Saturday, 4 July 2015

"This story has important lessons for us all in multicultural Britain today"

BBC One is broadcasting a documentary on Monday about the Bosnian War entitled A Deadly Warning: Srebrenica Revisited

It will be presented by a leading British Muslim convert, Myriam François-Cerrah - a familiar face on the BBC's The Big Questions and Sunday Morning Live.  

Will it be a balanced account that, as well as detailing the massacres committed by the Serbs and Croats and the suffering of Bosnia's Muslim population, also mentions (a) the role of foreign jihadis in fighting on behalf of Bosnia's Muslims, marking - some believe - the real starting point of the whole modern ultra-violent jihadi phenomenon, (b) doesn't completely airbrush out the atrocities committed by the Bosniak side, and (c) mentions the West's military actions against Serbia on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims (and later the Kosovans)? Or will it be just another one-sided BBC programme?

Well, I have to say that the blurb on the programme's webpage doesn't look promising. Not only does it look as if it might be one-sided in its coverage of what happened in Bosnia, it appears as if it might also be used to further project a very familiar BBC message: a "warning" that anti-Muslim prejudice is a danger in "multicultural Britain today" too:
Journalist Myriam François-Cerrah travels to Bosnia to mark the 20th anniversary of one of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.
In July 1995, in the midst of war in the former Yugoslavia, around 8,000 Muslim men and teenage boys were massacred at Srebrenica. Now Myriam, a British Muslim, is visiting the site with a group of young people - all born in the year of the genocide. In an often emotional trip, they learn first-hand how easily prejudice can take hold and why this story has important lessons for us all in multicultural Britain today.
The BBC Media Centre's account adds that the daughter of Col. Bob Stewart will be going along too, as well as...
...medical student Abdul, who is astonished that he didn’t hear about the story in school. He wonders why, as he feels that “when Muslim people die you don’t learn about it as much.”
Hopefully, Myriam will correct Abdul over that, given that the BBC provided massive coverage of the atrocities against Bosnia's Muslims at the time - including Srebrenica. We wouldn't want such an unjustified grievance to be stoked by a BBC documentary, would we?


Friday, 3 July 2015

Feedback loop

Call them 'conspiratorial', but some people feel that the whole row between the BBC and David Cameron over what to call Islamic State is too good to be true (for both sides) - especially given that the BBC pioneered the way when it came to calling IS "so-called Islamic State" and has even outstripped most politicians when it comes to vigorously projected the message that IS has nothing to do with true Islam. 

Suspicions therefore followed of a possible collusion between the BBC and the government (a fake row designed to reinforce a socially cohesive message that won't hurt the feelings of British Muslims).

Sometimes it's very hard not to think like that. Take today's Feedback, for example. This also discussed the issue of the BBC's use of language, but this time over the issue of immigration.

Two out of the three featured listener emails/calls featured listeners complaining that the BBC was taking the tabloid route of using words like "swamping" to describe the 'migrants' at Calais, and taking John Humphrys to task for saying "so-called genuine asylum seekers" on Today last week. [It's not been JH's week, has it? And it's mostly been over the term "so-called"!]

Then came an interviewer with a third complainant (from the pro-immigration side) - Professor Richard Rudin of Liverpool John Moores University. 

Prof. Rudin was unhappy with the BBC for using the phrase "illegal immigrants". He says that phrase should never be used. Never. He calls it "toxic", and blamed John Humphrys (again) for using the world "illegal" this week. Prof. Rudin always wants them to be referred to as "migrants" by the BBC. 

And here's where conspiratorial thoughts arise because the BBC has pioneered the way in tending (very heavily) towards using the word "migrants" rather than "immigrants" - and in using the word "illegal" very sparingly. 

The BBC has already travelled most of the way that Prof. Rudin wants them to travel...

...and, I suspect, many at the BBC (if not necessarily John Humphrys) would be all too happy to go the whole hog and do what Prof. Rudin wants them to do - impose a prohibition on the term "illegal immigrant".

Too good to be true (for some at the BBC)?

Roger Bolton mentioned that Prof. Rudin is a professor of journalism and that he used to help refugees settle in the UK. He didn't mention that Richard Rudin used to work for the BBC, where (as his LinkedIn profile states) he "held senior editorial, management and presentation posts". (Wonder if he had any involvement in shaping the BBC's reporting of immigration?)

John Humphrys, of course, famously noted that the BBC had a liberal bias on the topic of immigration. (Roger Bolton wasn't best pleased about his saying so publicly either). Wonder what he'll make of this edition of Feedback?

Biased interviewing from Jeremy Vine

Maybe I ought to start monitoring Jeremy Vine's programme on BBC Radio 2, because this lunchtime's edition began with one of the most biased pieces of BBC broadcasting I've heard in a long time.

I was going to transcribe the biased section, to show you it in all its horror, but that would take far too long and I'm off out soon. So please listen for yourselves. It's near the start of the show (beginning at 6:53).

The question was: Should the UK bomb IS in Syria?

There were two interviews. The first was with the SNP's Alex Salmond (against UK strikes on Syria), the second with Colonel Richard Kemp (for UK strikes on Syria). 

They could not have been handled more differently. 

Mr Salmond wasn't interrupted and was treated with good-natured respect by Jeremy Vine. 

Colonel Kemp, in contrast, was relentlessly interrupted and contradicted, sometimes with a disrespectful laughing tone. 

Jeremy Vine got far too emotionally involved here, frequently raising his voice against Colonel Kemp. 

And he did that thing that no professional BBC interviewer should do (in my opinion) - ending the interview by firmly contradicting his interviewee and then bringing the interview to a close, not allowing his guest (Richard Kemp) to reply. 

He even cited Russell Brand's denunciation of Western foreign policy for ultimately causing the terrorist attack in Tunisia at him.

Dreadful interviewing.

"This is a peace-loving kind of song", said Jeremy soon after, introducing Robert Palmer's Every Kind of People

"The so-called British Broadcasting Corporation"

Over at The Spectator, Isabel Hardman castigates politicians for "trying to boss the BBC around" over the issue of what to call Islamic State.

