Sunday 29 November 2015

'BBC Trending' goes on the attack against ex-Muslims

Even by the BBC's standards this is an absolute shocker...

BBC Trending on the BBC World Service today discussed the use of the hashtag #ExMuslimBecause. As the programme's website put it:
Thousands explained why they left Islam online, using the hashtag #ExMuslimBecause, but some thought the discussion was badly timed, and labelled it ‘hateful’. We meet the woman behind the campaign, and ask if she intended to create such a pointed conversation.
Before coming to the programme itself, it goes without saying that many people 'lose their faith' or convert to another religion, and that we tend to think it's OK for them to do so, given our commitment to freedom of belief. 

As is well known, however, a lot of Muslims disagree. A sizeable number don't think that their fellow Muslims should be allowed to stop believing in Islam, and a fair proportion of those also believe in death for 'apostates'. Some 13 Muslim-majority countries still proscribe the death penalty for 'apostasy', here in 2015.

That being the case, the large-scale global use in recent days of the hashtag #ExMuslimBecause for people to explain and share their own reasons for leaving Islam is undeniably significant and brave, and you might think that the BBC would be interested in giving it a respectful hearing.

The BBC did not give it a respectful hearing here. Instead, this programme put its users in the dock and condemned them.

Presenter Anne-Marie Tomchak outlined the nature of the hashtag before saying that it had been strongly countered by people claiming it was "hateful". 

Her guest in the studio was Mobeen Azhar, a journalist and film maker for the BBC who you may have seen on Newsnight following the Paris attacks, and who was one of Ed Stourton's guests on Paris: Could It Happen Here? last week. 

Mobeen Azhar

He said that, for a time, #ExMuslimBecause was the top-rated tweet in the UK last week and that it aroused a strong response, including strong criticism that it was "Islamophobic...opportunistic...and shouldn't be happening right now".

Anne-Marie interrupted to say, "People were really upset about it as well because it's such a sensitive issue".  

"And I think a lot of this has to do with timing," replied Mobeen, before expanding on that:
You know, we're in a situation where Muslims, I think, feel slightly attacked and they feel that their lives and their beliefs are being constantly discussed. You know, they're on the front page of lots of newspapers constantly. And so for that reason I think a lot of people thought this was bad timing.
Anne-Marie Tomchak then introduced an individual from an organisation associated with the hashtag, the very brave Council of Ex-Muslims. Her introduction to the group sounded (to my ears) somewhat disdainful: 
It was actually started by this group, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
She then spoke to its spokeswoman, Maryam Namazie - though not before Mobeen had mocked her for winning the 'Secularist of the Year' award. "It's not the sexiest title!", he said, laughing, before adding that her opponents would say she's "quite opportunistic".

Here is a transcript of Anne-Marie Tomchak's interview with Maryam Namazie. 

Please keep an eye on both the ratcheting-up of the BBC presenter's questions - and the nature of those questions - and Maryam's answers, which repay close attention:
MN: One of our activists said that, "Being ex-Muslim is not being anti-Muslim. It's just criticising an idea that I don't agree with". And that's actually how it started. And we never expected it to trend in this way. We actually initially said that we were collecting statements from people for December 10th, which is International Human Rights Day, to show that leaving Islam, saying one is an ex-Muslim, is a basic right. But it just took off. And it shows just how much people needed to express themselves via this hashtag. 
A-MT: What kind of stories have you noticed people sharing around this hashtag online? 
Maryam Namazie
MN: Yeah. I think there are some really funny ones, of course, like, you know, "I'm #ExMuslimBecause I wanted to eat pork".,And then there are, of course, those that are saying, you know, "My father is a sheikh and he's forced me to marry", "My own mother told me I ought to die because I've left Islam". So there's a wide range of stories. A lot of the hashtags just said that they felt that they're not alone, because I think a lot of people do feel alone and isolated - which shows how much people need to know that they're not alone and that there are many of us out there. 
A-MT: Is there a risk that there are others out there who would look at a hashtag like this and might not necessarily be prepared for the kind of backlash that might lie in store for them? 
MN: Yeah. I don't think that anyone is encouraging anyone to take a risk because if anything we know the risks more than anyone else. For example, even though I don't have threats for my family I do have it from Islamists all the time. But again, you know, blaming us for speaking up for the death threats and the intimidation that Islamists impose is sort of blaming the victim in a way. You know, how else are we going to challenge this movement if we're not able to say that we think differently and we have a right to think differently.  
A-MT: One of the tweets that I noticed was saying that this hashtag was more or less giving people an opportunity to bash Muslims. What do you have to say in response to a statement like that? 
MN: Yeah, well I mean, you know, those who bash Muslims bash me as well because we all look the same to them. I've got a Muslim name. The minute I defend refugee rights they tell me to go back home. But we've been very clear from the start that we're ex-Muslims not because we want to be anti-Muslim but because we want to defend the rights of ex-Muslims. And there has to be a space for that.
A-MT: 'Can you speak?' is one thing'; 'when to speak' is another. And when you look at the recent news events - say, for example, what happened in Paris, the Paris attacks. Let's look at the refugee crisis around Europe. Did it occur to you that this was possibly not the right time to put out a hashtag like this? 
MN: Yeah, but Paris is maybe your marker as someone in the West, but our marker has been bombings in Iraq, in Afghanistan, sharia law in Saudi Arabia, for decades. That is our marker. To see it only within the context of Paris doesn't see the humanity of all those people who are dying, day in and day out.
Anne-Marie Tomchak's questions there - and the tone she delivered them in - weren't sympathetic (unlike her questions to Mobeen Azhar). Maryam Namazie was being firmly challenged here. 

