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
Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable