Category Archives: Minipax

Bulletins from the Ministry of Peace

We don’t need to escalate

Here we are again, looking for a target for all that stockpiled ordinance we have that’s sitting around not being useful and blowing people apart. As with Afghanistan in 2001, drawing up a list of targets when much of Syria is made of rubble will not be easy. But still that brave Mr Cameron is prepared to give it a go.


He claims that doing so will prevent an attack on UK soil, when – as with Iraq – all those remaining capable of rational thought and not so maddened by the scent of blood in the air must know that it makes such an attack more likely.

Then there is the question of exactly which faction of murderous nutters we will be bombing in support of. The likely beneficiaries, according to Patrick Cockburn in the Independent, are going to be groups dominated by fighters affiliated to Al-Qaeda. You will have to forgive me if I don’t break out the Victory Gin in response.

The only thing that is going to resolve Syria to the extent that refugees might consider returning is a political resolution. All sides know this but as all sides hate all of the potential outcomes, we are supposed to stand aside again as the war drums take another pounding and be painted as naive idiots for not wishing to jump into what Cockburn rightly describes as,

a civil war of great complexity and extreme savagery.

Those reasonable voices, by the way, do not all belong to the left, although the usual suspects in the media are doing their best to paint those lacking a lust for cluster bombs as sandal-wearing peaceniks. Tory MP John Baron has stated:

Air strikes will only reinforce the West’s failure in the region generally at a time when there are already too many aircraft chasing too few targets.

He noted recently in an article on Conservative Home (yes, I know. Not my usual choice of reading material either…) that there can be no realistic resolution without involving Iran and Russia. Or accepting the unpalatable spectre of Assad remaining in power for at least a time. Otherwise what comes after him will almost certainly make Libya look like a smooth transition to democracy.

Syria at this point is all grey area. There are no good or easy paths out of this quagmire. Any attempt to make it into a battle between ‘our’ good guys and ‘their’ bad guys will end in the arming and assisting of some truly awful people, leading to the same unintended consequences, heightened terror alerts and traumatised children who develop into tomorrow’s suicide bombers on the streets of another capital city. Instead of doing the same thing and expecting a different result, I wish we could take the road less travelled and, in the words of a song written for an earlier, far-off, yet too-similar war:

We’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today

Let’s hope (against hope) that this time, we get it right.

Picture of Homs in 2011 and 2014 from the Guardian

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I felt numb all over. Not this. Not again. Nothing original to say. Too many words getting thrown around elsewhere, why add to them? As the numbness wore off, it was like coming round from an anaesthetic, the pain starts again and the thoughts start to whirl. Why is it more shocking when it is Paris? Is it because it is happening on streets you have walked down, somewhere you could have been, somewhere you recognise, somewhere close. Not so easy to dismiss as when it happens in unfamiliar surroundings.

We have to face that our machinations over the past few decades have caused this to happen many, many times. We helped turn Afghanistan from a place where travellers arrived in the Sixties via the hippy trail, to one whose most recognisable public figure is a schoolgirl who got shot in the head. We turned Beirut from – ironically – the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ into a byword for chaos and death. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya. Were our rulers really arrogant enough to think the bloodshed on their streets wouldn’t eventually spread to ours?

Religion is, I think, only a hook. Wars are fought for influence, land and power, as they always were. So in the name of any particular god that can be invoked, hospitals are bombed, children driven into the sea, families walk unimaginable distances towards a European winter. There has to be a better strategy than this. There has to be a way to find resolution that doesn’t involve another retaliation, followed by another, followed by another. We have to find that difficult path and then keep to it, however easy a swift and vengeful ‘justice’ appears to be. It never is.

I can’t remember exactly where I saw this, [EDIT to say it was here! In the Independent] but a few commentators have mentioned it so it bears repeating. Apparently one of the things that annoyed the living heck out of IS was the warm welcome shown to the refugees when they arrived in Germany. They want to see mistrust and hatred, fear and attacks. They want people to flock to them and their idea of the Caliphate, not turn away towards freer societies. They want their message that Muslims and Christians can’t leave together peacefully, that their war is the only way, not to be challenged.

So keep sharing this one. Don’t give in to fear of the other. Love is all we need.

