Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

4thought.tv – Rescuing the God slot

Really enjoying working on this new project (Phase 1 launched yesterday, main site launches 13th September at http://www.4thought.tv) First C4 programme to have URL as a title. It was great to read this initial reaction in The Guardian as they clearly get the idea…

Channel 4 rescues the God slot

The new Channel 4 series of religious and ethical meditations breathes life into a stale format

If last night’s 4thought.tv is indicative of things to come, then there might yet be some hope for the God slots.

The new series of short films to be screened after Channel 4 News feature a single speaker who reflects on religious and ethical issues or aspects of their spiritual lives from their personal experience. Nothing particularly new there is would seem. But despite being considerably shorter, and generally more spacious with its script, it looks like being a lot grittier and down to earth than the platitudes which emerge during other pauses for thought such as Radio 4′s Thought for the Day.

The first offering to kick off the series was by Dr Gill Hicks, who lost her legs in the 7 July London bombings. In just a few powerful sentences, she reflected on her experience of God through those who helped her, but also the choice she felt she faced between life and death.

Usually God contributions are the preserve of the identifiably religious. Clergy, theologians, even thinktankers have been chosen as religious
“representatives”. This has predictably led to the debate about who should be “in” and who should be excluded from delivering their reflection, on the basis of whether their belief system is important, or relevant enough to qualify. With a few notable exceptions, the slots subsequently reflect back – in often bland monologue with a moral pay-off at the end – the values and perspectives of big religion.

It’s not the fault of the contributors so much as the way the slots are structured and the culture that surrounds them. Often devoid of attitude and original experience, the presentations can sound contrived, and meander aimlessly amidst the harder news output. Which is a shame, because space for reflection amongst the 24 hour news churn should be an important contrast to help the listener or viewer refocus and get a sense of perspective in a way that is accessible to all.

And there are many ways to do it if you are prepared to move beyond the old formula – as Channel 4 is now showing. In particular they seem to be reviving the idea of “testimony”. For their slot focuses on people’s lives and experiences as much as philosophical or doctrinal concepts. Gritty, difficult, uncomfortable issues and ideas that haven’t been packaged into a neat formula can emerge more easily when the focus is what has happened to a person, rather than a more abstract tradition of thought.

There is of course huge value in philosophy, theology and the wisdom that has developed over centuries. But there is merit too in stepping away from it, and listening to the experiences to those who would not immediately be identified as religious. In many ways it makes perfect sense. If you want a reflection on exclusion, then listen to the excluded. If you want to hear about poverty, then listen to those who live with it on a day to day basis. And if you want a new angle on the old, tired debate about whether God exists, and if so why there is so much suffering, then listen to someone who has survived the carnage of a bomb blast. They may just have some powerful and thought provoking reflections on whether God was there or not.

[Article reproduced courtesy of The Guardian]

Fundamental Flaw

children playing

The spirit of the law

The first words I heard this Easter Monday morning were Allah Akbar. They blared their way at 5am across the fields from Jisr az-Zarqa, across the stream from which it takes its name (bridge over the blue [stream]), along the Roman aquaduct which flowed right down to Caesarea, and through the flower-lined streets of Bet Chananya where I am staying. In my half-sleep I lay wondering: What did God actually ask? Presumably he never mentioned electronic amplification in the Koran. I suppose he said something along the lines of get up high and call the faithful to prayer. No speakers. No microphone in the Holy Book I’m guessing. Just the human voice. So why the need to broadcast beyond the call of the human voice?

I’m just back from the streets of Jerusalem, from the Via Dolorosa to the Wailing Wall. On Good Friday I saw the faithful carrying wooden crosses into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of Calvary. It coincided with Passover this year and of course shortly after the resonant hour of three o’clock the Jewish Sabbath kicks in. At the hotel where I was staying the electric revolving door was switched off for the Sabbath and you had to push it around manually. The reason the electricity was switched off is because switching on electricity has been interpreted as constituting work. Presumably electricity doesn’t get a specific mention in the Torah. But you end up with your shoulder to the heavy revolving door doing the bovine work of pushing your way into your temporary crib. So interpretation ends up achieving the opposite of the spirit of the law.

And anyway, what’s that Orthodox Jew doing carrying two bulging plastic bags across the lobby on Sabbath afternoon? He’s not even supposed to carry money in his pocket – that’s work too apparently. In North-West London near where I live, the Orthodox Jewish community tried to or actually built a network of thin, high wires around certain streets of NW11 to create an ‘eruv’ which seemingly constitutes some kind of enclosure which would permit Orthodox Jews to have money in their pocket or push a pram on the Sabbath within its near-invisible confines. Religions have this habit of finding ways and interpretations to get round their own rules.

