Lunchtime delights and Hay Fatigue

We must be getting old, or so it seems. A few years ago festival fatigue would have taken much longer to set in, but come Monday night we awaken from a long lie in, breakfast in the sunshine and solitude of our base in Craswall, and mosey on down into Hay for a lunchtime session of Tessa Dunlop for me and a bit of stewarding duty for Pete. Tessa doesn’t fail to impress, despite her intended companion Pamela Rose (a 93 year old Bletchley Park girl) having been hospitalised the day before (get well soon Pamela!), she brings the whole era to life, is animated and captivating as she recounts the stories of the fifteen ladies (or girls) she had spent a year interviewing and getting to know, before publishing her book, The Bletchley Park Girls. When asked how difficult it was to keep e secrets they had, one of the ‘girls’ simply replied ‘it wasn’t difficult, because no-one ever asked what women did for the war effort’.

My next session was equally educational, as Amitav Ghosh gave us a quick historical insight on how the opium trade formed the foundation of the capitalist economy in the nineteenth century. His new book Flood of Fire is a follow up to River of Smoke and Sea of Poppies and has taken him ten years to complete. Ghosh explored a plethora of little known words as he takes delight in exploring sound and language in his literature, (I now know the original meaning of ‘doolally’, hilarious!) I am adding the fascinating trilogy to my ever growing pile of ‘must reads’.

Advertisements

Maajid Nawaz Talks to Oliver Bullough

20150526_195335Maajid Nawaz begins with a shocking tale from his home town of Southend. At the age of 15 he was about to take a racist beating from supporters of Combat 18. A local, Maajid  believes was called Matt, attempted to step in and was stabbed multiple times by the skinhead thugs.

In a later episode his friend fooled the thugs into believing he had a bomb in a rucksack. They backed off and it taught Nawaz the power of fear. It was his first real step to radicalisation.

At 16 he joined the Islamist Jihadist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. The student Nawaz was expelled for his political activities. He later went to SOAS but travelled extensively in Pakistan and Denmark creating and building Jihadist groups. At 24, he was in Egypt when 9/11 happened. He was arrested and subjected to inhumane treatment, although he escaped the levels of torture that many fellow inmates experienced. He was there for four years. Whilst in jail he came to the conclusion that Islamic Jihad was essentially a fascist ideology overlaid over Islam. He left Egypt and prison as a liberal committed to human rights.

Maajid founded Quilliam, a London-based think tank that focuses on Islamism as the cause of Muslim terrorism. It lobbies governments in order to demonstrate how Islamist ideology is incompatible with Islam.

In 2009 he joined the Liberal Democrats, because he believed and wanted to show that the democratic system could embrace even those who has sought to oppose and undermine it.

Sponsored by Shepherd’s Ice Cream

Malorie Blackman

Who is Malorie Blackman?

She’s the current Children’s Laureate (for a few more weeks at least). She is a well known name amongst both teens and the education sector. As an English teacher I was bursting with joy to see her talk of the highlights of her career both as a writer and as Children’s Laureate. She did not fail to please.

Not only was she funny, she addressed key issues that affect teachers, children and parents. There was a distinct focus on reading for pleasure which Blackman freely advocates as being the most important developmental feature in teenagers. One of the key ideas to enable this more freely across the board is through the use of libraries. Again, Blackman is an advocate of libraries, stating how ‘libraries are mandatory in prisons but not in schools’ with the tone of shock and disdain. The other idea freely exposed is parental engagement with children’s reading, especially in terms of male reading role models.

 

Jonathan Sacks with James Harding

20150526_160444

Jonathan Sacks, Baron Sacks, is a rabbi, philosopher and scholar of Judaism, who was Chief Rabbi from 1991 to 2013.  His book ‘Not in God’s Name – Confronting Religious Violence’ explores the concept of altruistic evil or the execution of terrible acts in the name of a higher power.

Religion is on the rise across the world, simply because religious people have far more children. The secular nations of Europe all have a birth rate of less than two per family, so secular communities are in a period of inevitable decline.

Lord Sacks, it transpires, is a fan of social media and believes that we should be using it more to build bonds in society “but there is also a lot of anger on the Internet.”

Sacks compares the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam to sibling rivalry. He cites Freud in describing this rivalry as a powerful and violent force. However, he says that the many bible stories about sibling conflict are teaching followers of all three religions, not to view themselves this way.

The BBC’s Head of News James Harding challenges this view, saying that religious teachings that tell their adherents that they are “chosen”‘ must themselves be a source of conflict. Lord Sacks counters saying that religion will ultimately persuade its followers to question conflict that brings suffering on its own people.

Interview with Chris Woods

By Virginia

I was intending to go to Chris Wood’s talk tonight as my husband Chris Cole (a drones researcher and campaigner) speaks highly of him and has raved about his new book ‘Sudden Justice’. So I was very grateful that Chris Wood agreed to meet me this morning for what proved a fascinating discussion about war reporting, drones, and what next for America.

Woods was a journalist for the BBC, who has reported most of the major conflicts of the last 25 years. He became interested in drone warfare in 2010, when working in Pakistan, after an official told him they couldn’t use an airbase to help flood relief because the US had appropriated it for their drones programme. He began to investigate and when he left the BBC for the Bureau for Investigative Journalism he set up a team to report on US drone strikes.

