Ravel Day on Radio 3

March 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm (BBC, culture, film, France, Jim D, modernism, music, wireless)

Today (Friday 7th March) BBC Radio 3 clears its schedule on Maurice Ravel’s birthday for a day devoted to the composer’s music.

Following on from similar focuses devoted to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert and Webern, March 7 will celebrate the great impressionist’s music through recordings dating from the 1930s to the present day.

Performers involved include pianists Pascal and Ami Rogé in a recital from Wigmore Hall (including a two-hand arrangement of Boléro), the Nash Ensemble, and New Generation Artist mezzo Clara Mouriz. There will also be a series of downloads called Ravel Revealed exploring aspects of his life.

Now, of course, there’s a lot more to Ravel than Boléro (my personal favourite is  Daphnis et Chloé) but I couldn’t resist bringing you this 1934 film (below) as a foretaste:

Better than Torville and Dean, eh?  George Rafters all round!

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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas … the saddest Christmas song?

December 25, 2013 at 12:16 am (BBC, Christmas, cinema, film, jazz, Jim D, music, song, Soul, wireless)

In general, I’m one of those listeners who objects to music on Radio 4 – especially the infuriating Mastertapes with the annoying rock fan John Wilson, who – frankly – should just fuck off to Radio 2, where he belongs. However, I’m happy to make an exception for Soul Music, which this week featured the strangely melancholic Christmas song, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.’

It was written in 1944 by one Hugh Martin for the film Meet Me In St. Louis, in which it was sung by the film’s star, Judy Garland. It comes at a particularly sad moment in the film, and Garland felt its original lyrics (read out for us in the Radio 4 programme) were altogether too depressing, and eventually Martin was persuaded to replace them with slightly more upbeat (but still hardly jolly) words. Later on Frank Sinatra got Martin to change them again, this time replacing “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” with “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

As always with Soul Music, the programme discusses not just the song’s lyrics, but also its (surprisingly sophisticated) harmonic structure and chord changes, interspersed with the thoughts and reminiscences of people for whom it carries a special meaning and/or memories. James Taylor’s pensive version, recorded shortly after 9/11, quite rightly receives a special mention:

My favourite version, by Ella Fitzgerald, doesn’t feature in the programme, perhaps because Ella’s voice is almost too good and (combined with the relatively up-tempo swing arrangement) doesn’t quite convey the pathos that the lyrics seem to demand. Never mind: it’s Ella and it’s beautiful. So here’s wishing A Merry Little Christmas to all of you!

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The segregationists unseated

December 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm (BBC, civil rights, culture, fascism, Feminism, Free Speech, Guardian, insanity, islamism, protest, religion, religious right, Rosie B)

(Jim has already written on this below, but  I want to add my piece.)

Well, can you believe it?. An illiberal piece of policy is advanced by a powerful body, against it comes a petition, a demonstration, media shouting and then the policy is withdrawn. Amazing.

To recap,  Universities UK, (UUK) (formerly The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom)  put out guidelines that allowed speakers at meetings in universities to insist women and men be segregated for “genuinely religious” reasons. Student Rights picked this up.  The bloggers you’d expect – Maryam NazieOphelia BensonJames Bloodworth produced angry posts. The mainstream media moved in – Nick Cohen in the Spectator, and Yasmin Alibai-Brown, finely furious, in The Independent.

Imagine the scenario:-

Sheikh Shifty is invited by some ISOC group to speak about Freedom and Justice at the University of Excellence.  Sheikh Shifty will only speak if the women sit separate from the men.

Obvious answer – tell the misogynist theocrat to take a hike, in these words,

“I am sorry to inform you that it is against the principles of the University to allow meetings to occur with gender segregation.”

But not in the UUK’s horrible management speak:- .

if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully

There was a petition and a small demonstration which Channel 4 covered at length.

Then the BBC began to thunder. The Today programme (1:35) on 11th December had a long piece which started with the reporter regretting his old LSE, the one in the 1980s where students were raucous but not so ready to be offended, or offended on the behalf of putative others.

