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Contentions

Islamophobia at the BBC

Earlier this week, the director-general of Britain’s license fee-funded BBC, Mark Thompson, gave an astonishing interview, revealing that the BBC consciously and deliberately treats Muslim themes more sensitively than those pertaining to Christianity. A practicing Catholic, he treats Christianity with less sensitivity because it is ‘‘pretty broad-shouldered.’’ Islam, however, is a different story.

Non-Christian faiths are more aligned with ethnicity, he explained, and race is more sensitive, therefore careful treatment is warranted. Moreover, broadcasters must consider the possibility of ”violent threats” when crafting satire:

‘‘Without question, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms,’ is different from, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write.’ This definitely raises the stakes.’’

This much has long been obvious to observers of Western media, but that does little to diminish the odium of the admission, because it proudly elevates hypocrisy and double standard (again, both longstanding features of BBC coverage) to policy. For instance, when the BBC aired “Jerry Springer: The Opera” in 2005, it did so in the face of Christian opposition. In the interview, Thompson was asked whether it would have been aired had it dealt with Islamic themes. He said no.

It is noteworthy that the inexplicable obsession with race in Britain – historically less racked with racial, than with religious, conflict – has now impinged on religious sensitivity. This is, in a sense, unsurprising, for those very conflicts engendered a spirit of religious toleration – toleration which made Christianity so ‘‘broad-shouldered.’’ Toleration, of course, is best pursued reciprocally, but, unlike the Hindu, Sikh, and many decent Muslim immigrants to the UK, the Islamists have yet to learn that. Acquiescing to their demands made at bayonet point is, it seems, to forego the very lessons the British learned centuries ago.

Furthermore, the sensitivity afforded to non-Christian faiths because they are more aligned with ethnicity is obviously unfair, not just to Christianity, but to Judaism also, which, though legally considered in racial terms (anti-Semitism falls under race-relations legislation), is culturally not seen as an ethnicity – a category reserved for more recent immigrants. Today, though, Judaism is aligned rather with a nationality, and the BBC’s remarkably biased and even inaccurate reportage of Israel is no less ‘‘insensitive’’ – indeed it is considerably dangerous to the safety of Jews in Britain and elsewhere. Thompson sees insensitivity toward Islam as ‘‘racism by other means’’ towards Muslims. If so, then its treatment of Israel is ‘‘racism by other means’’ toward Jews. The BBC’s ongoing refusal to release its internal Balen Report, which evaluates its coverage of the Middle East, can only continue to inspire the conclusion that the BBC knows this too.

At the end of the day, the ethnicity rationale is nonsense. This is literal Islamphobia: fear of Islamists, and the ‘‘AK-47s’’ they wield and use. There is a welcome debate to be had about the limits of acceptable religious satire, but the BBC cannot have it both ways. And the lesson the BBC appears to be teaching – a lesson we always knew and apparently is also policy – is that complaints get more credence if they are backed up by force.



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