Following our recent contribution to a Radio 4 series presented by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, exploring notions of morality and modern society, Loreto had the honour of hosting an episode of the network’s flagship religious programme, Beyond Belief. Each week, a panel of distinguished guests discuss issues relating to the place and nature of faith in today’s world. As presenter Mark Dowd explained, the programme is usually recorded in the hermetically sealed confines of a studio at Media City but on this occasion, they wanted the input of an audience of intelligent, thoughtful, young people, so naturally they chose to come to Loreto. November 11 will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War and the topic chosen for discussion was remembrance: what are we remembering; why are we remembering; should we be remembering, and if so, how?
Ellis and Kennedy theatre was an ideal venue as Mark Dowd and the BBC production team briefed the audience on the protocol of a radio recording. It was explained that the recording was not being transmitted live so appropriate editing would take place should any mishaps occur. After a brief introduction, each member of the panel was asked to explain his or her position on the issue of remembrance, as dictated by faith. Sarah Donaldson, a Quaker, recalled attending a peace group function and being impressed by the fact that there was no celebration of war, just a recognition that war is a failure. Jay Singh Sohal, Sikh writer and filmmaker, has served as a military reservist, and explained that the Sikh faith contains much reflection on the past and the lessons to be learned. Anglican priest and author, Rachel Mann, has written extensively about the First World War; her grandparents were involved and she remembers her grandfather weeping whilst watching the Remembrance service from the Cenotaph in London.
Prompted by Mark Dowd, each speaker had time to elaborate on his or her individual position and its relationship to faith. Sarah Donaldson pointed out that Quakers were committed to non-violence but that this in itself was not enough: they had to be actively building peace. She reminded the audience of the often difficult experiences of Quakers who were conscientious objectors. Jay Singh Sohal and Rachel Mann both raised the question of a defensive, or just, war, where a stand is taken against an aggressor, often in support of a weaker ally. Sikhs and Christians both feel obliged to defend their rights and the rights of others.
When Mark Dowd invited questions from the audience, there was an excellent response. Several of our students wanted to know the views of the panel on the lack of publicity given to the role of foreign, mainly Commonwealth, troops in the various conflicts, particularly the First World War. For example, large numbers of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu soldiers were recruited from the Indian sub-continent and fought in campaigns all over the world, including the Western Front. Jay Singh Sohal explained that he is active in ensuring that the sacrifices of these soldiers do not go unrecognised. Rachel Mann told the audience that on a visit to the First World War memorial at Thiepval, in France, she was shocked to find that the thousands of names commemorating the South African war dead did not include any black Africans. Jay Singh Sohal mentioned the awkward position of Sikh and other Indian soldiers who returned to India after the war in the knowledge that they had propped up the colonial power, a power that was then responsible for the massacre at Amritsar in 1919. Several contributors from the audience felt that whilst it is right and proper that we should remember the sacrifices made in our name it is depressing to have to record that conflicts are still going on all over the world, and that whilst we might not be involved directly we are implicated in some of these conflicts.
The discussion concluded with consideration of the poppy. Sarah Donaldson explained the significance of the white poppy, as a symbol of a clear commitment to peace, not a rejection of the work carried out by the British Legion in selling the traditional red poppies. Jay Singh Sohal wears a hand woven red poppy, to represent the Indian soldiers who fought and died; Rachel Mann emphasised the message of hope embodied in the red poppy.
To listen to the programme please click here.