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Radio review: A Muslim & a Jew Go There and Free Thinking

22 March 2024

Instinct Productions

On the podcast A Muslim & a Jew Go There (Instinct Productions), Sayeeda Warsi and David Baddiel have conversations “in a way others might not dare”

On the podcast A Muslim & a Jew Go There (Instinct Productions), Sayeeda Warsi and David Baddiel have conversations “in a way others might not dar...

IN THE current state of things, you might imagine a podcast A Muslim & a Jew Go There (Instinct Productions) as being as comfortable an encounter as the mating rituals of porcupines. The premise is that Sayeeda Warsi and David Baddiel have conversations “in a way others might not dare”. That might be true: I have not as yet come across anything like it. I would question, however, the claim that it is “often funny”. Agreeable though both of them are, this is not your typical odd-couple podcast: the banter is minimal, and the subject matter is not even remotely humorous.

Whether this makes the podcast “important” — as we are told regularly — is unproved. One gets the impression that, in areas of politics other than the Middle Eastern crisis, Baddiel and Warsi hold many opinions in common; and they will routinely sink their differences in a shared dislike of social media. Rather than disagree, they “push back” at one another’s views; and they take comfort in the assumed existence of a “vast majority in the middle” who detest extremism.

The moment of greatest tension came when things got personal, and Warsi declared Sacha Baron-Cohen to be Islamophobic because of his satirical creation Borat, a clownish Kazakhstani politician. Baddiel and Baron-Cohen are mates, and the former insisted on his friend’s integrity. For a moment, we had perhaps a glimpse of the truly dangerous, the truly important issues.

In the vast anthology of viola jokes, there is one that tells of a violist who dreamed that he was playing in Handel’s Messiah, and, when he awoke, discovered that he was. According to the futurology entertained by Free Thinking (Radio 3, Wednesday of last week), sleeping on the job — or, more accurately, doing your job while asleep — may become de rigueur for the ambitious executive. Programmes are already available to train one’s “lucid dreaming” so that it contributes to the structuring of a PowerPoint presentation, or the devising of a negotiation strategy. Presumably, one could clock in and clock off, using an app wired into the hippocampus, and claim for great swaths of overtime.

To be fair, the contributors to this edition of Radio 3’s late-night strand were sensibly sceptical about these proposals. They were not sceptical, however, about the central premise of the show, which was that we should, as a society, be encouraging a discourse around “sleep justice”, by which we recognise and make allowances for “sleep inequalities”. At the sharp end of these inequalities are night-shift workers or those forced to work by unpredictable schedules. These are often the same people who live in 24/7 neighbourhoods, which are bustling and exciting to the occasional visitor, but hellish if you have to live there.

The consequences of sleep deprivation, Professor Jonathan White explained, include lethargy, which is not just physical, but also political. Collective action is rarer among those who work unsocial hours. All of this conjures up visions of traders in Japanese equities, security guards, and late-night radio presenters marching on Parliament, brandishing duvets.

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