Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Great British Bake Off, antidote to the bad news in a world dominated by superpower jostling

It’s great to come across the odd good news story out there, in amongst so much that’s bad.

Few are worse than the intensifying Russian intervention in Syria. What’s worst about it is that it reminds me of the behaviour of Germany in the run up to the First World War: Germany had emerged as a nation only rather late – it was proclaimed, ironically in France, only in 1871 – so it missed out on that precious time of empire building by so many other European powers.

Germany could have taken the intelligent decision that imperialism was inherently immoral (how on earth does one seriously justify a bunch of Brits, from a nation with terrible poverty, ill health and criminality in the nineteenth century, telling Indians how to live their lives?) and didn’t even benefit the imperial power that much (Britain remained racked by poverty, ill health and criminality when the Empire was at its height). Instead, it decided to get in on the act and carve out its own dominions, an ambition which led to increasingly intense clashes with France, Russia and Britain, and then the great 1914-1918 bloodbath.

So it’s worrying to see history repeating itself. The US under Dubya, enthusiastically supported by Tony Blair as British Prime Minister, went blundering into Iraq without international endorsement or legal basis, with results from which we’re still suffering twelve years on.

The worst aspect of that is that it established a precedent for ignoring the UN or norms of international legality, and simply using brute force, because one can.

Russia, reprising the role of Germany 140 years ago, instead of deciding that this kind of behaviour is reprehensible, leads to highly undesirable unplanned consequences, and ought to be avoided, has decided that anything the US can do, it can do too. So it’s blundering into Syria, making a painful situation far worse.

Why, if the latest reports are to be believed, it’s even rivalling the US in its capacity to create collateral damage, or even collateral mayhem: it seems four of its missiles may have hit Iran instead of Syria. I suppose one or two thousand kilometres of inaccuracy are to be expected in what specialists like to refer to as the “fog of war.”

Anyway, it’s in this context that I was delighted to find out about the winner of this year’s Great British Bake Off competition.

Now this is a pretty great programme. I watched it one year, though I gave up afterwards and watched neither of the last two competitions: I find the experience too stressful. It’s like watching England play rugby: it’s occasionally satisfying but often deeply depressing. In fact, in many ways the Bake Off is worse. At least on the rugby field, I know who to support and, therefore, by the simplest possible process of elimination, who to oppose. With the Bake Off, I sympathise with absolutely everyone, and want each of them to win, which means I’m distraught over the weekly elimination of a contestant, and inevitably disappointed over the final result by the failure of all the others who didn’t make it.

Nadiya Jamir Hussain, on her way to Bake Off victory
Still, I have to say that I take great pleasure over this year’s winner. She’s Nadiya Jamir Hussain, and she competed in a hijab.

We’re a long way from true assimilation in this country, and assimilation is never really reliable anyway (the Jews thought they’d achieved a high degree of assimilation in Germany in the nineteenth century, and look where that got them in the twentieth). Still, it’s good to see that a British woman can be celebrated by a British institution – the BBC had the year’s highest ratings for any programme, on any channel this year, for the final of the competition – even though she’s a Muslim.

At least there’s some progress, then.

Of course, we then have to return to all the everyday problems of racism in Britain – only today there’s been a new outcry over the poor level of dementia care offered to patients of Afro-Caribbean ancestry – but, hey, at least we can take a brief timeout to enjoy one positive event.

Postscript It was amusing to see the Guardian report that the Daily Mail failed to give front page coverage to the Bake Off result this year, as it had in the past. 

At least the paper that supported the Nazis in the 1930s has retained some consistency with its roots.

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