A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 13 June 1998
Rome's implacable loathing of Carthaginians set a pattern for neighbour hating (and baiting) which still surfaces in nuclear tests and football games alike. No doubt carvers of tabloid tablets glowered across the straits of Sicily as they inscribed the Latin equivalent of `Achtung! Surrender' or `Hop off you Frogs'. Since that sort of passion may not be quite invisible in the coming weeks, it's good to find a lively and eclectic guide to `the dividing lines of race and culture' on hand for those outbursts of hysteria.
Edited by Susan Greenberg, Hate Thy Neighbour (pounds 9.95) is the first in the promising `MindField' series of topical anthologies from Camden Press. Packaged as a blend of book and magazine, and strongly reminiscent of the much-missed New Society in its brightest days, this inaugural issue mingles polemical essays, factual digests, interviews, poems, photos and (not least) Robert Thompson's tart cartoons. If the quality (inevitably) varies, the width impresses mightily: Ann Leslie investigates embattled Englishness, Judah Passow surveys Israel's `black Jews' from Ethiopia, Sousa Jamba defends African tribal pride, Roland Littlewood meets the BNP, Seamus Deane recalls his Irish childhood - and so on. Endlessly flexible in pace, tone and angle, the whole project brings to mind a kind of streetwise Granta. It deserves to flourish.
In the course of an interview that flays the lazy pieties of multiculturalism, the veteran radical A Sivanandan underlines that `the more hybrid things are, the more alive they are'. Fighting prejudice, he says, must not mean a search for `cultural enclaves'. Enclaves become crucibles, and crucibles may ignite into cockpits.
For the sorry proof of that, explore Radha Kumar's brilliantly compact expose of the 20th-century diplomat's favourite folly: Divide and Fall? Bosnia in the annals of partition (Verso, pounds 14). In this small gem of a book, Kumar places the West's `multicultural' solution to the Bosnian war in a long, inglorious line of botched partitions. This runs from Bengal (split by the Raj in 1905) through Ireland after 1920, then Israel-Palestine, India-Pakistan, and finally to Cyprus. (Korea and Vietnam would take another, even sadder book.)
Partition, she concludes, is `more likely to inflame and prolong ethnic conflicts than solve them'. In each case, the professed respect for cultural differences that drove the diplomats did little more than mask a grubby quest for a quick fix and an exit route to help the major powers involved. In each case, the deal stored up endless trouble for the future. And what trouble! The salt of Rome stung Carthage into barrenness. Now, the farmers of Rajasthan and Baluchistan have to till a tainted earth whose lasting curse may prove to be much more terrible than that.
Life & Style blogs
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Alexander Wang for H&M: Pumping video of the campaign filmed in London has been released
Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
Our gums are less healthy than Roman Britons', scientists claim
NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Tony Blair 'says Ed Miliband will lose 2015 general election'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Putin: The US is to blame for almost all the world's major conflicts
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
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- 2 Ricky Gervais and Dame Judi Dench back campaign to stop Thailand dog meat trade
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Queen's first tweet: Reply telling Her Majesty to 'f*** off' broadcast on BBC News
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