Sunday 18 August 2013

"The phrase 'Arab Spring' seems a cruel irony this morning..."

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

7.10 Introduction, by Edward Stourton. His opening words?: "The phrase 'Arab Spring' seems a cruel irony this morning..."

7.11 The Archbishop of York announces a review into child abuse in the Anglican Church. Edward talked to Anne Lawrence of the Campaign to Stop Church Child Abuse. She wants a public inquiry into abuse in the Church.

7.15 Zoroastrianism.  In the light of the Zoroastrian new year, Edward interviewed Lord Karan Bilimoria, the only Zoroastrian in the House of Lords. Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest religions, though it has small numbers of followers these days. Lord Bilimoria gave some background to this ancient theistic religion, possibly the world's first monotheistic religion. There are just 6,000 Parsis in the UK. (Did you know Freddie Mercury was a Zoroastrian? Edward Stourton didn't.). 

Any issues for Zoroastrians? Lord Bilimoria has been on several BBC programmes over the last couple of years attacking the government's immigration cap, so it was unsurprising that he replied "immigration" and then attacked the "current government's blunt immigration cap". We should be encouraging immigration that benefits us, he said.

7.20 In St. Paul's footsteps. In the second part of his report, Bob Walker began his 300-mile work through Turkey. A local imam helps him when he gets lost. He encounters howling dogs, a dead wolf, a scary dam, thick mud, baking heat and many rivers. He quotes St. Paul's own description of his trek across this landscape. He meets no one else on the trail for days, then meets a Dutch couple [Christians] doing the same walk. They find it historically interesting. Way-marks prove elusive for Bob. The charity of locals is literally a life-saver for him. A Roman road, spectacular ruins. Anatolian sheepdogs are the scariest thing of all - big and fierce. Calls to prayer, mosques, minarets. He wonders what Paul would have made of those sounds. He finally reaches an Antioch church - the  Church of St. Paul, apparently built on synagogue. He recalls Paul & Barnabas's announcement that they will "turn to the gentiles" - a major event in Christianity, the beginning of "the universal Christian church".

7.26 GK Chesterton. An interview with Prof Alison Milbank on the Catholic writer, and on the calls for him to be canonised. She thinks he's a deep thinker and says that his little book on Thomas Aquinas is considered one of the greatest about the philosopher. His critiques of nihilism and relativism drew on his own experiences. His own theology? "A theology of gift", that everything is a gift from God - God the dramatist, artist. Quite a mystical theology. He also wrote a book called "Orthodoxy" - a spiritual autobiography, Prof Milbank calls it. She herself finds orthodoxy "exciting", Edward says it's "unfashionable". Edward notes that Pope Francis is rumoured to be a fan. 

7.31 Fracking and the Anglican Church. Church commissioners asserted their rights to mining this week, then issued a statement calling on anti-fracking protesters to consider the possible benefits of fracking. People put two and two together, noted Edward Stourton. So Philip Fletcher of the Church's group on Mission and Public Affairs was brought into the studio. Sunday had wanted to question the commissioners (presumably to give them a grilling), but they didn't want to speak to the programme. Edward pressed Mr Fletcher on the issue and asked whether the "desire for financial gain" had any part in the Church's statement. Ed then raised the issue of different opinions within the Church.

7.36 Immigration in Australia. The new Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, is taking on  the politicians over their tough immigration policies. We heard a report from the BBC's Phil Mercer, which began with a protest song about a Sri Lankan asylum seeker, of which we heard two surprisingly long extracts. Phil said that tougher policies are being promised by the politicians but Archbishop Davies wants a more "compassionate" approach to these "vulnerable" people and accuses the politicians of turning the issue into a "political football". Kevin Rudd is quoted, saying it's about saving lives not winning votes. He has, says Phil, an "uncompromising policy". Tony Abbott is also quoted, immediately followed by the sound of a protester shouting about "bigotry". We then heard about the anger in Australia's Muslim community" and a Muslim spokesman criticised the country's immigration policies. Phil speculated that the images of boat people "stirs deep fears" within many Australians. He asks: Is it an ancient "fear of invasion from Asia" or "simply xenophobia"? We then hear from a church minister who says Australians are not as kind as they think they are and then from the head of Australia's Refugee Council who is happy that church leaders are taking the lead against the politicians over immigration. Finally, it was back to Archbishop Davies and a final reiteration of his concerns. 

So, except for those two extracts from the politicians [both from public statements], this report consisted of nothing but a string of opponents of tough immigration policies. You would have thought that a few balancing 'talking heads' supportive of tough immigration policies would have been included in the report as a matter of course. But no, not a bit of it. 

Add to that remarkable imbalance of 'talking heads' Phil Mercer's own speculations about the irrationality of the Australian people's concerns about immigration and you get precisely the kind of biased pro-immigration reporting which critics of the BBC have long accused the corporation of being guilty of - and which the BBC says may have been the case in the past but is now no longer the case. Well, Phil Mercer's report here shows that it is still the case, now.  

7.42 Egypt. What's to be done about the Muslim Brotherhood? 

Edward Stourton didn't sound too happy at the army's use of force, from the tone of his questioning. He began by discussing matters with Jeremy Bowen. Both agreed that the Muslim Brotherhood is so deep rooted that the military's attempts to eliminate them as a political force won't succeed. 

In a bit of a change to the cast-list originally announced on the programme's website, Edward then brought in Coptic Bishop Angaelos and the (in)famous Tariq Ramadan, an ancestor of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Mr Ramadan says that he's been critical of Muslim Brotherhood strategy but they've not had long enough in power. The won the election, he said. For him, the coup-d'etat, the comeback of the army "is the true question".
Edward says the Copts can't do very much, as they are a small minority (just 10%). The bishop replies that an openly affiliated president shouldn't have been the case. It resulted in the "marginalisation" of Christians and a lot of Muslims who didn't share the Brotherhood's vision. It was "a power-grab that went through almost every section of society".

Mr Ramadan says that during the first uprising, Copts and Muslims protected each other. Copts have an important role to play, but advises them: "Don't take the side of the military". He wants the Copts to denounce army violence.
What of the liberals? Jeremy Bowen says they've made a lot of political mistakes, including since the coup. He expressed surprise at Mohammed al-Baradei's backing of the coup, sounding disappointed in a man he admires. He added though that the military action has a lot of support.
Be optimistic, Ed says. The bishop says clear guidelines on religion and policy needed as a partial democracy isn't a full democracy. The Brotherhood didn't try to represent everyone.
Tariq Ramadan says that national civic coalition is needed and wants the military's role defined and reduced.


So, did this edition of the programme draw on what I keep on describing as its "usual diet of breaking news from the Arab world, Christian-related abuse stories, bad news about the Catholic Church, something about human rights, the usual airing of Muslim grievances, a call for something or other by a left-wing campaign group, an Anglican row over something, that sort of thing"? 

Yes, most of that list was duly ticked by Sunday this week. Egypt took care of the 'breaking news from the Arab world' box; the opening story ticked the 'Christian-related abuse stories' box; the immigration report ticked three boxes - the 'something about human rights', the 'the usual airing of Muslim grievances' and the 'call for something or other by a left-wing campaign group' boxes; and the fracking story ticked the 'an Anglican row over something' box. Only the 'bad news about the Catholic Church' box went unticked this week.

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