Heading West to Holland Park you’ll find the sumptuous Arab Hall in newly restored and just reopened (yesterday) Leighton House, home of the prominent Victorian painter Frederic, Lord Leighton. He was a keen collector of Isnik and other Islamic tiles. On the walls of the Arab Hall, setting off its central fountain and latticed windows, are tiles depicting birds and natural beauty. But Muslims, like Jews (and technically Christians), are forbidden from creating “graven images”. It’s right up there as rule/Commandmant No. 2: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath”. So birds are a no-no. Look carefully at the tiles though and you’ll see a line has been scored across their necks in the glaze. Apparently that gets you off the hook with God.

So there’s the spirit of religion on the one hand, and the question of human interpretation and institution on the other hand; there’s the human voice and the cycle of work and rest, and there’s contemporary applications of religious rules and the predominance of the letter of the law or the interpretation thereof over the spirit of the law.

A few days ago – ironically on St Patrick’s Day – on Radio 5 I heard Steven Nolan interviewing a certain Monsignor Dooley, a senior representative of the Irish Catholic Church. He asked him whether he would report a priest to the police if he knew he was abusing  a child. His reply was that he had no legal duty to do so …nor, indeed, any moral duty.  This was from a close colleague of the churchman who was reading out that very day in Armagh Cathedral the Pope’s apology for the abusive and deviant behaviour of his Church in Ireland – the apology which ended up with a call on the (increasingly appalled)  Irish Catholic congregation to do a year’s peninence for the sins of… of whom … of  the representatives of the Pope’s rotten institution in their country.

In some religions to become a priest or community leader you have to be married, preferably with a family. The Catholic Church will remain rotten at heart as long as it enforces celebacy of its officials. Supressing sexuality and natural urges obviously just misshapes people, and wherever it finally bursts out of some resultant kink or deformation, like a hiss of burning sulphurous steam, it causes pain and stink. I’ve met angry Catholic priests. I’ve met obviously gay ones, who either don’t realise it or don’t want to be honest about it. I’ve met ones over the last couple of years whose faith has clearly been shaken by recent events. I’ve seen, I’ve smelt those whisps of suppressed and displaced feeling.

In Richard Price’s excellent novel ‘Clockers’ he describes in unforgettable fashion what his cop character calls “the Cycle of Shit” – basically how abusive behaviour and its consequent damage transmits from generation to generation in a vicious, downward spiral. Which begs the question, what in God’s name has been happening to those priests in the seminaries and institutions in which they’ve grown up and trained?

It turns out the voice that abused my ears this morning wasn’t even a real person. It was a tape recording. The officials of religion that feed these Cycles of Shit are steeped in the rankest of hypocrisy. Not that I’d have felt that much better if the lazy bastard had gotten out of bed to disturb me and make me this grumpy.

4 pantheistic quotations

Albert EinsteinBeen working on an arts/literature project recently involving quotations. In the spirit of Sunday night reflectiveness and on the weekend of my first Muslim wedding, here are some quotes I’ve come across in the last while that capture something of what I feel on the spirituality front…

What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.

(Einstein)

That which is impenetrable to us really exists. Behind the secrets of nature remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.

(Einstein)

One should count each day a separate life.

(Seneca)

Let your capital be simplicity and contentment.

(Thoreau)

Patterns in Nature

And one for luck…

Plenty of kind, decent, caring people have no religious beliefs, and they act out of the goodness of their hearts. Conversely, plenty of people who profess to be religious, even those who worship regularly, show no particular interest in the world beyond themselves.

(John Danforth)

How to find God

Jon and John Lennon

Jon and John Lennon

We had a little lunchtime sesh for staff at C4 HQ with Jon Ronson talking about his latest film (REVELATIONS: HOW TO FIND GOD) which transmits this Sunday at 7pm on Channel 4. It’s all about the Alpha Course, but not ripping into it or taking the piss, a gentle generous film matched by Jon’s gentle Cardiffian voice-over. None the less insightful for that – just not taking the obvious route, and in that respect very C4. It was commissioned by Aaqil Ahmed, outgoing Commissioning Editor for Religion, who I worked with on Osama Loves last summer and who is heading off for the Beeb, great fodder for the BBC anti-Christian plot conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theories are of course very much the territory of Jon Ronson (e.g. The Men Who Stare at Goats) – he summed up the theme of his career in journalism, writing and telly as exploring “bubbles of irrationality”. Reminds me of a protest outside C4 HQ by the Moonies last year – after running the gauntlet through said Moonpeople a colleague of mine gave his definition of a religion – “a cult that got lucky”.

