Thursday 26 March 2015

A Dialogue between the Soul and the Heart

By popular demand...

The Radio 4 drama Recent Events at Collington House (Part 1 here; Part 2 here) prompted a metaphysical dialogue between the heart and the soul, here at ITBB

Here, channeling that marvellous Metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, is a taste of that inner debate:

Heart: I dutifully listened to the final episode of that Radio 4 drama, which was like a collection of all the recent 'issues' pasted together, but with an unusual outcome - the Muslims defeated the secular headmistress. A message of hopelessness I suppose.

Soul: I was surprised at how emotionally involved I got with it. I went red in the face at times. Plus, it went to places that the BBC rarely goes to. It showed how a Trojan Horse-style plot (of the kind which occurred in the West Midlands) might actually work, beginning with personal demands from a single governor that his child should not be taught music because "Music is haram" and progressing through an ever-increasing number of further sharia-inducing demands to a smear campaign against the sitting headmistress (and non-Muslim members of staff), to dogged grievance-mongering, a relentless infiltration of the board of governors and finally a takeover - a takeover which all the nice, well-meaning, PC, multicultural, equality-loving, (BBC-like) members of staff/governors are nigh on powerless to prevent. It certainly was a message of hopelessness - which, at the moment, seems something of a realistic position.

Heart: The only thing I'd point out is that to me it seemed, in terms of drama, it was pretty crass. The good thing was that it ended up on a kind of note of hopelessness and resignation, but it was as if the writer had gathered together a hatfull of headlines and strung them together with little additional creative or literary input:
  • The headmistress hounded out by Muslim parents and governors. Tick.
  • The friendless outsider non-Muslim boy with a worried single mum, radicalised by another pupil. Tick.
  • The radicalised clever Muslim pupil. Tick.
  • The frail chairman, supportive but about to stand down. Tick.
  • The gratuitous divorce in the background, sapping the headmistress's strength. Tick.
  • The graffiti on the wall. The debate about freedom of speech. The Charlie Hebdo/picture of the prophet. Tock.
That's just for a start. At least we were spared a happy outcome, which was indeed a surprise. It clunked.

Soul: Yes, it did clunk. The bit where Mr Nurani did his "I love the Prophet Mohammed more than my mum, dad and kids" speech was nicked straight out of the papers, as was pretty much all of the rest of the plot. Still, it got me hot under the collar about Mr Shah & Co. (the Islamist plotters inside the Trojan horse) and made lots of points that aren't usually made on the BBC, which is something.

Heart: I thought the whole thing was nicked out of the papers, and that's why it couldn't really be described as 'good'. Only in its vaguely realistic ending was it in a way good.


  1. Agreed it was not very "good" drama (very much scissors and paste) but it was very "significant" drama.

    It was significant in offering a realistic portrayal of the Sharia agenda in this country and a realistic conclusion (success for those pushing the Sharia agenda), rather that some cosy coming together.

    I doubt it will be followed by a rush of relevant dramas about FGM, treatment of apostates, or the life of Mohammed, or accurate news reports about Jihadism and pro-Sharia actions around the world, or searching questions on news programmes about Sharia courts and Sharia education or even jokes about Islam on comedy programmes.

  2. It sounds fascinating - and unexpected. I shall try to listen and do a review on HP. Artistically, maybe it works better for people who didn't follow the Trojan Horse story closely. (Similarly, I found The Finkler Question clunky because so much of HJ's source material was familiar to me.)

    1. Yes, that's possible. But I think the problem from a dramatic point of view was that the characters were giving "position statements" (albeit quite well crafted) rather than being driven by inner motivations. For instance, you got the idea that male Sharia supporters had a certain regressive view of women's role in society but you didn't get a strong sense of their inner mental world. And everything was a little too neatly packaged - it was a series of set clashes, rather than emerging naturally out of interaction.

      However, in terms of the liberal-left being prepared to admit there is a problem - a real, difficult, existential (for the liberal-left) problem - was ground-breaking and refreshing.

