It has been a frantic, hectic, non-stop year, and that’s been reflected in Pandaemonium. My thanks to everyone who has read, commented and supported this blog. Here are some of the highlights of a year of Pandaemonium in 2014. And best wishes to all for 2015.
The Quest for a Moral Compass
My book, The Quest for a Moral Compass, was published in May, and the reviews have largely been favourable; I was particularly taken by those from Jonathan Israel and Jonathan Sacks. I published a number of extracts from the book, including the opening and sections on Nietzsche, Mo Tzu, Alasdair MacIntyre, Islam’s lost traditions and Aeschylus’ Oresteia.
There is a transcript of the talk I gave about the book at the Glasgow Aye Write Festival, and ‘Where do values come from?’ a video of a talk at london’s RSA. I also took part in a discussion with Philip Petit and Natasha Circa on Australia’s ABC radio. In October I was a guest on Richard Holloway’s Sunday morning show on Radio Scotland on whichI talked about morality, life and everything.
A lecture I gave on The Enlightenment and the Death of God at the Kreisky Forum in Vienna was loosely based on the book, as was another lecture on The Death of God and the Fall of Man at the Intsitute of Ideas’ Academy, and my talk in a debate with Hannah Dawson and Alister McGrath on Morality and moralism.
Race and immigration
The debate about immigration has become one of the defining features of the year in British and European politics. I wrote the preface to a collection of essays exploring the rise of populism in Europe, and gave a talk at its launch at European Parliament. I wrote also of why the public are not so reactionary about immigration as politicians imagine. Ruben Andersson wrote of the need to unfence our view of migration.
I took part in a symposium on the academic website Crooked Timber on Joseph Carens’ book The Ethics of Immigration. I also debated immigration with Melanie Philips, criticizing a column she wrote in the Times, to which she responded.
I wrote of hatreds, old and new in Europe and of the creation of the Beast of Broadwater Farm. I gave an interview on the confusion of peoples and values and, at the Secularism 2014 conference, asked What’s the Problem with Multiculturalism?
In a year in which free speech fared badly, I began with a defence of Maajid Nawaz and of the importance of the right to offend and ended with a reflection on the furore over The Interview. In between, I discussed Dieudonné, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Exhibit B, Banksy and The Death of Klinghoffer. I also debated the academic Anshuman Mondal who had claimed that my defence of free speech rested on a desire to people ‘to shut up’. Frederik DeBoer wrote on why there can be no justice without free speech.
I reflected on the 25th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, which ironically fell on the week in which Penguin India decided to pulp copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History after it offended hardline Hindus. I also made a couple of short films for the academic website Faculti about my book, From Fatwa to Jihad.
Politics & history
In Britain, politics was dominated by the Scottish Referendum and by UKIP; both of which I wrote about in Scottish Independence: From What, For What?, and Scotland, Clacton, and the Politics of Disaffection. while Ken McLeod wrote on The Strange New Landscape of Scotland after the referendum.
An essay I wrote for the New York Times on the British monarchy led to a full page article in the London Times, a profile in the Sunday Times and to journalists doorstepping me.
I considered the crisis of British policing and patriotism and identity.
I wrote an essay on The Forgotten Roots of the First World War and of the whitewashing of Britain’s imperialist past. As the British Museum opened its exhibition on German history, I also wrote about Germany, Britain and their respective relationships to their pasts. And on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I reprinted an interview with the poet Yasuhiko Shigemoto, who was in the city the day the bomb fell.
I explored the conflicts in Ukraine and in Gaza, and the anti-Muslim pogroms in Myanmar.
I gave an interview to the BBC’s History Magazine on what CLR James meant to me.
Roger Berkowitz, director of the Hannah Arendt Centre in New York, reflected on the immorality of stripping individuals of all citizenship.
One of my most controversial posts discussed whether there is anything distinctive about Islam that leads to violence, bigotry and the suppression of freedom. Also on Islam, I wrote of the ‘Trojan Horse’ controversy in Birmingham schools.
