Saturday 28 November 2015

Takeaway messages

This morning's From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4 covered a good deal of familiar territory in the familiar BBC way. 

As discussed in the comments section of the previous post, the BBC's Tim Whewell presented a piece about Belgium's 'Jihad Central', the district of Brussels called Molenbeek:

Anonymous28 November 2015 at 12:20 
Another one for your collection - Tim Whewell's PC venture into Mollenbeek on From Our Own Correspondent on the BBC. 
It's an interesting case study in how to use narrative form, selective quotation, tone of voice, false equations, ellipsis, unverifiable assertions and biased selection of facts to create an impression. I am sure he is a very likeable guy - he seems so - and probably none of it is conscious plotting to distort the truth, but distort it he does.  
One of the unverifiable assertions was that journalists were chasing Muslims down the street looking crying out "Do you know any terrorists?" Really? It sounds improbable but it helps to create the impression that racist tabloids were encouraging group hate by calling Mollenbeek "Jihadi central". But take a look at this article from the sober-minded, pretty liberal and pro-migration Economist: 
If somewhere produces a lot of steel then it's not unreasonable to call it "the steel capital of the world". If somewhere has a lot of film and rock stars it's not unreasonable to call it "the home of the stars". And if somewhere produces the highest per capita number of Jihadis in Europe it's not unreasonable to call it Jihadi Central.  
Anyway, have a listen if you can spare the time, as I say it is a marvellous piece in understanding how an impression is created: in this case, Muslim as nice, pro-integration victim. Whewell completely suspends all critical faculties: no interest in whether a substantial section of the Muslim population gives actual or tacit support to the Jihadis; no interest in whether other migrants to Belgium e.g. animists, Christians, Jews and Hindus suffer the same difficulties in integration; no interest in wondering whether non-Muslims, women especially, get hassled in Mollenbeek; and no interest in whether Sharia rules in Mollenbeek (are there Sharia courts for instance?). 
No, it was just a "mood music" piece designed to dull the senses.  

Craig28 November 2015 at 15:40 
I'd have hoped for better from Tim Whewell. He can be a fine reporter.
This, however, was just the usual BBC report, almost a paint-by-numbers affair, all about the sense of alienation and victimhood felt by the Muslims of Molenbeek.  
Reading about Molenbeek elsewhere, it certainly seems as if it's been heavily Islamised, with alcohol suppressed, women pressured to wear the veil and non-Islamic newspapers restricted. Non-Muslim women have been abused and spat at. The area's Jewish shopkeepers were terrorised and forced out; as was the local gay population. The area has become largely a monolithic, Moroccan-background immigrant district. 
None of that came out in Tim Whewell's 'FOOC' report.

Besides this doubtless well-meaning but worryingly distorting piece there was also the BBC's David Shukman explaining why he's feeling guardedly "optimistic" about significant "advances" arising from the Paris conference on (what Kate Adie introduced as) "man-made global warming"....

...and an emotional piece from freelance reporter Chris Haslam on the plight of a newly-arrived Syrian refugee family in Berlin. 

He told the heart-rending story of a man called Malik from Latakia who is suffering from cancer. He received state support for his chemotherapy until (Chris told us) the Syrian police asked him to become an informer. If he became an informer, the police said, the Syrian state would continue to fund his treatment. So the man fled, taking his wife (Shabima) and three children (Omar, Seema and Anas) with him, arriving in Germany three weeks ago.

Chris Haslam worried about the dehumanising effects of Germany's asylum processes and, even more, about the Germans requiring asylum seekers to wear green armbands, which he said reminded him uncomfortably of the country's Nazi past. 

To give you a proper flavour of the report, here's just one extract from it:
After 40 days in the European wilderness they arrived in Berlin - another frightened, anonymous, desparate family who risked their lives on a one-way journey into the unknown. 
Look at your own family and ask yourself if you'd make it. 
If there's one thing you can say about From Our Own Correspondent is that it's rarely shy about giving Radio 4 audiences a strong takeaway message. Today's edition was  certainly no exception to that.


  1. The problem with these heart-rending stories is we don't know if they are true or not - or perhaps partially true. Remember how it came out later about the father of the child washed up dead on the shore in Greece that the journey had something to do with getting his teeth done - because he wouldn't get it done free in Canada, where other members of his family were (this was what his sister said, to camera)?

    If it's all about cancer treatment why don't we pay for refugees to have treatment in places like Turkey or Jordan? Why subject them to such hazardous journeys. But I suspect Chris Haslam wouldn't like that solution.

    Incidentally, in what way is this named family, known to the authorities in Germany, in any way "anonymous"? Poor English as well as poor logic and poor ethics.

  2. Once again the line between so-called objective journalism and opinion is not so much blurred as dispensed with entirely. There really is no defense for this sort of thing, yet the BBC has made a feature of it for years with no consequences. Same with the titled editors. Nice work, Craig.

  3. A swing-and-a-miss from the BBC in this article:

    Here, Britain's leading public-service broadcaster takes on the issue of tackling home-grown jihad. Rather than giving a holistic view of tackling the issue, great prominence is given to one individual's testimony of discrimination - "I can't get a job, I can't rent a flat. People hear my name and hang up" - now, I have no reason to doubt this particular story, although it should be noted that we have no information on his personal circumstances, such as qualifications, criminal background etc. that would typically limit employment / rental chances - however, it is used in this article to suggest the following actions to prevent home-grown extremism:

    1) Less stop-and-searching in Belgium, as currently there is too much, (funny, because I thought the problem was that not enough was being done in areas such as Molenbeek to clamp down on extremist suspects)
    2) Don't take action in Syria
    3) Prison isn't always the answer, as it leads to radicalisation
    4) Checks at external EU borders, sharing information across EU nations, and clampdown on sale of illegal fire-arms

    Curiously, there is no mention whatsoever of what to do about those doing the radicalising - the Wahabists / Salafists networking in places such as Molenbeek - surely, this is a central question in addressing whether Europe can tackle homegrown jihad? No serious answer is given to what to do about those traveling to Syria and have returned either, apart from a brief mention on "better rehabilitation programs". Instead, the overall focus is on what we shouldn't do.

    1. I'm still trying to come to terms with the thought that around half of those who went to fight for IS have now returned to the UK. All those comments from the public to the effect of 'Good riddance!' and 'Don't come back!' after news of UK Muslims going out there breaks are looking more and more like wishful thinking. They seem able to pretty much return as they please.

  4. I see your blog notes are rather old by now but I just discovered them while following an article I heard on BBC World just now ( 00:20 UTC 3/24/2016 ) about Molenbeek. I was astounded to hear on the BBC a Belgian actually speaking on how Molenbeek became unlivable for a European.
    The print version of the report did not unfortunately include this gem: the narrator quoted a Molenbeek ( Muslim)
    inhabitant saying "we are the worst victims of this (latest) bombing." Imagine that! Who knew? I live in the USA, and I can confidently say, Muslims feeling fear is a good thing. The outrages in Germany on New Years eve would NEVER happen here.


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