HOW much protection does God need? Put like that, the answer is self-evident: the Omnipotent hardly requires our assistance. But how much should my religious sensibilities be protected? How much offence should society expect me to grin and bear while my faith is traduced, ridiculed, trampled on?
The muddle between these two issues, and the extent to which they have not been worked through, lay at the heart of The Satanic Verses 30 years on (BBC2, Wednesday of last week). The charming and provocative radio presenter-journalist Mobeen Azhar, Yorkshire born, came to Bradford to seek out those who, in response to the publication of Rushdie’s novel, had led the protests and book-burning. Did they still consider their actions justified?
Older and wiser, welcoming and humorous, they regretted much of what had happened and what it led to — but the basic sense remains: God and his Prophet must not be mocked. Azhar showed powerfully how the issue had created and reinforced every negative populist prejudice against Muslims: these are violent people, unwilling to accept British law, contemptuous of free speech and liberal values, ready to threaten death and destruction.
The tabloid demonising had, in its turn, further alienated many British Muslims, pushing them to greater extremism and separation. In today’s Bradford, he found society more liberal and assimilated, but he was still attacked in public, and the book was ripped from his hands and set on fire.
Underlying the film was Azhar’s self-discovery: he was surprised to find his personal sense of the respect due to Islam, and was appalled by the refusal to debate, and the physical violence visited on him by some, at least, of his co-religionists.
For total absence of self-knowledge watch This Time With Alan Partridge (BBC1, Mondays). Steve Coogan’s TV presenter, nadir of incompetence and offence, has returned, still failing to understand himself or his guests. Always eager to say something clever, and never shutting up when you have nothing to say: Alan’s problems are something that all of us can grimly recognise. He is, for us, a death’s head, a momento mori, a sign of just how irretrievably awful things can get.
Partridge dimly senses the abyss of discomfort and upset into which he drags everyone; his attempts at recovery always dig deeper and deeper. It is an excruciating and brilliantly funny portrayal of desperation.
How marvellous for one of our own to win an Oscar: for us, Olivia Colman will always be the vicar’s wife of the TV series Rev. Tom Hollander — the “Rev” himself — turns out to be, in last Sunday’s episode of Baptiste (BBC1), not as I said in my last review, plumbing depths of evil menace, but desperate and terrified. You can conclude either that the plot twists in this drama are superbly orchestrated; or your reviewer is completely unperceptive.