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Is the BBC lost in its own Moral Maze?

By Shaykh Riyad Nadwi, PhD
14 November 2005

In my article earlier this year (19 July 2005), I questioned the BBC’s persistence in keeping the anti-Muslim Melanie Phillips on the panel of the Radio Four programme, The Moral Maze. Four months on and her poisonous spin continues to fill the airwaves twice a week. On Saturday my car radio accidentally tuned into the programme and to my astonishment I heard Ms Phillips, while defending the 90 day detention proposal, argue that if a Muslim is found to have shaved off his body hair, it probably means he is preparing for a suicide operation.

One can excuse ignorance of the fact that it is standard practice in religious hygiene for Muslims to shave bodily hair, at least once every forty days, from places where it is likely to cause odour or attract disease (i.e. armpits and genitals). This exhortation is found in the major books of fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) with direct reference to the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his companions. Muslims in general practise this as a matter of routine and were the government to make this a criterion for distinguishing between potential terrorist and harmless Muslim, then I am afraid hundreds of thousands of Muslims in this country and millions around the world would have to be incarcerated.

What I find hard to forgive is the parading of ‘gross ignorance’ as ‘informed opinion’. Ms Phillips’ every word appears to jump straight out of a propaganda manual filled with ‘spin’ and hoodwinking verbosity in the service of a Neo-con pro-Israel agenda. She contends that the Church in this country is in decay because it does not support Israel:

“…the recent formation of the website ‘Anglicans for Israel’ is also significant — not just because it shows there are decent Anglicans who do understand the difference between truth and lies, but that there is now a public challenge to the church’s moral decay from its own flock.” (Jewish Chronicle, 14 October 2005)

She utilises every opportunity on air to pour scorn on Islam and Muslims. The BBC shoulders the blame for promoting Ms Phillips at a time when the need for community cohesion and sincere dialogue has never been more pronounced. The task for media organisations is no longer the traditional, relatively straightforward, balancing of the left and right. Nowadays the job must include protecting the public from modern sleight of hand spin techniques and double-speak advocacy when sensitive community relations are at stake.

In order to understand the absurdity of the BBC’s persistence in this matter, it would be instructive for the producers for one moment to consider what they would do if it became clear that a permanent panellist on one of their high profile programmes was also a hard-line ‘fundamentalist’ who routinely used the opportunity to ridicule Jews and Judaism?

Were this to happen, we would be in no doubt as to the reaction: loud and repeated condemnations and calls for ‘impartiality’ and ‘objectivity’ at the BBC. We would see Holocaust survivors lining up in protest. The world would be made to know that, despite the rebuttals from other members of the panel, it is unacceptable to allow anyone to use the BBC as a platform for racist diatribe and the undermining of communal harmony in Britain. It is abundantly obvious from Ms Phillips’ advocacy for Israel and her constant attacks on Islam that she holds a genuine and deep-seated disdain for Muslims. Explaining the riots in France in her “Why France is burning” Daily Mail article (07 November 2005) she wrote:

“France has been under attack by its Arab Muslim minority… But now the school system and the police have been weakened and national service has gone. Banning the hijab (Islamic headscarf) in schools represented a flickering of the old national certainty as France sniffed the danger that had arisen in its midst. But it was too little, and maybe too late. Even now Britain, France and the rest of Europe are still in varying stages of denial over Muslim unrest. Reluctant even to admit that religion is central to this phenomenon…”

Ignoring the indisputable fact that the French riots were sparked by rhetoric similar to her own, she posted another brazen article on her website today (14.11.05), accusing the liberal media in Britain of telling a ‘Big Lie’ by concealing the fact that Islam is the cause of the riots in France.

If the BBC does not consider this sort of blatant racist and anti-Muslim advocacy in support of Israel morally reprehensible, then I am left with no option but to conclude that somewhere in the BBC’s ‘moral maze’ the protocols of good practice and balanced programming have been lost.

www.occri.org.uk