Now, she's undoubtedly correct that there's a lot of deflection going on here from hapless UK politicians, As she says,
...while language is powerful, this sort of thing is what people who are supposed to be powerful end up talking about when they feel powerless, when an issue feels just too big to take hold of at once.
 ...but her main concern is that the letter from 120 MPs calling for IS to be re-branded as 'Daesh' is "an attempt by politicians to tell journalists what to do", and that's wrong:
...the point is that politicians should not be trying to dictate what journalists write or say. That’s not how it works.
[I note, being The Spectator perhaps, that Isabel 'forgets' to criticise the PM for his similar intervention in the debate]. 

Here's how her piece concludes:
Will they ‘actually achieve something’ that helps the people in the countries being ravaged by Isis, or just ‘achieve’ a ‘victory for common sense’ that means they can pat themselves on the back, toddle off home, and think that today they really made a difference, without even having to get their heads around what they’d like to see from the UK government in terms of whether action against Isis in Syria could make a difference, what the limits of that action would be, and what the legal basis for doing so when President Assad doesn’t look likely to ask the UK to join the strikes in the country? They did discuss these questions in this afternoon’s debate, but it was on the subject of Isil/Isis/Daesh/IS/They Who Must Not Be Named that MPs seemed to grow the most aerated, and a number started their interventions with the issue of the name, before moving onto other issues. They are free to use whichever name they want, but then so are journalists free to use the terms their organisation has settled on without politicians bossing them around. That’s the annoying thing about democracy.
Now, there's a good deal of sense in Isabel Hardman's piece but - even though I strongly disagree with the PM and those MPs over this (and strongly distrust their motives too) - I'd just like to put on record my feeling that another "annoying thing about democracy" is that democratically-elected politicians do have the right to make their views known about what they see as poor reporting - including poor BBC reporting. 

If they were to try to legislate to force the BBC to call Islamic State "the so-called Islamic State" or "Da'esh", then that would be abhorrent and deeply undemocratic and barricades would have to be manned, but if they are just having their say (even if it's en masse) - criticising the BBC - then why, in a democracy, shouldn't they have a right to say it? 

Why do journalists - including those at the BBC and Spectator - think that they shouldn't be criticised by politicians? Because such criticism compromises their journalistic independence? 

Well, as we saw the other day, Tony Hall of the BBC sent those 120 MPs (including Boris and Eck) packing. Any journalistic organisation can either reject or ignore such criticism if it disagrees with it. That's how it works.

Or does it?

Here's a comment posted below Isabel Hardman's piece that gives an alternative take on what happened this week, which I thought I'd share with you.

If nothing else, it shows just how rum this strange row has been:

The Masked Marvel • 20 hours ago 

Perhaps the BBC is wrong to continue to call the terror group ‘so-called Islamic State’ or ‘Islamic State group’, but that is a matter for the BBC, and those who consume the BBC’s output, the licence-fee payers. 
Perhaps? It is wrong. It is dishonest, and is a deliberate attempt to control public thought. That's a matter for everyone, and it's rather disgraceful to deny what's going on. The worst part of it all is that the BBC were already doing it before Cameron popped his head in, and are now not only able to pretend they haven't been referring to the 'so-called Islamic State' all along, but get a prized opportunity to appear to stand up to the Government and declare their editorial independence. Even Ms. Hardman has bought into the charade, believing this to be a case of politicians attempting to influence journalists, when in reality it's the other way round. 
The whole thing is a farce, and it is collusion. The BBC have already been working overtime to declare that whatever is going on over there is unIslamic. Anyone who denies is this is lying or deliberately avoiding the facts. The latest pathetic performance we've had to witness is a series of BBC personalities shedding crocodile tears for the cameras over the lost family of innocent lambs who have been victimised by online groomers and decided that to be proper Muslims they had to leave Bradford and join ISIS. To say they did it for religious reasons is an unapproved thought, and so is squashed. 
Now here comes David Cameron to declare that it's wrong for the BBC to do what they haven't been doing, and to encourage them along the path they've already taken. Now they can go the full Orwell and deny outright that the Islamic State - which people are deliberately choosing to join because of the name - is what it says on the tin. Complete denial of reality. This was collusion between the Prime Minister and the state broadcaster to push a thought control agenda, and no mistake. Both have the same Social Cohesion goal of trying to convince the public that it's nothing to do with the true Islam. One needed a public platform to do it (again), and the platform was happy to provide itself for a mission on which it was already dedicated. 
The only remaining question is, who set this up? Did this come from No. 10 or was it a BBC idea? The only thing about which one can be certain is that we won't learn about it from Ms. Hardman. 
From now on, everyone should refer to it as 'the so-called British Broadcasting Corporation'.

"The Times claims..."

I noticed something while watching the News Channel's two paper reviews last night (which can be seen here and here). 

During Martine Croxall's opening run-through of the front pages, she would use various forms of words to introduce each newspaper's front page - e.g. "The Guardian has...", "The Mirror also leads on...", "The Mail has...", "The Express forecasts...", etc. 

Intriguingly - and uniquely - the lead story in today's The Times was introduced, during both paper reviews, with the following form of words:
The Times claims...
Oddly enough, exactly the same happened on this morning's Today programme. During the second (6.40) paper review - the only time the Times lead story was mentioned - James Naughtie departed from his (and Sarah Montague's) previous forms of words (e.g. "The Mirror expects...", "The Star tells its readers...", "A headline in the Mail says...", "The Mirror says...", "The Guardian takes the same line...", "The Sun argues...") to introduce the Times story in this way:
The Times claims...
Two presenters on different programmes, both using (on three occasions in total) the same form of words to introduce just one news story from the newspapers. 

Britain is seeing a surge in Sharia marriages — many of them polygamous — as young Muslims shun legally binding unions. 
As many as 100,000 couples are living in such marriages, which are not valid under UK law, and bypassing register offices, experts said. Ministers have raised fears that women can be left without the right to a fair share of assets if the relationship ends, while others are forced to return to abusive “husbands”. 
A leading Islamic family lawyer warned that the increase in Sharia ceremonies among the 2.7 million-strong Muslim population in Britain was also behind a growth in “secret polygamy”.
Another curious thing about last night's The Papers on the News Channel is that though most of the front page stories were covered in some detail (over several minutes), the only time this Times story was covered (during the second paper review), Martine Croxall introduced it with the following words:
Let's move onto The Times - and, very quickly if we can, look at a couple of these next two stories [the other was a Telegraph front page story about "migrants" taking British jobs]...
Less than a minute was spent on it.

