Letters in August 2016



Noting the eruption of the Burkini issue, I wonder if the best response we can come up with to counter mass murder across Europe is to tell a section of the female population what to wear on the beach. After over 1,000 years of cultural growth in Europe, surely we can concoct a strategy that is a little less petty and banal? Or have we become simply petty and banal, as Michel Houellebecq keeps telling us?

Furthermore, as we are continually told by the authorities that the radicalisation of Muslim male youth in our midst is one of the greatest dangers, making them watch their mothers, sisters and girl friends being forced to strip on public beaches is absolutely the wrong course of action to follow.

Ronnie Smith

[Couldn’t agree more Ronnie. News since this letter shows that perhaps France is realising the error of its ways on this subject. Ed.]  

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Dear Ed – pictures in the Daily Mail show a French Gendarme waiting for a Muslim lady to come out of the sea because she is wearing a Burkini. So the man to her right (pictured) wearing long baggy shorts, a tee-shirt with a collar and a cap on his head qualifies for proper beach ware does he? What a sad world we live in. In the U.A.E. in Abu Dhabi, non-Muslims are allowed to wear their regular beach wear – i.e. bikini’s. Can’t we in France be as liberal?

Jill Attfield

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Regarding the burkini and liberté, equalité, and fraternité indeed! Not to mention the state of undress on France’s southern beaches. I’d much rather look at a woman in a burkini than most of the exposed bodies I see on these beaches.

Alice Van Wart

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Sorry but I can’t agree with your comments regarding ‘Bigot’ mayors.

Steve Miners

[Sorry you don’t agree with us Steve, but we stand by our comment in our article. Ed] 


See the article in the Daily Telegraph by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard “French support for the EU is crumbling on the left and the right.”

Sarko’s latest pitch is good, and will have appealed to many French people, but as all political observers have noted, he speaks well, but achieves very little. 

Ian Mills 

Saint Roch 

My comments concern your article (Aug. 15) about the festivities in Montpellier for the feast of St Roch, as well as the information you give about the saint himself. The errors and misinformation in this article are too extreme to let pass. To cite just a couple: “Auxiliary Bishop Juan Simon, head of the cathedral” = Simon Juan is choir master at the Montpellier cathedral.  Stating that St Roch was “irreligious”! There are many variations on the story of St Roch which has numerous legendary aspects, but this is the first time I’ve ever read or heard anything of the sort. (NB: “irreligious” means: “Indifferent or hostile to religion”. cf. The Oxford Dictionary.) Finally, there are very few verifiable facts about his life and death, but the information given in Wikipedia, which was apparently largely used for the article, differs greatly from what is generally accepted in the circles that have carried out research on the saint, notably scholars from Montpellier. I’d advise you to check your sources more carefully, especially when local people are apt to be shocked and even indignant about blatant errors. To end on a more positive note, I do normally appreciate your daily digest and read it regularly.

Jennifer Bartoloni

[We never knowingly publish incorrect information, and in fact much of this article was from the Midi Libre (who may well have extracted some information from Wikipedia), but we take your point about checking information thoroughly. Sorry to have offended! Ed]


Lorraine Davison has written an excellent essay about the relationship between Catharism and Catholicism but her argument is highly questionable. The trouble with all things distant, historical, medieval is that we read them as we want to read them in the present, for our own benefit. In this case, hindsight is used as a justification for how things turned out: to vindicate Catholicism and condemn the “darkness” of the Catholic heresy.

The statement that “Cathars cannot be called Christians” only works if you define Christianity as a fixed, unvarying thing from the outset. This is simply not true. Any theologian will tell you that we should not talk about Christianity but Christianities. Various doctrines were argued over and even voted on during the first millennium. One strand eventually won out but it was never the only possible version.

No Buddhist, by the way, would describe him or herself as “nihilistic” (an 18th century term used to criticise extreme rationality) and it is unfair to apply this term to the Cathars who are not here to defend themselves. I wouldn’t say the Cathars “hated” the material world. They knew they had to live in it and live with it. It would be more accurate to say they were suspicious of it and believed that it had to be treated with the utmost care.

