Big Ideas That Changed The World

Big Ideas That Changed the World

David Blunkett on Nationalism

Tuesday 1 st May at 7.15pm, Five

In the last of the current series of Big Ideas that Changed the World, MP and former home secretary David Blunkett examines the history of nationalism and its impact on British national identity today.

He also relates his own personal journey. As a young man he viewed nationalism as dangerous and racist, but today he ‘s come to believe nationalism, and a firm sense of national identity, are vital for us to survive in our modern, insecure and ever changing world.

British national identity is something many people today feel strongly about. Who are we, what are our values, who should j oin our nation? These questions lie behind many of the big political topics of today: immigration, asylum and racism.

But the idea that lies behind them, nationalism, is relatively new. In the programme, Blunkett traces its roots in the French revolution and German romanticism in the 18th century and relates it to today’s modern nation state.

The film also follows him to a citizenship class in a local school and to a citizenship ceremony, where he talks to the children and the new British citizens about their views on British national identity.

Setting out his vision for a revived British and English nationalism which is modern and inclusive, Blunkett argues that those who want to join our country must also sign up to our values and way of life before they can become British citizens.

Big ideas that changed the world terrorism (4/5) Tuesday 24 April, 19.15–20.00

Continuing tonight is a new second series of the documentary strand that explores some of the world’s most influential ideas. In this programme, Terry Waite examines terrorism, its roots and history, as well as questioning whether the use of violence is ever justified.

Waite has a greater insight into the mind of the terrorist than most of us. As special envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1980s, he successfully negotiated the release of British hostages in Iran and Libya. At the request of their families, he became involved when Brian Keenan and John McCarthy were snatched on the streets of Beirut. This time, however, he too was taken hostage and held captive for almost five years.

For most of that time, Waite was in solitary confinement. He was tortured and subjected to a mock execution. His captors belong to the armed militia group, Hezbolla, and over time, he could understand why they had resorted to hostage taking. They were Shia Muslims, among the poorest and most politically disadvantaged in Lebanon. Many of them had known nothing but armed conflict.

“By taking us hostage, they were saying, ‘We can fight you back and we can fight you in a very effective way. Just taking a few of your people will make us jump.’ Everybody sits up when hostages from the West are taken,” says Terry.

However, the idea of terrorism is nothing new. Waite looks at the roots of terrorism. Its origins lie in the French Revolution, more than 200 years ago, when a group of people fought for ‘Liberty, equality and fraternity’. These French revolutionaries lived in constant fear of their enemies. Their response was to unleash a wave of terror – ‘La Grande Terreur’ – that sent up to 17,000 people to their deaths.

Terry Waite examines the line from these early revolutionaries to Osama bin Laden and considers how effective their use of violence has been. In the case of the IRA and the African National Congress, for example, he argues that it seems to have worked. Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, is now discussing power sharing with his old foe, Ian Paisley. Meanwhile, the ANC’s Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, is now Africa’s most respected elder statesman.

When acts of terrorism provoke a visceral reaction – such as the Twin Towers, the 7/7 bombers, Bali and Madrid – it is almost inconceivable to think of negotiating with the men and women responsible.

Terry Waite believes that terrorism is the symptom of problems which have not been tackled, and of long standing grievances, which – eventually – erupt into violence. He looks at the current problems in Iraq and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and questions why there is still no negotiated settlement.

big ideas that changed the world: islam (3/5)

Continuing tonight is a new second series of the documentary strand that explores some of the world’s most influential ideas. This edition sees Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, present a personal film examining the history of Islam, from its foundations in the seventh century AD to the present day.

Bhutto opens the film by looking at the origins of Islam in seventh-century Mecca, where the prophet Muhammad was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and told to spread Allah’s word. At its inception, Islam promoted equality between men and women, and favoured peace and tolerance. Over the next few hundred years Islam spread across Asia, offering a moral code that instructed Muslims how to live their lives. “I was taught that if we lead good lives, then on the day of judgement, God will reward us with a place in heaven,” explains Bhutto.

Islam also became synonymous with scientific progression, and by the turn of the second millennium it was the most advanced civilisation on Earth. However, when the Crusaders began the first of many attacks on the Holy Land in 1095, the peaceful Islamic balance that had existed for centuries was threatened. A religious sub-group calling themselves Hashshashin formed, intent on terrorising the Crusaders, and justifying murder and matyrdom in the name of Allah. For her, the Islamic faith has been waging a constant battle since then between liberals and traditionalists.

