Georgetown University in Washington some years ago accepted an endowment of $20 million from a rich Saudi to found what is known as the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. More properly, it should be renamed the Center for Misleading Christians about Islam. This is the work of its long-term director, Professor John Esposito. On every available platform, in books and lectures and debates, he masks the violent reality of the Arab and Muslim world as progressive and peace-loving. Hamas, the missile-firing terrorists in Gaza, for instance to him is, “a community-focused group that engages in honey, cheese-making and home-based clothing manufacture.” The Center is carrying on the tradition of the old Soviet front organizations whose aim was deliberate disinformation. This Christmas, the police in Saudi Arabia entered the house of a diplomat, unnamed but said to be Asian, and arrested 41 people for intending to hold a Christian service. That’s the sort of Muslim-Christian Understanding the Saudis actually go in for, and the Georgetown Center then fictionalizes.
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The local weekly in the part of Wales where I live is the Brecon and Radnor Gazette. Good people, mostly farmers, read it for the advertisements of second-hand cars and tractors, or reports of sports and sheep sales. Bernard Levin, the late great journalist, often poked fun at the B&R for its provinciality, though how he’d ever heard of it is a mystery. The current issue has an article that is short but completely unprecedented, about a woman educated in a Brecon convent and now described as an “ex brothel madam.” She is helping a Swansea university study into students working in all the varieties of the sex industry. The university is funding this study with public money from the national lottery. That’s it, then. No objections. Not even surprise. Modernity has blighted deepest rural Wales.
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William Rees-Mogg was someone out of the ordinary. Owlish, bookish, he seemed a hangover from the eighteenth century. A landed gentleman, a Catholic, a proud member of the Establishment, he stood for parliament unsuccessfully but finished up as editor of the London Times. Years ago, he and I shared an office and together wrote a daily column for the Financial Times. His opinions were marvelously erratic. Noel Coward’s play, The Vortex, he thought was as good as Hamlet. One day a photograph was published of the prime minister asleep at the Wimbledon finals. I thought this a bit unkind, but William said the whole point of having that job was precisely to be able to snooze at Wimbledon. Taken to hospital with terminal cancer, he made a remark worthy of his deathbed, “This is going to be very interesting.”