The next day the BBC got Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of UUK, into the Today (2:10) studio. Regular Today listeners recognised the tones with which Justin Webb interrogated her. It’s the one which they use on a duplicitous politician who has no moral leg to stand on -  who has, say, been fiddling her expenses.  It’s the voice of outraged decency against a moral moron and it was music to my ears, an angry liberal telling off a squirming piece of inconsistency and illogic. (For a biting take down of Dandridge’s muddled defence, I would strongly recommend this.)

“If this is all that Dandridge means – that people have the right to sit where the hell they want and some will sit cliquishly by gender or other groupings, there is no role for Universities and no reason why the situation should ever be addressed in policy.

Worse, “If women want to sit where the hell the want”? IF? What is this world in which you live where women routinely have no desires and sit where they are told without a single thought disrupting the gentle currents of air between their ears?

All women always sit where they want unless coerced or forced. The fact that you can’t acknowledge this openly, that women naturally have desires and preferences, that we make conscious choices here-there-and-everywhere, speaks to a profound sexism whose paucity of respect for a woman’s mind truly challenges the ability of words to express. I can only repeat your own phrase:

If women want to sit where the hell they want

and goggle at your idea that you will only impose segregation in times and places where women have no preferences.

The politicians  -  Chuka Umunna , Jack Straw, Michael Gove, David Cameron spoke out.  Under the threads of their statements in the Guardian commenters were saying, Bugger me, the horrible Tory creeps are right this time. I’d normally be spitting that politicians were interfering in University affairs – they really shouldn’t, you know – but I’m cheering them. If the representative body of the Vice Chancellors and Principals are so bloody clueless, and the NUS are so supine, they need to be kicked.

Separatetables

I think a lot of the response has been visceral. The suffragettes weren’t force fed for this, the women who fought a grinding battle to get entry into English universities shouldn’t be pissed  on

So now the UUK has withdrawn gender segreation from its guidelines. It looks like the forces of light have won for once.

Congratulations to those who attended protests and wrote copiously.  If only every campaign could be so successful.  But what a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time and anger-fuelled action.

Flesh is Grass has a sane, thoughtful piece:-

Women always miss out when public spaces are segregated by leaders and organisers – even if voluntary, it’s a small change in culture, in the general view of what is acceptable. Authoritarians always use the values of open, pluralist societies against those societies themselves, and weaken them incrementally. Let’s stop this.

She also pointed out that feminists like Caroline Lucas, MP, Green Party and Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party did not speak out. I read that Caroline Lucas had said it wasn’t a priority. Also there hasn’t been a peep out of that clutch of feminist writers in The Staggers.   Polly Toynbee,  one of the old-guard Guardian, undid the miserable expectations we now have of her paper, by sticking to her old feminism and atheism.  At least they didn’t publish any of their usual apologetics on these matters. The Observer has an editorial  and a good piece by Catherine Bennett.

On the other side:-

Well, one is an article which looks like parody in the Huff Po by Camilla Khan, the Head of Communications,(!) Federation of Student Islamic Societies, who tries to wrap this up in a mixture of post-modernism and spirituality.  She has managed to use every con-trick word – those words that irritate like berry bugs in a bra cup – “discourse”, “empower”, “nuanced”  and “diversity, “

Firstly, the term segregation itself is highly problematic and acts to conflate the reality further. As Saussure theorised on syntagmatic relations, ‘within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage,’ and segregation connotes various forms of separation and oppression.

The problem is calling segregation, segregation.  If you called it something else it would be fine. Telling Molly when she walks into a room that she can’t sit here because she’s a woman, isn’t segregation, just nuanced diverse empowerment.

Tendance Coatesey has a bit of fun with Khan’s linguistic studies – Saussure is old hat, I understand – but she really should read a bit of Orwell, and note that calling mass murder “liqudation of anti-social elements” doesn’t stop it being mass murder.  But whoever has influenced her writing style, it wasn’t Orwell.

Her other con-trick is that very old anti-feminist ploy, that women taking a different (and different will mean inferior) place is a path to spirituality.  So the anti-suffragists said that women agitating to take part in public life spoiled their purifying influence and their moral specialness.  They were meant for a higher destiny.

