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TV review: Putin vs the West: At war and TikTok: Murders gone viral

09 February 2024


Putin vs the West: At war (BBC2, two parts, 29 January and 5 February) examined the diplomatic processes of war

Putin vs the West: At war (BBC2, two parts, 29 January and 5 February) examined the diplomatic processes of war

PUTIN vs the West: At war (BBC2, two parts, 29 January and 5 February) was a significant, vital documentary of record. An amazing cast of key players from not just both, but all, sides — prime ministers, generals, ambassadors — recorded their part in, and their assessment of, Ukraine’s unfolding tragedy.

As so often with historical processes, we forget very quickly how fast matters move, how quickly the utterly unthinkable becomes accepted as the new reality. Whereas the news focused — and continues to focus — on the daily horrors of war, destruction, and bestial inhumanity engulfing the innocent, from youngest to oldest, this traced the urgent and vital diplomatic processes, forcing us to consider: which of these two fields is the background, and which is the foreground?

The patient work of high-level politics — holding your nose to sit at a table and negotiate with those whose actions and motivation you despise, so that a greater good may obtain (for example, the UN Secretary-General’s persuading President Putin to allow Ukrainian grain shipments to resume) — has never seemed so praiseworthy.

President Putin’s war has already brought startling consequences: Germany’s renunciation of its post-Second World War pacificism and agreeing to help arm Ukraine; and Sweden and Finland’s joining of NATO. I said not both, but all sides: African leaders rejected a binary them-and-us scenario, saying that, sooner or later, there would have to be a negotiated peace, and, for the avoidance of a third world war, the sooner that was embarked on, the better.

We watch these admirable programmes, knowing that — as the Ukrainian summer offensive fails to deliver, as US Republicans refuse to continue military support, and as President Putin seems determined to sacrifice as many Russian troops as necessary in a war of attrition — they are, appallingly, merely work-in-progress.

The first of a three-part series, TikTok: Murders gone viral (ITV1, Tuesday of last week), told how glamorous Ansreen Bukhar, 47, of George Eardley Close, Stoke, had a three-year affair with Saqib Hussain, who was then 18. Distraught when she broke it off, he threatened to publish their explicit photos; and, terrified by her strict Muslim community’s likely reaction, she engineered a posse to cow him into silence. So far, so sordid; but what makes the case different is that Ansreen’s daughter, Mahek, of the same address, was a TikTok influencer with 160,000 followers. Her mother played a constant part in her tawdry posts of shopping, dancing, and sipping cocktails.

Mahek’s fame enabled her to assemble and excite the mob, which forced Saqib’s car off the road, causing a fireball so intense that he and his wholly innocent friend could be identified only by dental records. Most shocking was the extent of the Bukharis’ disengagement from reality, and their refusal to admit responsibility or show remorse. They are now in prison, sentenced for life. Do social media create a universe so utterly intense that social morality — especially when furtively opposed to a strict religious code — ceases to obtain?

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