Thursday 30 May 2013

Viewpoints on Syria

I've seen many, many comments over the last couple of years at the Telegraph, Spectator, Commentator and Biased BBC (among others), worded with varying degrees of strength,  alleging that the BBC is siding with those who want the West to intervene in Syria on the side of the Syrian opposition. 

The BBC News website isn't exactly helpingg to dispel such impressions with its latest Viewpoints article, What role should the US play in Syria?

The first of its four contributors, Elizabeth O'Bagy, senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, argues that the US should arm the Syrian opposition, specifically the "moderate" elements. The second contributor, Robert Danin, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, also believes that "providing arms to Syria's rebels is necessary." The fourth contributor, Jeffrey White, defence fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, shares their opinion that "the rebels need military assistance now." 

Only the third contributor, Aaron David Miller, vice-president of the Wilson Center, sounds a sceptical note, though he can hardly be described as a robust, counterbalancing voice to his three companions, given the cautious, analytical tone of his contribution. 

Is this imbalance reflective of public opinion in the United States? Is it reflective of expert opinion in the United States?

Camp Bastion (Update)

The answer to the question raised in the last post, 'Did the BBC obtain those legal documents from the lawyers campaigning on behalf of the detainees at Camp Bastion?', is 'yes'. 

The BBC News website may have been coy about how the documents came to be seen by the BBC, but Evan Davis on Today wasn't. 

His introduction to an interview with the BBC's Clive Coleman at 6.30am was perfectly open about it, and the way he framed the story at this point - complete with its assertion of a comparison with Guantanamo - seems to reinforce my concern that the BBC risks being seen to have acted as a tool and and mouthpiece for those campaigning lawyers:
Well, why might British forces hold up to 85 Afghan nationals in a holding facility at Camp Bastion, the main base in Afghanistan? It looks like a mini Guantanamo. 

The obtained documents are from UK lawyers, who are representing some of those who say they are being detained. 
Plus, it certainly isn't a BBC scoop to have been given those documents by lawyers, as part of their campaign on behalf of the Afghan detainees - contrary to the impression given by the BBC News website's tight-lipped account of the story. 

The story was carried on all four of Radio 4's current affairs programmes - Today, The World at One, PM and The World Tonight.

Phil Shiner and Richard Stein - the two most prominent lawyers involved in the case - must have been delighted by this wall-to-wall coverage from the BBC.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Camp Bastion

As the previous post suggests, the BBC has been leading all day with the story of the Afghan 'insurgents' being detained by British forces at Camp Bastion, our largest base in Afghanistan. 

The BBC began the day by saying it had "seen legal documents" which lawyers acting for the detainees claim "could amount to unlawful detention", and which those self-same lawyers have been trying to compare to Guantanamo Bay. 

I could be wrong but the use of the passive tense by the BBC suggests to me that the corporation "saw" those legal documents thanks to those very lawyers giving them to them. The lawyers in question are are campaigning to free several dozen Afghans, all of whom are suspected of being of being actively involved with the Taleban and, thus, of posing a very real danger to our troops; some, indeed, of being directly responsible to the killing of British soldiers). Were it to be the case that the BBC "obtained" these legal documents from those lawyers it would show the corporation being extremely helpful to a campaign, especially were they to report it heavily.

And report it heavily they most certainly did. 

It was the main story on Today, whose angle on the story tallied closely with that of the lawyers:
Documents obtained by the BBC suggest British forces are detaining Afghan nationals at Camp Bastion in what could amount to unlawful detention.
Likewise, 5Live has been running with it heavily too:

  • BBC Radio 5 live / 29 May 2013
    The Defence Secretary says he hopes as many as 90 Afghan detainees, being held without charge at CampBastion, will be passed on to Afghan authorities…
  • BBC Radio 5 live / 29 May 2013
    Lawyers say more than 80 Afghan nationals are being unlawfully held without charge at Britain's CampBastion. Peter speaks to Dr Mohammed Daud…
  • BBC Radio 5 live / 29 May 2013
    Secretary Philip Hammond denies claims Britain is illegally holding dozens of Afghan prisoners in a secret detention centre at Camp Bastion. Ranulph…

The BBC World Service has also been 'airing our dirty washing in public' (so to speak) to the entire world:

...and the BBC News website has been full of items on the story today:

29 May 2013

You may say this is a scoop for the BBC, and they are right to go with it. 