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Hurma by Ali Al-Muqri

From viewing the cover of Hurma you might not expect a darkly comic sex romp. You might make some guesses as to the content and expect an illicit ‘peek behind the veil’ for Western audiences in this, the first of Yemeni author Ali Al-Muqri’s books to be translated (by Thomas Aplin) into English. Especially when the tabloids in the UK are equal parts fascinated and horrified by girls running away from home to marry IS fighters, you might expect a tale of misery, beatings and death – and while all those elements are present – what I wasn’t expecting was the laughter.

hurma ali al-muqri

There are so many beautifully-realised moments in this tale, some more poignant, some that will have you shaking your head with disbelieving laughter. The strict family patriarch who beats Hurma for drawing a heart in class but tells the rest of the family to allow older sister Lula complete freedom after her sex work pays for his heart operation. Raqeeb the secret drinker and public Marxist who nicknames his younger sister ‘Ruza’ and tells her:

‘Be free and wonderful like Rosa Luxemburg!’ he would say, ‘Read her book and you’ll learn what really matters in life.’

Raqeeb is scornful of religion until he transforms himself into ‘Abd al-Raqeeb, holy warrior, as he prepares for marriage to a neighbour’s daughter.

He encourages Hurma to attend Islamic college, where she too becomes more devout. Although, in the manner of girls’ schools the world over, her classmates are boy-crazy and the pleasures of the flesh can’t be shut out completely: even when the male instructors give lessons via video links that only show their hands. With her siblings pulling her in two opposing – both extreme – directions, Hurma decides to marry one of her brother’s co-conspirators. She daydreams of a happy, contented life with her husband and pictures herself performing heroics on the battlefield, but the experience is as unsatisfying as her marriage. Her husband is more turned on by martyrdom than anything else, including a Lula-supplied Viagra, and her role more akin to a mule than a freedom fighter.

Hurma’s story unfolds as she is listening to a tape made for her by a male neighbour and passed to her via his sister. She is looking for meaning in the lyrics of the songs by the singer Om Kalthoum as she also looks for meaning in the events of her life. She realises that she can interpret the songs as love songs, songs of desire, or with a more religious aspect and it is those two influences – which should be able to coexist instead of being in opposition – that keep pulling and pushing her along.

I prayed to God, but He didn’t answer. I became more and more frustrated as the days went by – in fact with every hour and every second. I tried to get my life in order. I asked myself: What do I want, and how am I going to get it? But my inner turmoil made it impossible… how could there be inner peace with the unquenchable flames of desire?

The more that something is forbidden, the more alluring it becomes. Once Hurma doesn’t have the war as a distraction, it isn’t long before the drive towards sex completely overwhelms her. Her lack of an outlet leaving her contemplating tunneling into the house of the neighbour who made the tape to jump him after a second unconsummated marriage to an impotent man. For all that this is a novel awash (sorry) and dripping (sorry) – one might even say stuffed (sorry!) with sex, for its heroine it is a messy, frustrating, unsatisfactory endeavour. Luckily, that isn’t true for the reader, who will find much to enjoy in this tale. I look forward to reading more of Al-Muqri’s work in English!

Thanks to Darf Publishers for sending me a free copy of this book.

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Transit by Anna Seghers

Undoubtably, the best book I have read this year, Anna Seghers’ Transit is lyrical and beautiful, restless and meandering.

transit anna seghers

Surgical in its examination of the gap between our lives as we want them to be and what we are really capable of achieving.

I’d always enjoyed unraveling tangled yarn, just as I had always enjoyed messing up neat skeins of yarn.

It is the early part of the War, the Nazis running rampant across Europe, scattering multitudes as they go. Seghers’ narrator has drifted as far as he can and now clings to the edge of the continent, the seaport of Marseille, surrounded by similarly adrift refugees of a variety of nations, some still in existence, some not. They spend their days trailing from consulate to travel agent to embassy, in search of the right combination of travel documents, exit and transit visas.

All these casual chance encounters, these senseless, repeated meetings depressed me with their stubborn unavoidability.

This never-named young man is a German who has twice escaped from the camps, once in his homeland and once in France, possessing only fraudulent documents including a set belonging to a writer named Weidel who committed suicide as Paris fell. These comprise the necessary papers to get him out of the trap and a mysterious unfinished manuscript. To further complicate matters, Weidel’s wife arrives in the company of a doctor who has safe passage to Mexico, yet she is anxious to follow rumoured sightings of her husband. It isn’t long before our narrator is putting his full efforts in to getting the doctor out of the city, not altogether 100% altruistically:

I just had the feeling I was about to take something away from him that wasn’t really his.

