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Peter Jukes


It's been 26 years since I last remember police cars speeding up my road to the riots at the Broadwater Farm estate in North London. Then - just like last night - a policing incident had been the spark that ignited latent social and political tensions that had been building for years. The previous Tottenham riot wasn't an isolated incident: prior to that there had been riots in Brixton in South London, Toxteth in Liverpool, and Handsworth in Birmingham. And last night the same scenes returned to my beloved city.

 

As is often noted, we all have a tendency to fight the previous war. Just as the 'quagmire' of Vietnam led to reluctance to intervene in Bosnia (at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives), so too the successes of Kosovo led to the peremptory and ill planned interventionism of Iraq. But Libya is not Iraq. As jubilant crowds fill Green Square, the fall of Tripoli to the rebels is a victory on many counts 


If there’s any shred of comfort that come come from the horrors of ten days ago, the bomb attacks in Oslo and massacre of dozens of teenagers in Utøya, it is scant consolation for bereft families or a nation in mourning. The biggest atrocity on Norwegian soil since World War II, and one of the biggest terrorist incidents in Europe in decades, is no occasion for political point scoring. But some good may yet come out of it: the full glare of public scrutiny (and one hopes police attention) has now been turned on the largely ignored growth of extreme right-wing Islamophobia in Europe.

(From Motley Moose blog: This was a draft of an Essay that Appeared on Labour List and Daily Kos) 

Friday, 29 October 1999 00:00

White Oak: Black Water

 whiteoaksepia2


Great passion leads

To abstraction

W.B. Yeats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desire is

not there or

then but in

remembering

Wednesday, 21 July 2010 00:00

Tony Judt: the last interview

 

Exclusive to Prospect online, the full transcript of Peter Jukes's interview with historian and author Tony Judt

Peter Jukes (right) with Judt (middle), 2007


Tony Judt died, surrounded by his family, on the evening of August 6th, 2010. The New York Times obituary can be read here. This is the full transcript of Peter Jukes’s interview with Tony Judt—conducted earlier this year via email, due to the progress of Judt’s motor neurone disease. The full text of Jukes’s portrait of Tony Judt is featured in the August issue of Prospect, and can be read online here.

Peter Jukes: I’ll start with a confession. Before we first met 12 years ago at the Remarque Forum [a conference Judt sponsored as professor of history at New York University] a joint friend of ours sent me an example of your work—a chapter I think from your 1979 book Socialism in Provence 1871-1914. I must admit my heart sank. I’m sure it was compelling and well documented, but it gave no indication of the liveliness and relevance of the discussion at that Forum, nor of the range of your writing. I think you must have been half way through your compendious history of the whole of post-war Europe at the time.

So my question is: how did you move from the micro-analysis of the French left between two wars to the often global historical issues you address today?

Thursday, 22 July 2010 00:00

Tony Judt: A Man of his Word

 Peter Jukes discusses history, life and justice with the late Tony Judt—a master of morally charged rhetoric

173 arts jukes11

Tony Judt and friend in Israel in 1967: being an ex-Zionist has helped him tackle the controversial issue of America’s relationship with Israel.

Tony Judt died, surrounded by his family, on the the evening of August 6th, 2010. The New York Times obituary can be read here. A full transcript of Peter Jukes’s interview—the last in-depth interview Judt undertook before his depth—can be read on our website here.


Though not one to run shy of controversy, Tony Judt—historian, thinker, professor; commentator on the French left, American identity politics, Israel and much more besides—has never been one of those controversialists whose opposition can be predicted. In the many times I’ve heard him speak, I have never been able to guess in advance what he would say next.

Part of this unexpectedness is no doubt due to his career spent dealing with the exigencies of history rather than the sweeping formulations of philosophy or cultural theory. Born in London in 1948, Judt took a doctorate in history at Cambridge before moving to Paris to study at the Ecole Normale Superieure. His first book, Socialism in Provence 1871-1914, appeared in 1979 and explored a small slice of time in forensic depth. Next came a series of essays on the French left, followed by a book on postwar French intellectuals; it was only gradually that Judt moved on to larger canvasses. As he put it to me: “My first non-academic publication—a review in the Times Literary Supplement—did not come until the late 1980s. And it was not until 1993 that I published my first piece in the New York Review of Books. So that’s a 25-year learning curve.”

I interviewed Tony by email earlier this year (a full transcript of this exchange is available here). The motor neurone disease he was diagnosed with in 2008 has rendered him quadriplegic and he dictated his replies to an assistant. Tony and I have known each other for 12 years, having met at the 1998 Remarque Forum—a conference he sponsored as professor of history at New York University and the first of what would become almost an annual institution, devised to keep the transatlantic dialogue alive after the cold war. The event itself, located at a remote retreat on the border between Florida and Georgia, was no typical academic conference but comprised an eclectic mix of writers, entrepreneurs and other European and American professionals on top of the historians and political scientists—from a former ballet-dancing Swedish cultural attache to a neuroscientist who would go on to be the CNN doctor.

