Wednesday. 14/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Louis Harnett O’Meara

Foot in both camps

When I was young, living in England, I remember my brother planting an Irish flag on top of our Christmas tree, smiling at what he saw to be an innocent expression of our family’s heritage. “Get it down,” my grandma scolded when she saw it, asking what on earth he supposed the neighbours would think. Having spent years as an Irish Catholic woman in the UK during the Troubles, she knew the violence associated with a nationalist cause and its effect on those born of another nation.

As for me, I am to all intents and purposes British. But when I marked my census form last month, I would be lying if I said my cursor didn’t hover for a moment over “Irish”. I am entitled to an Irish passport, much of my extended family lives across the Irish Sea and as a child I spent Easter and summer holidays on the west coast of the isle. Having lived between many different cities and countries growing up, Ireland has in some ways always served as home.

And so the headlines of continuing sectarian violence in Northern Ireland this past week have left me shaken: a bus petrol-bombed in Belfast, police assaulted, a journalist attacked, assailants as young as 13. The root causes are deep and have to do with a divergence of identity, just as Brexit – a destabilising factor in this scenario too – has been for many in the UK. From experience I can say that to claim oneself as solely from one place, at the exclusion of another, doesn’t always help matters. Is it possible to be both Irish and British, and for those identities to live harmoniously alongside one another. I’m proud of all aspects of who I am, just as my grandma was. But perhaps, for now at least, let’s put away the flags.

Diplomacy / Global

Rights of passage

With the world on the brink of opening up once again, Henley & Partners – a firm that describes itself as a leader in helping people obtain citizenship – has this week released its annual Passport Index, which ranks nations’ travel documents by how many other countries grant their carriers visa-free entry. Though the majority of the top passports, including Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Germany, aren’t all that surprising, there is one country that's made a steep climb up the rankings recently: over the past six years, China has risen 26 spots to become the 68th most powerful passport in 2021, with 77 countries now offering Chinese passport holders visa-free entry. All nations were given a free pass for pandemic-related travel restrictions. If, however, by this time next year some countries keep harsh restrictions in place while others relax them, the power of a passport will be determined by more than just visa-free access – and governments could find themselves unhappily surprised with where their nation’s document lands.

Health / Switzerland

Know tomorrow

As many countries dramatically increase their rates of vaccine administration and a semblance of normal life returns, there’s no time like the present to consider the future. Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, says that governments around the world need to take a hard look at themselves to consider where improvements need to be made.

“There are a few conversations that need to happen,” he says. “I hope that this is the moment where global institutions and organisations really rise to the occasion to have strong inter-pandemic preparedness. Because we know the next pandemic will come.” As for the interim, Narasimhan makes clear that, while coronavirus is here to stay, it doesn’t mean that life can’t return to normal. “We’re going to end up in a place where the virus will still be around,” says Narasimhan. “It just won’t be causing hospitalisations and deaths; it’ll be something that we will have learnt to live with.”

Listen to the full interview with Narasimhan on the latest edition of ‘The Chiefs’ on Monocle 24.

Culture / Global

Screen time

Ramadan, which began yesterday, is an important time for broadcasters across the Arab world. That’s because sitting down with one’s family for a meal after the day’s fast – often in front of a TV drama – has become part and parcel of the month’s activities. Inspired by the ancient tradition of gathering to listen to a storyteller, today’s programming goes well beyond religious content to include series that often consist of 30 episodes – one for every day of the month. Broadcasters and streaming outfits from countries including Egypt and Kuwait release much of their new content during this period as TV ratings skyrocket and advertising slots are in demand. This year’s crop includes Iraqi office comedies, a drama set in 1950s Damascus, Turkish family drama The Innocents (pictured), murder mysteries from the Gulf, a Lebanese cookery programme and an Egyptian spy thriller – there’s a bit of everything. Despite the hurdles placed on production by the pandemic, viewers can prepare for a late-night televisual feast.

Travel / Netherlands & Greece

Testing the waters

Almost 200 Dutch tourists exchanged lockdown for the Mitsis Grand Hotel (pictured) on the Greek island of Rhodes earlier this week as part of a trial to gather experience on how the travel industry can safely organise holidays. For €399 the travellers will enjoy an all-inclusive stay, with access to the pool, restaurants and facilities at the resort. But the perks end there: guests are not allowed to leave the premises. They’ll also have to complete surveys and are being accompanied by two researchers analysing their behaviour. Dutch tour operator Sunweb is organising the trip and hoping to prove that people can still enjoy holidays despite strict safety measures. The travel industry is understandably desperate to get charter planes flying again but the appeal of such stay-at-hotel holidays remains to be seen. For the experiment to yield better results, perhaps the test subjects should take their researchers on a cautious exploration of the local community.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Spring lookahead: books, film and music

Robert Bound is joined by literary critic Lucy Scholes, film critic Simran Hans and music journalist Kate Hutchinson to find out which films will be getting us back into cinemas, the albums to spin in the run-up to summer and the books to enjoy on a sunny day in the park.

Monocle Films / Japan

The bold business owner: Takeshi Yamanaka

In 1928 Maruni Wood Industry was born out of a fascination with the masterful carpentry in ancient shrines. Today its furniture is found in the Californian headquarters of Apple as well as airport lounges, galleries and restaurants around the world. We meet the company’s president to talk about the challenges of managing a family-run business.

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