  3. Good grief. The BBC allowed a play concerning Islam to end on a disturbing note!
    It seemed like a hastily concocted drama, as if the commissioning editor, or perhaps the writer set out to dramatise something topical and edgy, Googled ‘Trojan Horse” and strung all the findings together. It reminded me of a strip cartoon.

    I only listened to the second episode, so this may be an unfair and trivial criticism, but I assume the Headmistress’s divorce was a device to inject vulnerability. If she had been depicted as a strong, resolute character her eventual defeat would have had a more significant impact.

  4. Yes, surprising isn't it? I agree that the Head had to be made was a kind of let out for the denouement. If it had simply been Sharia v. Liberal Democracy with no personal content, the message would probably have not been acceptable.

    But ten years ago, you would have had them all meeting down the pub agreeing to disagree and saying that now the right winger on the Governors Board had been kicked off the future looks bright!

    The remarkable thing about this drama was that it had some connection to social reality in the UK in 2015. You can't often say that about a BBC Radio 4 drama (especially the contemporary drama!).

  5. I listened to the play this afternoon and did a post

    The ideology seemed very firmly Gilliganite. I thought the divorce problem was there to soften the slightly edgy comments Roz made to Shah (which he then inflated in his report to the police). I might personally have liked just a little more acknowledgement that anti-Muslim bigotry was a problem - it's filtered so very much through the extremist grievance mongering characters that it could serve to confirm those who think it really isn't a problem - as opposed to thinking it's a problem which is sometimes exaggerated in a self-serving way, and indeed used to smear secularist opponents.

    1. Sarah AB, Harry’s Place is my favorite blog.
      True to your word, you’ve blogged the play!
      We were alerted to it by a comment on this blog, and I dutifully listened to episode 2. Unfortunately, having ‘heard enough already’ I gave episode 1 a miss. I see now that the first episode might have contained some of the nuance and subtlety I missed.
      Sarah, I fear I am one of those people you’ve encountered on the internet - those who express their cynical opinions with copious dollops of acidulated insincerity.

      Now that we’ve been introduced, I’ve often wanted to tell you that I think your equanimity in the face of the most vitriolic criticism is awesome. In the old days I asked the proprietor of the Biased BBC blog for permission to include complimentary pieces about the BBC as well as the usual moans about the anti-Israel reporting. If appropriate of course. He said I’d need broad shoulders. Imagine. Broad shoulders to praise the BBC, not the other way round. Anyway I wasn’t sure how broad my shoulders were, but when one of my (non-complimentary) pieces attracted a comment from someone who wished I’d get cancer I bore it bravely; so far his wish hasn’t come true.

      Anyway, as far as the play is concerned I have to say that you’ve taken it remarkably seriously. To me it seemed like the issues were slapped on with a trowel. Having read your synopsis, I see there are even more of these than I thought, what with the gay teacher and the music lessons, and hey ho, skimpy skirts.

      So – what exactly was the play’s agenda? I’ve been asking myself this too. The ending. What does it mean? We’re doomed! Doomed! Sadly, I think we are.

      Don’t you think it would have made a good episode of The Simpsons? That’s how I saw it, in terms of drama. Or a parody. I’d have loved to see it done as a parody, in the style of W1A.
      I don’t suppose many of the HP community will have the time or the fortitude to stick with it, but if they do I hope they don’t blame you.

      Anti-Islam bigotry? That’s me I suppose. Call me Mrs Duffy. You sound a tiny bit like Gordon Brown. Are you related?

  6. Thanks Sue - no, absolutely no relation to Gordon.

    I genuinely found the play enjoyable and interesting, and am not sure how it could have offered some kind of dramatised version of (aspects of) the Trojan Horse affair without being rather predictable. It was less nuanced than some Simpsons episodes - such as the gun control one - as it really did seem to me to be down the line Gilligan. If it could have introduced another strand without diluting the unsparing criticism of Shah types - that would have been good. As it was, there seemed a potential danger - or grounds for criticism - in making the one real example of an anti-Muslim bigot a vulnerable boy who ended up being radicalised as an Islamist himself. A Muslim parent who was opposed to Islamisation was central to some of Gilligan's reports - it would have been good to include such a character in this drama.

    1. Sarah, I’m glad I haven’t offended you, but in today’s climate, don’t you think we need down the line Gilligan?
      I suppose the writer could have diluted the message by including a Muslim parent who was opposed to Islamisation, or strengthened it by making ‘Roz’ a bit less vulnerable. But he didn’t.

      Perhaps a straightforward dramatisation or docudrama of the Ray Honeyford tragedy would have impressed me more.

    2. Link above doesn't work. -- It's this:

    3. 'Down the line Gilligan' is much much better than a drama which sought to either apologise for extremism or pretend it doesn't exist. But I really don't think it would have diluted the message to include a Muslim parent opposed to Islamisation - I saw and heard such parents myself on the media - they exist.

    4. Yes indeed Sarah, it could have included such a character, perhaps counterbalance by, say, a white, left-wing apologist for radical Islam (or was there one in the first episode?)
      Token characters representing every imaginable viewpoint could have been introduced and with diminishing momentum, the pendulum would arrive at a standstill on the perpendicular.

      You’d need a masterful playwright to explore all the nuances and keep the audience’s interest. I’m sure there were some good quality plays on the radio in the old days, before the clash of civilisations came along and forced the issues into cartoon-like, polarised over-simplified compartments.

      Sadly the HP commentariat didn’t tune in, they probably decided life’s too short.
      By the way, I think the lack of interest in this topic from your bloggers makes me wonder if the HP commentariat has given up on the BBC altogether because they think it’s a lost cause? Do they underestimate the BBC’s influence on political and public opinion?

      The BBC’s ‘cosy consensus’ urgently needs reforming. I think the likelihood of reforming the BBC’s attitude through reasoned criticism seems slightly more achievable than the reformation of radical Islam through any kind of rationality.

      Letting this play through the net was a small step in the right direction though.

  7. Thanks for your take on this, Sarah - here and at Harry's Place - and sorry for the delay in replying. (As Sue will vouchsafe, I've been busy with some babies!)

    I was the 'Soul' in this discussion. Sue was the 'Heart'.

    I did find it a gripping piece - despite the clunky, journalistic rip-offs. As I wrote in the piece, I got quite emotionally caught up in it.

    Mr Shah was a convincing, quietly sinister character who made my blood boil. The difficulty everyone had in handling him was completely believable:

    Roz: Mr Shah, I believe in difference and diversity. I believe in equality and inclusiveness.
    Mr Shah: I believe in the truth.
    Roz: The truth?
    Mr Shah: The truth of God. You cannot compromise with the truth.

    The character of Mr Sadiq, despite John's pigeon-holing of him as Ismaili-Nazari, was a believable character. His love of Britain and British values and happy acceptance of things like traditional Christian-based school assemblies placed him alongside those voices in John Ware's excellent 'Panorama: The Battle for British Islam'. They showed that Mr Shah doesn't speak for all British Muslims (even if he speaks for a larger proportion than many might hope)...

    ....( - about which we blogged here:

    Unfortunately, like Mr Shafiq, they seemed somewhat sidelined. 'Panorama' seemed to express the hope that such people might stop being marginalised; 'Recent Events' suggested they can easily be worn down.

    There were suggestions that Darren's mother was racist, despite the fact that every one of her fears was shown to be grounded in reality - and then some. That said, yes, I'd say the conversion of Darren and his exit with Ashiq to Syria stretched the drama's credibility somewhat. It was too neat.

    I thought the play's depiction of how freedom of speech could be exploited by the Mr Shahs of this world as a tool to condone granting space for all manner of vile Islamist opinion whilst at the same time being denounced by the same people as a fraud, and a cover for Islam-hatred.


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