elementary school in Idlib province, I found the local headmaster painting the school sign. Five years ago rebels gave him the choice of closing down or being killed. He was confined to his house while the school buildings were converted into an arsenal.

The terrible truth

Here’s the bad news. One day you or someone like you will be shopping in a mall or enjoying a concert or about to catch a train when the first sudden, sharp crack will rend the air and your world will change forever. Around you, people will start to crumple and as the panic and horror finally dawn the screams will begin while the automatic rifle fire escalates and those still standing will begin to flee — but where to? If you run away from the gunfire you’re being herded into a trap. If you run towards it you’ll be shot, either killed immediately, or casually, later, as you lie

How to beat terrorism

Until a few years ago, Pakistan was one of the most dangerous countries on earth. The tribal areas in the north were infested by the Taleban, whose bases stretched to within 100 miles of the capital, Islamabad. Western intelligence agencies feared that the Taleban could seize one of the country’s nuclear installations, then hold the world to ransom. Large parts of the country elsewhere were lawless or terrorised by armed groups. It would be foolish to claim that Pakistan’s security problems are over. But something extraordinary and unexpected has certainly happened. Since it fails to fit the established narrative of Pakistan as a dangerous nation, it’s gone unacknowledged in the

A tale of two battles

For the past few weeks, British news-papers have been informing their readers about two contrasting battles in the killing grounds of the Middle East. One is Mosul, in northern Iraq, where western reporters are accompanying an army of liberation as it frees a joyful population from terrorist control. The other concerns Aleppo, just a few hundred miles to the west. This, apparently, is the exact opposite. Here, a murderous dictator, hellbent on destruction, is waging war on his own people. Both these narratives contain strong elements of truth. There is no question that President Assad and his Russian allies have committed war crimes, and we can all agree that Mosul

Clueless in Syria

The other day I was speaking to a Kurdish journalist who was held in Isis captivity for ten months. He and a colleague had had the bad luck to run into an Isis checkpoint in Syria. ‘How do you perform the midday prayer?’ they were asked after their car was waved to a halt. Unable to answer — they were not believers — they were immediately beaten around the head. Then one of the jihadis from the checkpoint was put into the back of their car and they were told to drive to the Isis base. The fighter had a pistol pointed at them the whole time, which was superfluous

The caliphate strikes back

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Douglas Murray discusses what Isis might do next” startat=1814] Listen [/audioplayer]When the creation of a new caliphate was announced last year, who but the small band of his followers took seriously its leader’s prediction of imminent regional and eventual global dominance? It straddled the northern parts of Syria and Iraq, two countries already torn apart by civil war and sectarian hatreds. So the self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appeared to be just another thug and opportunist ruling over a blighted no-man’s land, little known and still less revered in the wider Islamic world. He was surrounded by a rag-tag army of jihadis, whose imperial hubris seemed to reflect

Why I left

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Nick Cohen and Fraser Nelson discuss the death of the left” startat=32] Listen [/audioplayer]‘Tory, Tory, Tory. You’re a Tory.’ The level of hatred directed by the Corbyn left at Labour people who have fought Tories all their lives is as menacing as it is ridiculous. If you are a woman, you face misogyny. Kate Godfrey, the centrist Labour candidate in Stafford, told the Times she had received death threats and pornographic hate mail after challenging her local left. If you are a man, you are condemned in language not heard since the fall of Marxist Leninism. ‘This pathetic small-minded jealousy of the anti-democratic bourgeois shows them up for

Monumental heroes

Leptis Magna was deserted when I last visited — no wonder. Tourists daren’t visit Libya these days and so I had the ruins to myself. I climbed the steps of the vast Roman theatre, looked out to where the Wadi Lebda meets the sea, then stopped. Men with AK-47s. My immediate fear was that they were Islamic State. Isis move closer to Leptis Magna every day and it would make sense for this most spectacular site to be next on their hit list. Their last great coup was on the other side of the Med, when they blew up the Temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra, known as ‘the Pearl

Barometer | 23 July 2015

Gesture politics A royal home movie from 1933 apparently showed the future Queen, aged seven, and her mother giving a Nazi salute. Like the Swastika, the stiff-armed salute was not invented by the Nazis. In this case they took it from the Mussolini and his Fascists, who thought it came from ancient Rome. Three Roman soldiers are shown making such a gesture in Jacques-Louis David’s 1784 painting ‘Oath of the Horatii’.But the US beat both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy by using the gesture to accompany the pledge of allegiance. Hitler himself claimed the salute was one of peace, saying it meant ‘Look! I am holding no weapon.’ But like

Vespasian vs Islamic State

As Ahmed Rashid argued last week, it is hard to see what the West is doing in the Middle East, occasionally dropping bombs on Isis, whose effect may well be to hand Syria over to al-Qaeda. The Roman general Vespasian (ad 9–79) would propose a different strategy. The Romans had never found the Jews easy to get on with — the feeling was mutual — and semi-provincialising Judea in ad 6 had not helped matters. In ad 66 a major revolt broke out there, and the legate in Syria, Cestius Gallus, was ordered to crush it. He was driven off in disorder, and in ad 67 the emperor Nero sent