Maryam, in response, gave some very interesting answers, occasionally couched in language that you might expect would strongly appeal to the left-liberal instincts of a BBC reporter/presenter - if you didn't know how strangely such people react to anything that concerns Muslim sensibilities.

And here's the really shocking thing about this edition of BBC Trending. As soon as that interview with Maryam Namazie had finished, the BBC's Anne-Marie Tomchak said the following:
So quite a strident tone coming from Maryam Namazie.
That was truly a "WTF?" moment for me. And Mobeen Azhar gave it a clear 'hmm' of agreement.

There was nothing strident about Maryam Namazie's tone there. Or her comments. 

Anne-Marie Tomchak

And it got worse.

Anne-Marie then went on to explain what she meant:
So quite a strident tone coming from Maryam Namazie. And the way she uses the term "Islamists".
And, yes, Anne-Marie Tomchak paused before the word 'Islamists' in order to put it in inverted commas. 

Bear in mind that Maryam Namazie has received death threats from such people.

Mobeen Azhar agreed:
I mean, it's quite uncompromising. I think that one of the problems that might come from that 'Islamist' broadly refers to this idea of Islam the faith being used as a political ideology. Now the fact is, within that there are many shades of grey. And I think lumping these people together is not going to be the most helpful thing, and could be misconstrued, and could be quite problematic. 
Another "WTF?" moment. And bear in mind again that Maryam Namazie has received death threats from such people, and yet Mobeen Azhar is fretting about her comments being "problematic" towards Islamists.

And what did Anne-Marie Tomchak of the BBC say in response to Mobeen Azhar of the BBC's frankly jaw-dropping comments?

Did she respond with some kind of "WTF?" too? Of course she didn't:
But let's just talk about her tone again because you described it as 'uncompromising'. How do you think what she's saying is going to be interpreted by Muslims around the world?
Mobeen Azhar then replied: 
Well, you know, this really takes us back to this thing about Muslims feeling attacked because I think pretty much for 15 years now - you can say since 9/11 - a lot of the Muslim community around the world has felt that they are on the defensive. They feel that there's fingers being pointed at them. I think in terms of Maryam's tone, it might make Muslims feel attacked again. 
Unbelievable, isn't it?

And on it went. Here's what the BBC presenter said next:
Well, they have demonstrated that on social media. There has been quite a defensive tone, even a counter-hashtag #MuslimBecause, and then outlining the reasons why they are Muslim and defending the faith. Some people found the #ExMuslimBecause hashtag quite offensive. One tweet I saw said, "I find this campaign hateful. It paints all Muslims as bad. Almost 2 billion humans can't all be the same." And then they've used the hashtag, #NotoBigotry. Other practising Muslims tried to engage with the hashtag, which is interesting. And one of those is Rashid Dar. He works with a think tank over in Washington DC and he posted a tweet where he offered to meet ex-Muslims and have a coffee and have a chat. 
We duly heard from Rashid Dar, calling for both sides to "tone down the vitriol" and expressing his desire to talk about what his Muslim faith means to him in a positive way. 

No challenge came from Anne-Marie Tomchak (at least as BBC World Service listeners heard it). It was just a short statement. Instead, she asked Mobeen Azhar what he made of what Rashid said and they both laughed. Mobeen joked that "social media is not like a coffee shop".

And that was that.

I try to be as dispassionate as I can be on this blog, but this was an absolute disgrace.

Anne-Marie Tomchak and Mobeen Azhar's behaviour here was beyond belief - and very far from impartial. 

