Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for February, 2017

Palestine: Seize the Moment!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th February, 2017

jf-speaking-at-house-of-commonsThis year sees not only the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which led eventually to the creation of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland, bu also the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of territories captured during the Six Day War. The Israeli government and its friends round the world will doubtless wish to celebrate Balfour, but as I said at a meeting in the House of Commons earlier this week, Palestinians and their friends should seize the moment offered by the double anniversary to publicise the ongoing injustices of their situation and to call specifically for the recognition of the state of Palestine before the two state solution to the Middle East conflict is officially dead and buried, because of continuing illegal settlement activity. The House of Commons event, chaired by Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, was organised by the Palestine Return Centre, which argues that Britain should apologise for the Balfour Declaration because it led to Palestinian dispossession. Personally I think a stronger tack is to stress how the second part of the Declaration — about not harming the interests of the Arab residents of Palestine — has never been implemented and that injustice needs to be rectified. The Palestinian Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Manuel Hassassian, gave a typically impassioned speech, stressing that he believes the two state solution is indeed dead, however much the Palestinian Authority may cling to it, and it is vital if the situation moves de facto to a one-state solution that is not run along apartheid lines. He also castigated successive British governments for failing to act even-handedly in the region. I argued that there need to be a concerted effort by the myriad groups in the UK which are concerned about the Palestinian issue should come together to formulate a clear strategy of what needs to be achieved, with the Embassy and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign assisting with coordination. The bad news is that the Occupation and settlement expansion continue, as does the effective siege of Gaza. But by seizing he moment of the anniversaries, lobbying the media and parliamentarians, the attention and then engagement of the wider British public can be stimulated — with us putting particular pressure on the EU’s potential role as an agent for change, not least during the two years in which Britain will still be a member.

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Thursday Night Tapas Trail

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th February, 2017

When the 2008 financial crisis hit the Canarian town of Arinaga many people were finding it hard to make ends meet and the restaurants were largely deserted. But then someone had a brilliant idea: to persuade most of the restaurants to offer one tapas and a small glass of beer or wine for €2 every Thursday evening. People were thus able to go out once a week on a tapas trail, typically to five establishments, so getting enough varied food and drink, all for €10 each. The trend caught on, which meant that the place was buzzing again, at least on Thursdays. And it continues to this day. As Arinaga is modest in size most residents know each other and therefore the weekly event is a brilliant way of socialising, as groups form and move from place to place. Last night, sticking to red wine throughout, I had Russian salad, a shrimp cone in lobster bisque, a fish slice, spiced beef in pastry and a desert. An inspiring model for other communities to follow!

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Return to the Shadows

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th February, 2017

img_1933For those of us who monitor developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, one of the most fascinating aspects of recent years has been the failure of what one might call mainstream Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood to fully capitalise on the so-called Arab Spring. True, in Egypt the Brotherhood triumphed in the post-Mubarak elections and Mohamed Morsi became President, but both he and the Brotherhood proved unfit for the task, leading to his overthrow (a military coup, but with widespread public support). In Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab awakening, An Nahda did get to have a share of power, but again had largely to withdraw after showing itself not up to the task. And in Libya, the Brotherhood never proved strong enough to be a main contender after Gaddafi’s fall from power. How and why this was the case is the subject of Alison Pargeter’s latest book, Return to the Shadows (Saqi, £16.99), which uses interview material as well as documentary research, meticulously referenced but put over in a style that will appeal to both academics and general readers alike. The author is particularly strong on the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, sober but incisive in her analysis and criticism, deftly recounting a story that has certain characteristics of a Greek tragedy. The sections on Libya and Tunisia are shorter and less powerful, but nonetheless fascinating. Overall, a significant achievement.

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Clegg’s Brexit Mission

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th February, 2017

This week has been particularly depressing for those of us Brits who are true Europeans, with the House of Commons giving its backing to the triggering of Article50, which the Prime Minister has said will happen before the end of March. To rub salt in our wounds, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has sent warning letters to those of his MPs who voted against, underlining that he has become a cheerleader for Theresa May’s Brexit strategy. It was therefore something of a relief to hear Nick Clegg speak to a packed gathering of Liberal Democrats in Business at the National Liberal Club, outlying the LibDem strategy for dealing with Brexit as it unfolds over the next couple of years. The party still believes Britain would be better off staying within the EU, but the sad reality is that the unholy alliance that has gathered behind Mrs May will do everything in their power to make Brexit happen, even though new forecasts predict it will hit the UK economy hard for years to come. So Nick’s main mission now is to campaign to keep Britain in the single market, which would at least cushion the blow, as well giving a lifeline to U.K. Companies whose main market is on the Continent. At the same time, Nick and other LibDems are campaigning for a reassurance to Non-British EU citizens living in Britain that their future is secure, as should be that of Brits living on the Continent or in Eire. It is utterly shameful that the Conservative government continues to see EU migrants as bargaining chips in the forthcoming negotiations with our 27 EU partners. But then the inhumanity of Mrs May and her UKIP-leaning Tory government no longer surprises in its inhumanity, having just shut the door on child refugees. This all leaves me feeling very bleak, and increasingly alienated from my home country. But it is important that Nick Clegg and the LibDem Brexit team behind him are not giving up in despair but instead are campaigning hard to try to prevent the government throwing the baby out with the bath water in its lurch towards a hard Brexit.