The Today programme didn't devote a discussion or report to it either.

All of this suggests to me a certain reluctance to cover and give credence to what on the face of it looks like a serious piece of reporting from The Times

Is the BBC downplaying another potential scandal-in-the-making in the interests of social cohesion again?

This Week

I spotted some #bbcbias tweets bemoaning the fact that Douglas Murray was on Question Time last night and Tom Holland was on This Week straight after. 

Where were the Islamic scholars?", the twitterers twittered.

If you haven't seen it yet, This Week's discussion of the Islamic State nomenclature row, featuring Tom Holland, Andrew Neil, Michael Portillo and Alastair Campbell, is a much-watch - quite unlike pretty much anything else you'll have ever seen elsewhere on BBC TV....and a million miles away (or more) from the kind of discussion you're ever likely to hear on Radio 4 on a Sunday morning. 

And, yes, there were no Islamic scholars to be seen. Thank Allah.

She'll be back

Not BBC-related, but I thought this was quite charming from the FT's employment correspondent, Sarah O'Connor:

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Bosnia and modern jihadism

This is a ruminative post, written after reading a BBC online article by Newsnight's Mark Urban (written in advance of tonight's Newsnight). 

It's ruminative because I found Mark Urban's piece interesting and insightful, yet I've got issues. 

The piece is headlined Bosnia: The cradle of modern jihadism and makes a persuasive case that the war in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s (rather than Afghanistan in the 1980s) marked the true starting point for the kind of brutal, Western-hating jihadism that we're all far too familiar with today.

A Saudi fighter who went to Bosnia at the time tells Mark that this was the moment when people like him decided that "there is a war between the West and Islam".

Mark details some astonishing stuff about the Muslim Bosnian (Bosniak) government's tolerance of such fighters at the time, and part of the ruling party's continuing ambivalence as regards the very high level of Bosnian Muslims going to fight for Islamic State. 

The curious thing is that I, getting my news pretty much entirely through the BBC at the time, saw the Bosnian War as a war between good and evil, victims and perpetrators. The evil perpetrators were the Orthodox Serbs and, to a lesser extent, the Catholic Croats. The Bosnian Muslims were the good guys, the victims, ever-suffering. BBC reporter after BBC reporter shared their pain.

I just don't recall the BBC reporting what Mark Urban is now reporting - that the Bosnian Muslims fought alongside foreign Muslim fighters (fighters who beheaded captured Christians), and that they committed atrocities too.

And from Mark Urban's report, it looks as if we still have a problem in the Balkans (north of Greece) - something I wasn't exactly conscious of either. 

The other thing I want to ruminate about is something that Mark Urban failed to note in his piece - one that counters the jihadi line - for, as I remember, the wicked West (NATO) intervened  militarily in the mid 1990s to attack the Christian Serbs and defend the Bosnian Muslims and then, in the late 1990s, to attack the Christian Serbs and defend the Muslim Kosovans. 

Present day Muslim hatemongers should remember that, and the BBC (including Newsnight) should repeatedly remind them of the fact.

A rant from Mark Mardell

Mark Mardell was fond of editorialising when he acted as the BBC's North America editor. 

Curiously, he obviously still believes it's appropriate to sound off in a highly opinionated fashion - even though he's now a presenter on Radio 4's The World at One and The World This Weekend

Even by his standards though, his latest blogpost - Cameron is not asking the big question on Islamic State - is stonkingly opinionated. And on a highly controversial subject too.

He mocks David Cameron for saying that Islamic State poses an "existential threat" to the UK:
One has to have a fairly lurid imagination to envision that IS could snuff out the UK. 
He also implicitly includes the PM in his description of the "emotive words and stirring phrases from politicians around the world" - as is made explicit by his later description of Mr Cameron's proposals on how to deal with IS as "portentous pronouncements".

He also gives Tony Hall the finger by ranting about his feelings about the terminology used to describe the so-called so-called Islamic State:
It is perhaps telling that Mr Cameron objects to the BBC using the phrase "Islamic State", he prefers Isil - which stands for Islamic State in the Levant - or the preface "so-called" .
No doubt there will be a big debate about this, but personally I loathe that phrase. 
It is only used in ordinary conversation in scorn: "Your so-called girlfriend. 
And, it seems to me, once we start passing comment on the accuracy of the names people call their organisations, we will constantly be expected to make value judgements. Is China really a "People's Republic"?
Now, I have to say that I agree with Mark Mardell on that - and on other things in this piece. His strong opinion here mirrors mine, but...

...I'm an unpaid blogger, and he's a well-paid senior BBC news presenter. I am allowed to express strong opinions. Is he?

And, seemingly inevitably when it comes to 'old hand' BBC types (and where I part company with him), he ends by blaming...

...can you guess?..., go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, just try to have a guess who Mark Mardell of the BBC ultimately blames for the appeal of Islamic State...

...go on, can you guess?

Yes, it's us! The West! We're to blame!:
But there is a critical element that is often ignored, a Western aversion to what should be obvious and beyond debate - the appeal of IS is not just an increasingly violent and fundamentalist interpretation of a religion, not just a retreat into the values of the past in the face of the shock of modernity, but an explicitly political reaction to the actions of the West.

Incidentally, Mark Mardell has been backed over this by a fellow BBC journalist, via a re-tweet from a Palestinian-American columnist:

Birds of a biased feather flock together, eh?

"Great result unless you're poor / old / vulnerable / a single parent / not obsessed with money. Well done"

Just another one for the collection (found because he's got a documentary on Radio 4 today)...

"All opinions expressed are personal and not linked to the BBC", says the BBC's Mobeen Azhar.

In that spirit, here's Mobeen of the BBC's reaction to the general election result in May (purely personal, not linked to the BBC, of course - despite him mentioning the BBC in his Twitter blurb):

"Acute EU Dissatisfaction Syndrome"

There was an interesting exchange a couple of days ago on Today between John Humphrys and the BBC's Europe editor, Katya Adler.

Others have commented on this, but I'd just like to add a few thoughts of my own - and a full transcription.