Al-Qaeda could end up the big winners in Syria

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Ahmed Rashid and Douglas Murray discuss how the West is working with al-Qa’eda” startat=38] Listen [/audioplayer]After plunging Syria into five years of a bloody civil war that has killed 300,000 and displaced 10 million, Bashar al-Assad is preparing for the endgame. He has been digging a bunker for himself, creating an enclave in the mountains around the coastal city of Latakia where his community, the Alawites, are in a majority. The Iranians are helping him set up this new retreat, but his hope of hanging on to Syria is dying. The question being asked in the region is not whether he’ll survive, but who will run Damascus once

Portrait of the week | 18 June 2015

Home Talha Asmal, aged 17, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, died in a suicide bomb attack on forces near an oil refinery near Baiji in Iraq, having assumed the name Abu Yusuf al-Britani. A man from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Thomas Evans, 25, who had changed his name to Abdul Hakim, was killed in Kenya while fighting for al-Shabab. Three sisters from Bradford were thought to have travelled to Syria with their nine children after going on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Britain had had to move intelligence agents, the Sunday Times reported, because Russia and China had deciphered documents made public by Edward Snowden, the CIA employee who has taken refuge in

Shifting sands in Saudi

Whatever happened to America’s desert kingdom? In the four months since Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud became king of Saudi Arabia, everything we thought we knew about this supposedly risk-averse US ally has been turned on its head. In a ruling house long known for geriatric leadership, the new king has pushed aside elder statesmen and seasoned technocrats alike in favour of an impetuous and uncredentialled son, Mohammed bin Salman, who may be in his late twenties. Now the world’s youngest defence minister, the princeling is already second in line for the throne, prompting grumbles from Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, about ‘inexperienced youngsters’. As if to make the ayatollah’s

Portrait of the week | 16 April 2015

Home Launching the Conservative party manifesto, David Cameron, the party leader, told voters he wanted to ‘turn the good news in our economy into a good life for you and your family’. The Tories promised: to eliminate the deficit by the end of the parliament; to provide 30 hours of free child care a week for working parents of three- and four-year-olds; to grant a right for housing association tenants to buy their properties; to increase the inheritance tax threshold for married couples from £650,000 to £1 million (paid for by nobbling tax allowances on pension contributions for those earning £150,000); to raise the threshold of the 40p rate to £50,000 by

Why does Isis slay hostages? To cover up the fact that it’s losing

At this point in the war between the jihadist group known as the Islamic State and a US-led international coalition, many observers are wondering how Isis keeps winning. Isis is up against western air power and powerful regional opponents, and yet has apparently seized a territory larger than the United Kingdom, and is expanding into Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, and elsewhere. It seems incredible. But the truth is that it’s difficult to say Isis is winning by any objective measure. In Iraq, the group has been put on the defensive in the provinces of Nineveh, Salahaddin, and Diyala, and may soon face a major offensive on its stronghold of Mosul.

How Islamic State commanders squeeze their hostages for every penny

 Turkish/Syrian border ‘They asked $5,000 to $10,000 for every move they made. Emirs are making a living by such means’ It was Abouday’s heavy metal T-shirt that started the trouble. Two jihadis at a checkpoint said the fire-breathing dragon showed he was a devil worshipper. In fact, he worshipped only Metallica, but he did not realise the danger he was in. People had scarcely heard of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria back then. His mother, Faten, sat weeping at her kitchen table as she told me how she had begged him not to travel at night. After being seized at the checkpoint, Abouday was interrogated by a 20-year-old ‘emir’,

Is London’s West End Jewish enough for David Baddiel’s musical The Infidel?

David Baddiel has turned his movie, The Infidel, into a musical. The set-up is so contrived and clumsy that it has a sweetness all its own. A golden-hearted London cabbie, named Mahmoud, discovers that he was adopted at birth and that his real parents were Jewish. This strikes him as intriguing rather than alarming, and he starts to investigate Judaism with the sort of disinterested curiosity of a man taking up astronomy after inheriting a telescope and a star-chart from an eccentric uncle. Mahmoud wants an easy life so he keeps his secret from his wife, Saamiyah, and from his son, Rasheed, who plans to marry a girl named Ji-Ji

Why Jonathan Powell thinks we’ll have to negotiate with al-Qa’eda

Jonathan Powell is best known as Tony Blair’s fixer. He was intimately involved with the Northern Ireland peace process, about which he has written authoritatively, and since leaving office has set up his own NGO which advises on negotiations with terrorists worldwide. This book, subtitled ‘How to End Armed Conflicts’, is offered as a guide to negotiators. They should find it very useful, packed with quotes and anecdotes from negotiations with, amongst others, the Tamils, ETA, the IRA, the ANC, Columbia’s FARC and, of course, that hardiest of all perennials, Israel-Palestine. It is liberally sprinkled with good advice and wise observations — that terrorist groups often start with unrealisable demands