Hazel McHaffie

Muslim tradition

Wigtown 2021 revisited

Continued from last week …

Yep, the rest of my Wigtown Book Festival experience this year lived up to expectation.

Fiona Sampson – poet cum biographer – was commendably animated and enthusiastic, and impressively fluent about her subject: the life and times of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a contemporary of Dickens. Indeed, she gave such detailed and comprehensive responses that the chairperson, Lee Randall, several times found her questions pre-empted, but Lee kept pace brilliantly, and maintained her usual sangfroid, steering the event beautifully. The title of the book under discussion, Two Way Mirror,  comes from the author’s belief that Barrett Browning’s work is both a mirror for her life and a mirror for us today. It’s 30 years since a biography last came out on this canonical figure, and Sampson has exploded a few myths about her, explaining why she has been devalued and misrepresented. She maintains that, in spite of EBB’s constant ill health, and the constraints on women of her era, she was actually strong and wilful, a driven perfectionist, clever and precocious, exhibiting a highly developed social conscience from the age of 6, even though her education was limited to listening in to lessons from her brother’s tutor, and despite her own family’s wealth being built on slave trading. Through her written work she changed what society thought about child labour, rape, poverty, women, slavery. A  laudable legacy indeed.

Journalist, author and broadcaster, Sarfraz Mazoor rounded off my time with writers in Wigtown this year and he didn’t disappoint. Weaving together history, reportage and memoir, in his book, They: What Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong about Each Other, Manzoor journeyed around Britain in search of the roots of the feelings about Muslims in this country. He is himself a Pakistani Muslim married to a white British woman, with two daughters who straddle races and cultures, so it’s unsurprising that his personal story is woven through his account. He explores the doubts and fears that are sometimes peddled about violence and fanaticism and radicalisation; religion and ethnicity; education and religious illiteracy; socialising and separation; the price to be paid for a liberal attitude; the clash of tradition and modern thinking. He doesn’t shy away from difficult issues – sexual exploitation, misogyny, homosexuality, arranged marriages, anti-semitism. They is also Manzoor’s search for a more positive future, for hope and inspiration, for a more tolerant faith, more progressive attitudes, and that search took him to heart-warming stories of people doing good deeds, leading to a conclusion that we all have it within ourselves to make things better, to build bridges across the chasm of mutual mistrust. They is the story of modern, Muslim Britain, the migrant experience told from both sides, both deeply personal and a challenge to all who have attributed to religion things that shouldn’t be laid at its door.

Reviewing the sessions I attended, I’m struck by the common theme: how can we make society a better place?; how can we cultivate goodness and altruism and kindness? I didn’t consciously choose them for that reason, but it’s a reflection of my own biases. Huge thanks again to Wigtown Book Festival for a brilliant programme and some very thought-provoking events that will continue to challenge long after the tents have folded and the speakers returned to their everyday walking-around lives.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments