Madeleine Bunting

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For a religion that professes to be all about love and forgiveness, it can appear mightily confusing to an outsider that the central event of Christianity, Easter, is a commemoration of a violent death (and, of course, controversially, a resurrection).

It is a confusion illustrated by the fact that the symbol of Christianity is the Roman form of torture used that day in Palestine, the cross. We live in an age when we prefer our violence on celluloid. We expect plenty of violence from Hollywood but what kind of religion puts violence at its heart?

The point about Easter is not so much the violence as the sacrifice.…  Seguir leyendo »

Does the name Christopher Harkett mean anything to you? Or Thomas John or Graeme Stiff? They are the three casualties who took the total loss of British soldiers in Afghanistan over the 150 mark last week. Every week there is another; we glimpse the blurred shots of a young man smiling and hear the brief reference to Helmand, the regiment and the next of kin being informed.

As these deaths have become horribly routine in one of Britain's longest wars, it has become clear that no one knows what these men are dying for. It is now commonly accepted that this is a war which Nato is not winning; some go further and say it is unwinnable in any conventional sense.…  Seguir leyendo »

Next year there will be no escaping one man and his legacy - 2009 will be marked by television series, books, debates, conferences and exhibitions devoted to Charles Darwin and his two anniversaries: the 200th of his birth; and the 150th of his book, On the Origin of the Species. One might imagine that there was little more to be written on the man, but the coming year will bring the publication of plenty more books, starting this week with a helpful Rough Guide to Evolution - Darwin's big idea that changed the world - and in 12 months' time 50 new titles should have arrived in bookshops.…  Seguir leyendo »

It's been astonishing how the British Museum's director, Neil MacGregor, has got away with it. For several years he has embarked on a radical redefinition of the role a museum plays in public life. Not so much a repository of beautiful objects that generates tourist dollars, but a place for some of the most fraught and contentious of contemporary political debates. If that seems a far-fetched claim, then the recently opened exhibition Babylon: Myth and Reality will convince you. After wandering past cuneiform tablets and exquisite carvings, you end up in front of footage of armed American soldiers sauntering through Babylon's ruins, and Iraqi archaeologists pointing out the damage inflicted by the US troops in the ancient site.…  Seguir leyendo »

One of my best friends is a Finn. She came to England at 16, but when it came to giving birth to her first baby 13 years later, there was no hesitation: she went home. When she returned, along with her stories of state of the art healthcare, she brought tangible evidence of the largesse of the Nordic welfare state: each new mother was given a box of exquisite new baby clothes and equipment. Everything was a perfect mint green and lavender. In contrast, when it was my turn several years later to give birth in the UK in an overcrowded, dirty hospital, a harassed nurse handed me a plastic bag stuffed with leaflets advertising baby products and a couple of free samples.…  Seguir leyendo »

Crowds have gathered by the borehole in Abia, a village in Katine, north-east Uganda, to greet us. The women are waving flags made of rags and tablecloths, ululating with delight at our arrival. Fence posts are decorated with bright pink bougainvillea. With home-made instruments - thumb piano, drums and strings - the village band accompanies a chorus of singing and a display of dancing before speeches from the local elders. These ceremonies are repeated five times across the sub-county of Katine as we visit the places where the Amref (African Medical Research Foundation) project is at work. Everywhere people press forward to say thank you, their faces creasing with huge smiles, the women going down on their knees according to traditional custom, and explaining how their lives have been transformed.…  Seguir leyendo »

When was the last time you were hungry? Not the pang of a missed breakfast or delayed lunch, but the gnawing obsession of a hunger that has lasted 24 hours? For me, it was 25 years ago - when, for 10 days I lived off one bowl of gruel a day for breakfast. The memory of the desperate desire for food followed by a debilitating weakness has lasted a quarter of a century. But while my experience was a lifestyle choice, for the villagers of the rural district of Katine, in Uganda, it is their everyday life.

Uganda, with the help of debt relief and increased aid, may have got 5 million extra children into school, but a significant number of them turn up with empty stomachs and struggle to concentrate before they return home for their one meal a day.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Turkey, any day now, a female university student will mark a dramatic moment in her country's history. After years of heated debate, culminating in street demonstrations in recent months, she will no longer have to replace her headscarf with a wig or hat before attending her lectures, thanks to a constitutional amendment that received presidential consent last week. However, she will know that her newly won right is by no means secure; university authorities have been threatening to break the law and enforce the headscarf ban, while legal appeals are likely to end up in the constitutional court.