Jon and Che

Jon and Che

So Jon’s latest film is a look at the Alpha Course, the Evangelical Christian phenomenon that has been attended by an estimated 2 million people in the UK, and 13 million worldwide. The film has unique access to the course as it follows a small group of agnostics as they undergo the ten evening sessions and weekend away. For Ronson, it is the second time he has done the Alpha Course – the first was for a Guardian article eight years ago. Here, he reflects on his experiences with Alpha. He reveals how he was nearly won round, what he does and doesn’t like about the beliefs involved, and why he thinks the course has enjoyed such a phenomenal level of success.

Why did you want to make a film about the Alpha Course in the first place?

JR: The main reason was that I wrote a piece about the Alpha Course eight years ago, and I was really struck by how dramatic and powerful the Alpha small group thing is. That’s the masterstroke of Nicky Gumbel, who created Alpha – his use of the small group. Really dramatic things happen in small groups – like they do in Alcoholics Anonymous. I thought if we could get a camera into an Alpha small group and make people somehow feel unselfconscious, there would be a great film. That was my main reason for wanting to do the film. But also I knew that the weekend away, where people are asked to speak in tongues, is another really dramatic thing to capture, because some people are just horrified by the idea of speaking in tongues, while for other people it’s the moment when they dive into Christianity. It’s a moment of drama that I knew we’d capture and would be fascinating. And finally, I thought the idea of people becoming Christians might seem like a boring subject for people to watch, but I sort of knew that within the context of Alpha you could make a really interesting, dramatic film about becoming a Christian. If we could capture the moment an agnostic becomes a Christian, it would be jaw-dropping.

It’s watching someone’s life change completely in an instant, isn’t it?

Exactly. I think capturing that, and making it something you couldn’t take your eyes off, was something I wanted to achieve. And I think we have achieved it. I think it’s a really dramatic film. As you say, the structure of the course is key to its success.

How does it work? What happens on an Alpha Course?

Basically you turn up, you’re an agnostic, and the reason why you’ve been convinced to go is because you work in a bar and the person working with you is a Christian, and you have big fights about it late into the night, and finally they say “Well, if you’re so interested, come and do an Alpha Course.” So you turn up and it all seems very nice, and there are pretty girls at the door offering you Hobnobs, and then there’s a talk from the vicar, which is a talk that’s been written by Nicky Gumbel. And then you split off into small groups to discuss the meaning of life. And you do this once a week for ten weeks, and towards the end of that time you go off on a weekend away, where you don’t realise until you get there that they’re going to ask you to try and speak in tongues. And within that framework, salvation occurs, with extraordinary frequency.

What sort of frequency? What proportion of people on the course are converted?

Well, it’s difficult to come up with an exact figure, mainly because some people who do the Alpha Course are Christians anyway, so that kind of skews the figures. But from my own personal experience of having done Alpha twice and talking to a lot of people, the figure I came up with was about one-in-eight.

You’ve done Alpha twice? For research purposes?

Yeah. Although the first time it nearly worked for me. I got all swept up. It didn’t happen for me this time, because when you’re making a film you’ve got so many things to think about you don’t get into the sort of hypnotic bubble. But the first time, yeah, we’d just had a kid, and we’d had trouble conceiving him, and I just felt like Nicky Gumbel was kind of talking to me in strange ways. It’s all in the article I wrote at the time. It’s weird, it was such a personal thing that even though I wrote about it all in the article, I feel a bit uncomfortable talking about it. [In the article, Jon recounts how he was thinking about his son, Joel, being a gift from God. Just at that moment, Nicky started reading from The Book of Joel. Jon writes: “In the middle of the night it becomes clear to me that I almost certainly had a message from God, that God had spoken to me through Nicky Gumbel.”]

What kind of people do you get signing up for Alpha? Do they all have certain characteristics in common? Did they strike you as being lost souls?

Well, I think pretty much everybody in the world is a lost soul. There were one or two people in our group who were a bit Richard Dawkins-y, and really just wanted to have a bit of a scrap. I liked them very much as people, but I didn’t really put them in the film, because that’s not really what it’s about. And then there were one or two people who were more lost soul-ish than the others. But as I said, we’re all lost souls in a way, so you can’t really judge people on that. I don’t think you can really generalise about people’s reasons for doing the Alpha Course. I think that makes it very interesting. They all had a genuine reason for doing Alpha, but they were all very different reasons.

You found it quite hard to get a church to agree to filming this documentary, didn’t you?