As with life, Islam acknowledges that we form different groups who occupy various intellectual and social spaces. Diversity is celebrated with spirituality at the forefront, forming a broad frame of reference which is not always easily comprehensible to those outside of it.

No, I can’t comprehend how her spirituality is so much compromised when she takes a bus, goes to the cinema or sits in her cultural studies class. What about the diversity of those women who don’t want to be herded with other women, and men also.  Is that celebrated? (Add “celebrate” with abstract nouns to my list of berry bug words).  I think the “diversity” is a pretty damned narrow one.

Second is Shohana Khan. Khan is a member of Hitz ut-Tahrir, the fighters for a Caliphate where apostates will be killed.

Her argument boils down to:- Men and women must be separated because otherwise they will get sex on the brain and not be able to do something.

Rather the concept of separating men and women in public spaces in Islam, is part of a wider objective. Islam has a societal view that the intimate relationship between a man and a woman is for the committed private sphere of marriage, and should not be allowed to spill outside of this sphere. This is because in society, men and women need to cooperate to achieve things in society whether in the work place, in education, in interactions across the public space. Islam firmly believes if the sexual instinct is let loose in this public sphere, it can taint and complicate these relationships. Therefore Islam promotes ideas such as honouring women which are upheld in society, but alongside such ideas specific rules and laws are implemented to help maintain the atmosphere of healthy interaction between the sexes.

And if the woman breaks these rules, eg by not covering her head she’s fair game is she?

I think it has been observed that public school boys for instance, especially in times past, had a highly unhealthy attitude towards women because they weren’t used to them as normal human beings.  So you’re talking garbage – and rather prurient garbage at that.  Islamists are as sex obsessed as Hugh Hefner.

Now I won’t say I haven’t been at a public meeting and thought a chap in the audience was rather a dish. In fact, political meetings at universities is where many of us met our soulmates – that person who was highly vocal about the need to oppose nuclear proliferation and had lovely grey eyes.  The partnerships of couples who fell in love with the shared ideals and the person can be highly productive. The Pankhursts were one such couple.  Jennie Lee and Nye Bevan were another.  So I can’t deny there is a sexual element at public meetings, as there is in the offices where we work.

But that it should dominate someone’s mind so much that it screws up their ability to act! What’s wrong with them?  Knowing how to behave in public is part of growing up, as is concentrating on the matter at hand. The only people offering distractions who should be segregated are those twerps with buzzing mobile phones.

So a victory this time round.  End with Any Questions  (:38).  Shami Chakrabati took what has been a common attitude – why on earth are we even talking about this?

Johnathan Dimbleby: Is there justification for segregation in an educational setting?

Amjad Bashir  (small business spokesman for UKIP, Pakistani immigrant, from Bradford): No.  The answer is no. Absolutely not. . .  All through my life, and my children, my grand children are all mixing, all sexes, whether it’s primary schools, whether it’s secondary schools. whether it’s universities. There is no room. This is England This is the twenty first century.  It’s not Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, It’s not Saudi Arabia, where they are not allowed to have bank accounts. This is England. We should allow our youngsters to mix and decide their own future. This is the twenty first century. I am against this segregation.

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Mandela’s daughter in her own words

December 10, 2013 at 6:53 am (africa, BBC, good people, love, posted by JD, solidarity, truth)

Nelson Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe has described how the family gathered around him to say goodbye. She also describes her own sometimes difficult relationship with her father and the difficulties of living in a divided family. We republish this because it’s an honest and very moving account of the private Mandela and his family.

Makaziwe Mandela, Mr Mandela’s oldest surviving child, was speaking to the BBC’s Komla Dumor.

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Experiencing loss

It has been a very long painful period.

As you know because of the type of family we are, you can’t experience the pain and the trauma, and actually now the loss, privately. We are always constantly, people around and the glare and sometimes you feel like screaming, you know, ‘Can you give us peace, just to have that moment as a family?’ It’s been very, very hard.

