You invited Robin to speak at last year's book festival. He was a powerful, persuasive, oratorical speaker that made me feel uncomfortable. He was very different from Frank Gardner's measured tones, who was on the same platform. Frank could see all sides of the problem and spoke with quiet authority. Robin, at one point, got carried away into a rabble rousing piece of eloquence that drew great applause! I did not join in.
At the end of the festival, in the tent outside the front entrance to the County Buildings, there were slogans posted on two or three boards and all written by your speakers. One, posted by Robin, had "To be rid of IS, you have to be rid of Assad" (or words to that effect, I believe. It could have been the other way round). In other words, Robin was espousing the violent and undemocratic overthrow of a UN recognised and legitimate government in Syria.
My friend and host with whom I was staying, Mike Clayton when I told him commented, "I would prefer the festival not to get into politics." For me, politics is all about morality, law and order and keeping within the socially accepted bounds. I felt, Robin overstepped the mark in supporting violent rebellion against the government in Syria. On the other hand, we cannot of course stifle free speech. And, of course, the West for five years has and still does support the removal of Assad by force. I just felt that Robin went too far.
I would be glad to read your perspective on Robin's contribution as to whether it was acceptable.
I would love to hear again, what exactly he did say. But only you have access to the archive!
With best wishes
"They (Russians and Iranians and 'held by all sides') fear the collapse of another state in Damascus ... they (all sides) don't need another collapsed state."
Lyse Doucet OBE, a Canadian journalist who is the BBC's Chief International Correspondent on Sunday 28 Feb 2016 on 'Broadcasting House', Radio 4.
'Robin has played his so sincere but ignoble contribution in supporting the overthrow of a legitimate government to bring about yet another collapsed state.' My conclusion from reading his blog and hearing him speak at Wigtown last year.
Thanks v much for your thoughtful and excellent comments.
Robin's trenchant support for the Syrian rebels, although in line with US, UK, NATO five year foreign policy, has brought about another failed state in the Meddle East and hordes of refugees fleeing the mess that our employment in armaments, arms exports, our taxes and our foreign policy has contributed to.
I now think, the long standing support for the overthrow of UN recognised but unsavoury governments from our Western point of view, should no longer be given a voice unless there is an equally strong, eloquent and oratorical speech giving the other side of the case. The latter was lacking when it came to Robin's oratory. My feeble effort in a brief question was easily flattened by Robin. When I tried to make a point to him, afterwards I got such an eloquent ear bashing that I switched off and missed his over emphatic answer, completely. I am intellectually slower than him and so I could not keep up with his speed of speech! I am now returning to read his blog to understand why getting rid of Assad is so important to him, even though the consequences are so horrifying.
I much look forward to hearing Robin again this autumn at the festival. But should he not be in debate with another eloquent politician like George Galloway, Adrian? That would be another full house. The clash of the titans!
All the best