Worse, it was far from impartial in the most appalling way. Instead of sticking up for brave people like Maryam Namazie they put her in the dock and then pronounce a sentence of 'guilty' on her - and all in the interests of her critics, many of whom are Islamists. 

Thanks to Anne-Marie Tomchak and Mobeen Azhar, the last straw has broken the camel's back here. I've had enough of them.

Update: I see others have picked up on this too and Maryam has posted her own response.

I came across this edition of BBC Trending via a tweet from Nick Cohen and a Facebook posting from Atheist in a Headscarf that said "the BBC should really be ashamed of for further silencing us by promoting the idea that somehow, SIMPLY STATING we are Ex Muslim and why is tantamount to Islamophobia".

Maryam's blogpost states that Anne-Marie Tomchak interviewed her for 30 minutes. Only 3 minutes of that interview made it onto today's programme.

Further update: Alan at Biased BBC recalls that this isn't the first time that Mrs Namazie has been given the 'BBC treatment'. As she wrote on her blog five years ago:
BBC Sunday Morning Live invited me to join its debate on whether ‘it is right to condemn Iran for stoning’ on 5 September 2010 via webcam. During the debate, the programme allowed only two interventions via webcam (that of Suhaib Hassan of the Islamic Sharia Council and Mohammad Morandi of Tehran University – both of whom were in support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s stoning and/or execution). I (who had presumably been invited to defend Ms Ashtiani and oppose stoning in the debate) was never given the opportunity to speak. 

Another update: Intriguingly, Rashid Dar is also concerned that the BBC omitted most of his interview with Anne-Marie Tomchak. And the parts he says were omitted appear particularly telling, and damning. He says the BBC chose not to air his criticisms of the Muslim community:


  1. Now this is just silly. If there is no anti-Muslim backlash, the BBC will have to invent it.

    1. The BBC seems more than adept at inventing things, and more than shameless in bringing them to air.

      A near absolute lack of accountability may explain, if not excuse this.

      I see some are seeking to complain. The BBC is also adept at dealing with this too, sadly.

  2. We really need some legislative bulwarks put in place.

    1. A free speech guarantee on the American model.

    2. Making it a serious offence for anyone to exert illegitimate pressure on someone wishing to quit their religion and making it an aggravated offence if violence is attempted or used.

    3. Effective control of Sharia courts and Sharia-based education of children.

    1. How can and why should we seek to control control sharia courts?

      They should be all in foreign, presumably muslim controlled, countries.

      Therefore they are none of our business.
      Their activities are really only of concern to the relatively small percentage of british people stupid enough to go to muslim controlled countries.

      There should be none in this country .. if there are they have no juristriction over anyone that chooses to not allow them to have.

      The UK has not cared about or interfered in the processes and outcomes of the courts and laws in other countries, hussain in iraq, libia's gadaffi, ugands's amin, cambodia's pol pot, germany's hitler.. all conducted their internal affairs with no regard for our opinion then ... so why now the concern over muslim courts and what they do to offenders in their own countries?

  3. This is exactly what happens when you don’t defend freedom of speech and buy into the fiction of, “hurting peoples feelings”.

  4. "Dar is also concerned that the BBC omitted most of his interview with Anne-Marie Tomchak"

    There's what the BBC puts in.

    There is what the BBC leaves out.

    And then, there is what the BBC may or may not simply make up:

    1. do not overly concern yourself with the bbc.

      the bbc appears to make public what it's controllers want us to know.

      it appears to do so with whatever slant or bias they have been instructed to follow.

      you are perfectly entitled to think differently, just as I am entitled to believe doubters to be wrong.

  5. It really is a despicable segment in about every way.

    Not least because of the BBC tried and mistrusted technique of sampling some poor sod remotely, cherry-picking what is broadcast, and then letting the studio bunnies gnaw on the bone any way they like without challenge, or right of reply.

    i am submitting another FOI now to get the BBC to confront this, which of course they will immediately shut down all debate on... a bit like they appear to feel they should do on behalf of groups they favour.... 'as it is not the right time'.

    1. Yes, this was a new low for the BBC. The BBC pair behaved atrociously here. The more I think about it the more chilling it seems.

  6. It would probably have happened regardless, but thanks anyway, BBC, for your contribution.

    1. More than disturbing how many seem to end up on the wrong end of certain groups' violent ways, especially once the BBC has 'interviewed' them.

      But one is sure the BBC is confident their contribution remains 'about right' when whipping up mobs.

  7. Seems the BBC on twitter is headed for 'anything goes' territory, to the left of 'Wild West' even.

    Context is so last editoriall integrity era.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.