Nelson Mandela

He was very, very much loved. He knew that he was loved. Being conscious of all the warmth that came from the world, it’s difficult to say, we tried to explain it to him that, you know, people are outside the hospital singing, putting cards and flowers.

So for me I think Tata, until the last moment, heard us. And the children were there, grandchildren were there, you know, Graca was there, so we were always around him even at the last moment we were sitting with him on Thursday the whole day.

They told us Thursday morning that it’s likely and said to me: ‘Maki call everyone that is here that wants to see him and say bye-bye’.

It was the most wonderful day for us because the grandchildren were there, we were there, the professional doctors, and in actual fact when they saw him slipping away, those doctors dedicated their time. They were running shifts, three-hour shifts, 24 hours.

Being there, it was like they were soldiers guarding this… I don’t know whether you understand this… they were soldiers guarding the spirit of a king. Yes, my father comes from royalty.

And so even for the grandchildren I think it was a wonderful moment. Unfortunately there were some grandchildren and my sisters were out, there were some grandchildren who were participating at some event in Brazil.

But for those who were here I think it was a wonderful moment for them.

Expressing emotions

I was bitter as child because I had a father who was there but not really there.

My father is awkward with his emotions. People don’t understand that because they see the public persona. But Tata had the public persona and the private persona. He couldn’t express his emotions.

He grew up in a society where you had to be seen but not heard, the African culture, where you learnt by emulating the others before you, where as a man you did not show your emotions.

He couldn’t say the words ‘I love you’. I mean even with the grandchildren, if you talk to them, there’s very few moments where Tata has said ‘I love you’.

The way he knew how to show love was to provide for his children. He bought us all houses. That was his way of showing love.

Divided family

My family has been a very divided family. My father has had three wives, but I try the best I can. I can never say that I am perfect but one of the things that my father really wanted more than anything is that his own children would get along.

I try to be the word of wisdom. I try to bring, even now everybody together, the grandchildren, it was me who will say ‘I think we should inform this one’. Even with Mandla [her nephew] who I just took to court now.

It was me who said to the doctors ‘I think we should call Mandla now to come’ because I think it was important for all of us to have closure and be united.

Surely we’ll still have differences in how we see things, but I think there is a better way of how to deal with issues. My dad has always said to us ‘Charity begins at home’.

Forgiveness

I don’t think my father fought just for political freedom. My father also fought for spiritual freedom, to free yourself spiritually.

He talks about the fact that it takes courage to forgive. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing.

I don’t think it was easy… but I think he knew that if you didn’t forgive he would be forever in prison – himself spiritually.

So for me the lesson we can take away from his life is to have the courage to forgive other people… Because if we have the courage to forgive as human beings, there will be no wars that we see around us, there will be no crime, there will be no violence, there will be no conflict, and for me that’s the greatest gift that Tata has given to the world because he also says none of us when we’re born are born hating another.

We are taught to hate.

And if you can teach a human being to hate, you can also teach a human to love, to embrace, to forgive, and for me that’s the greatest lesson.

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The hottest jazz record ever made?

November 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm (BBC, jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, Sheer joy)

Us old jazzers love discussing the perennial question of the ‘hottest’ record of all time. Alyn Shipton at Radio 3′s Jazz Record Requests has asked for suggestions. The definition of ‘hot’ in this context is (like the word ‘swing’ or indeed ‘jazz’) not at all easy to pin down. But we know it when we hear it. It doesn’t necessarily just mean ‘up-tempo,’ though a brisk pace is usually a requirement. It’s to do with intensity, drive and raw excitement.

Philip Larkin reckoned that Louis Armstrong’s 1929 recording of St. Louis Blues was the Hottest Record Of All Time, and I’m inclined to agree. But leaving that aside, what other contenders are there?

