lady painting

 

Apr 2003 Journal

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Mock-profound punditry

Late on Friday evenings Arts Review follows BBC Two’s Newsnight – the latter programme being about politics, and the former about culture. Frequently this demarcation guideline is followed more in the breach than in the observance – which seems unavoidable, since the Israel-baiting academic Tom Paulin is a regular contributor (as is the Afro-American playright Bonnie Greer).

Early in February the latter was asked to comment on an exhibition of photographs of contemporary Afghanistan at the Imperial War Museum. She answered in her trademark tones of no–contradiction-brooking self-regard: ‘War never solved anything!’

In other words, invited to pass aesthetic judgement, Ms Greer characteristically vouchsafed viewers what she clearly considers a cosmic philosophical insight instead. However, one hardly needs to be a graduate historian to instantly call to mind several wars that quite evidently solved ‘something’.

Thus, the Persian Wars saved Greece and democracy and the struggle with the Spanish Armada saved England and Protestantism. Above all, who in their right mind would question that the Second World War solved the problem of Nazi aggression? Finally, a ‘close-up and personal’ question to Ms Greer: would she rather her great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and herself had continued to live in slavery, than that Abraham Lincoln prosecuted the bloody Civil War against the South?

Vapid bien-pensant sentiments like those of Ms Greer, which put the speaker on the side of the angels, trip easily off the tongue. What is harder, and infinitely more responsible, is to think of a way forward that eschews the appeasement path to perdition. In a world where the number of megalomaniac dictators – Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe - shows no sign of diminishing, what are committed democrats to do?
Richard Grunberger

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