For Jewish Downton Abbey fans, last Sunday’s episode was a huge moment – the arrival of a character who is completely kosher. Finally.
True, there was excitement a couple of series ago when the Countess of Grantham’s mother came to stay at Downton and we found out that her name was Martha Levinson.
But, as played by Shirley Maclaine, she did not start making blessings over those magnificent silver candlesticks they have on the dining table.Later it was revealed in,
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey” a book written by Jessica Fellowes, niece of the show’s creator Julian, that: “Martha’s husband was Jewish, she herself is not, and their children were raised Episcopalians”.
So the introduction of Atticus Aldridge was a breakthrough.
Lady Rose, the family black sheep who has already shocked her relatives after getting involved first with a married man and and then a black jazz singer, seemed at last to have found a suitable young man – handsome, well-mannered, cutglass accent.
Someone who might even win the approval of the terrifying Dowager Countess.
But Mr Aldridge, played by Matt Barber, is not quite the perfect English gentlemen.
He is a member of a Ukrainian-Jewish family who fled to Britain after pogroms in Odessa.
But it is a family that has done very well. Aldridge is the son of the recently ennobled Lord and Lady Sinderby and is just about to take up work in the family bank.
Such aristocratic Jews fit well with the Downtown milieau and have history on their side too.
After all, the Rothschilds (bankers like the Sinderbys) built so many country houses that a slice of Buckinghamshire became known as Rothschildshire.
But viewers should try to contain their excitement. Lady Rose does get through boyfriends very quickly so Atticus may not be around very long.
The discovery of a letter to Sir Winston Churchill from his future sister-in-law has thrown new light on his fascination with Islam and Muslim culture
He is indelibly associated with the fight to preserve Britain and its Empire from Nazi invasion and his subsequent denouncement of Soviet totalitarianism’s Iron Curtain.
In the public eye, Sir Winston Churchill’s long political career earned him a place among the greatest of Britons.
But what may come as a surprise is that he was a strong admirer of Islam and the culture of the Orient — such was his regard for the Muslim faith that relatives feared he might convert.
The revelation comes with the discovery of a letter to Churchill from his future sister-in-law, Lady Gwendoline Bertie, written in August 1907, in which she urges him to rein in his enthusiasm.
In the letter, discovered by Warren Dockter, a history research fellow at Cambridge University, she pleads: “Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise [fascination with the Orient and Islam], Pasha-like tendencies, I really have.”
Lady Gwendoline, who married Churchill’s brother Jack, adds: “If you come into contact with Islam your conversion might be effected with greater ease than you might have supposed, call of the blood, don’t you know what I mean, do fight against it.”
In a letter to Lady Lytton in the same year Churchill wrote: “You will think me a pasha [rank of distinction in the Ottoman Empire]. I wish I were.”
Churchill’s fascination led him and his close friend Wilfrid S. Blunt, the poet and radical supporter of Muslim causes, to dressing in Arab clothes in private while in each other’s company. Dr Dockter said of the letter from Lady Gwendoline: “Churchill had fought in Sudan and on the North West frontier of India so had much experience on being in ‘Islamic areas’.
“But during this period Churchill was in the Liberal phase of his career, having switched to the Liberals in 1904.
“He often came to loggerheads on imperial policies with hard-line imperialists such as Frederick Lugard, the High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria. Churchill was opposed to Lugard’s punitive expeditions against Islamic tribes in northern Nigeria.”
The letter was discovered by Dr Dockter while researching his forthcoming book, Winston Churchill and the Islamic World: Orientalism, Empire and Diplomacy in the Middle East.
He points out that Lady Gwendoline’s concerns may not have been so wide of the mark. Not only did Churchill appear to regard Islam and Christianity as equals – a surprisingly progressive notion for the time – but he also admired the military prowess and history of expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
In October 1940, as Britain faced its darkest hour against Nazi Germany, Churchill approved plans to build a mosque in central London and set aside £100,000 for the project.
He continued to back the building of what became the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park – which he hoped would win support for Britain in the Muslim world at a crucial moment – even in the face of public criticism.
In December 1941, he told the House of Commons: “Many of our friends in Muslim countries all over the East have already expressed great appreciation of this gift.”
Churchill’s attitude may appear hypocritical, given his forthright defence of the British Empire – which at its height ruled over millions of Muslims across India, Egypt and the Middle East.
In his book The River War (1899) – his account of the frontier wars of India and Sudan – he was scathing of the fundamentalist, ultra conservative Mahdiyya form of Islam adopted by the Dervish population of North Africa.
He states: “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries … Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce … The influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.”
Lady Gwendeline Spencer Churchill (National Portrait Gallery London)
But Dr Dockter says a closer examination of Churchill’s attitude to the wider Muslim world reveals it to be “in stark contrast to the purely imperialistic and orientalist perspective of many of his contemporaries”.
In his book, he states: “His views of Islamic people and culture were an often paradoxical and complex combination of imperialist perceptions composed of typical orientalist ideals fused with the respect, understanding and magnanimity he had gained from his experiences in his early military career, creating a perspective that was uniquely Churchillian.”
The revelation that Churchill had a close affinity for Muslim culture comes at a time when tensions between the three great monotheistic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam are greater than they have been for centuries.
Ironically, many of the fault lines between Islam and the West have their roots in the world Churchill helped shape after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the redrawing of the Middle East at the end of the First World War.