For the group of young women students I met recently in the London School of Economics, there is hope at last.…  Seguir leyendo »

Here's the recipe for a perfect media storm: take one deeply thoughtful intellectual, put him into a high-profile position, ask him to give a speech on an injustice, add one of the most toxic issues in British life, then mix with large quantities of feral media. The result, spread across the media (shockingly, even the BBC's 10 O'Clock News succumbed) was a combination of dotty bishops, hand chopping and the Sun's ludicrous claim that it was a "victory for terrorism".

Strip away all the hysterical reaction, and what have you got? The Archbishop of Canterbury is raising a perfectly legitimate issue.…  Seguir leyendo »

It will be Kofi Annan's turn tomorrow to arrive in a tense Nairobi, following in the steps of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and John Kufuor, the Ghanian president and head of the African Union, last week, and US diplomats and the former Sierra Leonean president the week before. As the tourists abandon Kenya's beaches, the country has tragically become the premier destination for a new type of visitor - the international mediator. But so far, all of them have managed no more than what could be described as a minibreak, hastily repacking their overnight bags with nothing to show for their efforts.…  Seguir leyendo »

"You think you are innocent, but you're not," said the British Muslim suicide bomber in the Channel 4 television drama Britz last week. As the compelling actor Manjinder Virk recited her suicide statement to camera, she went on: thousands of women and children are dying every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet the governments responsible have been returned to power.Her assertion sticks in the mind because it goes straight to the heart of how we choose to forget, choose not to understand; and how from such choices it becomes possible to imagine our innocence.

That's not to say that her own moral choices were defensible - she blew up herself, her beloved brother, fellow Muslims and plenty of women in the crowd - but the challenge even from such a morally flawed character persists.…  Seguir leyendo »

If you've never heard of synbio, you will hear plenty in the next decade. Synthetic biology now occupies roughly the same space on the public's radar that computing might have done in the 1960s or genetic modification in the 1970s - it's largely unheard of by anyone except the scientific community and its geeky observers. But as the pace of breakthrough in this area quickens, the sense of being on the edge of an extraordinary technological revolution is giving even the scientists involved vertigo.

Part of the reason why synbio has had so little attention in the British media is that most of the running is being made in America.…  Seguir leyendo »

Two days after the 7/7 bombings in London two years ago, Muslim community leaders gathered at the London Muslim Centre to consider the impact of the attacks and who might have organised them. Many present refused to accept it might have been Muslims - the common refrain was that it could have been the French, because they had just lost the bid to host the Olympics.The discussion had the younger generation of professional British-born Muslims grinding their teeth with frustration at the stubborn naivety of an older generation of leadership. Their elders had completely failed to grasp how the community had been swept up in a global political conflict that was interacting with a local crisis of identity and generational conflict.…  Seguir leyendo »

Not many thinkers successfully straddle academia and politics, but one of the few who has managed to do so on both sides of the Atlantic is Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone. You can spot traces of his influence all over New Labour policy. He was the man who popularised the concept of social capital - the trust and networks of friendship, neighbourhood and organisations on which so much of our lives depend - and it has won him the ear of politicians of all persuasions: Bill Clinton, George Bush, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, even, most recently, the Libyan leader, Muammar Gadafy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Contrary to the article below, Namibia was not Germany's only colonial experience in Africa. The German protectorates of Kamerun (Cameroon) and Togoland lasted from 1884 to 1916. Germany also established the colony of German East Africa, which included what is now Burundi, Rwanda and the mainland part of Tanzania - it came into existence in the 1880s and ended during the first world war.

Africa is back on the G8 agenda this week, at the exclusive resort of Heiligendamm, for the first time since Gleneagles in 2005. But no one is quite sure why, least of all the German public. Despite Bono's and Bob's best efforts, with a concert planned on Thursday and Bob guest-editing the biggest-selling German newspaper Bilt Zeitung last week, the Your Voice Against Poverty campaign has not caught the public imagination as Make Poverty History did in the UK in 2005.…  Seguir leyendo »