Yes. We went to see Nicky Gumbel, who liked the original piece I wrote, except for a line about him equating being gay with being a paedophile, which he says I quoted wildly out of context, and to which I say I quoted it entirely within context. But it caused him no end of trouble, as you can imagine. However, other than that, I think he really liked the article. I think he liked me, and I like him, actually. So I went to see him last December, and said I wanted to make a film about Alpha, and could I film a small group at his church. And he said no. He said he felt that a camera would be like a brick wall between an agnostic and God. Not only would it dissuade people from doing Alpha, having a camera there, but the people who did do Alpha wouldn’t do it properly. So I said to him “What if I find a church doing Alpha who let me film?” And he said “Well, if they phone me, I’ll advise them not to do it for the reasons I’ve just outlined.” And I said “What if they want to do it anyway?” And he said “Well, I can’t stop you.” So we went to lots of churches, and they all said no. Whether they said no because they phoned Nicky I don’t know. But then this fantastic church in Oxford agreed to it. The rector, Charlie Cleverly, phoned Nicky, or one of Nicky’s people, and decided he wanted to do it anyway, because he felt that the presence of a camera might actually encourage people to come. And I got the feeling, from speaking to Charlie, that ultimately Nicky wasn’t that down on the idea.

You seemed to like the people you featured in the film, both those doing the course and those running it. Would that be accurate?

Yeah, I do and I did. And that goes all the way to Nicky Gumbel. However, from a sceptical agnostic point of view, I think that the sort of Evangelical zeal where turning the agnostics to God is the all-important thing, and matters more than anything else, I don’t personally like. So I don’t really like the Evangelical zeal of Alpha. But, then again, they would say that that’s what they believe, that if you don’t find God you don’t get salvation, and it’s crucial. So I see that as a fault, but they don’t. But I wanted to make a film that didn’t focus too much on the negatives. I wanted to make a film that was enquiring and gentle and human. I saw it as a film about people.

The Alpha Course, and therefore the film itself, both take a major, dramatic turn on the weekend away. It comes a little bit out of the blue.

Yeah, that was deliberate on my part. I was worried that, in order to sell the film to the audience, we’d need to put something about that at the top of the film, and I was so glad when it turned out that we didn’t have to. I did it that way because that’s the structure of Alpha – they underplay the weekend away in the first few weeks of the course. So people on the course don’t really know what to expect when they turn up for the weekend. I didn’t want the viewers to know any more than the agnostics we’re following would know.

When the moment arrives where people are asked to speak in tongues, it’s a very polarising experience, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is. And exactly the same thing happened last time I did Alpha. Some people stormed out in disgust, and said “I thought these people were nice, with their biscuits. I didn’t realise they were like some sort of weird cult.” Which I don’t think they are, because a cult is something much more restrictive. If you leave Alpha, no-one’s going to try and press gang you into coming back. But then, for other people, the speaking in tongues is ‘the moment’ – it unlocks something in their hearts. So it’s incredibly polarising, and that’s fascinating. Especially because the rest of Alpha is so un-polarising.

Do you think, then, that it’s a mistake to include speaking in tongues in the course?

It’s really interesting, isn’t it? Nicky would say “I didn’t make the rules, God makes the rules.” But I think, in a way, Nicky does make the rules. Maybe he just thought at some point that you need to draw a line in the sand, otherwise it’s too wishy-washy. But it’s an extraordinary out-of-the-blue structural thing. Maybe it’s not a mistake. To a lot of Christians it is a mistake, and it’s the thing they don’t like about Alpha. And some Alpha Courses have done away with the weekend away – I think much to Nicky’s annoyance. The weekend away happens three-quarters of the way through the course, but it marks the end of the film.

Why is that?

It’s just a natural climax to the story – and it’s a natural climax to the course too, really. The last few weeks are sort of a bit underwhelming.

You have a Jewish background. Was that an issue at all?

No, not at all. My agnosticism was more of an issue. They kept on getting me up onstage in front of the local congregation, to ask me whether my agnosticism remained intact, and always got really pissed off when I told them that it did! But besides the Evangelical zeal, which I find distasteful, I really liked the people. I think they’re good people, nice, funny, intelligent people who are just doing what they think is best. I certainly don’t look down my nose at them.

When you’re making a film like this, which is very observational, is it difficult to know when to ask questions and when to remain silent?

I think it’s sort of intuitive. I have made mistakes, and I kick myself afterwards, when I’m watching the rushes back and I think “Why did I stupidly say something then? They were about to say something amazing.” But the older I get, the better I am at that. It’s probably the most important part of film making, and in the end it has to be sort of intuitive. You learn from experience. When in doubt, shut up. If you ask someone a question – this is the sort of dark art of interviewing – and then they answer it and you don’t say anything, they’ll feel compelled to fill the silence by saying something else, and the other thing they say might be fantastic. So definitely, when in doubt don’t say anything.

Why do you think the Alpha Course is so successful?