And while he flirts with the romance of the situation,

All these ordinary little things together would make a powerful whole: our life together.

He can’t escape the intrusion of a certain realism:

I would make sure that she would never again fall prey to some guy like me.

The bureaucracy the refugees have to contend with is Kafkaesque, labyrinthine and deadly. Paperwork must be gathered in the correct order and submitted before the ship is due to sail or back they go to the start. Even completing all the steps is not enough to guarantee passage and the U-boats wait patiently beyond the harbour. The paranoia and rumour-mongering as people are seized by the authorities, escape, or decide to return to whatever ‘home’ remains builds to a palpable collective fear. And as he alternates between activity and waiting, the narrator can’t help but examine the life of the exile, the pull between a desire to be on your way and that of nurturing even the shallow roots that can be put down in a short time. His story perfectly combines the tedium of waiting to leave, with the thrill of not knowing where you could end up:

…where the sky and the sea touched, the thin line that is more exciting to people like us than the wildest, most jagged peaks of the craggiest mountain chains.

This story is essential reading. As fresh today, with the UNHCR estimating that 50 million people were displaced in 2014, as it was when it was completed in 1942. Not a tale that is often told when we hear stories of WWII, but one that must have been common, if forgotten once the refugees met their destination and resumed the lives that they had been forced to put on hold.

If you are interested in reading Transit, may we suggest sourcing it via your local independent bookstore? One of our favourites is News From Nowhere in Liverpool.

If you are based in the US and wish to purchase the book from an independent bookstore, the link below will take you to IndieBound – a community of independent bookstores. ten minutes hate will receive a small commission if you do. Many thanks!

Shop Indie Bookstores



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‘We need more work for and by women’ – an interview with Margaret Connell of Lantern Theatre Liverpool

Two best friends, two sons in the army, both serving in Afghanistan. Maggie and Rita were like sisters, until Rita’s son James was killed saving Maggie’s son Paul. An intense, emotionally charged play that illustrates that, in war, it is not only the soldier who has nightmares.

Poster for the play Broken Biscuits by Trisha DuffyThe work is an exploration of friendship and all the qualities that lie dormant behind the laughter, the jealousy, bitterness, loyalty and absolute admiration. The intimate Lantern theatre is an ideal space for this well-scripted piece, for the audience is positioned up close to the dramatic tornado.

Broken Biscuits has already been staged twice at the venue to packed audiences. It makes a welcome return to mark Remembrance weekend. ten minutes hate caught up with the play’s director and artistic director of the Lantern, Margaret Connell.

Artistic Director of the Lantern Theatre and Director of Broken Biscuits, Margaret Connell10mh: What attracted you to directing this piece?

I loved the dialogue, it really rang true and that can’t be said of all new work.  I also liked the fact that it was written by a woman.  We need more work for and by women.

10mh: How did you discover the script?

Trisha Duffy came on our ambassador scheme as she had an interest in writing and helped set up our writer development programme.  She asked me to give her an opinion on the script, I really liked it and offered to produce and direct it as a Lantern project.

10mh: What kind of things did you do in rehearsal?

It was an incredibly short rehearsal period so we worked through the script chronologically and blocked and learned it a chunk at a time. The hardest thing, because of the staging, was getting the actresses not to look at each other and imagine they were speaking through a door.

Thankfully I had a really great cast who worked together really well; it was a joy to work on and didn’t feel like work at all.

10mh: Is there any future plan to stage the play again in the future?

After the Remembrance Sunday dates we are looking at different festivals, but definitely Edinburgh.

10mh: Do you have a phrase or lines from a piece of poetry about war that you like?

The first line of Owen’s Futility: ‘Move him into the sun’ is the one that sticks with me.  It’s heartbreakingly loaded.

10mh: What advice would you give to new directors?

See as much theatre as you can and work with as many different directors as you can.  Trust the creative process.  The first day with a script can be terrifying, but you need to remember that your actors are your strongest asset and if you have cast well, you should all spark off each other.

Broken Biscuits was originally staged at Lantern Liverpool on 9th November-11th November 2014 and returned due to popular demand in March 2015.