Let's start with the transcription: 
John Humphrys: Let me turn to our Europe editor, Katya Adler, who is also in Athens. And Katya, it was interesting that Mr Vemicos chose to talk about 70 years of the European Union bringing peace to the continent; in other words, talking in terms that seems to acknowledge, as a number of people do now, don't they, that this is about more than just Greece? It's about more even than the euro. It is about the future of the European Union.
Katya Adler: Absolutely, and here where you are in Greece I agree completely. Nicolas Vermicos said that you don't have a sense of panic here. Everybody realises this is a momentous time in the history of their country and, of course, for individual families as well. But not just key times for Greece and the Greek people but also for the Eurozone. And also the old political order of Europe, I think. I mean, what we have at the moment in Europe are two powerful political currents colliding and clashing. I mean, on the one hand you've got the traditional powers that be - the bankers, big business, the traditional parties imposing their will from above; and on the other you've got grassroots movements, people-driven, saying 'no' to the status quo with an alternative vision of society, like we see in Spain, Italy and France. I mean, here those two keys roles are played by Greece's creditors on the one hand and then Syriza and its supporters on the other. And not only do we not know what's going to happen to Greece and the Eurozone but we do not know what's going to happen to the political order of Europe. Angela Merkel says, again yesterday, if the euro fails Europe fails. But what Europe is she talking about?
John Humphrys: Well, and that's the point, isn't it? Whether this disaffection - which is a word I know you've used yourself in the past - is something that is now effecting - infecting indeed - the whole continent?
Katya Adler: Well, absolutely. And things could be changing fast. We've got a general election in Spain at the end of the year. You've got far-left grassroots movements that look towards Syriza there. They've been marching on the streets of Madrid in support of Syriza throughout the whole process and all of that's being stepped up as the emotions start spinning here in Greece in the lead-up to the referendum. This is something that people feel emotionally across the continent. Actually, interestingly, it actually marries in with what's happening in the UK as well. I mean, you've got...I call it 'Acute EU Dissatisfaction Syndrome'. We've got high unemployment, sluggish growth - if any, deteriorating quality of life for the majority, while the minority - super-affluent - continue to profit. So pretty much everybody across Europe now is, at some level or another, calling for change. We have it here with the Greek prime minister. We have it in the UK with David Cameron. But, of course, their respective vision for a new dawn for Europe is quite, quite different.
Regarding Katya's first answer, I'd say that this is a line of argument that many (from UKIP to Syriza) would share and it doesn't seem to me to be essentially untrue. Election after election seems to be showing Eurosceptic/anti-establishment parties from the Right and the Left hoovering up votes at the moment. The old political order - though still resilient in many places - is being harried from all sides. [Katya cites Spain (the Left), France (the Right) and Italy (er...the...whatever Beppe's party is), but there are many others]. 

Her way of describing that, however...
...the traditional powers that be - the bankers, big business, the traditional parties imposing their will from above [versus] grassroots movements, people-driven, saying 'no' to the status quo with an alternative vision of society
...undoubtedly employs the language of the Left rather than the Right, doesn't it? 

Surely only someone whose own personal views lie on the Left rather than the Right would chose such language here? 

Regarding her second answer, I've read claims that Katya's statement that "it actually marries in with what's happening in the UK as well" relates to the bit where she says "We've got high unemployment, sluggish growth - if any, deteriorating quality of life for the majority, while the minority - super-affluent - continue to profit". 

I'm not so sure about that. To make such a bold - and false - statement about the UK would be a seriously biased thing for a BBC reporter to say, and a major political storm would surely pretty much inevitably ensue. 

And if Katya did mean the UK when she said that bit, she'd surely already be in deep trouble with the Telegraph, Times, Mail, Spectator, Breitbart (etc). 

Remember what she said:
I think that she's only relating the UK to the rest of Europe with regards to British Euroscepticism: Actually, interestingly, it actually marries in with what's happening in the UK as well. I mean, you've got...I call it 'Acute EU Dissatisfaction Syndrome'. 
She says "you've got" when she talks about us here in the UK. She then says "We've got" when she talks about "high unemployment, sluggish growth" (etc), so I think she's talking (generally) about people on "the continent" there, not about us in the UK. 

It is ambiguous, but the context seems to me to clinch the matter. 

It would have made for a lovely 'gotcha!', this, but I don't think it is a 'gotcha!'

However, in clearing Katya Adler of traducing the UK (and the UK's former Tory-led/now Tory government) here... has to be noted that her "you" and "we" seems to suggest where her personal centre of gravity appears to lie...

...and here, I think, lies the real 'gotcha!' from this interview when it comes to BBC bias...

As Alan at Biased BBC notes, Katya Adler has been criticised by Eurosceptic MPs and the Eurosceptic media for being far too close to the EU, hosting events for the European Commission and the EU presidency. That would be fine if it didn't influence her reporting, but...

...when she talks of Euroscepticism and pointedly includes UK Euroscepticism as some form of disease - which she mockingly names "Acute EU Dissatisfaction Syndrome" - then, I'm afraid, I think her pro-EU bias is showing. Strongly.

And her talk of people feeling Eurosceptism "emotionally" is another telling remark. When BBC reporters start talking about people feeling "emotional" (or "angry") then you can usually tell (pace the U.S. Tea Party movement) that the BBC reporter thinks that their arguments lack a certain logical credibility. 

Add that to John Humphrys's (of 'house-and-family-in-Greece' fame) describing that same Eurosceptic feeling as an "infection", then this is surely yet more evidence of clear pro-EU bias on the part of the BBC.

Oh my God! Roy Greenslade of the Graun agrees with the Daily Mail!

[Pause, while blog author Craig is revived by smelling salts by fellow blog author Sue, who then faints herself on hearing about Professor Greenslade's unprecedented behaviour].

Less surprisingly perhaps, he's praising the Daily Mail for praising the BBC (whilst, being who he is, also adding the odd sly dig at the Daily Mail). 

What the prof approves of is this from the Mail's latest editorial:
Full marks to the BBC for resisting political pressure to drop the term ‘Islamic State’, the name by which members of this vile death cult refer to themselves. Will MPs stop fussing irrelevantly about what to call them – and turn their minds to defeating them?
Get the smelling salts out yourselves, because I agree with both of them.

Word games

I agree with Nick. Very much so in fact.

