Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Category: Education News Digest

Percy Allum Obituary

In 1975, a 549-page book with an orange cover by Percy Allum, a British academic from the University of Reading, was published by the Italian publisher, Einaudi, in translation. It was titled Politics and Society in Post-War Naples. The highly-regarded book caused a stir in Italy due to its rigorous analysis of politics and society in Naples. The work was written with panache, crystal clarity, and a depth of knowledge, revealing information that had never been exposed before. The book named names, much to the shock of Naples and its political establishment.

Allum focused his analysis on the political power structures used by the Christian Democracy party, and other groups, in Napoli. The "clan" around the Gava family and the "bosses", Silvio and Antonio Gava were also scrutinized in the book, which sent shock waves through the city and its political structure. In his book, Allum showed exactly how voting power was organized. He highlighted how clientelist structures, linked to the political culture of the city, worked on a street-by-street, committee-by-committee, and ballot-paper-by-ballot-paper basis. The book’s controversial aspect was anticipated even before the Italian translation hit the shelves, with Allum’s publishers ensuring that the translation process was carefully monitored. Some feared that the Gavas would sue on publication, however, this never happened. Allum’s book made him an instant household name in Naples while also earning him the ire of the Gava’s, who continued to speak ill of the British academic throughout their political career.

So how did Allum come to write such an extraordinary book, employing quotations from Mao and Stendhal, and making ironic use of proverbs, alongside sociological theory, history, political analysis, and anthropology?

Born as Peter Allum in Thame, rural Oxfordshire, one of six siblings to Doris (nee Clark) and Robert Allum, he adopted the name Percy at a young age. He went to school at the Downs school in Colwall, located in the Malvern hills. It was at this school he became interested in drawing, thanks to an inspiring art teacher called Maurice Feild. Allum continued to draw and paint for the rest of his career and exhibited his work in France, Italy, and the UK. He would send his friends hand-drawn cards to commemorate the new year.

Allum won a scholarship to Cambridge post-military service and studied law and history, earning another law degree in the process. Against his parents’ wishes, who wanted him to join their laundry business located in Thame, a teacher noticed his potential and encouraged him to continue studying. His Ph.D. work under Christopher Seton-Watson in Oxford was the foundation for his book on Naples. Allum had already lived in Naples and learned Italian while there as an English language assistant in the 1950s. He met Marie-Pierrette Desmas, his future wife, in France in 1957, and the two married in 1961.

Allum’s career spanned numerous institutions and universities. He taught at Reading, where he didn’t participate in the academic game, leading to huge delays in his promotion to professor until 1994. He also taught in Padua and Naples, Paris, and Sudan. Allum was well-read and up-to-date on Italian and European politics, which provided essential input to his teaching and further research.

Allum’s magisterial comparative textbook, Democrazia Reale, was written in Italian in 1991, based on lectures he gave in Padua, and later published in English as State and Society in Western Europe. Once again, his writing displayed clarity, combined with a high-level analysis of issues, flow of stories, an eclectic array of sources, ideas, and passionate political positions, alongside deep and concrete research.

Allum was a man of the left. He often spoke out in favor of ethical positions in public life and was part of a group of Italianists at Reading who thrived in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, working in history, Italian, and politics departments. His colleagues included Stuart Woolf, Paul Corner, and Christopher Duggan. Allum’s scholarship continued with a long study of Christian Democrat power and culture, this time in Northern Italy, around Vicenza, with the publication of several articles and edited books, often in collaboration with local scholars.

The great Italian novelist, Luigi Meneghello, was instrumental in the rise of Italian studies in Reading, and he wrote a beautiful portrait of Percy Allum (Percy Agonistes) in his festschrift. Meneghello highlighted Allum’s "torrential" way of speaking and his intense ability to debate and discuss recent and historical issues, referencing his long, blond hair, which always flapped about his head.

With Marie-Pierrette’s unwavering dedication to her spouse and their two children, they were able to travel extensively between France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, allowing him to conduct research in archives and libraries and write. His early retirement in 1995 from Reading paved the way for his appointment as a professor at the Università Degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale” in Naples, where he continued teaching and researching for an entire decade. During a time of great political upheaval in Italy, Allum emerged as a key player in the debate and political landscape, frequently publishing in noteworthy Italian dailies such as La Repubblica and l’Unità and delivering speeches at various conferences and congresses.

His research had a profound impact on prominent individuals in the Neapolitan and national political and social realms. For example, one-time mayor of Naples, Maurizio Valenzi, communist Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, and a generation of magistrates and judges drew inspiration from Allum’s original writings on Naples to combat the Neapolitan version of the mafia, the Camorra, during the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s.

After retiring from his post in Naples, Allum continued to showcase his talent as a painter by creating unique cityscapes, intimate portraits, and self-portraits. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with dementia in the later years of his life. He is survived by his wife, Marie-Pierrette, their son Fabrice, their daughter Felia, two granddaughters, and three sisters.

I Was A Naive Fool’

It’s unlikely that many residents of the charming village of Godalming in Surrey, England, know about the past of their fellow inhabitant, Henry Metelmann. At 79 years old, Metelmann’s appearance is that of an ordinary English pensioner; however, his perspective on the realities of war and the power of propaganda comes from firsthand experience. As a former Nazi soldier who served on the eastern front during World War II, the words "bombed villages" and "civilian casualties" are far more than just terms to him.

Having recently completed a lecture tour for his book, Through Hell for Hitler, Metelmann shows me around his home. He proudly exhibits his garden, which conveniently backs onto Charterhouse, where he still works part-time as a groundsman. In the hallway, a friend painted a portrait of a Russian mother with her children, fleeing their burning village in the snow. In the kitchen, a CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) sign was carved into the plaster. "My wife and I painted that when we moved in," he said, his distinctive German accent still present after living in Britain for over 50 years.

Metelmann is currently engaged in protesting against the US’s bombing campaign in Afghanistan. "Having been a soldier who witnessed the suffering of innocent people, I feel compelled to speak out against it," he says. On October 12, Metelmann was among 20,000 peace demonstrators who marched from Hyde Park Corner to Trafalgar Square. Along with his late wife, he campaigned against the Vietnam War. "I have seen children burning. Once you’ve experienced that and retain a modicum of empathy, you wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone."

Metelmann is forthcoming about his past. He was raised in a working-class Altona family, an industrial town northwest of Hamburg. Although his father was a socialist who saw through the political rhetoric of the nationalist party, it wasn’t enough to stop Metelmann from becoming engrossed in Nazi ideology. "There was only one youth group approved: the Hitler Youth. At school, we were indoctrinated with all the propaganda surrounding the Fuhrer. It was drilled into us, and soon we believed it was glorious to conquer other countries. As a 10-year-old boy, I had no hope."

Today, Metelmann mistrusts Western propaganda more than anything else. "We must understand that we are not always free thinkers while others are brainwashed. That’s not true." He gets particularly skeptical when he hears about America’s desire for an oil pipeline through Afghanistan, which would provide access to Caspian Sea oil reserves. It reminds him of when his commander informed them that the war wouldn’t end with Russia’s defeat. Instead, they planned to march onto the Caspian and Iraq, propelled by their thirst for oil.

But what about the Twin Towers terrorist attacks? "September 11 wasn’t the start of history, was it? We have to ask ourselves why such a terrible and horrific crime was committed." He says sarcastically, "Whenever I hear that a large power is looking to install a government somewhere else, I think, ‘Oh, that’s not in your best interest, no?’"

Metelmann wrote his book as a warning against the atrocities of war. In it, he chronicles his experiences as an 18-year-old conscripted into the army as a Panzer driver and dispatched to the eastern front in Russia. What was so alluring about Nazi ideology? "Patriotism," he replies simply. "It was all slogans. We were fighting for the Fuhrer, the people, and the homeland. We were ready to die for it."

During his time in the Crimea, Metelmann fell in love with a young Russian girl and met other locals who chipped away at the Nazi racism that had been instilled in him. "My belief in our race’s superiority took a hit there because Anna was a fantastic, valuable human being. Why should I consider myself superior because I was German, and she was Russian? When the war ended, and I was prostrated in the snow and dirt of Stalingrad, I realized I’d been naive."

Through it all, Metelmann was unaware of the concentration camps, believing them to be places where "unsocial" individuals were forced into hard labor. News of Hitler’s "Final Solution" was a monumental betrayal: "I couldn’t comprehend it. Germany was still something really significant to me. And to think that they’ve committed so many unspeakable acts! To kill people based on their origin or something they can’t control."

As a seasoned veteran reflecting on my life, I understand the futility of resorting to radical actions. In my memoir, I recount the harrowing tale of Boris, a commissar who was taken captive and kept in a pigsty enclosed with barbed wire. I was assigned to guard him, and I knew that his fate was sealed with a lethal shot. However, he looked at my rifle and uttered, "You know, with that thing you can’t quell ideas." This poignant tribute to the power of ideas has driven me to advocate for peaceful and constructive solutions to conflicts. My memoir, titled "Through Hell for Hitler," is available for purchase from Spellmount publishers at a price of £18.99.

New NUS President: I Will Always Be Racially Profiled

The newly appointed president of the National Union of Students (NUS) has called for the government’s anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy to be scrapped and for universities to do more to tackle racism on campus.

Speaking in her first interview since taking up the role, Zamzam Ibrahim said that she had seen the damaging effects of Prevent first-hand, with students being referred for events being cancelled and being members of Palestinian or Islamic societies. Instead, she called for a fully funded and accessible education system that is seen as a social and public good. “That’s not an education system that includes surveillance of a particular minority group,” she argued.

Previously the president of the students’ union at the University of Salford, Ibrahim was elected to her new position at the NUS conference in April and took up the post in July. She said that she had dealt with many cases of Prevent when she was president of the student’s union and when she moved into the NUS. She highlighted the fact that people were being referred because they were members of societies, and she believed that this clear route encouraged discrimination in the education system.

Ibrahim called for the Prevent programme to be scrapped, emphasising that it needs to be done away with rather than merely being reviewed, which the government has agreed to do in response to concerns that the programme is fostering discrimination against Muslims and hindering free expression.

In earlier interviews, Ibrahim spoke about how the media had portrayed her as a “fanatical Muslim and a threat to British society” based on comments she wrote on social media as a 16-year-old. She argues that her views have since moved on, and that such comments were twisted and used to intimidate young people, especially those from Muslim families or backgrounds, from entering public office.

Ibrahim completed her remarks by calling for more young people, especially girls from families similar to hers, to enter public service and be ambitious and unapologetic for who they are.

Her statement pointed out a desire to alter the manner in which we address the topic of education and to communicate to the general public that it is in fact an essential service for the greater good. Having witnessed the chaos that the educational sector has fallen into over the course of her years within it, she aims to steer it away from further disarray. Her belief is that the concept of free education should not revolve around her personal gain since she has already obtained her degree. Instead, she envisions it as an investment in future generations that come after her.

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Nor