Remembrance Sunday pictureUPDATE:

Broken Biscuits will be shown at the Unity Theatre on Wednesday 29 July 2015, before moving to the Edinburgh Festival from 24 to 29 August.


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Never say never

Today is VJ Day (in Japan and the UK, the US marks the anniversary on 14 August due to time zones).

Unlike this iconic pair, not everyone got to celebrate. Contemplating the numbers who died in the war which ended 67 years ago is staggering, as historians have only been able to agree that the final count is somewhere between 62 and 78 million people.

Perhaps it is too much to hope for that the best way to honour the memory of all those lives lost would be a pledge by all sides to make damn sure it never happens again, instead of using it as an opportunity for sabre-rattling. Tempers have frayed following the decision of a Japanese Cabinet member to visit the controversial war shrine at Yasukuni – resting place of 14 convicted war criminals – which will today become a place of pilgrimage for peace marchers, veterans and right-wingers, some wearing Imperial Army uniforms.

Encounters at the shrine in the heat of August usually become fraught, with violence directed at foreigners, as reported by photographer Damon Coulter, or at left-wingers and peace marchers by some unsavoury characters encountered by the photographer, Adrian Storey, being the norm. It is a long way from last week’s more somber memorials for the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at which civic leaders spoke of their hopes for peace and a nuclear-free world.

While it is tempting for some to keep fighting that conflict it is difficult to see what doing so achieves. The stated aims of many of our grandfathers in fighting was less for a political ideology or a country than for their hope that we wouldn’t have to do the same. They had seen their fathers return from another ‘war to end all wars‘, be told ‘never again’ and watched as that promise of peace was betrayed. Their generation fought for us to be able to enjoy a better future.

The promise of peace is not guaranteed, however, not unless we remain vigilant. ‘Never’ looks like a short time when Europe has seen an increase in violence against immigrants, particularly in economically ravaged Greece. In Asia, relations between South Korea, Japan and China are strained over control of a number of small islands and the natural resources which lay within their territorial waters. In the Middle East, despite denials, things again look ominous.

The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance.

– George Orwell

Yet there is another way. Not everyone at Yasukuni shrine today will be there to promote a right-wing ideology. Some will attend to march for peace, others to release doves. Even some of the nationalists, such as this one who spoke to Adrian Storey, can behave in a way that encourages a ‘faint flicker of hope’. If those of us who believe in peace, who know that what we have in common is greater than our differences and that those differences can be better overcome by diplomacy than by fighting, continue to guard that flickering flame, one day we will be able to say we have finally fought the war to end all wars.

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If ye break faith with us

So Remembrance Sunday has passed, when the UK spends two minutes quietly remembering its war dead, before returning to the usual business of adding more names to memorials.  The event was originally conceived to honour the now long dead young men of that most futile ‘war to end all wars‘, but its motives seem to have been lost recently in a fog created by a bitter war of words over the poppy.

It is as if pinning one to your jacket and thereby supporting the work of the Royal British Legion has become akin to joining a kind of ‘all war is good’ chorus, instead of the charity appeal for a soldier’s welfare and campaigning movement which is what it really should be.  This is especially sad, as all this chatter about paper flowers drowns out the essential conversation we ought to be having about the lives our wars are damaging today.

These include, but are not limited to, the soldiers who are taking their own lives after returning from combat or others suffering the effects of mental illness alone.  The UK’s Mental Health Foundation reports that:

What is known is that only half of those experiencing mental health problems sought help from the NHS, and those that did were rarely referred to specialist mental health services.

Wearing the poppy should always be a matter of individual choice, after all, there are as many reasons to wear one or not to as there are people.  For some it might be a memory of those they have known personally, for others a matter of respect or gratitude.  For those who do not, it could be for based on their pacifism, or a reluctance to be seen to support the motives of recent wars.  On this, I agree with the Independent’s leader of last week:

The moment that someone feels obliged to wear the symbol for fear of looking out of place or disrespectful is the moment we forget what our servicemen and women actually fought for.

I would also love to see a moratorium on starting the next one (Iran) until all the damage caused from the last few (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) has been cleared up.  I would like to see an end to politicians wielding huge wreaths at the Cenotaph while slashing the support available to serving and former services personnel.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I hope I’m not the only one…

Here are two war poems, perhaps the most famous of all and a more recent addition, Adam Ford’s prize-winning entry to the ‘Dulce et Decorum… Next!’ competition.


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