Here are some extracts:
The BBC looks like it is buckling under political pressure, as it so often does. Instead of telling Cameron that his behaviour [on 'Today'] demeaned his office, the Today programme was referring to the ‘so-called Islamic State’ this morning. If this carries on, the BBC will soon be reporting on ‘the supposedly Democratic Republic of Congo’ and ‘the alleged Netherlands’. Sycophantic MPs, meanwhile, are using ‘Daesh’ in the Commons. No one, not Cameron, the SNP, Lucas, Johnson or Goldsmith admitted that they were asking the public to engage in fruitless lying. Not one could acknowledge that their word games made distinctions without differences. 
All the euphemisms politicians demand we must use to avoid calling Islamic State ‘Islamic State’ [ISIS, ISIL, Daesh] therefore call Islamic State ‘Islamic State’. How can they not, for that is its name? And it is no more up to outsiders to change a group’s name than it is up to you to change the names of your acquaintances. Assuming the politicians know what they are doing, they must believe that many voters will not know what ‘Isil’ and ‘Isis’ stand for, or only Arabic speakers will understand the meaning of ‘Daesh’. In other words, they are relying on ignorance and hoping to foster ignorance too. 
Why the lies? Why the resort to the magical belief that you can change the world by changing language? 
The propaganda motive is, as the SNP says, to reassure hundreds of millions of Muslims that they are in no way implicated in Islamic State’s crimes, a sentiment so obvious it should not even need to be stated. But it provides reassurance by inventing a fairy story, which damages both Western governments and moderate Muslims when its falsehoods are exposed. To say that Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam is like saying Stalin’s Soviet Union had nothing to do with socialism, or the Inquisition had nothing to do with Catholicism. Islamic State has nothing to do with most varieties of Islam, just as Stalinism had nothing to do with most varieties of socialism, but Islamic State has everything to do with Salafist Sunni Islam, which has spread its ultra-puritan, ultra-reactionary literalist interpretation of the myths of early Islam across the world.

'Beyond Belief': Muhammed and Aisha

Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:62:64 & 65

This week's Beyond Belief on Radio 4 was quite a bad-tempered affair at times.

It featured two Muslim converts and an infidel, and the two Muslim converts were surprisingly rude on occasions to the infidel - historian Tom Holland. (Ed - Fancy that! Who knew that Muslim converts could be so uptight and huffy?)

The programme discussed the Hadiths - the collected stories and traditions about Muhammed compiled after his death and held in high importance by Muslims.

The programme's guests were (to cite the descriptions provided by the BBC): Jonathan Brown, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilisation at Georgetown University; Sahib Bleher, Imam and author on the Qur'an; and Tom Holland, a Classicist and author of several best selling books including In The Shadow of the Sword, on the origins of Islam.

This is the second time I've failed to warm to Sahib Bleher on Beyond Belief. 

The last time I heard him he was being less than moderate in his denunciation of the 'heretical' Ahmedis. Our Is the BBC biased? post at the time laid out the extraordinary record of this man, a co-founder of the Islamic Party of Britain. (He thinks 9/11 was organised by the U.S. and Israel, has described 7/7 as a "set-up", refers to the Holocaust as "the Holocult", and associates with the anti-Semitic far-right.) 

Quite why Radio 4 keeps inviting him on is beyond me.

Professor Brown is  much more respectable (if no less prickly). He's a distinguished academic after all.

The Prince Alwaleed bin Talal whose chair he holds at Georgetown University, if you were wondering, is a billionaire member of the Saudi royal family. He funds lots of Western universities. There's a Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University and an Alwaleed Centre at Edinburgh University too.

For those who missed it, here's part of their discussion - the bit where Tom Holland stopped turning the other cheek.

It's well worth following closely not just for the good sense of Tom Holland, but also to study the slippery response of Sahib Bleher and the truly extraordinary arguments of Georgetown University's Professor Brown - arguments that even seemed to take presenter Ernie Rae aback. (Ernie Rae deserves credit here for asking the questions many an astonished Radio 4 listener would have wanted asking):


Tom Holland: The classic example...I guess the single hadith that has caused most anxiety would be one which describes Aisha, the favourite wife of Muhammed, marrying him at six, and them Muhammed consummates the relationship when she is nine. People tended not to have a problem with this until quite recently, as under-aged sex has become ever more of a taboo, so this has provoked more and more anxiety among Muslim commentators, and various attempts have been madeto solve it - either by saying, "Well, this was the practice of the age", which is, of course, to relativise the prophetic model, or to say, "The chains of transmission by which we know this aren't reliable", which, of course, I would absolutely agree but, again, that is to problematise the relationship. Or possibly to go back and look at this hadith and to regard it not as sort of a literal detail, not as a snatch of historical information telling us what the historical Muhammed did, but as something more symbolic, something more representative of the significance of Aisha within the Muslim tradition.

Ernie Rea: Sahib?

Sahib Bleher: It's the usual mud slinging that's going on here again. A careful reading of the hadiths defined that Aisha was about five years younger than Fatima. That means that when she was betrothed to Muhammed then she must have been at least ten years old. It was another four years before she moved over to his household. so the marriage wouldn't have been married until she was fourteen or fifteen...

Tom Holland (interrupting): So Bukhari is wrong?

Ernie Rea: So where does this story that she was nine when the relationship was consummated come from?

Sahib Bleher: Well, there are various reports. But this is the whole thing. You don't...

Tom Holland (interrupting): But they are canonical accounts of Hadith, aren't they? I mean, they are absolutely canonical.

Ernie Rea: Jonathan?

Jonathan Brown: I think it's an absolutely authentic report. In fact I think the scholar whose work does represent the state of the field in Western scholarship on Hadith, the German scholar Harald Motzki, if you were to take his methods of dating hadiths, I think you could date that report of Aisha back to actually about the time of Aisha, so I think...

Ernie Rea (interrupting): Contemporary reports, you're saying?

Jonathan Brown: Yes, I think that's accurate. I think even from a non-Muslim perspective it's a good argument that that goes back to Aisha.

Ernie Rea: So how do you reconcile this with your sense of modernity?

Jonathan Brown: Well, I reconcile it because nobody had a problem with this until 1905. I mean (laughing) there was just not an issue. Even Western scholars writing about Muhammed in 1800, even in the 20th Century, just didn't care about...

Ernie Rea (interrupting): So the problem is that you're using Muhammed as a moral exemplar. You're saying this is the person that we should follow and he had sex with his wife when she was just nine years old?