I’d put forward Hello Lola by the Mound City Blue Blowers (1929), Bugle Call Rag by the Billy Banks Rhythmakers (1932), That’s A’ Plenty by Wild Bill Davison (1943), and this (which I’ve suggested to Alyn and should be played on JRR this Saturday):

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Nick Cohen on press freedom (when he’s good he’s VERY good)

November 2, 2013 at 2:28 pm (BBC, Civil liberties, Daily Mail, Free Speech, Guardian, Jim D, media, snooping)

This blog tends to have a love-hate relationship with Nick Cohen. But we have to admit that when he’s good, he’s very, VERY good. If you missed him on Radio 4′s Any Questions, you really should listen now. He certainly won me over on the question of the Royal Charter on the press with a quietly impassioned contribution that even brought in Milton. He was equally good on the Snowden revelations and threats to the Guardian. Come to that, he spoke a lot of sense about that inflatable rat…

Here he is in equally splendid form at the Spectator‘s blog:

British journalists form a circular firing squad

Daily Mail editorial

To stop liberals duping the credulous masses, the very right-wing press, which boasted with justice in the case of the Mail, about how it stood up to Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson’s attempts to intimidate the media, is now encouraging the Tories to attack the Guardian and intimidate the BBC while they are about it.

Their double-standards show censorship is fine on the British Right as long as it is the Right doing the censoring. Mind you, the Left is no less duplicitous.

Carry on reading

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Russell Brand: poseur, prat…or person of principle?

October 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm (anarchism, BBC, celebrity, Jim D, libertarianism, middle class, New Statesman, revolution, strange situations, television, wild man)

Having watched, pondered and re-watched Paxman’s interview with comedian Russell Brand on last night’s Newsnight, I’m still not sure what to make of it. My initial response was that Brand is a pretentious, incoherent idiot, spouting a lot of pseudo-revolutionary hot air and half-digested anarchistic platitudes. But several people I’ve spoken to today told me they were impressed by him. So I’ve watched it again and have to admit that, after a facetious start, he becomes more sympathetic as he gets angrier. But I still think he’s a prat – and a banal prat at that – and wonder what the hell the New Statesman is playing at, hiring him as a guest editor this week.

Judge for yourself…

…and feel free to let us know what you think.

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Final part of Schama’s ‘Jews’ series

September 29, 2013 at 6:02 pm (anti-semitism, BBC, history, israel, Jim D, Judaism, Middle East, palestine, religion, revolution, secularism, TV, zionism)

The fifth and final part of Simon Schama’s The Story Of The Jews airs tonight [Sunday 29 Sept] at 9.00pm on BBC 2.

In my opinion this has been a superb series and one of the finest examples of so-called ‘popular history’ ever to have appeared on TV: accessible but not simplistic, personal but scholarly, and passionate whilst remaining objective.

Schama makes no secret of his Zionism – albeit a liberal, two-states Zionism that acknowledges the suffering experienced by the Palestinians. On screen he wears a yarmulke much of the time, and lets viewers know what his personal views are, up to and including a statement concluding with the rarely-heard (at least on the BBC) words ” … that’s why I’m a Zionist.”

This has enraged the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) who wrote a most revealing letter of complaint to the BBC, including the following:

“We also note the new BBC Two series The Story of the Jews, presented by Simon Schama. In an interview in the Radio Times (31 August-6 September), Schama describes himself as an ‘historian-Zionist’ and says he will be making ‘the moral case for Israel’ in the final episode of this five part series.

“We find it alarming that the BBC is giving a platform to an openly pro-Israeli commentator to make the ‘moral case’ for Israel. Schama’s views will go unopposed, unchallenged and unanalysed. This is a far cry from the balanced and impartial broadcasting that the BBC claims to champion.”

In other words, these people (who sometimes – especially when seeking trade union backing – claim to support two states) actually object to the idea of someone presenting the case for the very existence of Israel.

The final part of Schama’s series, tonight, deals with the creation of Israel and Jewish relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world, bringing the story up to the present. Watch it, judge for yourself how fair it is, and feel free to send us your thoughts.

NB: the BBC2 series is based upon Schama’s book of the same name, which we will be reviewing shortly.

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Why doesn’t the BBC introduce Ghada Karmi properly?