When he moved on from the Bureau, Woods decided to write the book in order get a wider sense of the story. The result is a holistic modern history of armed drones, that examines the effect on civilians, shows the way the battlefield has changed and the people who operate drone warfare. Late into the research, he was given an endorsement from the airforce book support programme which got him in the front door and gave him access to former senior officials in the military, government and intelligence services in the US, UK and military. As a result his book shows both sides of the story and allows the reader to form their own judgements of the ethics and appropriateness of this way of waging war.

The author’s interviews resulted in surprising conversations. Dick Armitage, a hawk in Bush’s government, supported the idea of targetted killings as he believed the US was justified in their actions. It was only when he visited Pakistan in 2009 that he realised the extent of killings and how the programme has spread so far that the CIA can’t always say who they’ve killed, a revelation that filled him with horror. Cameron Munter, former US ambassador to Pakistan stated that he should have had authority in the region, and yet the CIA effectively ran the show.

Much of Wood’s research has uncovered how the ‘war on terror’ has been a ‘tit-for-tat’ affair. Extraordinary rendition, began under Clinton, and resulted in alleged militants from Bosnia and Albania being taken to Egypt where they were tortured. One of these militants was the brother of the Al Qaeda no 2 El Zawaihari who ordered an attack on the US in Tanzania in revenge. In response, Osama bin Laden was put on the kill list. 9/11 soon followed, with the first US targetted drone strike happening a month later.

Woods also had access to ordinary drone operators, describing their tedious days, waiting for the CIA to tell them what to do, and working in a hierarchal structure that is both demoralising and disempowering. One interviewee’s description of how seeing a dog killed led to huge negative comments when an excerpt of the book was published in The Guardian. Woods felt this was unfair because he saw it as a moment when her humanity was able to express itself. He was glad that she still appreciated being quoted, and being given a voice in a situation where she felt powerless.

What is clear from Wood’s work, is that if Clinton and Bush began dronewarfare, with Bush being the ‘occasional assassin’, it is Obama who has institutionalised it. Drone killing is now part of US foreign policy alongside, diplomacy and trade. The difficult thing once you start such a programme, is how to turn it off. The next US president will have that choice, but is likely to feel compelled by the strategic imperatives to continue.

Woods has recently been on a book tour in the US where the drone programme is the support of 60% of the population. As he arrived the big story was that a drone had killed an US civilian, and yet the question was not about whether the strike was legal, but whether it was effective. Woods argues that this is because the media and government have a firewall in place that prevents proper reporting of the issues. With ‘remote reporting’ from journalists in Washington,who don’t see the impact on the ground, ‘remote warfare’ is distanced even further. He is encouraged by TV series such as ‘Homeland’ and the recent Ethan Hawkes film (which uses one of Woods true news stories as a plot line) which are beginning to air the issues for people, but even so, many Americans don’t know what is going on.

If America is to choose a different path, its citizens need to truly understand what is being done in their name. Which is why ‘Sudden Justice’ is such an important book as it allows a light to be shown on a killing programme that for too long has operated in the darkness. So if you’re at Hay looking for a thought provoking talk, I highly recommend you going to his event and buy a copy of ‘Sudden Justice’. You won’t regret it.

Chris Woods will be in conversation with Chris Hunter and Nik Gowing at the Llwfan Cymru – Wales stage at 8.30pm tonight.

Letters Live with Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Sandi Toksvig

Photo: Finn Beales

Photo: Finn Beales

My first event and my first ever experience of the Hay Festival and I knew it was going to be amazing. Having followed Letters Live for more than a year and finally receiving a copy of Letters of Note at Christmas; the anticipation was immense. As we stood in the queue to the Tata Tent, Stephen Fry strode boldly by, we gazed in awe. The excitement was at fever pitch and we were not disappointed.

Heartthrob Jude Law read beautifully and my favourite of all the performances was his narrative of Sol Le Witt’s letter to Eva Hesse, where Sol tells Eva “you belong in the most secret part of you…if you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety” and ultimately “Stop it and just DO”. Law’s delivery of the letter was enthralling, he executed the grammar perfectly and with a theatrical edge that brought the content to life.
Fry narrated a timely and moving “Dear Mama”, an honest and touching coming out letter where the subject says that his homosexuality has taught him the “limitless possibilities of living”. Fry begun his narrative by warning listeners that he may cry, as he’s a soppy bugger. This emotional connection was felt throughout the reading and there were many a tear from the audience. Within the letter, the subject says that coming clean about his true soul means that he no longer has “to lie to the people who taught me the value of the truth”.
Sandi Toksvig was another star of the show, bringing the house down with theatrical and hilarious renditions of letters including “The Matchbox”, where Sylvia Townsed Warner describes all the things she likes most about the matchbox her friend has given to her as a gift. The humorous writer uses a brilliant sarcasm and over enthusiasm saying that the best thing about her matchbox was that it was empty.
Letters Live was an emotional journey, at one point tears of sadness and heartbreak and the next of joy and laughter. One cannot help but wonder if today we are more reserved about our feelings, as Charlotte Bronte once wrote with raw truth about her feelings since the passing of her sister Emily.
The show stars the most incredible performers and allows us to appreciate the purest form of the written word. I recommend it to anyone and cannot wait for next year.