Bhutto’s own story begins with the independence of Pakistan in 1947, and the election of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as president. Bhutto reflects on her upbringing – she was sent to be schooled abroad and remembers her father removing the burqa from her head. “My father believed that I should be judged on my mind, and my character –and not by my clothing,” she says.

However, a military coup in 1977 led by General Zia culminated in Bhutto’s execution in 1979 which, according to his daughter, was based on the “trumped-up charges” of a political opponent. Since then, Bhutto laments that Pakistan has been governed by military reactionaries such as General Zia, returning the country to the draconian measures of Sharia law and pushing the nation into bloodthirsty wars with its neighbours. She believes that it is western-funded wars such as the war with Afghanistan that have given despots like Zia the opportunity to groom terrorists.

Following Zia’s death, Bhutto herself became Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988. She was the first woman to lead a Muslim-majority state, defying the widespread belief that a woman would never be allowed to rule. However, despite what she sees as her efforts to restore Pakistan to a liberal and democratic country, the reactionaries ultimately won and she was dispossessed of office 20 months later.

Today, Bhutto fears for her country. “ Pakistan today is the most dangerous place in the world,” she reflects. Despite this, she still vows to stand as Prime Minister again. “We cannot allow the militants to monopolise the image of our religion.” She dreams of the day that her country and her faith will be returned to those who hold dear the original teachings of Muhammad – and what she sees as the true message of Islam.

Big ideas that changed the world – Jesse Jackson, Tuesday 3 April: 19.15–20.00

Beginning tonight is a new second series of the documentary strand that explores some of the world’s most influential ideas. Written and presented by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, this programme looks at the issue of equality, and examines the centuries-old struggle of black people in America, from the days of slavery right up to the present day.

Working alongside Martin Luther King Jr, the Reverend Jesse Jackson was one of the most important voices in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. In the 1980s, he twice ran for president, and has spent his life fighting for equal rights, justice and peace. Although the world has come a lot closer to egalitarianism since he began his quest, he still feels there is a long way to go.

For Jackson, egalitarianism is “one of the most noble ideas humans can aspire to.” It was Jesus Christ who fuelled Jackson’s lifelong passion for equality with his teaching that all men are equal in the eyes of God. However, as Jackson casts his eye over American history, he sees that Jesus’s words have been forgotten. After the slave trade, which saw hundreds of thousands of slaves die on the transatlantic crossing and over 200 years of enforced labour and brutality, Abraham Lincoln promised emancipation in the wake of the Civil War. Not only were slaves to walk free, but they would be able to vote, own land and marry.

However, when Jackson was born in 1941, not much had changed for black people in America. There was enforced segregation in public places in a heavily white-dominated society, not to mention the terrifying presence of the Ku Klux Klan who instigated a campaign of fear and intimidation across the southern states. Jackson remembers being treated as a second-class citizen in his home town of Greenville, South Carolina, where he was forbidden from using the same municipal facilities as the white population such as buses, water fountains and libraries. This overtly racist culture inspired Jackson to take part in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. “When we fought for equality, we had to unlearn the laws of inferiority,” he asserts.

The Civil Rights movement was inspired by two key events in the 1950s: the brutal murder of black teenager Emmett Till by a gang of white men, and the now infamous refusal of black woman Rosa Parks to give up her bus seat for a white man. These events “galvanised a generation”, and Jackson was soon to work alongside Martin Luther King, who delivered his iconic “I have a dream” speech at the Civil Rights March in Washington DC, 1963. According to Jackson, there was an “abounding sense of hope in the atmosphere.”

Jackson was with King when he was assassinated in 1968. “[He] changed the world,” says Jackson. “He changed the way we saw ourselves and the way America sees us.” Despite the strides made by the world towards egalitarianism since King, Jackson believes America took a step backwards with the election of George W Bush. Jackson refers to the 2000 election as “the first organised theft of a national election in history.” He also feels that the US government abandoned the black population in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Despite all this, Jackson remains positive about his lifelong dream of egalitarianism, but knows that there will always be a struggle. “Equality is always attainable, but you’re always fighting tyrants and oppressors,” he explains. “Those in power always work out a have/have not system.”

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