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Why I Wrote “Eccles Cakes”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2017

Bradburn'sLast summer, my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival, was published and a number of people have asked me why I waited so long to write it. After all, I had produced 14 volumes of biography, history and other non-fiction since 1975, so why wait until I was in my mid-sixties? The simple answer is that I just wasn’t ready, emotionally, but of course, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The fact is that I could not have written the book until two important things happened (not that I realised that in advance). First was that, following a recurrence a few years ago of the panic attacks and blackouts that I had experienced as a child, along with depression and total lethargy, I was referred to a psychologist who rightly diagnosed the problem as being that I had not processed the period of sexual abuse I had suffered between the ages of about seven and 12. I had shut memories of this away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden behind a wall of metaphorical cotton wool, but now they had escaped and were starting to bite me. As a result of the daignosis, I underwent six months of counselling, culminating in several sessions of recovered-memory therapy. No drugs or hypnosis were used, but I was transported back to my childhood self and relived in graphic detail, technicolour and with smells and sounds, the episodes in which my adoptive father had sexually interfered with me, leaving me feeling confused, unhappy and eventually guilty. I then, through therapy, as an adult revisited my childhood self, and tried to come to terms with what had happened. As part of the therapy, I had to write short passages after the sessions, including a letter to my abuser and his wife.

However, I knew I would only get any meaningful level of closure if I extended these scraps of writing into a full-length book. The therapy sessions had retrieved all sorts of memories in graphic detail, and I still had copies of the diaries that I wrote from the age of 18 onwards. It took me 18 months of quite intense and often emotionally stressful work to produce a manuscript I was happy with. Yet I doubt if that would have been possible without the second, unexpected, factor, which was being reunited with my birth family, or at least two sisters and a variety of nieces and nephews. This happened two years ago following a letter out of the blue from my older birth sister after the younger one had tracked me down through a Google search. This reunification was the subject of a sensitively-produced documentary in the BBC series, Family Finders. Now they had become part of my life after a separation of more than half a century I had found some missing pieces of the jigsaw that completed the picture for Eccles Cakes. That memoir only goes up to shortly past my 19th birthday, but in it my unseen birth mother is a real presence, as she was in my mind as a child. The incidents recounted in the book where she watched over me, without my knowledge, are based on fact, as is, naturally,m everything else. So now it is out there, and I am indeed now able to achieve a form of closure.

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Verhofstadt’s Warnings to Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th February, 2017

guy-verhofstadt-isaiah-berlin-lectureEurope currently faces three serious threats: Islamic terrorism, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. At least that was the view of Belgian MEP (and the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator), Guy Verhofstadt, when he gave the Isaiah Berlin lecture for Liberal International at Chatham House in London earlier this week. He warned that the European Union now has fewer friends in the United States than ever, with Mr Trump himself openly trying to break it up, just as Mr Putin is trying to undermine it. But Guy acknowledged that Europe itself is in a crisis — a “polycrisis”, as he called it — “a crisis of migration, of internal security, of geopolitical weakness in our neighbourhood.” This is unsustainable in the modern world, he argued, urging that the EU must reform. However, his words were not all doom and gloom, as he declared that Brexit “is a golden opportunity … to get our act together inside the European Union. What is really needed is not new ideas; the ideas already exist… we have the building blocks… we need the capacities… to do what is necessary.”

Guy is a former Prime Minister of Belgium who leads the ALDE group within the European Parliament. His latest book is entitled Europe’s Last Chance, which I shall review when a copy is available. For many of us in Britain, of course, the great tragedy is that the UK has willfully stepped aside from confronting the challenges facing the EU, at a time when we should be leading, not leaving. Prime Minister Theresa May blithely says that Britain will be great on the global stage, but even if she can hold the country together (which is far from certain), Britain on its own is far weaker than being part of the EU — and Donald Trump for one is well aware of that.

 

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