Last night's viewing - A History of Syria with Dan Snow, BBC2; America's Gun Addiction – Panorama, BBC1; Broadchurch, ITV1

 

"If you want to understand what's happening in Syria and this region at the moment," said Dan Snow, "there's only one place to start... the past." Do we want to understand, though? Really? Of course, we absolutely know we should – a grasp of intractable sectarian conflicts being a kind of secular obligation. In fact, it's quite likely that a fair proportion of those watching A History of Syria with Dan Snow had already gone through the ritual once already, in one way or another.

I know it isn't the first time I've been taken through the historic origins of the split between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, though had you asked me five minutes before watching the programme who'd done what to whom back in the fourth century, I'm ashamed to say I wouldn't have been able to tell you.

Anyway, last night's programme was both a useful refresher on the ancient roots of the current conflict in Syria, and a rather depressing reminder of just how durable some enmities are. Snow's film included footage of a Lebanese Sunni cleric spouting invective against Alawites, not Muslims at all in his book and thus, presumably, eminently slaughterable. A lot were killed back in the 14th century by their neighbours, and Alawite memory of that massacre still informs their reactions to what's happening today.

Which means, of course, that Sunnis occasionally have their prejudices reinforced. In fact, it occurred to you more than once watching the film that while it might be a good idea for us to understand the history of this region, a collective bout of historical amnesia would be a far better prescription for those actually living there.

Snow's film was a slightly odd affair, a bit like a country-house documentary filmed in a burning building. Every now and then, he mentioned the smell of smoke, as it were, with a reference to the sound of distant shellfire, or a delivery that sounded tactically sotto voce. But it was often not easy to say exactly where he was and under what auspices. He had been smuggled into an anti-Assad suburb of Damascus and he talked to a unit of the Free Syrian Army at one point, but this was a history programme not war reporting.

It was just that it was a history programme in which the rival experts, in some cases at least, were on opposite sides of a war. The British didn't get off scot-free incidentally, since our betrayal of postwar promises to the Arab nationalists who fought with T E Lawrence contributed to the dismemberment of Syria by the French colonialists. Snow ended by reminding us that Syria had enjoyed periods of peace before and might again, but even he didn't sound very persuaded by what he was saying.

Radio Times warns us that because Panorama reacts to news "its subject matter may change". America's Gun Addiction, Hilary Andersson's report on the aftermath of the Newtown massacre had already been postponed once and I can't help hoping that it happened again because it was infuriating, spending at least half of its length on a prurient account of the killing (what can we conceivably learn from blurry video footage of the killer when he was four years old?) and adding little new to our knowledge of the issue in the other half. A sense of history is a problem here too: "Guns founded America," said one pro-gun contributor. "They didn't do it on bows and arrows." It's hard to know where to start with a justification that dim-witted, but it would have been nice if Panorama had at least tried.

The plot thickened in Broadchurch, which in one respect at least meant "got much stupider". A psychic has turned up, treated as a nuisance by all present but eerily hitting home with a remark he makes to David Tennant's troubled detective. A psychic? Please. You're better than this.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering