The Palestinian editor of Rai al-Youm offers a comprehensive review of the group’s organisational structure and leadership, strategies, tactics and diverse methods of recruitment. He traces the salafi-jihadi lineage of IS, its ideological differences with al-Qa’ida, and the deadly rivalry that has emerged between their leaders. Atwan also shows how the group’s rapid growth has been facilitated by its masterful command of social media platforms, the ‘dark web’, Hollywood ‘blockbuster’-style videos, and even jihadi computer games, producing a powerful paradox where the ambitions of the Middle Ages have re-emerged in cyber-space.
From the author of the bestselling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran comes a powerful and passionate case for the vital role of fiction today. Blending memoir and polemic with close readings of her favourite novels, the scholar and teacher invites us to join her as citizens of her ‘Republic of Imagination’, a country where the villains are conformity and orthodoxy and the only passport to entry is a free mind and a willingness to dream.
What do the Charlie Hebdo murders and the rise of the Islamic State owe to Islam? It would be comforting to insist, as many have done, that they owe nothing at all; but Holland, in the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Lecture, argues that the truth is more complex. The best way to combat jihadism, he proposes, is to recognise the centrality of Muhammad to Islam – and that he comes in many forms. There is the moral leader who swallowed abuse peaceably; and there is the war leader who ordered people who insulted him put to death. How best, then, to de-radicalise the Prophet? Tom Holland is author of In The Shadow of the Sword, Rubicon, Persian Fire, Millennium and the new translation of The Histories by Herodotus. Chaired by Katrin Bennhold of the New York Times.
As society becomes more liberal, the Churches often seem more entrenched. The Oxford historian explores how Western Christianity’s complex and often divisive ideas about sex, marriage and gender have their roots in a story that began 3,000 years ago. Chaired by Anita Anand.
The award-winning photo-journalist has been documenting the island of Haiti for the past 15 years and has produced an astonishing record of one of the world’s most extreme cultures and natural environments, racked by civil war, climatic catastrophe and violent deprivations. He shows his images and discusses his work with Oliver Balch.
There are many conflicts around the world at present that claim to be in the name of God – in Iraq, in Syria, in Gaza, and elsewhere. Rabbi Sacks argues forcefully that a true understanding of religion will enable and inspire the world to bring peace, not war; that far from leaving religion on the sidelines, it should be put at the heart of peacemaking efforts. Chaired by James Harding, head of BBC News.
Born and raised in Essex, Maajid Nawaz was recruited into politicised Islam as a teenager. Abandoning his love of hip hop music, graffiti and girls, he was recruited into Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Liberation Party) where he played a leading and international role in the shaping and dissemination of an aggressive anti-West narrative. Arriving in Egypt the day before 9/11, his views soon led to his arrest, imprisonment and mental torture, before being thrown into solitary confinement in a Cairo jail reserved for political prisoners. There, while mixing with everyone from the assassins of Egypt’s president to Liberal reformists, he underwent an intellectual transformation and, on his release after four years, he publicly renounced the Islamist ideology that had defined his life. This move would cost him his marriage, his family and his friends as well as his personal security.
Nawaz now works all over the world to counter Islamism and to promote democratic ideals through his organisation, the Quilliam Foundation, and is standing for Parliament.
Odran Yates enters Clonliffe Seminary in 1972 after his mother informs him that he has a vocation to the priesthood. He goes in full of ambition and hope, dedicated to his studies and keen to make friends. Forty years later, Odran’s devotion has been challenged by the revelations that have shattered the Irish people’s faith in the church. He has seen friends stand trial, colleagues jailed, the lives of young parishioners destroyed and has become nervous of venturing out in public for fear of disapproving stares and insulting remarks. When a family tragedy opens wounds from his past, he is forced to confront the demons that have raged within a once respected institution and to recognise his own complicity in their propagation.
Who made the Mappa Mundi? How and why? Arrowsmith looks at the map through the eyes of a medieval visitor to the cathedral. She explains how a map that is very unfamiliar to us, with East rather than North at the top, populated with semi-human figures who may have four eyes or one foot and beasts like the defecating Bonnacon, would have made complete sense. You could tell your children the story of your pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, point out the winding trail taken by Moses and the Israelites and tell the Bible stories illustrated there and elsewhere. Or you could impress other bystanders with your knowledge of Alexander’s campaigns and the three races of Ethiopians illustrated near the map’s edges.
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How do we understand and respond to what happened in Paris on 7 January? What is the nature of ‘respect’ and ‘offence’ for a satirist? The cartoonist and ‘visual journalist’ Martin Rowson discusses with the writer and Professor of Political Science, Jean-Pierre Filiu. Filiu has collaborated with the French graphic artist David B. on two volumes of Best of Enemies – a graphic history of US–Middle East relations. Chaired by Daniel Hahn, chair of the Society of Authors.
In the age of Charlemagne, Rome gained a prominent position in the cultural memory of the Frankish elites. This city was not just associated with the glory of classical and late antique empire, but above all with an authentic Christianity represented by the apostles and the martyrs. North of the Alps, rulers and aristocrats created a virtual Rome by importing relics as well as liturgical practices that were thought of as typically Roman. Chaired by Claire Armitstead.
