Radio 4’s Sunday programme was but an amuse bouche served before the meal proper, which was Sunday Morning Live; quite a meal it was too. It was roughly to do with Ramadan and I.S.
First we have the permanently startled looking Sian Williams who’s supposed to keep order. The guests inflicted upon her by the BBC speed-dial department don’t make matters easy. They tend to favour verbally incontinent Muslims like Ajmal Masroor, who can’t bear to listen to anyone but themselves, and who often keep going without even bothering to do that.
In the middle sat Sian wearing a skimpy skirt made out of a scarf perilously held together by a short frontal zip. The strain of keeping it in place must have added to the general stress.
Today, from left to right, we had John Gaunt, who isn’t the least bit gaunt, in fact he’s built on a different scale to many of us. He has invented a word, ‘unequivicedly’, which is similar to ‘undoubtably’, but a tiny bit more emphatic.
Sian invented ‘commonalist’ for ‘columnist’, probably because of the skirt.
Next to Gaunt was Dr Saleyha Ahsan whom Sian introduced as an A & E doctor and a former army captain.
Dr Ahsan said “I’m an A & E doctor. Y’know, I spend my time fixing people. I have nothink in common with the people that pick up a gun and shoot - and murder people. Why do I then... have to....” wave my hands around all the time? is what she might have been about to ask. I for one would like to know.
On Sian’s left, but to our right, was a Christian lady called Andrea who wasn’t going to get much of a look in, and to the extreme right was our old friend Ajmal.
"Are we ignorant about Islam?" flashed across the screen.
Yup. We are, and so is everyone else, especially Islamic State, infidels, moderate Muslims, extreme Muslims and, really, everyone but Ajmal Masroor. Luckily he was there to enlighten us.
Andrea wants to go the the Koran .”They justify this by the text, they do this for Allah...”
People were looking daggers at her. “The text of the Koran actually permits them to do it” she continued. “Jihad is one of the five pillars!”
Chaos ensues. All hell breaks loose.
“Hold on Hold on!” “You’ve just shown the depth of ignorance that even remains within our civilised discourse. There’s no Jihad in the five pillars. Let me finish. No no hold on”.
Shouting ensues. All hell breaks loose again.
Ajmal told us what the five pillars are, one for each finger - the thumb being ‘testification of God’ - and he added that Islam was tolerant, that hijabs are cultural not Islamic, and he recounted that his nephew said “Uncle, I don’t want to be an Muslim any more. People in the playground are calling me terrorist.”
I was hoping someone might ask Uncle Ajmal what would happen if his nephew did stop being a Muslim, but no-one did.
“If our ignorance about Islam is terrorising young Muslims and stopping them identifying as Muslims, that’s why we need to know about Islam”, said Ajmal.
John Gaunt doesn’t need to know anything about Islam, but Ajmal said we all need to know about our neighbours. Everyone started saying “I respect your views”, before laying into each other. Their voices rose to high-pitched shrieks.
Sian has a giant pair of specs. She isn’t sure whether to use them or not. She peers through them without putting them on.
The funniest thing is that they’ve done away with the poll. The audience always got it wrong, so they’ve acquired a large TV screen for displaying emails instead, and someone behind the scenes picks out some suitably balanced interjections from the general unintelligentsia.
Forums for dummies. Islam for dummies. TV for dummies equals morbid fascination.
The rest of the episode continued in similar fashion, with some different guests and a cute Sudanese refugee with a large prayer bump on his forehead and soulful piano music playing in the background. Amnesty International said we should take them all.
The whole thing is even more unedifying that The Big Questions, and that’s saying something.