This morning the Twittersphere and all the other ‘spheres have had plenty to say about the late Norman Geras. I can’t say as much or as well as they did, but I have my own tribute to pay.
Almost certainly without knowing it, Norm helped me to have the courage to speak up for what I believe to be right, even when everyone around me, Guardian-readers all, believed something different, and were incredulous or (often) malevolent if they heard a different view. As examples, the belief that human rights are universal, that differing cultural norms do not excuse, for instance, the mutilating of women and girls, that the deliberate killing of civilians is always a war crime. Most of the people around me for most of my adult life (I worked for the BBC for 13 years, was in Labour politics for 20, and now work for an international institution dedicated to democracy, human rights and the rule of law) consider themselves to be liberal, “good” people. But these same people, and you only have to read the letters and comments in the Guardian to see it, support evil and barbaric regimes and practices around the world that they would never tolerate where they live. Some of them marched in 2003 waving Saddam Hussein’s flag. Some of them spoke up for the Taliban and the killing of Americans—even though they expected their own daughters to go to school. Many of them use Jew-hating language about the state of Israel. I don’t presume to repeat the expression of Norm’s views here—he is gone and we will not hear from him again, but his writing lives on. I can only say that when I knew that there were others out there who believed as I do that some things are just wrong, and who could express those beliefs with intellectual coherence and clarity—well, I managed to be a bit braver.
Norm was passionate about cricket, which I am not. He was a Marxist, which I am not. He loved Jane Austen’s works, which I did not until something he wrote got me to see what she was about. He loved country and western music, and Western films, both of which I learned to appreciate (up to a point) from him. From time to time he recommended books, and I quickly learned that anything he thought would be a good read always was. He once had a competition on his blog, which was won by my significant other, to whom Norm sent a book token. I met him only once, at a Euston Manifesto event in 2007. He wouldn’t have remembered me, but I will never forget him.
My heart goes out to Norm’s widow Adele, whom I do not know, but who once took the trouble to recommend a hair product to me when I was Tweeting in rather tedious and querulous fashion about a trichological issue. The writer Sophie Hannah is their daughter.
Goodbye, Norm. Thank you.