That may well be, though it wouldn't be much of a scoop, would it, if it has merely been handed to them on a plate by some campaigning lawyers; indeed, that would look pretty bad. It would look as if they were acting as a mouthpiece for these campaigning lawyers. I would not be happy with that - were it to turn out to be the case. 

The main report on the website, by Dominic Casciani and Clive Coleman, was - most usually - open for comments. Unfortunately for the BBC, the comments didn't go their way, and after a mere seven comments they 'closed' them down.

I think you can see why: 

  • 7.

    Phil Shiner, lawyer for eight of the men needs to use his time in a more patriotic manner.

    There are thousands of cases of injustice in the UK he could otherwise devote his time to.

    Maybe reward has something to do with it?

    IMO he should be made personally responsible for any subsequent 'terrorist' actions by his 'clients' if they were prematurely released due to his involvement.
  • +1

    Comment number6.

    here we go again the BBC strike again gutter news i wouldn`t be surprised if its all a pack of lies.i will never again watch any BBC tv has been said who needs enemies when we have the good old BBC who only report what they want or the government tell them to.
  • +3

    Comment number5.

    So what if they are, they're obviously being held for a reason, contrary to what 'extremists' think we don't kill/capture innocent women and children, it's men of 'fighting age' who have been caught in the act we detain.
  • +3

    Comment number4.

    With friends like the BBC who needs enemies!? Honestly, with all the tensions around at the moment you open this story up to HYS. Ludicrous. Here's a better suggestion (from your very own website!) for a story to get people talking positively:

    Guess this isn't sensationalist to open up for conversation.
  • +3

    Comment number3.

    Why does the media and our Government give such public news!? Much of the unrest in our country and the world are due to the media and governments. Just shut up!!!!
  • +4

    Comment number2.

    who needs enemies within..... we've got the BBC.

    One day you might report on what the enemy is doing to our boys!
  • -1

    Comment number1.

    Imprisonment by foreigners on your own land. To be forced to leave your wife and baby at 20 years old. These are the tragic yet deserved consequences of killing innocents and people seeking peace. I say "peace" with caution, as there exist two types of western forces in Afghanistan and countries similar to it: those who kill to spread peace in the long run, and those who kill for the hell of it.
Except for the first comment there, those comments reflect what I suspect many a BBC reader, viewer and listener must have been thinking today. 

They suggest a number of things that bother many critics of the BBC - the idea that the BBC is unpatriotic, that it undermines our troops and our war effort, that it gives an over-sympathetic ear to our enemies, that it is over-sensitive to the rights of Muslim terrorists and the views of left-wing campaigners and, above all, that it doesn't care anywhere near enough for the safety of British soldiers - many of whose lives may be endangered by these very men after their release and who might now be facing a savage backlash as a result of today's negative reporting (and we're all now painfully aware how real that danger is). 

The BBC that broadcast Frankie’s Story and The Undercover Soldier to the horror of many in the army, has form here, some might well say. 

The question you sometimes see on websites, summing this up, is "Whose side is the BBC on?" 

The BBC would surely say it's trying to be on no one's side, merely to report the news impartially. 

Many people are uncomfortable with the BBC adopting such a position when British forces are involved in an armed conflict. 

If you've not been following the story, the MoD has argued that the number of detainees is higher than usual only because of difficulties in handed them over to the Afghan authorities and that the number is usually closer to 20 people. Fears for the mistreatment of prisoners by the Afghan authorities led to the transfer process being put on hold. The MoD also rubbishes the lawyers' claim that Camp Bastion is a "secret facility". The Defence Secretary had already informed parliament about the detentions. He has also reaffirmed they were vital to the protection of our troops.

The New York Times provides a noticeably more sympathetic account of the British position than the British Broadcasting Corporation's account, noting in the light of Philip Hammond's comments:
That is a similar point posed by American officials involved in long negotiations with the Afghan government over the transfer of Afghan detainees out of the American detention center at the Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. The issue became a major sticking point in recent months after several failed attempts to hand over control of the prison, with Mr. Karzai demanding immediate and full Afghan sovereignty over the prison and American officials seeking to ensure that hardened militant leaders would not be immediately released back onto the battlefield.
The BBC article features, on the other hand, contains such things as this:
One, a teenager, has been held for 14 months, while the other, a 20-year-old father, has been held for 12 months.
Was the word "father" really necessary in that sentence? Why was it included? To show "the humanity of the Taleban" (as Lyse Doucet might say) and tug at the heart-strings a little?