The subject matter was “cultural policy,” something Tony confessed he knew little about. But listening to him was like watching an experienced jazz musician find a new riff, as he discoursed in sentences of considerable syntactical complexity and nuance and arrived, unbidden, at new conclusions. Since few of us then knew who Tony Judt was, we argued back in equal measure. The forum remains my first and best experience of the power of public discourse: diverse, dissenting voices, encouraged to be provocative and exploratory.

Given the controversy that Tony’s writings have generated in recent years, it’s easy to forget just how instrumental the Forum, and the Remarque Institute he founded in 1995, have been in encouraging others to take intellectual courage. Tony admits he is something of an “awkward customer”—a trait that may derive from his childhood in a left-wing Jewish household in London, or his youth amid the adversarial dialectics of Oxbridge. The need to go marching towards the sound of cannon fire has taken him on various journeys—most notably to Israel in June 1967 during the six days war, when he worked as a translator and driver for the Israel Defence Force. He was in Paris in 1968, and visited Prague, Warsaw and California in the 1980s.

By the time I met Tony he was already writing the book on European history that would consolidate his international reputation: Postwar. Largely a work of assimilation and historical consensus, it was in the appendix—entitled “The Unconscious of History”—that Tony set about unpicking one of the times’ darker and more disturbing trends: the way memories of the Holocaust have been used and abused over the last 50 years. This background paved the way for him to enter one of the most contested issues in US intellectual life: America’s relationship with Israel and Zionism.

A 2003 essay in the New York Review of Books, “Israel: The Alternative,” triggered the first great furore. In it, Tony made the case for “a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians” rather than the “doomed” two-state solution. This argument has been heard in Israel since its foundation, but time and place are everything and Tony’s gift for saying “unpopular things in large public spaces” (his own words) brought widespread condemnation in the US.

Previously reticent about his background, Tony is honest about how he used his personal history to leverage this debate: “Being Jewish is not enough. Being an ex-Zionist is not enough. But being an ex-Zionist who wore the Israeli army uniform, and has a pic of himself complete with cutie and sub-machine gun [see opposite]: that helped. And in this case, the end justified the means. No one can shut me up on this subject, so they are forced to resort to cliches about self-hating Jews and the like: evidence of failure.” These revelations came at some personal cost. His op-eds disappeared for a while from the New York Times and he ceased writing for the New Republic. It’s still too early to tell whether Tony’s intervention helped or hindered productive dialogue, but he certainly opened a space to talk about middle-eastern politics which, in America at least, did not exist before.

And he did it with an acute sense of timing. The larger dramatic context was 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Being a member of the Remarque Forum email list in 2001-03 was a memorable lesson in how the transatlantic dialogue was drifting apart, especially when one of the New York contributors wrote, on the morning of 12th September: “We’re all Israelis now.” This was one of the moments when not quite knowing what Tony would say was nerve-wracking.

The Forum had often discussed Nato military action in Bosnia and Kosovo and—to the shock of some—Tony had fairly unequivocally supported it. One would thus have assumed he was in the camp of the “liberal interventionists,” especially when he also spoke out in favour of the initial policing actions in Afghanistan. But then along came Iraq, and in the September 2006 issue of the London Review of Books Tony produced a devastating critique of the co-option of liberals by the neocons—titled, after Lenin, “Bush’s Useful Idiots.”

Four years later, its conclusion still resonates: “Intellectuals should not be smugly theorising endless war, much less confidently promoting and excusing it. They should be engaged in disturbing the peace—their own above all.” As he explained it to me, “My objection to all my liberal friends who ran with the Iraq hawks is that they were not making the case for liberal interventionism but for exemplary war… I don’t believe that one should have one-size-fits-all moral rules for international political action. That’s what misled [Adam] Michnik and [Michael] Ignatieff and others: because they believed in rights for Czechs and Poles they had to believe in them for Iraqis too and so had to back plans to liberate the latter.”

For all this, Tony remains ambivalent about his role as a public figure. “It does irritate me when I am described as a controversialist and commentator on Israel. I see myself as first and above all a teacher of history; next a writer of European history; next a commentator on European affairs; next a public intellectual voice within the American left; and only then an occasional, opportunistic participant in the pained American discussion of the Jewish matter.”

There’s little doubt, though, that his restless drive to pursue an idea to its proper conclusion has lost Tony friends and allies over the years. It’s not just the authority of knowledge that makes him hard to ignore—there’s also the talent for the provocative comparison or phrase. Tony admits that even during his undergraduate days at King’s College, Cambridge, in the late 1960s, “I was—and knew I was—among the best speakers and writers of my age cohort… John Dunn, my favourite King’s supervisor, once described me as ‘the silver-tongued orator’: a barbed compliment, since it suggested that I spoke before I thought and seduced rather than convinced. But I like it all the same.”

One of the things that entranced me at that first meeting with Tony was this ability to “speak before thinking”—or, rather, to “think while speaking.” Even before the onset of motor neurone disease in 2008, which forced him to conflate speaking and writing (his subsequent works have all been composed in his head and then dictated), Tony both talked in joined-up literary sentences and wrote with an aphoristic freshness. You can see this stylistic mastery let loose in the pieces he has been publishing this year in the NYRB: 1,700-word slices of memory and reflection about, as he put it in the first of them, “events, people, or narratives that I can employ to divert my mind from the body in which it is encased.”

Apart from these, the major work written under the extraordinary conditions of his paralysing illness is also Tony’s least historical and most overtly political. Published this March, Ill Fares the Land began life as a public lecture undertaken “to prove that what I had been saying about this disease—that it doesn’t affect your mind—was externally verifiable… I suppose the book would have been a little tighter and maybe more methodologically consequential if I had done it the old way. But it would surely have lacked the energy and anger.”

The result is an indictment of the Anglo-Saxon model of free-market economics since 1979. If there’s an element of improvisation to the book’s origin, there’s nothing ad hoc about the host of references it unlocks. The historical range underpinning Postwar is all here, but deployed to explain that government wasn’t always bad and that collective action wasn’t always tainted by the “socialist” authoritarian smear.

Dedicated to Tony’s two American-born sons, the text tries to address both a transatlantic and generational divide. The result is an occasionally awkward attempt to reach very different audiences, but from its opening sentence it rarely ceases to compel: “Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For 30 years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.” Ill Fares the Land has attracted some negative reviews from both right and left for skipping over the historical failures of Keynesianism and the electoral success of the “third way.” But the financial collapse of 2008 and the way the state had to step in and “save capitalism” are pretty unassailable arguments against the status quo ante.

What Ill Fares the Land does not do is describe a grand project for a brand new hegemonic future—it’s much more modest than that. When I ask him about what some might see as the book’s inherently tragic vision, Tony rejects the idea: “You can’t have a tragic vision in politics: not if you wish to intervene and convince… One of the very few things that I know I believe strongly is that we must learn how to make a better world out of usable pasts rather than dreaming of infinite futures. It’s a very late-Enlightenment view that says that the only way to make a better future is to believe that the future will be better.”

Judt has studied, combated and even taken part in many of the radical new beginnings of the last 60 years: Zionism, the new left, deconstructionism, neoconservatism, neo-liberalism, new Labour. Yet from a deep-rooted left-wing liberal perspective, Ill Fares the Land ultimately offers a conservative conclusion. The left has lost too much in its obsession with newness and creative destruction, it argues. The “usable pasts,” with all their limitations and possibilities, have the virtue of being known.

One of these pasts is the lost role of the public intellectual: well-informed but willing to range beyond the ghetto of expertise—who doesn’t just observe but also tries to intervene or provoke. The economic background to Ill Fares the Land might be incomplete but the reappraising anger is just. Tony’s willingness to take on this topic—to use his fast-depleting energies on this particular stage at this particular time—is yet another dramatic intervention, combining a personal voice with a knowledge of history and sense of occasion in a way that is both responsive and responsible, timely and moral.

Click here to read the full transcript of Peter Jukes’ interview with Tony Judt

 

Wednesday, 07 May 2008 21:40

Soul Motel

Here’s one of several other shows I’ve written for Radio, this time about social networking

Soul Motel,  Broadcast BBC Radio 4, March 2008

 

Monday, 22 February 2010 00:00

Bad Faith Series One

Some examples of my favourite medium - radio plays - which combine the spontaneity and directness of theatre with the flmic possibilities of edited, recorded sound.

Though I've done dozens of radio plays, they're not stored in Youtube, and therefore require my own webspace to host. There are many I'd like to stor here, but for the meantime, I'm concetrating on my BBC Radio4 series about a disillusioned police chaplain who decides to test God by being bad, starring Lenny Henry

 Bad Faith, starring Lenny Henry, Broadcast BBC Radio 4, July 2008 and Feb 5th 2009

The Sunday Times – 27/07/2008
Afternoon Play: Bad Faith (R4, 2.15pm) Peter Jukes’s tale of two chaplains, played by Lenny Henry, pictured, and Danny Sapani, is the best radio drama I have heard in ages, and clearly destined to become a series, either on radio or television. Henry is a cynical former Methodist who has lost his faith, though clearly not his compassion; Sapani is younger, religiously sterner and physically stronger. Dark wit, sharp dialogue, a clutch of Birmingham lowlifes and much emotion combine to make this programme of the week. PD

