Inter|national Section writer
Justin is a writer and designer working in Norwich. He writes about politics, economics, technology and culture and the intersections between them. When not doing so he might be found participating in political campaigning, dabbling with electronic music or walking along his much loved East Anglian coastline.
Perhaps the most significant reaction to the Trump administration’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was that of Saeb Erekat, a veteran peace negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
‘[T]he two-state solution is over’, Erekat told the Israeli daily Haaretz. ‘Now is the time to transform the struggle for one-state with equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine, from the river to the sea.’
It’s a vision with intuitive aesthetic and ethical appeal, proposing to stitch the frayed patchwork of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem into a unitary state in which Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bedouin would live under the same secular jurisdiction.
Visions of a great civilisation enjoying ‘peace under heaven’ have haunted the Chinese imagination from the time of the sages to today, when President Xi Jingping’s ‘China Dream’ of a prosperous ordered nation is propagated ceaselessly by the state-controlled media.
Here hypermodernity is filtered through ancient virtues. China’s gleaming new cities, high-speed rail links and technology parks are studded with billboards urging honesty, modesty and filial piety. Its vast wired economy is screened for decadent Western influences, blocking Facebook, Google and YouTube, and magazines infatuated with celebrity gossip or ‘crude language’. This year the ‘Great Firewall of China’ was reinforced when the state banned VPN services used by millions to break through to the global web.
Now China is finetuning the ultimate technological fix for designing a virtuous society: a ‘Social Credit System’ that will use the data produced by a population of some 1.4 billion citizens in the course of their daily interactions with digital services to rank them according to ‘trustworthiness’.
Two thousand years ago this winter, a heartbroken Roman nobleman died far from home by the frozen shores of the Black Sea.
The poet Publius Ovidius Naso, known to the world as Ovid, had lived a very different life from the millions of Syrian refugees who today find precarious asylum in nearby Turkey, or the Rohingya, further east, camped in the fields of Bangladesh. But he too knew the pain and bitterness of exile.
In Rome, together with his contemporaries Horace and Virgil, he had been lauded as one of the greats of Latin literature. He was certainly the most fashionable. Born into the Roman aristocracy and enjoying the patronage of the legendary benefactor Maecenas, Ovid had won fame with his sly, knowing love poetry, before writing one of the classics of world literature, the Metamorphoses.
Fifty years ago Mao Zedong’s Red Guards rampaged through the ancient streets of Qufu, home city of the sage Confucius, pulling down statues, burning temples and desecrating graves.
The ‘old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas’ associated with the teacher who for millennia had provided philosophical legitimacy for China’s feudal order were to be swept aside by the Cultural Revolution to make way for a new classless society.
But today Qufu is one of communist China’s foremost places of pilgrimage. An sprawling museum and park complex stands by the restored temple, overlooked by a giant figure of Confucius the size of the Statue of Liberty. ‘The Holy City of the Orient’, with its gleaming new high-speed rail link, now attracts more visitors each year than the land of Israel.
The Balfour Declaration carries the same incendiary charge as when it was first published a century ago this week.
For most Israelis, the short letter expressing British sympathy for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine continues to be venerated as the first formal recognition from one of the world’s great powers of the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise.
For the Palestinians it still stands condemned as an act of imperialist chauvinism according to which, in the withering assessment of the (Jewish) writer Arthur Koestler, ‘one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.’
The Declaration, so the conventional narrative goes, ignited a slow-burning process of settlement that had been edging forwards since the late 19th century.