The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

8 April 2017

9:00 AM

8 April 2017

9:00 AM

Cadbury and the National Trust stand accused of taking the Easter out of Easter eggs. The Trust’s ‘Easter Egg Trail’ is now renamed the ‘Cadbury Egg Hunt’. My little theory about the National Trust is that all its current woes result from the tyranny of success: it has become so attached to ever-growing membership (now more than four million) that everything is skewed to this and the original purposes are neglected. No doubt the substitution of the word ‘Easter’ by the word ‘Cadbury’ seemed a small price to pay for big sponsorship. This decision is a symptom of the Trust’s problem. But for the fate of Easter itself, one need not worry. Think of Luther’s hymn ‘A safe stronghold’, as translated by Carlyle (and updated, in one spelling, by me). The ‘Prince of ill’ and his junior devils cannot prevail because ‘God’s word, for all their Kraft and force,/ One moment will not linger,/ But spite of hell, shall have its course,/ ’Tis written by his finger.’

The majority on Hilary Benn’s Commons committee on Brexit has attacked Theresa May. It says her statement that ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ is ‘unsubstantiated’. Is it the sort of statement which requires evidence? Mr Benn should try turning it round: would he defend the proposition that ‘A bad deal is better than no deal’?

A friend points out that Mount Athos is exempt from the free movement of people which the EU demands, although Athos is, for EU purposes, part of Greece. ‘The Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain’ issues its own visas for male entry and forbids the entry of any woman in all circumstances. My friend reasons that, if the monks can cut a special deal, why can’t Britain? He is right that the EU is prepared to make exceptions to its own rules if it feels like it; but all-male immigration would be intensely unpopular here. How about doing the opposite of Mount Athos? How about admitting only women (with no dependents)? This would raise fewer fears of crime and violence, and make it less likely that Islamist extremists would infiltrate the country. As the only nation in the world ever to have twice had a woman head of state and head of government at the same time, Britain should be a beacon for downtrodden European women seeking a better life.

Nick Robinson, of the BBC, compares the Brexiteers and Remainers to ‘fighters who emerge after months of hiding in the bush, [and] seem not to accept that the war is over’. It is a false analogy because, unfortunately, the war is not over. Its most arduous phase has only just begun.

Max Hastings was probably right in his Diary last week to say that Russian adventurism is a more formidable practical threat here than Islamist extremism. But he is surely wrong to dismiss David Cameron’s description of Islamism as ‘an existential threat’ as ‘silly words’. Far from being only what Max calls ‘the flailings of a death cult’, Islamism is a flourishing global ideology which explicitly denies the rights of all non-sharia-compliant polities to exist. It has been quite successful. Its first victims have, of course, been predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan and the bits of Iraq and Syria taken over by Isis. More commonly, it has not completely taken over such countries, but has destabilised them and denied the right of its enemies to exist in the most basic way — by killing them. This is happening in Nigeria and bits of many African countries, including Kenya. Even where mass killing is not taking place, Islamism poses an existential threat to pluralism — in Turkey, which is moving very fast from a more or less western democracy to establishing a neo-Ottoman caliphate; in Indonesia; and in Pakistan, where the blasphemy law effectively licenses the persecution of Muslim moderates and Christian minorities. It is by far the most powerful, pervasive and extreme anti-Semitic movement since the Nazis. It threatens pretty much every Muslim state. This in turn threatens the West, not only because of spreading instability and the consequent movement of peoples, but also because Islamism seeks to delegitimate us too. It finds significant numbers of people — some of them already Muslims, some, like Khalid Massood, drifters attracted by false certainty — who will listen. It is not just a few loopy people stirring up murder with revolting films on the internet. It is also a movement which, through the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots or cousins, gains access to public policy debates, broadcast media, university audiences and sometimes public money. Islamism has brought more insecurity, self-censorship and subversion to countries like France, Britain and the Netherlands than any other force since the end of the Cold War. Luckily, its operations are often ill organised. But existential threats always begin with bad ideas; logistics follow on.

Recently, the Supreme Court in Venezuela, Jeremy Corbyn’s South American utopia, tried to strip the parliament, currently controlled by the opposition, of its powers. Protests about this frightened President Maduro, who suddenly overturned the Supreme Court ruling. He did not seem to realise the irony: not only did the original ruling prove that the court was in his pocket — so did his reversal of it.

Most people rejoice at the coming of spring. A significant minority, however, find it depressing. I wouldn’t use that word myself, but I think I know what they mean: it is to do with Eliot’s view that April is the cruellest month. The sheer strangeness of what nature does at this season can be almost alarming. This week, I went for a walk and looked down from the hill. In the hedges, the blackthorn was white in blossom. Blackthorn blossom is always more austere than hawthorn, because the flower comes earlier than the leaves. It looked as if hoary-headed old giants were starting to push their way out of the earth before tramping across the fields.

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