The historian draws upon an array of contemporary evidence, including the C13th biography, to present a compelling account of the life and times of William Marshal, from rural England to the battlefields of France, the desert castles of the Holy Land and the verdant shores of Ireland. He lays bare the brutish realities of medieval warfare and the machinations of the royal court. Asbridge draws us into the heart of a formative period of our history when the West emerged from the Dark Ages and stood on the brink of modernity. It is the story of one remarkable man, the birth of the knightly class to which he belonged, and the forging of the English nation. Chaired by Peter Florence.
As Mohammed Siddique Khan led his group of fellow-believers into London on the morning of 7 July 2005 it is unlikely that they were thinking much beyond the immediate impact of their actions. Driven by anger at the West’s treatment of Muslims worldwide, ideas fed to them by foreign extremists, and a sense of extreme rejection of the society in which they were born, they sought to reshape the world in an image they thought would be pleasing to God. Pantucci offers an insight into the motivations behind Khan and his group, as well as the hundreds of young British Muslims who have been drawn by jihadist ideas to fight on battlefields at home and abroad. Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.
The Samuel Johnson Prize-winning author of 1599 offers an intimate portrait of one of Shakespeare’s most inspired moments: the year of King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. 1606, while a very good year for Shakespeare, is a fraught one for England. Plague returns. There is surprising resistance to the new king’s desire to turn England and Scotland into a united Britain. And fear and uncertainty sweep the land and expose deep divisions in the aftermath of a failed terrorist attack that came to be known as the Gunpowder Plot.
A fictional recreation of the biggest rebellion in English history, the Peasants’ Revolt of May 1381. The plague had returned, the king’s coffers were empty and a draconian poll tax had been introduced but was widely evaded. A large force of common people entered London demanding freedom, equality and the uprooting of Church and State.
With an absent wife and a daughter going off the rails, wealthy art collector and philanthropist Simon Strulovitch is in need of someone to talk to. So when he meets Shylock at a cemetery in Cheshire’s Golden Triangle, he invites him back to his house. It’s the beginning of a remarkable friendship. The Man Booker winner’s version of The Merchant of Venice bends time to its own advantage as it asks what it means to be a father, a Jew and a merciful human being in the modern world.
Delivered with passion, fearlessness and sensitivity, The Morning They Came for Us is an unflinching account of a nation on the brink of disintegration, charting an apocalyptic but at times tender story of life in a jihadist war. It is an unforgettable testament to human resilience in the face of devastating, barely imaginable horrors. Di Giovanni is Middle East editor of Newsweek and the author of Madness Visible.
In 1570, when it became clear she would never be gathered into the Catholic fold, Elizabeth I was excommunicated by the Pope. On the principle that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, this marked the beginning of an extraordinary English alignment with the Muslim powers fighting Catholic Spain in the Mediterranean, and of cultural, economic and political exchanges with the Islamic world of a depth not again experienced until the modern age. England signed treaties with the Ottoman Porte, received ambassadors from the kings of Morocco and shipped munitions to Marrakesh. By the late 1580s hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Elizabethan merchants, diplomats, sailors, artisans and privateers were plying their trade from Morocco to Persia.
These included the resourceful mercer Anthony Jenkinson who met both Süleyman the Magnificent and the Persian Shah Tahmasp in the 1560s, William Harborne, the Norfolk merchant who became the first English ambassador to the Ottoman court in 1582 and the adventurer Sir Anthony Sherley, who spent much of 1600 at the court of Shah Abbas the Great. The previous year, remarkably, Elizabeth sent the Lancastrian blacksmith Thomas Dallam to the Ottoman capital to play his clockwork organ in front of Sultan Mehmed. The awareness of Islam which these Englishmen brought home found its way into many of the great cultural productions of the day, including most famously Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, and Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice. The year after Dallam’s expedition, the Moroccan ambassador, Abd al-Wahid bin Mohammed al-Annuri, spent six months in London with his entourage. Shakespeare wrote Othello six months later. Brotton shows that England’s relations with the Muslim world were far more extensive, and often more amicable, than we have appreciated, and that their influence was felt across the political, commercial and domestic landscape of Elizabethan England.
On 4 July 1187 Saladin destroyed the Crusader army of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in a terrible slaughter at the battle of Hattin. He went on to restore the Holy City of Jerusalem to Islamic rule. The carnage at Hattin was the culmination of almost a century of religious wars between Christian and Muslim in the Holy Land. In the C20th the battle was revived as a symbol of Arab hope for liberation from Crusader-Imperialism, and in the C21st it has become a rallying cry for radical Muslim fundamentalists in their struggle for the soul of Islam. Chaired by Peter Florence.
The flood that God used to destroy the sinful race of man on Earth in Genesis 6:17 crystallises in its terrifying, dramatic simplicity the universally recognised concept of payback. For millennia human civilisation has relied on such beliefs to create a moral order that threatens divine punishment on people who commit crimes, while promising rewards – abstract or material – for those who do good. Today, while secularism and unbelief are at an all-time high, this almost superstitious willingness to believe in karma persists. Why?