Ms Davison concludes: “If Catharism had been allowed to propagate itself throughout Europe, and to overwhelm Christianity, it is unlikely that much of what we consider to be good about the West would have developed in the way that it has. Our law and science would have been undermined by hatred of the material world and by the fatalism and nihilism that has infected much of the East.” Where do I begin to unpick such a strange statement, which is unsupported by the evidence? Catharism never sought to overwhelm Christianity; Catholicism sought to overwhelm Catharism and it did so with great violence. The rise of Europe and the West has more to do with feverishly competing ideologies (e.g. Protestantism, religious scepticism, Galileo and science, and entrepreneurial trade) than with Catholicism providing an orthodoxy by which the populace could be guaranteed to save their souls.

Leave the Cathars alone: they offered an alternative approach to life that was extinguished not for reasons of benign Catholic altruism on behalf of an unquestionable truth but out of a fear of diversity and the right to the liberty of belief.

Nick Inman

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In response to Lorraine Davidson’s article regarding the Cathars: I found it full of unsupported allegations, not least of which is that Buddhism is nihilist. In fact, Buddhism believes that the unseen–the spiritual world – is the “real” world and the world of things constitutes the shadow. Nothing could possibly be less nihilistic then, than Buddhism, if one posits that the aim of religion is to attain the spiritual world.

But Davidson proceeds from that fallacy to the concept that western society would not have developed had the Cathars been left in peace. This makes about as much sense as supposing the culture of the United States would not have developed if the Native Americans had been left in peace by the Europeans who arrived on their shores.

The annihilation of the Cathars was a bloodthirsty crusade, as bloodthirsty as the current tactics of ISIS to wipe out those who oppose them, and more bloodthirsty, in fact, than the attempts of Europeans to wipe out Native Americans. In fact, they didn’t attempt to wipe them out, but merely force them off their land and into enclaves, still extant to this day. They did not put the Native Americans to death by fire or torture or any means at all except as casualties of war. Not that that makes it right; what it does say, though, is that the political wars between Europeans and Native Americans were infinitely less cruel than the activities of Simon de Montfort, et al, against the Cathars.

It astonishes me that anyone would excuse the vicious and violent excesses of the Roman Catholic Church against the Cathars, in an age when peace is the single most-needed aspect of human life, when the excesses of partisan religious zeal, such as those of ISIS, are bringing misery to many more even than those they murder. And make no mistake, as Nick Inman wrote, what the Church did to the Cathars was murder, and not only murder, but murder most foul, predicated on the superiority of one belief system over another. In short, it is EVERYTHING that is wrong with modern society. Everything.

Ms. Davidson is apparently an apologist for the most fundamentalist parts of the Roman Catholic Church, those parts unable to look at the excesses carried out in earlier times, admit them, and move on. I seriously doubt Pope Francis would accept what Simon de Montfort did as “business as usual” necessary to create the modern world. He would, I have no doubt, condemn those actions, just as he condemns the lesser evils abroad in the world now, the disdain for the poor and homeless, the exaltation of greed. Indeed, looked at through the lens of power – which is the way things were always looked at in the Middle Ages – the annihilation of the Cathars was nothing more than the selfishness of a pope and the greediness of his courtiers to retain every last vestige of power, and with it every last sou of tribute, regardless of what harm was done in God’s name.

Laura Harrison McBride 

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The winner of the competition for Nick Inman’s book, Muriel Hammond, wrote in to us.

The book has arrived and I have just enjoyed 45 minutes out on the terrace with a coffee and croissant reading the introduction. The introduction is excellent and I look forward to reading the rest of the book. I am not disappointed in my winnings!

Thank you Nick Inman for this donation to my personal library. It will be enjoyed for years and by the many who visit, as it becomes part of our “guest” literature and a trip diary!

For those who have been in France for years, I would encourage a purchase of this book for personal reading and coffee table display!

Muriel Hammond