The settlements between the region’s colonial powers, brokered by Churchill, with T E Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia” – as an adviser, gave birth, in Dr Dockter’s words, to “the Middle East we know, warts and all”.
Sir Winston Churchill in Bangalore, India in 1897
Dr Dockter, who assisted Boris Johnson on his book The Churchill Factor, said: “Not many people are aware that Churchill and T E Lawrence were friends or that they worked together to solve the riddles of the Middle Eastern settlements. Understanding these settlements is paramount to understanding the legacy of Britain in the Middle East.”
Of course, Churchill did not convert to Islam, and Dr Dockter concludes that his fascination was “largely predicated on Victorian notions, which heavily romanticised the nomadic lifestyle and honour culture of the Bedouin tribes”.
Such was his limited understanding of Islam that as colonial secretary during the early 1920s he had to ask what the difference was between Shia and Sunni Muslims, the two major groupings whose long-standing animosity is currently playing out in Syria and Iraq.
As Dr Dockter points out, at least he had the good sense to ask the question in the first place, regarding an issue which bedevils the West’s involvement in the region to this day.
The Russian military was pressing ahead with the design and manufacture of new nuclear-capable heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles that were expected to be ready for testing in 18-24 months, the Russian government-backed news agency Tass reported.
The Kremlin has prioritized the modernization and strategic location of its ICBM missile fleet during the last year because of renewed hostility between Moscow and NATO over the annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s continued involvement in the Eastern Ukraine war.
“As of today, the third stage of the design and development work is underway. I believe we’ll reach the stage of tests of this heavy missile in 18-24 months,” an aide to the Strategic Missile Force Commander Igor Denisov said Tuesday.
The missile, known as Sermat, will reportedly have an operational range of 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) and be able to travel at 24,500 kilometers per hour (15,220 mph).
The missile, which can reportedly also deliver up to 15 separate warheads to independent targets, will likely be stationed in the East or West of the country to maximize its delivery range.
In recent weeks Russia has continued testing its shorter-range Iskander missile, which it was threatening to place in its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad.
Such a move would provoke Russia’s main nuclear rivals in Washington to consider placing U.S.-made and -operated missiles back in Britain, from where it removed intermediate-range missiles at the end of the Cold War in 1991.
The move by Russia and the U.S. would be in breach of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force Treaty, which prohibits the use of ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 km (300 to 3,400 miles).
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said of such a move in June that “we have got to send a clear signal to Russia that we will not allow them to transgress our red line,” and that actually hosting the missiles in Britain “would be a decision that we would make together, if that proposition was on the table.”
Rare World War II encoding apparatus to go under the hammer in London, where it is expected to fetch over $100,000
A German World War II-era Enigma machine, used by the Nazis to encrypt their military transmissions during the war, will go up for auction in London next week.
According to a report in the Guardian, the encoding machine — surviving models of which are rare — will be up for offer at Sotheby’s in Mayfair, West London, where it is expected to sell for around £70,000 ($108,000).
The Enigma machine was invented at the end of World War I and used by the German military from the 1930s onward to encrypt messages. With trillions of possible combinations, its codes were considered impregnable.
However, following on earlier breakthroughs by Polish intelligence services, in 1939 a British team led by Alan Turing at Bletchley Hall finally managed to break the Enigma machine codes, giving the allies an inestimable advantage over the Nazis.
It is widely believed that cracking the Enigma shortened the war by several years and saved millions of lives.
The success was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war and afterwards, as Britain encouraged former colonies that had gained their independence to use the enigma machines for their own military secrets.
Turing and his work were brought to increased public awareness by the 2014 film “The Imitation Game,” which starred Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric genius.
IT is claimed the crime syndicate are taking advantage of Scots corporate rules which allow companies to be set up who are little more than a name plate at an address.
SCOTS companies are under suspicion of alleged money laundering by the Russian mafia.
It is claimed “ghost” firms based in Edinburgh and Glasgow could be involved in a laundering operation worth £12.5billion.
Police in the former Soviet republic of Moldova are probing some companies involved, as are non-governmental organisation the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
It is claimed the crime syndicate are taking advantage of Scots corporate rules which allow companies to be set up who are little more than a name plate at an address.
A probe by the Independent newspaper has uncovered at least six companies registered here who have come to the attention of investigators.
The launderers created UK front companies who carried out massive phoney business deals between themselves.
The front companies then sued each other in Moldova, demanding repayment of hundreds of millions of pounds of loans.
Money would be put into the UK front companies’ accounts in Moldova then transferred to another bank in Latvia.
Police are trying to identify the criminals whose money was being laundered, but it is virtually impossible to establish who owns the UK front companies.
One Edinburgh firm claimed a debt of $500million from a Russian guarantor in the Moldovan courts.
The company’s registered address is a small accountancy firm in Edinburgh not involved in any wrongdoing.
The man listed as the sole director of the company who claimed the debt told the Record: “According to the Independent, the criminals fake trials, so they must have a judge working with them in Moldova.
“They stage things so they get damages basically in the courts, then they force the Russian companies to pay up. In that way they money launder.
“But I am sorry I cannot help you because I have no idea. Nobody involved in any way with the company in Scotland knows what happens. That is a fact.”
Asked about his directorships of other companies registered to unlikely addresses here, the man said: “If the police would like to know more, I will talk to them. But I am not ready to waste time on newspapers.”
The scam appears to have gone on for four years before being shut down in May by the authorities in Moldova.
A Moldovan investigator said: “This money was routed from Russia, but the companies incorporated in Britain were instrumental to transit the funds.”