I haven't listened closely to today's coverage on Radio 4 yet. That will have to wait for another day. 

Top Threes

Here's a snapshot - at 19.00 BST, 29th May 2013 - of the top three stories on several of the UK's leading broadcasters and newspapers. What does it tell you about their respective news priorities and biases?

ITV News 

1. Rigby fiancee left 'devastated'
Aimee West, the fiancee of Lee Rigby, says she has been left "devastated by the loss", adding that she was "extremely proud" of the soldier after he was killed in Woolwich.

2. Police hunt for missing teen
Police searching for a missing teenager have arrested a man on suspicion of kidnap. Georgia Williams, 17, has not been seen since leaving her home in Wellington, Shropshire, on Sunday evening.

3. First gay marriage in France
The first gay marriage in France has taken place in Montpelier between Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau.

Sky News

1. Woolwich: Lee Rigby's Cause Of Death Revealed
A post-mortem shows the soldier died from "multiple incised wounds" as police issue a new appeal for information over his murder.

2. 'Kidnap' Arrest In Hunt For Missing Teenager
A man is held on suspicion of kidnap, as police search for 17-year-old Georgia Williams, who has been missing since Sunday.

3. Crete Murder: Boyfriend Vows To Clear Name
A Briton accused of killing his girlfriend tells a Greek court he is innocent, insisting they had planned a future together.

BBC News 

1. UK 'ready to return Afghan suspects'
Up to 90 Afghans held at Camp Bastion are set to be returned to the Afghan authorities, the Ministry of Defence says, after their lawyers argue their detention could be unlawful.

2. EU nations allowed to ease austerity
The European Commission has said it will allow some EU member states to slow their pace of austerity cuts, amid concerns over growth.

3. First gay couple married in France
France's first gay wedding takes place amid tight security, just days after the controversial same-sex marriage bill was signed into law.

The Daily Telegraph

1. Climate change MP: humans may not be to blame for global warming
Tim Yeo, the chairman of the Commons Energy and Climate Change committee, says he accepts the earth’s temperature is increasing but that “natural phases” may be to blame.

2. Police: 'grave concerns' for missing 17-year-old
Police investigating the disappearance of Georgia Williams in Shropshire arrest 22-year-old Jamie Reynolds in Scotland.

3. France's first gay marriage couple 'honoured'
Vincent Autin and his partner Bruno Boileau, France's first gay couple to get married, say they are "honoured" and proud to "send a positive message to the whole world".

The Guardian

1. US drone strike kills Taliban deputy in Pakistan
Attack comes just days after Barack Obama announced new restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft

2. OECD cuts British growth forecasts
Thinktank says eurozone crisis and debt will hit growth but urges chancellor to stick with spending cuts

3. Kabul: UK must hand over detainees
UK defence secretary has confirmed that 80-90 people are being held at Camp Bastion after claims emerge of jail facility

The Independent

1. US drone strike kills Taliban deputy chief in Pakistan
Attack is first since Barack Obama's speech on tougher regulations - and first since Pakistan election was won with anti-drone campaign

2. British forces agree to hand over Afghans held at 'illegal, secret' facility
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond denies claims of unlawful detention at centre compared to Guantanamo Bay

3. Inside the Aids virus: Research finds chink in armour that protects HIV
Discovery could help form new pills to strike at the infection just as it starts to attack

The Times

1. Insult claim as rail boss gets bonus of £100,000
The head of Network Rail will receive an annual bonus of almost £100,000 funded by the taxpayer even though the maintenance company has missed key performance targets.ent Autin (L) and Bruno Boileau sign the marriage register Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images 1 of 4

2. Police arrest man as fears rise for kidnapped teen
Police expressed grave concern today for the welfare of a 17-year-old girl who is thought to have been kidnapped.

3. Drone strike ‘kills Taleban deputy’
The Pakistani Taleban’s second-in-command was claimed to be among those killed in a drone strike today, the first launched by the US since elections in the country.


- Sky News and ITV News both consider the more personal stories to be of greatest interest. 
- The Telegraph's choice of lead story will appeal strongly to many of its readers. 
- The Times chooses the widest and most various mix of stories. 
- The Guardian and BBC largely sing from the same hymn-sheet.
- The Independent is quite close to the Guardian and BBC, but offers something different too.