Jonathan Brown (interrupting): OK, OK, well, Muslim scholars have been very clear about this. You cannot have sex with someone who is not physically able to have sex. Just because the Prophet did something doesn't mean Muslims have to do it. In fact the Prophet himself in another hadith refused to marry his daughter to somebody he felt was too old for her. Just because the Prophet did something it means it's permissible in general. It doesn't mean you have to do it. And, in fact, it also doesn't mean that you can't make very good arguments that it's bad policy. I mean, if you look and you say now people go to high school and have ambitions of university degrees and they want to have careers in our day today, it might be very good policy for Muslims to say it's better not to marry until you're sixteen or eighteen years old. That's why if you look at most Muslim countries, now have age restrictions that are sixteen or eighteen years old.

Ernie Rea: Tom?

Tom Holland: Now, this is absolutely an illustration of the point that is possible when you have hadiths that are generally held to be reliable that by the moral standards, say, of the 21st Century secular liberal society are regarded as rebarbative it is possible to sort of essentially wash away the more unpalatable aspects of it - and that. obviously, has to be a process that I personally hope will carry on. But we also have to recognise that there are plenty of people out there who do still regard the fact that Muhammed slept with a nine year old as sanctioning them to do the same. And we have the evidence for that in the fate of the capture Yazidi girls. That is what is providing Islamic State with their sanction. So this is not a purely academic exercise. It is having a knock-on effect in the Middle East.

Ernie Rea: Jonathan?

Jonathan Brown: This idea that somehow what's happening to Yazidi girls in Iraq is caused by this American soldier in Iraq was convicted by an American military court of raping and murdering an Iraqi child, and American soldiers sexually abused Iraqi children in Abu Ghraib prison...

Tom Holland (interrupting): They probably weren't saying that they were inspired by a religious leader.

Jonathan Brown: No, no, my point is...(laughing) point is that this kind of action of warfare is not just the purview of Muslims.

Tom Holland: No. No one is saying it is, but the issue is that Islamic State are sanctioning what they are doing...they are sanctioning slavery, execution, the rape of nine year olds by drawing on the hadiths. I'm not saying that is what every Muslim does. It's clearly not what has happened over the course of Islamic civilisation, but the fact that it is possible to use hadiths in this way seems to me a problem.

Jonathan Brown: There's families in Iraq and families in Afghanistan that gladly marry their children off at young ages not in a war time and not in situations where the Islamic State is taking over. So this is not just something that is being used by some extremist organisation. This is part of the culture in those areas.

Ernie Rea: But Jonathan, you don't think it's a problem that people like Islamic State and Boko Haram in Nigeria can use a hadith as justification for the sexual abuse of their captives?

Jonathan Brown: I think the problem is that they're engaging in the practices. I don't blame a body of tradition that's been around for 1400 years for the decisions of some group that exists today. I blame people who use and abuse the law for those decisions. I don't blame the legal tradition itself.

Am I Bovvered?

‘Why oh why’ are we so worried about the families who go to Syria allegedly to join Islamic State, (ISIL, ISIS, and/or Daesh)? The UK is still a free country isn’t it? 

If they want to join a Caliphate that’s their business and I don’t care. As long as they aren’t allowed come back as though nothing has happened, should they be in a position to try.
“A family of 12 from Luton, including a baby and two grandparents, could have travelled to Syria after going missing, police have said. They have not been seen since 17 May after visiting their home country of Bangladesh. It is believed the family stopped in Turkey on their way home before entering the war-torn country. Our reporter Sima Kotecha has been to Luton.”

Sima Kotecha always gets these assignments. Her high-pitched laborious diction is irritating. One Luton shopkeeper is angry and sad about the family’s baffling departure. Sima wonders what’s going on. 22 year old Ali Khan is in a car with loud Bangladeshi style music playing in the background. He is indignant that we’re not concerned enough about the family’s welfare, and wants to know why everyone assumes they’ve gone to Syria.
Why have they gone?  (If they have.) Is Islam incompatible with the West? Some people are struggling with their identity, announces another Muslim spokesman. Lots of Muslims don’t know where they belong. (Obviously some of them believe they’d be more at home in Syria than Luton)
Should Mosques be doing more, Sima wonders. The mosques don’t push the argument that says life under I.S. might not be all that attractive, says a man. 
Bangladesh has a huge Muslim majority, but secularism - the separation of the state from religion - was one of the founding principles of the country that split from Pakistan in 1971. Now a shocking series of murders has raised concerns that a dangerous strain of fundamentalist radical Islam is rising in Bangladesh. Our South Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt has been investigating.

A dangerous strain of radical fundamentalist Islam is flourishing, says Justin Rowlatt.  A Bangladeshi Blogger has been killed (with meat cleavers) for questioning the role of Islam in Bangladeshi society. The message is clearly  “Don’t criticise Islam!”
Some bloggers have posted offensive material though.  An ultra conservative organisation runs many hundreds of schools in Bangladeshi. 
A man says: 
“It is clear in the koran that those who insult the prophet should be killed.The death penalty is not enough. They should be hanged a hundred times! 
One of the organisation’s leaders says
 “The law in Bangladesh is not strong enough. Because of this, these bloggers and the atheists are getting too bold.”
He thinks the answer is to create a Islamic State here in Bangladesh. 
“It is very near I think, inshallah.   
Many schools in Bangladesh are receiving funds from the Middle East. This is helping propagate more conservative forms of Islam, Justin tells us.
The editor of an English language newspaper says
 “this is still very much in the minority here.” “To say Bangladesh is travelling in that direction I would say is an overstatement of fact.”
Some bloggers meet at night, in secret. One says he get death threats every day but he will not be deterred. It doesn’t matter, he says if I or my fellow bloggers are killed, we are upholding the flag of peace, democracy and justice. It’s a battle to protect Bangladesh’s secular heritage against a new, more fundamentalist strain of Islam. A battle he is willing to lay down his life for.

Reporting like this makes the BBC's attitude more and more baffling. Why should I be worried about the well-being of these Luton fugitives, as the BBC keeps telling me I should. 
Please let them go, and let them get on with it, if it floats their boat, and I use that phrase deliberately.

