Letter from London: The Hoods in the Hood are Hoods

I finally made it to Canadian-American artist Philip Guston’s exhibition at Tate Modern last week — the wall notes telling of a family fleeing persecution from an earlier incarnation of the authoritarian culture in the limelight again today over the Arctic penal colony death of Alexei Navalny. Guston’s family moved from Odessa to Montreal where in 1913 Guston was born, then Los Angeles in 1922 where his father killed himself and brother died following a car crash. Lured from darkness by teenage friends Jackson Pollock and Reuben Katich, Guston was — by 14 — already a committed artist.

Heartbreak and pain is what all reasonable people feel when confronted daily with images of the killings in Gaza. While shocking photographs of Khartoum in Sudan seen last week match terribly the rubble of Gaza, and no one talks about Sudan, there can be no denying the merciless hell Palestinians face while the IDF continues after Islamist group Hamas. ‘I think it is impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people. There’s nowhere for them to go,’ declared UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron, speaking up for Palestinian civilians last week. Few mention nowadays his responsibility for Libya or Brexit. ‘We are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think very seriously before it takes any further action,’ he said. ‘Above all, what we want is an immediate pause in the fighting and we want that pause to lead to a ceasefire.’ In the House of Lords, meanwhile, he was discussing bringing children over from Gaza to be treated by the NHS. A rare situation as no MP can question him on any of this while he is in the House of Lords. Others do, of course, obsessively so. (Netanyahu rebuked Cameron as long ago as 2014 when he criticised Israel for its ‘effective encirclement’ of East Jerusalem.) Former UK soldier Richard Kemp today asks in typical militaristic fashion if with Cameron’s support for the Palestinians, he might have called for a ceasefire when Allied troops were poised to cross the Rhine in March 1945.

I have been wondering if Cameron also has a view on the present conspiracy theory doing the rounds that Chinese shipping lines have increased their passages through the Red Sea because of an expectation of immunity from attack by Houthi missiles. Lloyd’s List reports Chinese container ships as representing 15% of Red Sea passages last year while it is said to have doubled this already this year. It would be worrying if true but the Houthis managed to fire by mistake at an Iran-bound grain ship last week, raising questions of accuracy, and there is always the possibility US and UK strikes are working.

Talking of the ‘agonistic’ Houthis: according to Amnesty International, their courts sentenced nine people to death on homosexuality charges last week. Seven were to be killed by stoning and two by crucifixion. Twenty-three others were given six months to ten years on charges including spreading immorality. Just as Israelis continue to kill innocent civilians in Gaza, and RSF and SAF pound each other in Sudan, and Ukrainian troops withdraw from a frontline city after months of heavy fighting on the eastern front, Hamas, like the Houthis, is not only at war with Israeli but with homosexuality. Because there is no legal protection for LGBT people in Gaza, gay Palestinians have traditionally sought refuge in Israel. I don’t know if a partial truce exists today on not but these are the types of issue we also cannot ignore when going about our search for the bigger picture. In 2016, leading Hamas commander Mahmoud Ishtiwi was reportedly executed for homosexual activity and theft. As Hemingway wrote, ‘There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.’ Last week Israeli fighter jets also made their deepest air strikes inside Lebanon, with the US state department looking into a use of white phosphorus. As Herodotus tried to remind us: ‘In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.’

Cameron at the same time on his own personal road to Damascus told Republicans, perhaps still secretly searching for theirs, that they should keep providing military aid to Ukraine as to do otherwise would be the equivalent of appeasing Hitler prior to the invasion of Poland. Will Navalny’s death change any of this? Ukrainians are outgunned by Russia 8 to 1, according to Polish foreign secretary Radek Sikorski last week in Munich. This was right after Navalny’s death.

All the while, leader of the free world in waiting Donald Trump has been posting accusatory images of Taylor Swift’s boyfriend Travis Kelce, stirring up his own little bag of conspiracy snakes. What riled people most over here was the not so amorous bite at Europeans for not paying their way, and how he had told one European leader: ‘I would not protect you, in fact I would encourage them [the Russians] to do whatever the hell they want.’ At the end of the day, leaving European security to 50,000 American swing-state voters, the usual margin of victory in recent US presidential elections, is becoming an unacceptable liability to some Europeans, certainly the Germans and French.

How Trump has unravelled these past 40 years, I was thinking. I was living in New York when he brought out The Art of the Deal. In Atlantic City, where I painted a house to pay for rehearsal space for a play I was putting on, people on the boardwalk at night would speak of him as they would a mobster. I had already seen him on 60 Minutes where he almost proudly stated that people made him out to be something more sinister than he was. Now that he and his eldest sons and associates last week have just been told to pay over $350m for intentionally committing financial fraud by what Trump called a ‘crooked’ New York judge, who knows what card tricks come next? An American friend’s father who once did serious business with Trump on a client’s behalf described him as ‘smart’. As smart as Putin in full Tucker Carlson mode describing Biden as his preferred candidate right before opponent Navalny’s death?

‘It could be all of us,’ said the late artist Philip Guston, discussing the later use of white Klu Klux Klan hoods in his work. Long after his death, these works raise important questions of who actually is behind these hoods, and how such beliefs are well hidden in society. ‘We’re all hoods!’ concluded the artist. The hoods in the ‘hood are hoods.

Peter Bach lives in London.