Sunday 16 December 2012

Understanding Arabs

The other day I described a complaint about a BBC radio 5 live Drive programme that was transmitted on 14/11/12. The BBC mistakenly assumed the complainant was upset about pro-Israel material in the broadcast, and as such the complaint was answered promptly and extensively by the BBC’s complaints handler, with a detailed explanation of how the BBC wasn’t at all pro-Israel, and had made it a policy to show as many images of injured or killed children as possible, from Gaza. (Or anywhere.)  
In fact, the complaint was that offending section contained bias against Israel, but somehow the BBC had got the wrong end of the stick, inadvertently exposing its own less than impartial attitude towards Israel. It turned out to be a kind of gotcha.
Not only was the response ingratiating, and almost apologetic about having to maintain a veneer of impartiality, it was also dealt with uncannily speedily. 
Here’s another uncharacteristically speedy reply to a complaint on behalf of the anti-Israel lobby, written by Chris Doyle of the Council for Advancing  Arab British Understanding, (or as some of us prefer to think of it, Misunderstanding) aka CAABU.
Doyle complained that a video report broadcast on Newsround on 21st November did not reflect the Palestinian historical narrative. He demanded that the report be taken down and a revised version rebroadcast and an apology issued.

The BBC hastened to reply, quickly amended the item and apologised for the factual inaccuracies. 

In her defence, I will say that Owenna Griffiths didn’t concede all 12 of his points, and she insisted that despite the ‘errors’, the original report was not biased. In this respect the tone of her reply is pretty much the same as the stock-in-trade letter the BBC issues in response to complaints of bias against Israel. They always plead scrupulous impartiality, but rarely concede anything. It’s the speed of the responses in both these “unfair to the Arabs” accusations, which seems oddly out of sync with the tardy responses granted to what is all too often perceived as the diabolical Jewish Lobby.    

The organisation Caabu is well known for shmoozing as many British MPs as it can tempt. They are taken on guided tours of Palestine and shown hardship, suffering and other Palestinian grievances so that they can come home with the news that they now know all about the Israel/Palestine situation, with their shiny new Arab Understanding. Notably Nick Clegg, who seems to be alarmingly, nay, hopelessly devoted to the cause.
Despite a rather unlikely-sounding  shortage of funds, Caabu appears disproportionately influential, with several MPs and one BBC correspondent on the executive committee That’s Jonathan Fryer, described on CAABu’s website thus:
A familiar voice from the BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, Jonathan has spent over 30 years reporting worldwide, including making radio documentaries on the West Bank and Oman. An occasional contributor to the Guardian and other publications, he has written a dozen books, the latest being a history of the Kuwait Oil Company. He teaches part-time at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and travels frequently to the Middle East and North Africa. Formerly Mauritania’s Honorary Consul in Britain, he is currently Chairman of the Liberal International British Group and sits on the Liberal Democrats’ International Relations Committee.”
Chris Doyle, whose expertise the BBC calls upon regarding Syria and other M.E. matters, is married to glamorous Syrian born astrophysicist Rim Turkmani, whose opinions are also valued by the BBC . The couple’s close relationship with Bashar alAssad and his father-in-law, came to an abrupt end when they realised that they were backing a sinking ship  - and jumped.

Peter Oborne’s  obsession with the Jewish Lobby hasn’t really got a leg to stand on. Has it? Really? He’s looking increasingly paranoid. Poor thing.
At least the Telegraph published a few letters disagreeing with Oborne, Nevertheless, things really do start to look bleak.

People like myself rail against the BBC’s reflexive dismissal of Israel as evil, a pariah state, a rogue state, or if not that, at the very least expansionist, greedy, disproportionately aggressive, powerful and untrustworthy. 

Why, we wonder, does no-one refute these allegations and insinuations whenever they are made, when the evidence is there, for all who cares  to look, to prove that they can be easily  refuted. 

Why, one might wonder, would I not rail against a similar, blanket-like dismissal of Syria, when I know how easily these blanket-like assumptions can take hold and replace rational thought. Well, this is how I differentiate between the cases of Syria and Israel; their vilification.

Well, to be glib, one is a democracy, and the other is a tyranny. In a democracy, the people hold the government to account, or, if certain groups become too powerful, to ransom. Democracy tells the government if the people don’t like you, you’re out. So the government is dependent on the intellectual and material contentment of the voter. Interest groups, including trade unions, religious groups, big business, the press and media, and popular culture inevitably hold sway. So, not perfect. 
Civilised society must be shepherded into compliance by many means. The illusion of personal freedom, helped along by booze, popular culture and the assorted aspirations of individual persons.

However, the feasibility of tyrannies like Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, Gaddafi’s Libya and all the rest, is entirely dependent on suppression of the people, by means of a combination of the ever-present terror of government-instigated brute force and fear of the almighty. The intellectual and material well-being of the people is the last thing on the minds of tyrants and despots. The more educated they may be, the more discontented they will become. Along comes social media, and the corks pop. With no governmental brute force to keep the lid on it, the fear of the almighty stands alone.  Deposing tyrants and despots is not the answer, much as the BBC liked to think it would be.

I remember reading the powerful essays about life in Syria by ‘Davem’ on Harry’s Place. In Bashar’s regime, everyone was terrified. It must have been the same in Libya and Iraq. Secret police, government informers and spies, people taken away never to be seen again. All discontent and frustration channeled into the one unifying hatred - of the Jews.

So that is why I automatically condemn the ‘Arab lobby’ in the shape of people like Chris Doyle and his lovely wife for seducing our government and our National broadcaster into applying moral equivalence to the democracies of Israel, Britain and America and the regimes of both the tyrannical pre and the chaotic post Arab-uprising Islamic majority states.


  1. As a regular reader of bBBC I missed your comments during the recent Israel troubles - I hadn't thought to look for you on another blog. There seems to be problems with the bBBC site so maybe more of us will find you here.

  2. Well, B-BBC is back again now! You're welcome to come over and visit here nevertheless. Thanks for your kind words.


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