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Reflections on the death of Svetlana Alliluyeva


8 December 2011

On Sunday 4 December 2011 I gave a "Thought for the week" talk on BBC Radio Manchester. This was my first solo radio broadcast, as all my previous appearances have been interviews. I was asked to speak for two minutes on something topical with the approach of BBC Radio 4's "Thought for the day." As I had to supply a written transcript in advance, I can share the text below.

After the "Thought for the week" I was briefly interviewed by the presenter, Diana Luke, about the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester.

Thought for the week

Last week I heard the news that Svetlana Alliluyeva had died at the age of 85. She was the only daughter of Joseph Stalin, the dictator who ruled the USSR for almost 30 years.

Stalin was one of the greatest monsters of the twentieth century, responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent men, women and children. He was also a cruel husband and Svetlana’s mother committed suicide when Svetlana was only six years old.

Even though she was surrounded by luxury, growing up with a monster like Stalin for a father was very hard for Svetlana. No matter what she did, or where she went, she would always be Stalin’s daughter; the daughter of a man who was feared while he was alive and despised after he died.

Even today, I am talking about Svetlana not because of herself, but because she was Stalin’s daughter.

Nobody wants to have a monster like Stalin as their father. However if we had a choice most of us would like to be descended from a great man or woman. That is one reason so many of us research our ancestors; maybe we will find a king or a great hero amongst them.

Sadly many of us judge children by their parents. We often look down on children with “bad” parents. But no child ever chooses their father or mother.

The good news is that God never judges anyone by their parents.

In the Muslim Holy Book, the Quran, in Surah 53 verse 38 God says “no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another's burden”.

God is saying to each of us that we are responsible only for our own actions, and our own failures to act. That is how He will judge us on the Day of Judgement.

God will not judge us for the actions of our parents, other relatives or friends. That is a wonderful liberating message.

It frees us from the burden of ancestry, even if our ancestor was a monster like Joseph Stalin.


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