Tuesday 28 May 2013


I was just watching North West Tonight on BBC One. Its political editor Arif Ansari presented the first of a three-part series on the history of the Militant Tendency, especially its role in Liverpool. There was an intriguing moment, however, when Arif said, 
"the Labour Party, which was pretty right-wing in the 60s and 70s." 
Right-wing compared to Militant maybe - and that's certainly how Militant themselves saw it - but actually "right-wing"? Really? When Labour had an 83% top rate tax and the commanding heights of the economy were in state hands? 

Shouldn't Arif have said, "the Labour Party, which Militant considered pretty right-wing in the 60s and 70s?"

Compare Labour in the 60s and 70s to Labour under Tony Blair, and surely it might be fairer to say that the Labour Party was pretty left-wing in the 60s and 70s?

In Defence of the Indefensible?

The website of the English Defence League is an ugly sight. The graphics are decidedly Nazi-like, with the red cross of St. George looking disturbingly like the Iron-cross. 
For an outfit that claims to be fighting religiously-inspired intolerance, including but not limited to: the denigration and oppression of women, the molestation of young children, the committing of so-called honour killings, homophobia, anti-Semitism” you’d probably  think they’d make an effort to sanitise their symbols and liberate their logo.

Unsurprisingly, from their inception, the EDL have been written off as racists, and a mere mention of them and their leader Tommy Robinson still causes most of us to recoil in horror. The image is, like it or not, synonymous with racism. But is it just an image? 

Bandying about certain idioms and phrases over and over again becomes reflexive. It disposes of all the bother of reconsidering the meaning or relevance. Racist? Hooligan? Where is the evidence?

On yesterday’s channel 4 news, Sarah Smith announced with palpable glee that the charity Help For Heroes has refused to accept at least £3,000 raised by Tommy Robinson, although it has been said, somewhat unconvincingly, that this is because the EDL is technically classified as a political organisation, from which, on principle, it is HfH’s policy to refuse donations.

Just as the media promotes celebrities and turns fashionable causes into cults, the predominantly left-wing media seems to collaborate in collective vilification of whatever it dislikes. Its mighty influence is likely to be wielded destructively and irresponsibly, in the manner of babes and infants waving around a powerful weapon they’ve been handed by mistake.

As Islam is slowly transforming itself in the eyes of the general public from the religion of peace to the religion of beheading, the EDL is trying to erase its bad-boy image and re-establish a fresh one, of non-violent activism motivated by old-fashioned national pride, as opposed to the racist antisemitic image inextricably associated with the National Front and the BNP.  “New EDL”, one might want to rename it.
They see themselves as  the only organised body actively doing what politicians should be, but are not doing, namely trying to reverse the transformation of Britain from its former tolerant, freedom-loving civilised self into a terrorised, ghettoised, fearful, uncivilized carbon copy of what Tommy R calls a third world shithole. 

The youtube interview with Tommy Robinson is repetitive and over-long, but his sincerity is fairly convincing. I wonder if anyone can demolish Tommy Robinson’s argument with reasoned counter-arguments? His shortcomings are mainly confined to his vocabulary, and it’s hard to fault his logic. 

His references to the state of our prisons was prescient, considering today’s news  about what happened on Sunday. (Note the missing information in the BBC report.) I happen to know a former prison chaplain (Christian) who was hounded out of his job by physical and psychological bullying, which came from Muslim clerics, Imams and inmates.

Of course, there is the fundamental disagreement between those who insist it’s only extremists that are bad for Britain, a view championed by the BBC and the government, and those who believe Islam is wholly incompatible with British Judeo Christian values.   
Even the most moderate Muslims are inclined to “believe that the British government should not support Israel, should not oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions, and should not ban foreign hate preachers or "some groups" From a below the line comment on Harry’s Place in respect of: “fully integrated Muslims[....]  "pillar of society, respected businessman, and member of the Conservative Party,"

["He is] the very model of a modern Muslim moderate" - before we all break out into the Pirates of Penzance - [....] "Until you look below the surface.” 

Various polls state that a majority of muslims, including moderate Muslims, favour Sharia. We know that most Muslims oppose “our foreign policy”, which itself is a typical example of a mantra rendered meaningless by repetition, but bandied about willy-nilly, unchallenged, both by Muslims and people who spend their time “understanding” Muslims. 

