Blogs

Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.


  • What reconciliation do Muslim leaders have in mind?

    In my last blog I recommended Jean Birnbaum’s book “A Religious Silence” analysing the difficulty of the French Left to recognise religion’s power to inspire the actions of individuals and groups. Few facts were available at the time to explain the latest horrific attack that had killed 84 people and injured 300 in Nice, so the usual talking heads continued to say it was "stupid" to think this was anything but the act of a desperately unhappy and disturbed individual determined to commit suicide with a splash. We now know the French/Tunisian perpetrator had clear, if recent, links to radical Islam. Last week, an 85-year-old priest was brutally murdered in his church by two men who proceeded to preach their religion in his place.

    There are now signs of change. The Catholic Church was stirred into action, calling for peace and harmony and urgently inviting Muslims to join them in prayers for the murdered priest. The Prime Minister published a long press article analysing the insidious role of Islamic fundamentalism that was poisoning French society. He called for a massive engagement of Muslims to reform “Islam of France” and help show the world that Islam is compatible with democracy. A group of 41 lay leaders of the Muslim community responded with a public commitment recognising that action was needed to counter the influence on young Muslims of “Jihadist Islam” and “political Islam”, to reorganise Muslim institutions and to ensure it will be possible tomorrow to be both French and Muslim in a secular republic.

    On television, reform-minded imams and intellectuals used clear language and a sense of urgency to spell out what needs to be done: a new system for training and funding of imams to free them from foreign influence; theological reform to allow interpretation of historical texts to nullify incitement to violence and to encourage respect of other faiths, including tolerance of dress and cultural traditions of the host country. Obviously only Muslims can lead such a courageous and ambitious project.

  • A week in the life of a food editor

    The JC Blog
    Jul 29, 2016

    People imagine my job consists of wall-to-wall outings to glamorous restaurants and parties.

    Mostly, it’s not, but this week has been spectacular with three consecutive days of fantastic food.

    I kicked off on Tuesday evening breaking (a delicious selection of amazing) bread at the very new Chris Kitch in Hoxton. This is a second outing for Christian Honor, an Australian chef with amazing talent for surprising flavour combinations. His first café — in Muswell Hill — is a favourite with North West London foodies and he’s a popular demonstrator on the synagogue charity event circuit.

  • How England got Sam Allardyce as manager

    The Football Blog
    Jul 27, 2016

    Sam Allardyce should not be the manager of England. But he is. The best team he has managed is West Ham United, and he has been lauded only as a specialist in saving teams from relegation. Yes, England is a team which has been sorely lacking in the past few years, however the players he is managing for his country are not as dire as their record suggests. They play for top clubs in which they are coached by top professionals.

    Big Sam lacks experience in leading top players. He will be going from managing West Brown to Gary Cahill, from Dame N’Doye to Harry Kane. Experience isn’t enough. What counts is experience at the very top of the game.

    A reporter suggested to Allardyce that accepting the job was effectively a poisoned chalice, and he was right. The last successful England coach was Terry Venables in 1996, when England reached the semi-finals of the Euros. But football has changed substantially over the past 20 years, and his methods would not prove so effective now. Football has become more scientific and more intricate. Allardyce’s philosophy belongs to the past (or as Jose Mourinho put it: “Victorian football”); hoof the ball up the field and get as many bodies on the line as possible. Rarely has a team coached by Big Sam ever outclassed an opponent. He wins games by out-muscling the opposition, and England’s current line-up doesn’t stand a chance if this is the game plan that he is going to propose.

  • A crisis of faith and a coronary condition

    Noa Gendler
    Jul 26, 2016

    A question I’ve been asked a lot recently is whether or not I believe in God. Over the years my answer to this question has changed – I used to believe in a very literal, Old Testament God, and I found that comforting; then I became a staunch atheist and felt I had a clearer, more correct view of the world. I wouldn’t say I’ve found a balance between these two extremes. Rather, I have no strong opinion at all. I think the defining aspect of my opinion on God is not so much that I don’t know, but rather that I don’t care.

    This position has come to me quite naturally, but when I think about it, it seems like quite a sensible place to stand. When I see someone caring a lot about whether or not God exists, their lives seem to be overcomplicated and stressful. On the one hand, there are the religious fundamentalists at my old university, who spend inordinate amounts of time desperately trying to convince people to believe in God, are offended by any suggestion that they might be wrong, and get hugely frustrated by someone’s lack of interest; on the other hand, one of my closest friends is aggressively atheistic and can be reduced to tears by someone else’s faith. She’ll argue for hours trying to prove that God doesn’t exist, and will only succeed in exhausting and upsetting herself.

    This observation – that people get disproportionately distressed over the God question - is hardly ground-breaking. But it’s become so prominent in my interactions recently that I’ve been reflecting on the fact that everyone just needs to chill out. Who cares what the next person thinks about the divine and almighty? Is it really worth having a shouting match over, raising your blood pressure, and reducing yourself to tears?

  • How can recent atrocities in France not be religiously motivated?