I think it’s so successful because of a mix of two things. Firstly because of the invisible structure – everything from the pretty women serving you food through to the structure of when each thing is revealed every week. And then that dramatic lurch at the weekend away, when it all gets turned on its head. Some people might see it as a mistake, others think it’s the coup de grace. I’m kind of torn between the two.

A lot of people will tune in expecting a polemic, or a knocking film. It’s not, is it?

JR: I could make a knocking film. There are certain things I don’t like. But that’s not so much about the course as about Christianity. But we didn’t want to do that. I really wanted to make a film that was about the human dramas that went on within Alpha. To learn about these peoples’ lives as we went on was just fascinating. We didn’t have a clue about any of them when we started filming – it wasn’t like Big Brother where the producers know everything about the housemates when they choose them. It was so interesting finding out about the people in this film. If you want to make a knocking film, then you lose that human element in it, and we wanted to make a film about people.

Jon and Wookie

Jon and Wookie

AG: For me, that’s the difference between journalism and film-making. A journalist knows broadly what he wants to say and goes out to illustrate it with interviews and other footage. A film-maker knows what he wants to explore and goes out to see what he can find…

Osama Loves Loved

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama Loves, as previously mentioned in this august organ (dontcha just love both those words?), is a participative online documentary I commissioned last summer from the breath of fresh air that is Mint Digital and Menthol TV. The interactive documentary came about in response to a request from my fellow commissioner at C4, Aaqil Ahmed, who looks after religious and multicultural TV programming. He had commissioned a season of television programmes about the culture (rather than the politics) of Islam, including a flagship primetime doc on The Koran. The underlying theme of the season was that Islam is not a homogeneous culture but a diverse and multifaceted one. Aaqil asked me to come up with an online project which conveyed the heterogeneity of Islamic culture and, after some great conversations with Andy Bell, Jeremy Lee and the MintFolk, Osama Loves was born…

In an interesting iterative dynamic, the interactive documentary which was born of the TV season in turn gave rise to a TV documentary commissioned through Janey Walker, Channel 4′s Head of Education. It’s a beautiful film entitled Osama bin Everywhere (and sub-titled Searching for 500 Faces of Islam). It follows the progress of Farrah Jarral and Masood Khan through the participative Web travelogue that is Osama Loves, on their mission to track down 500 people called Osama in just 50 days. The two intrepid explorers uploaded blog posts, tweets (a relatively early application of Twitter to enable our protagonists to publish by mobile when out of PC-based internet range), photos and videos each day,  asking the public for tips and advice to help them complete their challenge and get the most from the countries they were visiting (including Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia and Canada). As they backpacked across the Muslim world their search offered a window into the everyday life, culture and belief of the Muslims they met.

They asked each Osama they met “What do you love?” The idea was to transcend clichés about Muslims – the most well known Muslim on the planet being a certain Osama who epitomises these clichés and is not normally linked with Love. So Osama Loves sought out as many other Osamas (previously a popular name in Islamic countries) as they could in the time and showcased the rich diversity of their hopes and beliefs, concerns and perspectives.

When the spin-off TV doc aired again recently in the C4 morning slot it prompted a mass of positive feedback from viewers including:

“I am a Catholic and father to 6 children. Having just watched Osama bin Everywhere, I feel this programme should be shown to every child in every school in the UK regardless of religious belief. How refreshing it was to watch. This young woman deserves public recognition and a national award. The comments made and feelings expressed by all the Osamas were a true insight to Muslim people and the meaning of their religion.”

“Not really a press enquiry but please pass my congratulations onto Farrah – I taught her at school in the 1990s. Watched today’s Channel 4 programme whilst at home recovering from surgery. Very, very proud of what she’s become – but not at all surprised!”

“The programme was a joy to watch and I’d love to see more programmes like it. The presenter should be very proud of the programme – she is a great ambassador for her religion.”

“In a time of ‘reality TV’ which seem to be centered on Channel 4, finally a program that I could call brilliant! I was at work during my break and caught Osama bin Everywhere. I can honestly say I’ve not been so engrossed in anything in such a long time. This was a pleasure to watch.”

“What a fantastic programme! A real eye-opener, but I only saw it because the TV happened to be on when it started. Why was such a positive, heart-warming program hidden away on morning TV? Have you shown this in an evening slot? Please do!”

“I truly appreciate what you set out to achieve. Everytime I watch a programme on the television about Islam, it highlights the “bad apples”. I am only 18 years old, but have lived all my life in Britain. Having only visited Pakistan once, and at a very young age, you have driven me (in the most positive way) to go back to my country of ethnic origin. The programme itself has opened my eyes to how shallow people can be, relating everything bad to one name. I hope one day that I will have the power to enlighten people, just as you have to me. May you have all the health and happiness in the world, Inshallah.”