In the light of Pope Francis’ attempt to reform the Catholic Church, I wrote of the quandary facing contemporary religion.
I reviewed Larry Siedentop’s book on Christianity and liberalism and gave a talk at the LSE’s literary festival on the Many Roots of Christian Europe.
In A Fairy Tale But, Oh, So Feeble I reviewed Nicholas’ Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance, his book on race and genetics.
Philip Ball and Stephen Curry discussed the changing role of instruments in science, and Gregory Hollin wrote on the relationship between the rise of autism as a cultural phenomenon and changing scientific conceptions of human nature and of the ‘social. I also took part in a radio discussion with Philip Ball and Susan Blackmore on invisibility.
David Papineau asked ‘Who is English enough to play for England?’ and looked at the cult of the amateur. Alva Noe looked at how athletics defines a ‘woman’. I reflected on the World Cup and dug up what CLR James had to say about England’s latest cricketing humiliation.
Poetry, Music & art
I explored the meaning of scared art and wrote on Jacob Lawrence and his Great Migration paintings.
Toby Mundy wrote a superb essay on The Price of Books and the Value of Civilization. In two extracts from speeches, Philip Pullman and Ursula Le Guin reflected on the responsibility of the writer while extracts from John Berger and Elif Şafak threw light on the writer’s relationship to language.
There were posts on the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and of James Baldwin, on Afghan landays and odes to New York, and on poems about poetry.
My music lists include my imaginary Desert Island Discs, my favourite Blue Note albums, my favourite non-Blue Note jazz albums, the best cover versions of Bob Dylan, and spirituals from Michael Tippet’s A Child of Our Time.
I published three posts on New York photos: Darkness Falls on Manhattan, On the High Line, Day and Night, and The Big Apple in Black and White. Other photography posts were of moon shots, Not Quite Black and White, London in Darkness and Light, marshlands, the extraordinary landscape of Orford Ness, Faith in Ruins, and my favourites from 2014.
I wrote also about the Soviet photographer Alexander Rodchenko, and the influence of his extraordinary innovations.
I was hugely pleased to have a number of other writers contribute to Pandaemonium, including David Papineau on English identity in sport and on the cult of the amateur, Philip Ball and Stephen Curry in a discussion on the role of instruments in science, Toby Mundy on the value of books, Roger Berkowitz on the importance of citizenship, Frederik DeBoer on free speech, Gregory Hollin on changing perceptions of autism, Ruben Andersson on the need to unfence our view of migration, Alva Noe on definitions of a ‘woman’ and Ken McLeod on Scottish politics after the referendum. My thanks to them all; I hope to have many more in 2015.
And these are the ten most-read posts of last year. Yes, there are actually 15 of them – that is because five of the posts in the top ten actually come from previous years (‘Why Hate speech should not be banned’, ‘Why both sides are wrong in the race debate’, ‘The facts, the myths and the framing of immigration’, ‘What is wrong with multiculturalism?’ and ”Who needs God?’), so I have added the next five 2014 posts too.
Is there something about Islam?
Why hate speech should not be banned
On the importance of the right to offend
Why both sides are wrong in the race debate
The facts, the myths and the framing of immigration
Scottish independence: From what, for what?
The Enlightenment and the Death of God
What is wrong with multiculturalism?
The monster that Israel helped create
Dieudonne: The clown of the anti-age
The forgotten roots of the First World War
Exhibit B and thinking for oneself
My 2013 essay In Defence of Diversity won this year’s 3 Quarks Daily 2014 Politics and Social Science prize. My thanks to 3 Quarks Daily (which, if you don’t know already, is a superb web-based magazine/portal) and to the judge Mark Blyth.
But most of all, my thanks to all the readers of, and visitors to, Pandaemonium. I hope you continue to read, and to visit, in 2015. And Happy New Year to all.
The image is Lyubov Popva’s Lineare Composition