Observer – 31.01.10: Radio Choice: Pick of the Week

“I’m your worst nightmare, a black man with a dog collar, a badge, and a big, bad attitude!” It’s good to heart his repeat of Peter Jukes’s enjoyable play starring the excellent Lenny Henry as a coolly ironic, inner city police chaplain whose faith is in tatters. Best of all, it is now serving as a pilot for a new series of morally ambiguous stories, each with a Machiavellian twist in their tale. Surely a TV series beckons… Stephanie Billen
When Lenny Henry won critical acclaim last year for his performance as Othello (cue my long-awaited opportunity to refer to the Birmingham-born Henry as the Dudley Moor) it was described as a major career change. This is not strictly true, for while this play is written by Peter Jukes rather than one William Shakespeare, it is a demanding and, most of the time, serious drama, with the odd dark quip thrown in to lift the listener out of the depressing setting, Lenny plays a Methodist minister, Jake Thome, who has lost his faith and whose work as a police chaplain in an area rife with teenage pregnancies, drug addiction and gang crime is unlikely to restore it. If this sounds familiar then that’s because this originally went out in July 2008. Henry’s superb performance, combined with Jukes’s riveting writing, won the production deserved recognition – hence this repeat, followed by a new three-part series.
Jane Anderson, Radio Times
 

Bad Faith 2: Vengeance is Mine, starring Lenny Henry, Broadcast BBC Radio 4, 12th Feb 2009

“Your body isn’t a temple, it’s an amusement arcade, enjoy it.” Lenny Henry plays the minister and police chaplain questioning his religion in the first of a new series, following last week’s repeated pilot. This time Jake (Henry) stands between a bereaved mother and the accidental killer of her child but, as before, it’s a very smart mix of thought-provoking guestions of morality and engrossing personal stories. Peter Jukes’s play steps away from obvious religious topics and instead shows faith as integral to the minister’s life, making it somehow all the more real a struggle for him when he’s questioning everything he believes.

– William Gallagher, Radio Times

Bad Faith 3: The Fire This Time, starring Lenny Henry, Broadcast BBC Radio 4, 19th Feb 2009

“Nearly two years ago, I hailed Peter Jukes’ play, Bad Faith, about a minister and prison chaplain struggling with his beliefs, as witty and gritty with touches of surrealism. Of Lenny Henry’s lead role, I said it confirmed his acting credentials. That play went out again this month as the first in a four-part series of the same name and the second play exceeded my memories of the first. Jukes’ writing is terrific – funny, deep, unafraid to move from the mundane to the reflective. Jake, his semi-heretical minister, is the most original creation of his kind that I can recall and Henry was born to play him, catching the rhythm of the comedy, as you would expect, as well as the tenor of the philosophy.”  Moira Petty, The Stage, 22nd Feb

 

Bad Faith 4:  Nothing Sacred, starring Lenny Henry, Broadcast BBC Radio 4, 26th Feb 2009

“Do give this grittily good drama series a shot. Lenny Henry is mesmerising as a disillusioned police chaplain who’s sometimes on the side of the angels, and sometimes busy on the devil’s work” Daily Mail, Feb 20th

“The scripts are strong, taut, bang up-to-the-minute, salted with ironic humour. Lenny Henry’s performance is brilliant. Never for a minute does he sound as if pages are in his hand. You forget who he is. He is whom he plays”. Gillian Reynolds; Daily Telegraph, Feb 22

 

 

Links and Contact Details

Live Tweeting

Over the last few years I've created some attention with my live coverage of the phone hacking trial in London, the most expensive and longest concluded criminal trial in British history. There are various accounts and articles about this on the web, including a radio play. My Twitter feed can be found here, and a collation of evidence from the trial, and all my live tweets, can be found at my Fothom Wordpress blog. There's also a Flipboard magazine and a Facebook Page. My Klout ranking is here.

More Journalism and Books

Various journalistic articles of mine are scattered throughout the web. There's some kind of portfolio at Muckrack. The most extensive reporting is for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, but there's more at the New Statesman, the New Republic, Aeon etc. I have two non fiction books published in the last year: The Fall of the House of Murdoch, available through Unbound or Amazon, and Beyond Contempt: the Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial, available via Canbury Press or also on Amazon. I am currently contributing to a new site for open source journalism, called Bellingcat, and advisor (along with Sir Harry Evans and Bill Emmott) to an exciting new crowdfunded journalism startip Byline

Getting in Contact

My generic email is my first name at peterjukes.com. That should get through to me pretty quickly. My Linked In profile is here. For non journalistic inquiries, for television stage and film, contact Howard Gooding at Judy Daish Associates. Examples of my television work can be found on IMDB. This links to the site for my forthcoming musical, Mrs Gucci. My radio plays can be found in various audiobook formats on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

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