And here are a few other reactions to Osama Loves from more pressy sources:

Mike Mendoza, BBC Radio 2 website of the day
This is interesting – a Dave Gorman-influenced quest from 2 London-based Muslims (in collaboration with Channel 4), to find and meet 500 people who share the same name. In the process, they hope to change many people’s perception of Islam. Long-standing listeners will know that I like a pointless quest, so it’s nice to see a quest/travelogue which aims to do something a bit more positive.

Islam Online
Islam doesn’t provoke much interest unless they [Muslims] are burning flags or pillaging embassy workers or holding insulting placards. It won’t provoke much interest outside of Muslims, but Muslims worldwide will be grateful for the positive break. Put it this way, at least it’s better than their annual masterpiece, Big Brother.

The Sun
No doubt the FBI will be keeping a close eye on the site – especially for any entrants expressing a love of the Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan.

Toronto Star
None of this is sponsored by the CIA – the aim is to give dignity back to a much abused and reviled name.

Landshare

Landshare with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Landshare with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

In the wake of Sexperience and Embarrassing Teenage Bodies, I’m moving on to get some more light, space and fresh air…  next up for me is Landshare, a project to link up people who want to grow their own food (and can’t get an allotment) with people who have land where food could be grown.

The project is in its initial phase – gauging and registering the interest of growers, land-owners, land-spotters and all the people & groups who will be needed to make it work well and sustainably. 6,000 people registered in the week after launch. I’m doing the project with the River Cottage folk (Keo Films and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) and, if you’re interested in any of the roles mentioned, you can register at the nascent Landshare site at www.landshare.net.

Here’s a vid of Hugh getting going, securing land from the Church of England. Old grannies with arthritis who can’t do their garden any more through to property developers with wasteland temporarily on their hands are equally in the frame for sharing land and the produce that comes from it.

And here is Hugh explaining the basic idea.

Update 11.xi.08 :

An interesting post about Landshare by the formidable John Thackera on Doors of Perception – you gotta love the graph at the bottom.

What is it worth?

Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills

Holding Hands: Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills & Neil Young

We parked up by Goldhawk Road tube (always echoes of Jimmy the Mod for me) and walked back past the Pie, Mash, Liquor and Eel shop to my most unloved venue in London, the Empire in Shepherd’s Bush. Stephen Still’s blast from the past included his underground classic ’51.5076 0.134352′ and concluded with ‘For What It’s Worth’ which resonated in a particular way after another week of global economic disintegration. What is it worth?

There’s something happening here
[the day before yesterday rounds off a 20% FTSE fall]

What it is ain’t exactly clear
[although I think we’ve all got a good sense of broadly what territory we’re in – how we got there is a bit more confounding]

There’s a man with a gun over there
[currently a cold-hearted woman, life-long member of the NRA: “our leaders, our national leaders, are sending soldiers out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.”]

Telling me I got to beware
[are they really going to elect a man who keeps calling the electorate “my friends” in a manner devoid of warmth or friendship?]

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
[there’s a real opportunity here, with the merry-go-round ground to a halt, to get off the ride that goes nowhere]

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep
[anxiety is seeping out of every opening crack]

It starts when you’re always afraid

[yet fear is what holds us back individually and collectively]

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

Stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

What’s that sound? It’s mud falling on a coffin lid. It’s ancient song shot through with deepest pain. It’s the sound of a single man burying 20,000 bodies one by one. On Tuesday Rev. Leslie Hardman MBE died. He featured as a key character  in a docudrama, The Relief of Belsen, commissioned by Channel 4 which was shown almost a year ago to the day (15.X.07).  He was one of the first Allied soldiers (an army chaplain) in to the Bergen-Belsen death camp in North-West Germany when it was liberated in May 1945. Auschwitz had been liberated by the Russians a couple of months of months earlier but it was Belsen that gave us in Britain our first terrifying view of what was going down. This was Richard Dimbleby’s report from the camp…

“Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which … The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them … Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live … A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.

This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”

Leslie Hardman was a man who knew what’s worth what. He insisted on burying each of the 20,000 corpses that confronted him as an individual with an individual ceremony (no question of mass burial). He restored in death the dignity they had been denied in life.

In a tribute to him on Radio 4 this morning, a resonant phrase from Kierkegaard (via psychiatrist Viktor Frankl) was cited to capture the man he was : The door to happiness opens outwards. 

Leslie Hardman dealt with the chaos he experienced in the front-line by dedicating himself to the well-being of others.

As Jonathan Sacks (the Chief Rabbi of the UK) put it on the same radio programme: He Chose Life. Now I always thought  – and this was reinforced by the Glasgow office of Channel 4 which has the words engraved on the glass of the entrance – that “Choose Life” comes from FilmFour’s Trainspotting. But apparently it comes from Moses in the Old Testament: ” I place before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. … Choose life that you and your descendants shall live”

  (which echoes what his predecessor and my namesake was told:  “You may choose for yourself, for it is given to you.”)