July 29, 2013 at 6:46 pm (anti-semitism, BBC, fantasy, israel, Jim D, Middle East, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)

Above: Ghada Karmi, on Press TV, looks forward to the destruction of Israel

Only an idiot or a hopeless optimist would predict success for the newly-announced Palestinian Authority /Israeli government talks about talks.

Even so, all persons of good will must surely hope against hope that something worthwhile comes of them.

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, two commentators were introduced to discuss the talks: Lord Levy, introduced as “Tony Blair’s special envoy” and Dr Ghada Karmi, introduced as a “research fellow at the Institute for Islamic and Arab Studies at Exeter University.”

Dr Karmi came over – initially - as very reasonable, starting by saying that all discussions are “very welcome”… before moving on to her real agenda: it’s all a waste of time.

What most listeners would not have known is that Dr Karmi is an inveterate rejectionist who opposes the two states solution in principle, together with any other compromise that leaves Israel in existence: she is, in fact, someone who welcomes what she sees (wrongly in my view) as Israel’s evolution into an “apartheid state.” Her views have been expressed very frankly in many pieces for the Guardian, and very clearly here, where she states:

“Israel/Palestine is today one state. But it is an apartheid state which discriminates against non-Jews in favour of Jews. The Palestinian task now is to fight against this apartheid and mount a struggle, not for an impossible Palestinian state, but for equal rights under Israeli rule. They would need to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, which is now a liability that only camouflages the true situation, and then confront Israel, their actual ruler, directly. As stateless people under military occupation, they must demand equal civil and political rights with Israeli citizens, and apply for Israeli citizenship if necessary. That puts the onus on Israel to respond: either to ignore the five million Palestinians it rules, or vacate their land, or grant them equal rights.

“Israel will reject all of these, but whatever it does will be against its own interests. And Palestinians at one stroke will have broken up Israel’s hegemonic hold on the political discourse and changed the rules of the lethal game being played against them.

“This strategy will not be popular amongst Palestinians, nor will they want to become second-class Israeli citizens. But are their lives now under occupation any better? And is there another option given the present conditions? I would argue that by adopting this plan, they will lose nothing but their illusions, and at this serious juncture in Palestinian history, it may be the only way to avert the annihilation of their cause. It will be a hard road, but the one chance to build a democratic state that replaces apartheid Israel and eventually enables the refugees to return to their ancestral homeland.”

Note those final words: “ancestral homeland.” Pretty much “blood and soil”, eh?

Dr Karmi has every right to put her views forward, and the BBC should, indeed, broadcast what she has to say. But listeners have the right to be given at least some indication of her underlying politics.

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Asian Network’s Nihal on grooming

June 29, 2013 at 1:18 am (BBC, child abuse, conspiracy theories, drugs, Human rights, Islam, Jim D, men, misogyny, Pakistan, Racism, religion, sexism, thuggery)

Don’t even think about commenting on this issue without having listened to this!

Starts at 11.57

The BBC Asian Network bills the programme as follows:

Debate about grooming cases, live from Oxford

Nihal’s phone-in [in fact the phone-in is preceded by an hour's debate from Oxford, which is the crucial part of the programme -JD] is coming live from the Cowley Road in Oxford where seven men groomed and sexually abused girls as young as eleven over a period of eight years. He will be getting reaction to the sentences given to the men and asking what lessons can be learnt from what has happened.

The issues up for debate are extremely sensitive – so much so that a lot of people from the area did not want to talk to us. Five of the seven men found guilty were of Pakistani origin and most of the people who BBC Asian Network has spoken to in the area either knew them – or knew someone who knew them.

Nihal asks – who is to blame for this terrible abuse, apart from the men themselves? Why were they able to get away with the abuse over an eight year period?

If the men were so well known in the community, why were their crimes not reported sooner? Is the fact that many of them came from the Pakistani community a relevant one? 

The main debate lasts for one hour and forty minutes, but it’s well worth putting the time aside for.  If you can’t do that, at least listen to the wise words of Julie Siddiqui of the Islamic Society of Britain, at about 30.20. This is only available for the next four days:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02yj2tb

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