    Le Blog Français
    Jul 20, 2016

    How can the French Left, including President Hollande, insist that terrorists who kill civilians while crying “Allah Akbar” are not motivated by religion [“ça n’a rien à voir”]? This astonishing paradox is explored by Jean Birnbaum, editor of the newspaper Le Monde’s book section, in a compelling essay "A Religious Silence" ["Un Silence Religieux", Seuil, 2015]. Eighteen months and several murderous attacks later, public discourse has evolved but denial is still an issue.

    Birnbaum’s book was born of the Charlie Hebdo and HyperCasher attacks in January 2015 as specialists in different disciplines found an extraordinary range of non-religious explanations; foreign policy geeks, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, demographers, techies and communications specialists identified the killers as products of Western imperialism, pathologically violent, fragile personalities, children of problematic suburbs, inspired by humanitarian NGOs, suffocating in an aging society, unduly exposed to internet, or simply seeking media stardom.

    The paradox, Birnbaum argues, can best be understood through the prism of Algeria’s war of independence (1954-62) which marked an entire generation of French intellectuals engaged alongside the National Liberation Front (FLN). The FLN was seen as a revolutionary movement throwing off the yoke of colonial oppression on behalf of a weak and disenfranchised native population. With Marxism struggling to progress in the West and Stalinism in the East, hopes were high for the Left in Algeria.

  • The reality is that most students just don’t care

    Student Views
    Jul 19, 2016

    This blog has been shortlisted as part of our JC student blogger competition

    Earlier in June, Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, came to speak at the Oxford Union. I had just one question for him.

    “Ken, do you ‘just hate the Jews in Israel’?”, I asked him, trying to maintain composure. I was referencing the comments he recently made in an ill-conceived attempt to distance himself from ‘real antisemites’. Unsurprisingly, Ken didn’t even deny the claim, and just rambled on about how Israeli politics has deteriorated in recent years.

  • 2016 has been the year of the sporting underdog

    The Football Blog
    Jul 15, 2016

    Euro 2016 confirmed this year to be the year of the underdog. Leicester City conquered the Premier League, and Iceland and Wales, with a combined population 5% that of England, progressed to the quarter and semi-finals respectively. So what makes 2016 so good for the smaller teams? What has given the underdogs a chance to win the race?

    This year we have seen the years-long elite party coming to an end. The big boys club enjoyed their time at the top, but, like any bored party member with money to waste, they drank too much and partied too hard. This season of football has been the hangover finally catching up with them.

    England's astonishing failure at the European Championships is a case in point. They have repeatedly taken their ability for granted; scraping through to the latter rounds major competitions only by relying on raw talent. But with the increasing pool of footballing talent, they have been left behind. They were lulled into a false sense of security by the so called ‘golden generation’ of David Beckham and co, and by the time Roy Hodgson, a diplomatic and ineffectual choice for England manager, had arrived, the foundations were already crumbling. The talent had run out, and suddenly organisation and tactics were desperately needed. But we'd spent so much time drinking cocktails that we'd forgotten to eat.

  • During university I was my most wild, carefree and joyful

    Student Views
    Jul 14, 2016

    When I finished school, we had a dramatic valedictory assembly which involved being paraded in front of the staff and parents, having our university destinations triumphantly announced and singing the school hymn. Afterwards we processed out and I wept. Looking back, I’m not sure why – I didn’t particularly enjoy school and I don’t remember being sorry to leave.

    On the other hand, I completely loved university, and in particular my college, which felt more and more like home each term. During university I was my most wild, carefree and joyful, because at no other time can one really stay up until three in the morning on a Thursday with friends, drinking cheap cider, watching absurd YouTube videos and filming extraordinarily complex Snapchat stories. I’ll probably never have the chance to just mess around without repercussions ever again, and I find that very distressing. And yet, at my graduation three weeks ago, I did not shed a tear.

    At no point have I found myself particularly overwhelmed or emotional about graduating, which I feel, for me, is quite unusual. I had expected myself to be low, grumpy and unproductive during these weeks, longing for Cambridge and my old rhythm which kept me motivated, and my friends who I would giggle with until the wee small hours. But I’m actually feeling pretty fresh and bouncy, and I’ve been sending off all sorts of application forms and researching masters courses and travel plans for next year, and I’ve spent lots of time with home friends and with my parents. If anything, I’m busier and more cheerful now than I was during my last weeks of uni.

  • Moving out of (or in to) the Jewish bubble

    Student Views
    Jul 12, 2016

    This blog has been shortlisted as part of our JC student blogger competition

    Being Jewish, I’m constantly running into family friends. Being about to go to university, the small talk is fairly predictable:

    Where are you going to uni? (Oxford) Your parents must be so proud! (They are) Are you excited? (Yes) Are you nervous? (Yes) Oh you’ll make friends.

  • What to do about intermarriage?

    Simon Rocker
    Jul 7, 2016

    When the Institute for Jewish Policy Research launched its report on marriage this week, there was surprise among the audience.

    Although the intermarriage rate, at 26 per cent, has reached an all-time in the UK, many had expected it to be higher. If it has not quite plateaued, it has risen only slightly in the past couple of decades.

    There has been an assumption that where American Jewry goes, British Jewry eventually follows. So if the American intermarriage rate has stood at over 50 per cent for some time, it led to the belief that the UK would not be so far off now. (Important differences remain between the two communities, however: British Jewry is more Orthodox and traditional and has a much higher proportion of Charedim).