Girl Power

I’ll tell you what you want what you really really want.
Yesterday’s Woman’s Hour was devoted to a poll. Which lucky lady would the listeners choose as the most influential woman of the year? Last year the ‘winner’ was Doreen Lawrence, and to save you the agony of suspense, this year’s winner was Nicola Sturgeon. That’s the kinda poll it is. 
The only surprise was the inclusion of the admirable Camilla Cavendish. She was next to, (one place lower than) Katherine Viner, Editor-in-chief of the Graun, Alan Rusbridger’s replacement and rabid anti-Israel campaigner. 

None of the other top ten choices surprised me, but I have to say that I was amused by the enthusiastic chatter about Caitlyn Jenner and the supportive comments about trans people. It happens in the womb, you know. (Does it? Does Helena Kennedy know this?)
Someone piped up with yes, you wouldn’t do this on a whim; you wouldn’t go through all that surgery for nothing, would you?
The irony is that I understand Caitlyn’s male genitalia is intact. Or should I say “in-tucked”  ‘She’  probably tucks it up inside the corsetry. The surgery she underwent was purely cosmetic, like that undergone by your average celebrity any day of the week.  

What puzzles me is that as soon as some unhappy baritone decides he’s a she, all he has to do is put on some mascara and hey presto. You have to refer to her as she from that point on; or else! The LGBTI mob will send you to Coventry and you’ll be trolled to bits on Twitter.

"...and that would not preserve the BBC's impartiality"

Some newspaper headlines aren't being entirely fair to the BBC in implying that Tony Hall said the corporation must be "fair" with Islamic State -

I can't see the word "fair" or "unfair" anywhere in Lord Hall's reply to Conservative MP Rehman Chishti - and yet the words "fair" and "unfair" are the very ones which are doing the rounds and causing the BBC some problems (see, for example, the comments threads below the Times and Telegraph articles). [I know. Your heart must be bleeding for them too].

What the BBC Director-General actually wrote is that the word Da'esh is "a pejorative name" coined by Islamic State's enemies ["including Assad supporters and other opponents in Syria"] and that if the BBC were to start using this term it "may give the impression of support for those who coined it and that would not preserve the BBC's impartiality". 

In other words, Tony Hall doesn't want the BBC to be seen as supporting "Assad supporters and other [IS] opponents in Syria" by using their "pejorative name" for Islamic State.

That is not quite the same as saying that the BBC wants to be "fair" to IS, is it?

That said, adopting Lord Hall's own logic, doesn't using the name IS calls itself, i.e. "Islamic State", also risk giving "the impression of support for those who coined it" and fail to "preserve the BBC's impartiality" too?

Has he thought his position through? (Or am I missing something?)

So you may read for yourselves what Lord Hall wrote:
Thank you for the letter from you and your colleagues, advocating the use of the term Da'esh. 
As you know, there is no agreed description of the group which calls itself in Arabic, "al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham". Translation into English of the full name can be difficult because of different interpretations of the meaning of al-Sham. Hence ISIS, or ISIL, which the US government and the UK government prefer. Both these acronyms in English contain references to Islamic State, i.e. "Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham" (or "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria") or "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant". 
There is no tradition as I understand it, of acronyms in Arabic and the word Da'esh is not an acronym of "al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham" but is instead a pejorative name coined in Arabic by its enemies, including Assad supporters and other opponents in Syria. Unfortunately this term may give the impression of support for those who coined it and that would not preserve the BBC's impartiality. 
The BBC takes a common sense view when deciding how to describe organisations; we take our cue from an organisation's description of itself. As we seek descriptions which are comprehensible to our viewers, listeners and online users which lend themselves to use in headlines in news bulletins and online. For these reasons the BBC has used Islamic State as the name in English of the organisation known as "al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham" in Arabic. And we have, typically, shortened this to IS. However, we have recognised that used on its own the name Islamic State could suggest that such a state exists and such an interpretation is potentially misleading. So, we have caveated the name "Islamic State" with word which qualify it, e.g. "so called Islamic State", "the Islamic State group", "the Islamic State organisation", "Islamic State extremists", "Islamic State fighters", etc. I doubt given the context we provide in our reporting, that anyone listening could be in any doubt what kind of organisation Islamic State is.  
The Prime Minister made clear yesterday that he had no quarrel with the use of the term "so-called Islamic State" but that he objected to the use of Islamic State unqualified. So does the BBC. I hope you, and he, will be reassured that we will redouble our efforts to ensure that when we use the term Islamic State we will caveat it with qualifiers, typically the "Islamic State group", to distinguish it from an actual, recognised state. We will also continue to use other qualifiers when appropriate, e.g. extremists, militants, fighters, etc. To avoid overuse we will also usually revert to IS after one mention of the Islamic State group. 
I hope this helps address your concerns.
Here's a potential solution to the BBC's problem. 

Maybe, to truly "preserve the BBC's impartiality" the BBC should take a leaf out of its own coverage of the 'spare room subsidy'/'bedroom tax' (or, going back in time, the 'community charge'/'poll tax'), and start regularly using formulations such as "Islamic State, also called Daesh", or "the self-styled Islamic State, also known as Daesh". That way every bunch of murderous thugs and fanatics in the Syrian conflict would be treated to full-blown BBC impartiality and Lord Hall could rest easy in his bed. 

After all, we wouldn't want the BBC to be "unfair" to Assad supporters and IS's Islamist rivals, would we? (Would we even be able to sleep at night?)

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Don’t pull your punches

These days people like to believe they’re speaking out courageously. They’re telling truths that others dare not tell, saying the unsayable and boldly articulating what no man has articulated before.

Anyway that’s what Bishop Tom Butler seemed to be trying to do on Today’s Thought for the Day. He had an anecdote for us about preventing extremism, which contained a knowing message, which I took to be:  All religions have nasty, violent and vengeful bits, and before true openness and interfaith understanding can be achieved these unpalatable passages need to be brought out into the open, and preferably rejected or at least adapted to fit civilised society. And Bob’s your uncle. Extremism tackled.

However, the anecdote he proceeded to deliver did not cite or specify the nasty, vengeful, racist bits in the Quran. You know, those parts which  inspire the particular ‘extremism’  that’s causing all the current difficulties.