What does it mean?  “Westerners, get out of Muslim Lands” perhaps? But, since Muslims must be permitted to languish where and when they please throughout the entire Western world, that concept hardly seems justifiable; not to mention the statistically unequal number of casualties caused by Western armies ‘killing Muslims” in comparison to the numbers killed in the ever-present cataclysmic Muslim-on-Muslim aggression and barbarity that is and always has been enacted wherever there are Muslims. After all, who is it that always uses the 'disproportionate' argument whenever Israel is involved? Not I.

Remember Jeremy Paxman’s car-crash interview with ‘Tommy Robinson’ following Anders Breivik’s horrific killing spree? At the time the left-wing media was so relieved to find that Breivik was from ‘the far right’ rather than the Jihadi community that they basked in the warm glow of collective schadenfreude for months. Every conceivable avenue was scoured for morsels of evidence linking ‘right-wing’ writers and bloggers with terrorism, and digging up new ways of connecting them with incitement. 

The EDL was dragged through as many hoops as the media could manufacture. Paxman assumed ‘Tommy Robinson’ was a brainless thug, some yobbo football hooligan, a pushover who could be verbally demolished with the trademark Paxo insouciance. The Newsnight researchers also thought they needn’t trouble themselves with bothersome fact-checking because the conclusion was forgone even before Paxman took the trouble to work up a sneer. Woe betide complacent television legends who rely on tittle-tattle, innuendo and sloppy research. Try as he might, Paxman failed to demolish Tommy R; on the contrary, it was the TV legend, not the hooligan, that was satisfyingly trounced.

 Now the EDL are galvanizing their followers, while doing their best to harness them and point them away from hooliganism and loutish behaviour. They’re demonstrating with their physical presence, en masse, the only way they know how. In view of the apathy with which we are “sleepwalking” towards seismic societal change by stealth, we should condemn the only group that seems willing to visibly put their heads above the parapet and do something about it with considerable caution.

Rumours - NOT by Fleetwood Mac

Oh dear, it looks as if certain sections of the media - old and new - never learn.

Rumours that the violent attack on a prison officer at HMP Full Sutton had been led by Parviz Khan - a Muslim extremist found guilty of plotting to behead a British soldier - have been splashed by several newspapers and, inevitably, many on Twitter and, unfortunately, also on blogs followed suit.

The Ministry of Justice press office, however, then put out this categorical statement on Twitter:

MoJ Press Office ‏@MoJPress 4hr
Individual named by media in connection with incident at HMP Full Sutton was NOT involved and is NOT at that prison #fullsutton

As I say, oh dear!

As far as I can see it was the Daily Mirror that got it wrong first, with the Huff Post and Daily Star coming much later.

The Huff Post has very properly left its original article for all to see but added prominently - at the head of the article and in bold type - the following update:
UPDATE: It was reported that the attack was masterminded by Muslim fanatic Parviz Khan, who is serving a life sentence for plotting to behead a British soldier, but it later emerged he is not an inmate at Full Sutton.
That is admirable behaviour.

The Daily Mirror, in contrast, has been far less honest.

Google News still records what their article originally said when it was published many hours ago -

Woolwich attack: Terrorist thug jailed for plotting to behead soldier batters prison ... - ‎15 hours ago‎
Prison staff feared their colleague, locked in a room and being attacked by crazed extremists, was facing the same gruesome death as murdered soldier Lee Rigby. Leading the thugs was al-Qaeda fanatic Parviz Khan, serving life for plotting to behead a ...

The Mirror has simply, as the phrase goes, "stealth-edited" its original article (ie. leaving no trace via a date stamp or any mention of an update) to remove Khan's name, with no acknowledgement of their mistake and not the slightest whiff of contrition - which is the sort of thing that gets the press a bad name #leveson

The Daily Star still hasn't got round to correcting its article, which is still bearing a photo of Khan with the word "monster" below it. 

It's at times like this when you can see that the BBC's cautious approach to reporting these sorts of story can  appear to be the wiser route to take.

'If you didn't laugh you'd cry' is a bit of a cliché now, but I thought of it as I read this comment which appeared on Twitter whilst I was writing this post:
VerseCannon ‏@VerseCannon 21m
Muslim Fanatic Parviz Khan Led Stabbing Attack On Prison Warden in UK , Reports Say …
That person had obviously failed to notice the whopping UPDATE on the Huff Post's article before tweeting away to the entire world. #jeez!  

Sunday 26 May 2013

'Sunday' reflections

Maybe it's being a Northerner but, despite the BBC's relocation to Salford, I can't help feeling that there's a massive disconnect between the BBC's London elite way of thinking and that of most of the people I know - a feeling amplified by this week's horrific murder in Woolwich. 

A piece by Trevor Barnes on this morning's Sunday (Radio 4) reported on how faith communities in Greenwich are responding to the murder. The report was strongly insistent in its projection of the message that they are all united in mutual regard for each other, and in opposition to the extremists - on both sides. (The BBC reporter explicitly placed the non-bombing, non-beheading if occasionally thuggish EDL as as being equivalent - a "counterpart" - to the murderous Islamists. I believe this to be a species what's known as "moral equivalence".) No one in the report disagreed with its twin messages - that the murder by the two Islamist savages is a perversion of Islam and that the communities of Greenwich feel nothing but warm feelings towards each other.

This doesn't tally with what I'm hearing at work, in the pub and at home - though it is entirely typical of what you are likely to hear on the BBC. 

I've been hearing people saying things I've never heard them dare to say before - and this includes people who have never taken an interest in the news, people who have previously been apathetic about such matters. They are absolutely disgusted.

Truly, I've never seen or heard anything like it. People who have kept their mouths shut or merely, once in a blue moon, hinted nervously at concerns about Muslim extremism are now fairly openly (if only among friends and family and work colleagues) saying, "If they hate this country so much, get rid of them", "this is a form of treason", "the EDL may be thugs, but are they wrong about this?" and "I didn't think I was a racist, but I think I might be now".

I keep hearing people complaining that we Brits are mugs, complacent, a soft touch - many of the complainants, as I say, being people who rarely vote and hardly ever even bother to watch the news. They, like many of those who do, say they are fed up with Muslims insulting and hurting us, as they put it. They are also fed up with politicians doing nothing much about the problem, as they put it. And, on the theme of this blog, a few of them - without any prompting from me - have complained (as I've never heard them complain before) about the BBC - and specifically the BBC - and its attempts (as they see it) to pull the wool over our eyes. They are, it appears, no longer prepared to buy it. 

So, the BBC can keep on carrying on, pushing us all their Hargeys, Bukharis and Goodwins at us (as they were doing on today's The Big Questions with Nicky Campbell), but many people really do seem to be looking right through them now. 

Matthew Goodwin's survey (as mentioned in yesterday's post) doesn't seem to reflect much of what I'm hearing - and I've been hearing a lot of people saying an awful lot of things. Whether they'd be prepared to tell strangers, pollsters and anti-EDL academics that is another matter entirely - and (I suspect) deeply germane to the results Matthew Goodwin and Trevor Barnes have 'found'. This is one area where polls are likely to be deeply skewed. People fear to tell strangers what they think on this subject, lest they get into trouble. People are getting into trouble for saying what they really think. Many know they have to tread very carefully (as you hear again and again in vox pops on the BBC).

This week has, I think, changed everything. At least for a while. Those same people might sink back into apathy again in a few weeks though. Many of our opinion formers will be certainly hoping so - and their striking determination to close as many potentially off-message comments threads as possible on blogs is a remarkable feature of their nervousness. 

Next on Sunday came a rushed discussion, inevitably featuring the aforementioned Asghar Bukhari (the Gerry Adams lookalike who has been all over the BBC in recent days, pushing his "it's all about our foreign policy" line). He got shirty with anyone who dared disagree with him that it's all always about foreign policy. Qadeer Baksh from the Luton Islamic Centre was also on, along with Alexander Hitchens (son of Christopher), who tried to tell Asghar Bukhari that the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the attacks on anyone who attempts to draw a cartoon of "the Prophet Mohammed" in Denmark, (etc), weren't to do with foreign policy. Mr. Bukhari simply refused to accept that and kept repeating his familiar slogans. Qadeer Baksh rather strayed off message when he said that the killers were spiritual Muslims, devoutly reciting the Koran and Muslim prayers in mosque. Sunday presenter William Crawley, like Philippa Thomas on The World Tonight, didn't seem entirely comfortable with that and gave every impression of trying to get the discussion back on message by quickly repeating the 'it's a perversion of Islam' line ("an abduction of the spiritual") and then changing the subject. 