Now Jim (the God, not the Mod), much though I respect him, summarised his approach as being to “get his kicks before the whole shithouse goes up”. As things fall apart, I’d say the rock-striking prophet is a better bet than the pose-striking rock god: Choose Life. Choose sustainable living. Choose actually creating something instead of gambling nothing. Choose holding hands not holding hostages. Choose what’s going up. Choose what’s of real worth.

Osama Loves

Farrah and MasoodThis morning two young British Muslims, Farrah and Masood, set off on a 50 day mission right across the Islamic world. Their goal: to meet 500 Osamas. Why set out to meet so many people with the same first name? ‘Osama’ conjours up the most prevalent cliches of Islam in the minds of most non-Muslims. By seeking out 500 people with that name – people of all ages, shapes and sizes, backgrounds, hopes and loves – Osama Loves seeks to undermine the cliche and put a human face on Islam, whilst showing the diversity of Islamic culture across the globe.

The project came about when my fellow Channel 4 commissioner, Aaqil Ahmed, came to ask me if I had any ideas about how to give his Islamic culture TV season (The Wonders of Islam) an online dimension. He had commissioned a very special documentary about the Qur’an, a series about the Seven Wonders of Islam and some other programmes, all highlighting the diversity of Muslim culture beyond the Middle East. So that was the brief: show how varied Islamic culture is across the world.

I had been talking to Andy Bell at Mint Digital for a long time about doing a project together but it never quite happened, the right thing hadn’t come along. From chatting to Andy I knew he had recently married a Muslim woman, that he had a strong interest in things spiritual, and that he had insight into both worlds. We bounced a few ideas around, brought in other colleagues from Mint, combined a few themes and merged some ideas until we had the participative journey that is Osama Loves: Searching for 500 Faces of Islam.

So today that journey starts and Farrah and Masood are going to need all the help they can get… If you know an Osama or can help them on their travels in any way please do let them know via the site’s blog comments.

The question came up while we were developing the Ed Spec, what if they find That Osama (the cliche one)? We wrote into the Specification that if that were to happen Mint definitely get a second series with a decent budget ;-)

Another important question is why are our young travelers bothering to cross continents in search of names and faces? Let me briefly tell you Farrah’s story. She was doing her medical training in East London when one day she finds herself in an operating theatre into which is wheeled a patient for an amputation. It struck her as odd how young this patient was – usually there are years of artery furring abuse behind an amputation like this. To cut a long and sad story short, the patient that day was one of the victims of the 7/7 bombings in London. Suddenly the reality of that outrage, committed by men with very similar backgrounds to Farrah herself (a fact that quickly struck her), that outrage shook her identity to the core. Now she’s on a mission and this time it’s personal: to prove that That Osama does not represent her community, to explore what Islamic culture and belief really means to her, and to provide insight into the day-to-day realities of Muslim communities, their concerns and hopes, their perspectives and loves. “Osama” and “Loves” are not two words you often hear together, or expect to. This initiative is yoking them together whether That Osama likes it or not.

Talking of Thes and Thats, for now I’ll leave the last words to Matt Johnson of The The. I met him once when I was working with Tim Pope and Pete Goddard who made some of their best promos – Matt made me a cup of tea the first time he came into the office in Marshall Street – tea-making was my realm at that point in my first job so it was a generous gesture which hasn’t been forgotten. Writing the last paragraph punctuated with “Loves” reminded me of this song of his about two people walking away from death and conquering with love:

Me and my friend were walking
In the cold light of mourning.
Tears may blind the eyes but the soul is not deceived
In this world even winter ain’t what it seems.

Here come the blue skies, here comes springtime.
When the rivers run high and the tears run dry.
When everything that dies
Shall rise

Love love love is stronger than death
Love love love is stronger than death

In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered and all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
How could you believe that the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried
Could ever die?

Love love love is stronger than death
Love love love is stronger than death

Shall rise, shall rise
Shall rise, shall rise.

TV fakery travesty of a mockery of a sham

Undercover MosqueUndercover Mosque

Hot off the presses: A victory for Channel 4, decent journalism and free speech. This important, insightful film was commissioned by my colleague in C4 Commissioning, Kevin Sutcliffe.

DISPATCHES VINDICATED OVER UNDERCOVER MOSQUE FILM

The makers of Channel 4’s Dispatches investigation Undercover Mosque have won a public apology and six figure libel settlement from West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service which falsely accused them of TV fakery.

