Atlantic £25 (441pp) £22.50 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Facts Are Subversive, By Timothy Garton Ash

Most pundits on foreign affairs who clog up our comment pages have three things in common. They do not speak or read foreign languages. They dislike Europe or, if on the left, the United States. They tend to be former editors of national newspapers or magazines.

As a result the reader seeking enlightenment on the evolution of geopolitics has to read Timothy Garton Ash. He is fluent in German, Polish and French. That may explain why he is the only British writer on foreign affairs who is translated and taken seriously in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland as well as the US.

Garton Ash likes America and has always been a writer, not a media executive. He is not afraid to declare that "I love Europe. Not in the sense that I love England, although on a rainy day Europe runs it close. But there is a meaningful sense in which I can say I love Europe – in other words, that I am a European patriot."

This will win him few friends in a new Eurosceptic British establishment as David Cameron and Andy Coulson, two devout Europhobes, prepare their bid for power. But pro-European politics needs writers on its side, and Garton Ash is there. He also likes America, which gives him visiting professorships and the chance to study, study, study.

I first met Tim Garton Ash in 1980 in the heady days of Gdansk, Warsaw and Katowice, as Polish workers formed their independent trade union Solidarity. He seemed an incongruous figure: neat, a trim beard, a very Oxford way of speaking, a press card from the Spectator, formally dressed in tie and cuff-links - which appealed to the Poles who, even in the drabbest days of communism, dressed as if setting out for a stroll down the Rue de Rivoli.

But underneath the Spectator dress code was a profoundly committed intellectual whose North Oxford manner could not disguise a burning political engagement: not simply to support those shoving left-over Stalinism into history's dustbin, but as someone who would use his writing power over the next three decades to support all the freedoms that the Poles were fighting for in 1980. The right to speak, to write, to meet without a state, a religion, a party, the police, an economic system saying you cannot or must not is still denied to billions. Those denied liberty, like Poles after 1980, have a champion in Garton Ash. As others proclaim the future is China or denounce parliamentary democracy as washed up, here is one clear voice speaking for fundamental freedoms.

In Facts are Subversive, Garton Ash has brought together some of his essays, which combine reportage and analysis in equal measure. Sometimes the writing is too adorned as it strives for effect. He is not a George Orwell, who was born on the right side but lived his life on the wrong side of the tracks.

Garton Ash enjoys his professorships, his decorations, and his access to power. There is nothing wrong in that. Politics, and especially foreign policy, is made by people in high places. I used to watch Garton Ash and Tony Blair chatting, and it was clear that each was learning from the other.

After the shabby 1990s, when John Major and his ministers appeased Milosevic and allowed 8,000 European Muslims to be massacred at Srebrenica in the Balkans, the change to a more robust politics of protection and intervention was required. Iraq has changed all this, though Garton Ash has the honesty to reprint one piece on the issue of whether or not to use military force in Iraq, in which he confesses: "I remain unconvinced by the case for – and doubtful of the case against." Dubito ergo sum might be his life's motto.

Clear on communism and, of course, contemptuous of the rising ugly xenophobic nationalism of today's hard right in Europe, Garton Ash has yet to come to terms with Islamism. Not with the religion of Islam, still less Muslims, but the unyielding ideology of Islamism, with its contempt for free speech, women and gays, and for the separation of faith from state. After a visit to Egypt, he blithely writes: "The process may take decades, but one day Islamism, too, will join the gods that failed." Oui, Ja, Tak, Yes - but for how many decades do people's lives have to be destroyed or limited in the name of Islamism because the liberal intelligentsia, of which Garton Ash is Britain's chief adornment, do not want to get their hands dirty by telling the truth about the world's most powerful reactionary, democracy-denying ideology?

It was easy to fight communism in the 1980s. It was harder to be Koestler, or Camus, or Michael Foot in the 1940s and 1950s - and very hard to be Orwell in the 1930s. But to tackle Islamism means asking hard questions about the sources of finance for Garton Ash's beloved Oxford University, or about American appeasement of the Saudi theocracy. In his next collection of essays, what will be the themes - and will he take on Islamism?

Denis MacShane is Labour MP for Rotherham and a former Minister for Europe

Suggested Topics


Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss