Sunday 25 August 2013

'Sunday' - Syria, Witches, Humanists, MLK, charities and Lord Sacks

Here's this week's review of Radio 4's Sunday.

7.10 Introduction, by Edward Stourton

7.11 Syria. Edward talked to Fr. Nadim Nassar of the Awareness Foundation, the only Syrian priest in the Anglican church. He was critical of Obama, Cameron and Hague, saying that the West are "paper tigers" and that the debate within the West is mere "empty words". "Where are the actions?", he asked. He didn't want us to attack militarily, only to have worked much harder to achieve a negotiated peace. Edward asked him about sectarianism. He said it's "severe" because of the influx of Islamists, placing minorities - especially Christians and Alawites - "under enormous pressure". Many Christians have been "savagely" killed in the last two weeks, he said.

[Sunday is certainly not ignoring the grave plight of Christians in the Middle East at the moment, which is something to be warmly welcomed].

7.16 Witchcraft. An interview with Tracy Borman about her new book on witches in the 17th century. She told the tale of the three "flower" women found guilty of witchcraft over the deaths of the sons of the Earl of Rutland. She thinks it was a plot by the Duke of Buckingham though, suspecting him of poisoning the boys. He wanted to marry their sister, thus being able to inherit the estate when the Earl of Rutland died. The women were, thus, framed (she thinks).  She then related this to the general movement against witches at the time and King James I's "passion for witch-hunting", which she allied to the rise in puritanism and anti-Catholicism - people associating the magical rituals of the Catholic Church with those of witchcraft.

[Edward Stourton felt the need to justify this segment on the grounds that a lot of people put 'Wicca' on the 2011 census, so it had a measure of topicality. Sunday doesn't ignore Wicca anyhow. They've done two further features on it since 2011 - more than they've done for the Sikh religion!] 

7.20 The New Humanist. An interview with Daniel Trilling, the magazine's new editor. He's wary of the 'new atheists' (those Edward Stourton called "Dawkins & Co."), especially their stridently anti-religious, "superior" tone and their attacks on Islam since 9/11. He wants a gentler tone and a greater concentration on the mix of power, politics and organised religion and says he will be campaigning against intolerance against minorities and non-believers and challenging the role religious leaders play in society.

[I'm sure he'll become something of a regular on Sunday then].

7.26 The anniversary of the March on Washington. Kati Whitaker reported from Washington on what the 1963 march meant for the black church. She spoke to Congressmen John Lewis (youngest of the six speakers at the march), who described the racism of the period, then to Prof. David Garrow who said it was controversial to be so explicitly political in the black church at the time. MLK, however, took a stand as in the black church black ministers couldn't be fired by whites. There were detractors within the black church too though, including a "conservative" baptist leader in Chicago. George B. Mitchell, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, discussed that aspect of the story before Rev Jesse Jackson appeared to say that a new gospel was needed at the time. Ripple effects galvanised the black church for the march and also awakened white Catholics, Protestants and Jews, many of whom also joined the march. Congressman John Lewis [Democrat] said Obama's election is almost a staging post but there's still a long distance to go till we reach the promised land.

7.33 Lobby Bill. "The government's been accused on putting the frighteners on charities," said Edward Stourton. He discussed the concerns of charities with reporter Kevin Bocquet. Kevin chose an example of the sort of political issue that is at the heart of the row - "welfare" and "benefits". At the moment a charity can argue for a political cause before an election, but not during an election; however, it must not support a political party at any time. The proposed change in the Lobby Bill intends to tighten that up. If the electoral commission decides that the effect of a charity's campaign helps a specific political party in the run-up to the election, that charity could be penalised - as it will have broken the law. The charities say they may have to stop campaigning in the twelve months leading up to a general election. Kevin told us about the specific concerns of Islamic Relief, Cafod and Tearfund [coincidentally the charities Sunday most often interviews]. Is it a deliberate attack by the government? Or just sloppy drafting? Legal affairs writer Joshua Rosenberg says the charities want clarification. Finally, Edward asked about what are the government are saying. They refused to be interviewed, replied Kevin, before reading out a very short statement from them.

[No other defenders of the proposed changes were sought, surprisingly, in the interests of balance. There much be others, outside of the government, who support such changes and who could have argued for them here. As a result, this was a one-sided package.] 

7.38 Lord Sacks steps down as Chief Rabbi. An extended interview with Edward Stourton. I'll paraphrase all of his questions, plus some of Lord Sacks's replies.

What have your high points been? [The trebling of day school places in Jewish schools, so that children are becoming more aware of their faith; that the community is becoming "much more culturally exuberant". and that they've become a real voice in the nation's discourse.] 

What about your attack on Hugo Gryn? [He regrets it now.]

Hasn't the fracturing of the Jewish community during your time become greater? [He says that's "absolutely not the case".]

Nevertheless, people do question your role. Does it still make sense? 

You'd accept there are "a lot of Jews" who don't feel represented by the chief rabbi? 

Your book 'The Politics of Hope' criticised libertarianism, didn't it? 

Do you think we've moved closer or further away from what you were describing? 

Is society less fractured or more so nowadays?

What's your greatest worry? [Individualism. It's no way to built society. He's full of hope though, as so many people now see the problem and want their children to have a strong moral sense.]

You criticise the government over marriage? Do you think this government "specifically" or politicians "in general" are to blame? [He says the breakdown of marriage has led to more child poverty.]

If you think that's such an important issue, what should the government do? [He wants a cross-party engagement with faith communicates to educate people on enduring relationships.]

Sounds to me if you're saying the state of marriage is the most serious issue facing Britain today?

How does that "square with" your view on gay marriage? [I've kept my voice very, very low on this issue because of how gays were treated by the Nazis].

Have you ever had to bite your tongue over Israel? [I leave politics to the politicians.]

Israel. There was optimism at Oslo Accords, Madrid Summit, Camp David. Yoday people say that the possibility "is real" that the state of Israel might not continue to exist if things carry on as they are? [Israel is the country of hope.]

Anti-Semitism, what's your audit? [Britain one of the most tolerant countries in the world, but internet hatred is a new phenomenon. The internet "is a carrier of hate speech of various kinds"]

It's people not the mechanism that's responsible, isn't it?

Any regrets? [I never look back, only forward.]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.