No. Bishop Butler must have thought we weren’t ready to hear any of that; perhaps he wasn’t quite ready to say it.  Instead he used an analogy. Don’t bother to rack your brains any further, his tale concerned a Jewish rabbi.
At some interfaith gathering or other, the particular party game they were playing required all the multi-faith religious leaders to read out an uplifting verse from their own particular sacred scriptures.  But the rabbi was ill, so he had kindly sent his chosen verses (from psalm137) to be read out.

“You devastator! Happy shall they be who pay them back for what you have done to us. Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock” 

“There was a stunned silence. Later I met the rabbi and asked him why ever did you choose that lamentable psalm?” 
continued Bishop Butler, getting into his stride, and recounting the rabbi's reply as follows: 

“All our scriptures have difficult and even scandalous passages, and we won’t make real progress in interfaith relationships until we have the courage to discuss those with one another”

The Bishop followed this with what he undoubtedly intended as his TFTD message, although one might speculate that several unintended messages had already been delivered.
“As a Christian it made me think of the leader of the Jonestown community who, before they committed mass suicide, was fond of quoting to the Christian followers of his extremist sect the words from St. Luke’s gospel. “Whoever does not hate father and mother wife and children, brothers and sisters cannot be my disciple.”
It’s commonly said that people committing atrocities are not real members of the faith they’re dying for or killing for, but that’s certainly not their own understanding. They’re feeding on certain verses on their sacred scriptures or events in their faith history, which encourage them to act in extreme or even violent ways. Well the truth is that any world faith doesn’t have a single colour to its understanding of God and the world. It’s a spectrum of colours.”

Get it? Jews and Christians are potentially violent extremists too. We’ve all got an inner suicide bomber, and it’s still in there somewhere, just waiting to be ignited.
“That’s why it’s difficult to put our finger on real Christianity or real Islam or real Judy-ism, or even real Britishness”

It amuses me when people say ‘Judy-ism’. Punch and Judy are indeed a violent couple. Islam is Punchism, then. Islam is Mr. Punch to the Jews’ Judy. That’s the way to do it.

I see what Bishop Butler is doing here. He wants us to believe that Christians and Jews are inherently as hate-filled and vengeful as (so-called) Islamic State. There but for the grace of progress and civilisation, go we all.

But Bishop, Muslims are not the new Jews. Let’s call a spade a spade. No more moral equivalence. If you must besmirch Jews by bandying about colourful passages from the Hebrew Bible, or if you want to distance yourself from the bad bits in your own sacred verses by citing examples from extreme Christian sects, then go ahead. Be open, why don’t you. 

Most of all, if you want to be seen as a plain speaker don’t beat about the bush.  If you want to say that it’s high time Muslims brought their religion into the 21st century, just say so. 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

No offence

We’re havin’ a heatwave.  I’m alone at the helm of the good ship “Is the BBC Biased?” while Craig is on holiday so postings might be few and far between for the next few days, and less diverse than those to which you’ve become accustomed. 

As I write I’m defrosting the freezer because someone left the door ajar all night and the drawers have iced up and won’t budge. 

I haven’t listened to much radio or TV apart from a small segment of the Today programme, (Giles Fraser was on TFTD again) and a tiny bit of last night’s Newsnight, which was about Greece. Evan Davis looked gaunt and cadaverous and Emily Maitlis looked tired and weary. Nothing new to say about it.

I think the BBC’s unpopularity has reached a new low. Both the audience and the BBC staffers seem to have lost their enthusiasm. Maybe it’s the heatwave, maybe it’s the stress of the imminent charter renewal and funding issues, maybe it’s just because there’s no new talent and all the old talent, whomever or whatever that was, has moved on or died.  

There’s no heavyweight politics - the nearest is Andrew Neil’s politics show, but that’s a bit curate’s egg, what with his erratic choices of whom to savage and whom to suck up to.

The comedy is stale and repetitive or entirely dependent on shock, or someone’s idea of being offensive, (as long as it’s not offensive to Muslims.)  The drama is formulaic and safe and the reality shows are unreal, set up, contrived or faked.

The Scandi serials on BBC4 are refreshing - that’s partly because of the unfamiliarity of the scenery and of the actors, but even they seem interchangeable and ubiquitous  once you get used to them. The current series from Belgium, Cordon, is weird. It’s full of scenes where you can only wonder what the hell is supposed to be going on. Why, for example was there only one room  with one bed in it at the National Institute for infectious diseases?  Actually I don’t even want to go there. (a....tisshhoo!)

Everything that threatens to get serious is hobbled by political correctness. Here is something by Douglas Murray you’ll have read already
The night after the Charlie Hebdo atrocities I was pre-recording a Radio 4 programme. My fellow discussant was a very nice Muslim man who works to ‘de-radicalise’ extremists. We agreed on nearly everything. But at some point he said that one reason Muslims shouldn’t react to such cartoons is that Mohammed never objected to critics. 
There may be some positive things to be said about Mohammed, but I thought this was pushing things too far and mentioned just one occasion when Mohammed didn’t welcome a critic. Asma bint Marwan was a female poetess who mocked the ‘Prophet’ and who, as a result, Mohammed had killed. It is in the texts. It is not a problem for me. But I can understand why it is a problem for decent Muslims. The moment I said this, my Muslim colleague went berserk. How dare I say this? I replied that it was in the Hadith and had a respectable chain of transmission (an important debate). He said it was a fabrication which he would not allow to stand. The upshot was that he refused to continue unless all mention of this was wiped from the recording. The BBC team agreed and I was left trying to find another way to express the same point. The broadcast had this ‘offensive’ fact left out. 
I cannot imagine another religious discussion where this would happen, but it is perfectly normal when discussing Islam. On that occasion I chose one case, but I could have chosen many others, such as the hundreds of Jews Mohammed beheaded with his own hand. Again, that’s in the mainstream Islamic sources. I haven’t made it up. It used to be a problem for Muslims to rationalise, but now there are people trying to imitate such behaviour in our societies it has become a problem for all of us, and I don’t see why people in the free world should have to lie about what we read in historical texts.

I always notice the rolling updates on our sidebar. Nine times out of ten the BBC’s are lightweight and trivial, or celebrity or sports related, while all the others tend to feature news and topical issues. I don’t know why this is. I suppose it’s to do with our old friends Dave and Sue. They’re politically correct, left-leaning and a bit thick.