At the High Court this morning [15 May 2008] West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service apologised unreservedly for the comments which they have accepted were incorrect and unjustified. They have withdrawn the remarks and undertaken not to repeat them. They have said that they “were wrong to make these allegations… and now accept that there was no evidence that the broadcaster or programme makers had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity”.

Undercover Mosque included a number of excerpts from preachers and teachers uttering statements such as:

‘Allah created women deficient’

‘…it takes two witnesses of a woman to equal one witness of the man’

‘By the age of ten, it becomes an obligation on us to force her (young girls) to wear hijab, and if she doesn’t wear hijab, we hit her’

‘take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain’

‘Whoever changes his religion from Al Islam to anything else – kill him in the Islamic state’.

West Midlands Police and the CPS have also agreed to pay substantial damages to the programme makers. The programme makers will be donating all of the damages to The Rory Peck Trust. The Rory Peck Trust exists to support freelance news gatherers and their families worldwide in times of need, and to promote their welfare and safety. Established in 1995, the Trust provides financial assistance to freelancers in need, and to the families of those who are killed or seriously injured or suffering persecution as a result of their work. The Trust is totally independent and relies on its income from sponsorship, grants and donations.

The settlement followed the issue of libel proceedings by the programme makers in response to public statements made by West Midlands Police and the CPS about the investigative documentary (broadcast 15 January 2007) which exposed extremism in a number of British Mosques.

In August last year, WMP and CPS issued a joint press release falsely claiming the programme had completely distorted the views of Muslim preachers and clerics featured in the programme by misleading editing.

Unusually, WMP and CPS also referred the programme to TV regulator Ofcom who rejected their complaints and stated “each and every quote was justified by the narrative of the programme and put fully in context” (see below).

Kevin Sutcliffe, Deputy Head of Current Affairs at Channel 4 who oversees Dispatches, said: “This is a total vindication of the programme team in exposing extreme views being preached in mainstream British mosques. Channel 4 was fully aware of the sensitivities surrounding the subject-matter but recognised that the programme’s findings were clearly a matter of important public interest. The authorities should be doing all they can to encourage investigations like this, not attempting to publicly rubbish them for reasons they have never properly explained. We will continue to produce undercover investigations of this nature.”

David Henshaw, Executive Producer and Managing Director of Hardcash Productions, who produced the documentary added: “This was a thorough and detailed one-hour documentary, made over nine months and at personal risk to the undercover reporter. The abhorrent and extreme comments made by fundamentalist preachers in the film speak for themselves. They later claimed they had been taken out of context – but no one has explained the correct context for arguing that women are ‘born deficient’, that homosexuals should be thrown off mountains, and that ten year old girls should be hit if they refuse to wear the hijab.”

Hardcash Productions are a leading independent television company who specialise in documentary making. They produced the multi-award-winning Beneath the Veil and an investigation into the post office, Third Class Post, for Channel 4’s Dispatches strand.

Julian Bellamy, Head of Channel 4, said: “When the West Midlands Police and CPS refused to withdraw their damaging remarks we had no option but to support this action. As Channel 4’s flagship current affairs programme, Dispatches has an outstanding reputation for brave and incisive journalism. It was clearly vital to us that an important piece of journalism and the reputation of its makers was not undermined by these unjustified allegations remaining unchallenged. Journalism of this kind has always been, and will continue to be, central to Channel 4’s purpose.”

A bit of the background:

Following broadcast West Midlands Police launched an investigation into some of the individuals featured in the programme. They sought a production order for untransmitted material with which Channel 4 complied.


In August 2007 ACC Anil Patani (Security and Cohesion) wrote to Channel 4 on behalf of the West Midlands Police who, together with the Crown Prosecution Service, simultaneously issued a press release alleging some comments in Undercover Mosque had been ‘Edited together to change their meaning’ and/or ‘Broadcast out of context’. The press release also stated that the programme might ‘undermine community cohesion.’

In November Ofcom dismissed all complaints against Undercover Mosque and rejected evidence supplied by the West Midlands Police to support their claim of misrepresentation through misleading editing. It concluded:

“Undercover Mosque was a legitimate investigation, uncovering matters of important public interest. Ofcom found no evidence that the broadcaster had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity. On the evidence (including untransmitted footage and scripts), Ofcom found that the broadcaster had accurately represented the material it had gathered and dealt with the subject matter responsibly and in context.”

 

Terminated

Notes for a movie by Albert Camus & James Cameron

terminator

We are biological machines programmed only to survive.

We are born condemned to death.

To survive we must not take that ludicrous condition lying down.

We must rebel against it with kindness (as in ‘mankind’).

We need to learn to live in the present to maximise our own happiness.

That happiness must be available to the whole of our kind as a context for our individual happiness.

albert camus

Marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on 27th January 1945

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