William's aside about the "abduction of the spiritual" prompts me to suspect that most of the media - like much of our political class - knows very little about Islam. Have you noticed though how the likes of William Crawleys, John Humphrys, Paddy O'Connell and Gavin Esler (to name but a few examples from just the last few days) feel able to make authoritative pronouncements on what is or isn't the "true" Islam (just as David Cameron did) - as if any of them really know anything much about Islam? (William, in point of fact, might - given that he's a wide-ranging religious affairs writer).

Except for Muslims, most non-Muslims in Britain (including me) know next to nothing about Islam. The exceptions are the Douglas Murrays of this world. I think that's analogous to the way hardly anyone in Britain knows very much about the Bible - except for firm believers and atheists (like me). Most people in the UK are deeply apathetic about such things. We should, I think, try to find out more. Ignorance is not bliss. 

Apologies again for the personal nature of some of this post, but I think needs must at the moment!

Broadcasting House 

I've just started listening to Broadcasting House. The 9.00am news bulletin reported the government's announcement of a review into its Prevent strategy. The newsreader read out the statement that the programme had been introduced by the "last Labour government" but (in a tone of surprise) added that "almost two years ago its budget was cut almost in half". (I wasn't just imagining that tone, though I suppose it could merely have been a result of a dramatic reading). A clip was then, for some reason, played of Asghar Bukhari's comments from Sunday, where he targeted the government for blame and, as is his way, blamed our foreign policy for the anger of people like the Woolwich jihadists. Why were Mr. Bukhari's comments chosen for this news bulletin, above those of Qadeer Baksh or Alexander Hitchens?

On Broadcasting House proper, Paddy O'Connell promised to canvass a range of opinions on the murder. He began by interviewing 7/7 survivor and peace campaigner Jacqui Putnam. He asked her if she dreaded such a thing, if MI5 had improved its processes since 7/7, if the security services have questions to answer and if she is worried about "Islamophobic attacks". (She is). Those questions reflect the concerns of the BBC, as discussed in my next-but-last post. They are not, I suspect, the main concerns of most listeners.

The BBC's Peter Taylor came next, discussing "the theatre of terrorism" with Paddy and what gets shown by the media before Paddy returned to the topic of MI5's alleged failings with Sir Paul Lever of Rusi, pursuing with him what he thought of MI5 reviewing its own response. Then came journalist Navid Akhtar, who advised the BBC after 9/11, with Paddy beginning by asking him about the danger of Islamophobia and attack on Muslims. "What's it like for you?" asked Paddy. "Are your children scared?", he asked again. Other questions concerned whether there's such a think as a "Muslim community", and the problem "of angry young man identifying with a global cause", which is (Paddy said) "something we've dealt with before."

This whole discussion existed entirely within the BBC's comfort zone and in no way reflected the views or concerns of the people I know. The range of guests was narrow - two being affiliated to the BBC - and the range of questions even narrower, framing the debate in very particular ways.

Do you find this as unsatisfactory as I do?

Hardly any better was the later paper review - with writer Andy McNab, anti-apartheid campaigner Denis Goldberg and businesswoman Laura Tenison. This found the first guest echoing Russell Brand's "blame this on madness, not the Muslims", the second guest attacking "anti-multiculturalism" and the Sun newspaper over its anti-Anjem Choudary headline and the third guest saying that people like the murderers of Lee Rigby "need to be  looked after, they need to be nourished, they need to be cherished". At least Paddy had the decency to chip in, "Sometimes they may need to be arrested" at the point, though Mr. Goldberg went on to echo Laura's "they need nurturing" point later on. They need hope, he said. Andy McNab also agreed, rather surprisingly. Those views are not ones I've heard expressed by any of my work colleagues, friends or family. They could almost come from another planet. Planet BBC, maybe.

CODA: On a lighter note (and one is probably needed), Broadcasting House also featured a report from the Hindu Kush in Northern Afghanistan by the BBC's Hugh Sykes. Its subject was the prospects for the area following the approaching withdrawal of Western forces from the country. Hugh painted a very positive picture. All will be well, and all manner of things will be well, apparently. Let's hope he's right. All his interviewees certainly thought he was.

After reflecting on mixed education, we heard a doorbell and Hugh said, "How appropriate, the head of the education department of the Panjshir provincial government...has as his doorbell Boys and Girls Come Out to Play!" [Sic - he meant Girls and Boys Come Out to Play, of course]. He laughed. Alert listeners will have immediately spotted that the doorbell wasn't playing Girls and Boys Come Out to Play at all. It was playing London Bridge is Falling Down, which isn't quite so palatable a message!