Five Great Reads: on misunderstanding protest songs, chronic illness, the way we spend

<span>Protest songs create ‘a notional place’, writes Nesrine Malik, ‘disembodied from wretched reality, that nurtures solace, bravado and connection between a scattered and uprooted people’.</span><span>Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images</span>
Protest songs create ‘a notional place’, writes Nesrine Malik, ‘disembodied from wretched reality, that nurtures solace, bravado and connection between a scattered and uprooted people’.Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

Good morning. I’m back again with the stories from around the Guardian this week that most got me thinking.

Have a read, bookmark them for later and have a lovely weekend (my tips: look at these cool eco-brutalist structures, read some Alice Munro and go see the better Josh O’Connor movie).

1. Nesrine Malik on Palestinian protest songs

As tensions ramped up in Australia over pro-Palestine university encampments, so did public discussion about protesters’ chants – for which Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik has critical context. Malik explains how an Arabic tradition of art and literature has “channelled the despair of the Palestinians”.

“The passing of this culture into mainstream English language discourse since 7 October has reduced the words within it to literal meanings, projected on to them by observers with little knowledge of their history and nuances,” Malik writes, tracing the collective warping of terms such as “intifada” or the phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

“In the light of 7 October, it is understandable that, to some, expressions of Palestinian uprising and claims to land take on a threatening pall. But the story of these terms and chants is much longer than the one condensed and condemned over the past seven months.”

Words of rootedness: “They create a notional place, disembodied from wretched reality, that nurtures solace, bravado and connection between a scattered and uprooted people who aspire to something you and I take for granted: statehood.”

How long will it take to read: less than three minutes

Further reading: as always, there’s so much you can read. For a different take on protest slogans, Jo-Ann Mort argues that activists should rethink some chants heard at the current rallies around the world. Or find out, for example, how Zionist became a term of derision on the US left; hear Jewish students’ perspectives on whether the US campus protests are antisemitic; read Arwa Mahdawi on her right to wear her keffiyeh in public without fear; and find all our coverage on the crisis here.

2. The man who runs India

It’s not just the prime minister, Narendra Modi, in charge, Atul Dev explains in this gripping long read but also his right-hand man, “his confidant, consigliere and enforcer”, the home affairs minister, Amit Shah.

Come for the chilling opening; stay for the fugitive story, the media tactics and the deep dive into the violent political landscape of the world’s biggest democracy (at least in name).

Why it’s important: “A defining feature of life in India today is the suffocating atmosphere of menace and threat to critics of the government,” Dev writes. “Shah is the face and embodiment of this fear, which lurks everywhere, from the newsrooms to the courtrooms.”

How long will it take to read: more than 10 minutes

3. The peculiar pains of chronic illness

After years of being labelled “hypermobile”, English poet and writer Daisy Lafarge was diagnosed at 31 with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an incurable genetic condition. In this lovely and informative piece, she recalls the contradictions, the pain and relief, of that “strange, head-wrecking time” – and the “ableist expectations” she still harbours of herself, “hat[ing] being too foggy or racked with pain to write or think”.


“It has suddenly, painfully illuminated something at the centre of my life that has always been there; I don’t know how to rearrange myself around this glaring presence, or account for the ways it has already, without my knowledge, arranged me.” – Daisy Lafarge

How long will it take to read: about six minutes

Further reading: as we covered in 2019, EDS is also classified as a rare disease in Australia, rarely recognised by most GPs and specialists – see what it’s like to live with it here. And if Lafarge’s piece resonated with you, take time over writer MJ Hyland’s stunning essay Hardy Animal, about her diagnosis with MS.

4. Money therapy

Vicky Reynal is Britain’s first self-styled “financial psychotherapist”. Mark Wilding went to meet her and find out what our money choices reveal about our psyches. As he observes, most of us have the hunch our economic choices are rooted in rationality. But according to Reynal? Not so. She aims to “go to the roots of what experiences, what feelings, what longings, sit behind our money behaviours. It’s only by understanding these that we stand the chance of changing them.”

Why should I care about this? “People with substantial debt are reportedly more likely to suffer from ulcers and migraines, and six times more likely to experience anxiety and depression,” Wilding points out. And wealthy people face unhappiness and stress over money too – albeit, one can assume, for very different reasons.

How long will it take to read: about five minutes

Further reading: while you’re confronting your financial baggage (awful!), why not clear out your creative demons, too: Julia Cameron, of cult hit The Artist’s Way, has some thoughts.

5. Pooing properly

“All things must pass!” writes Evan Goldstein in the Guardian’s Well actually pages. “But there’s a medical consensus about how much time a healthy person should spend on the commode.” In news that may not be all that surprising, more than half a million readers so far have wanted to find out what that consensus is.

Well, what is it? You should only wait 30 seconds to a minute after you sit down to poo. There’s a lot else to learn here, too, from common errors to helpful tools.

How long will it take to read: four minutes-ish. Don’t read it on the loo – turns out that’s something you’re not supposed to do.

Further watching: Perfect Days, the sweet Wim Wenders film that made me go home and clean my bathroom. (“If God lives in everything, that of course includes a toilet,” its elegant star, Kōji Yakusho, recently told the Guardian.)

Stay safe out there, read lots, don’t push too hard.

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