There is currently a very ugly ‘blasphemy’ row going on within India (and between India and some very illiberal Islamic nations) and the BBC’s coverage of this complex, multi-dimensional row is violating the BBC’s editorial values and standards all over the place, perhaps in an unprecedented way for this type of story.
Not only is the BBC refusing to quote the words that have sparked this ridiculous ‘blasphemy’ bust up (on the specious grounds that the words are “offensive”) but the BBC has, this time, gone so far with its self-imposed censorship that it is also refusing to give audiences the general gist of what the remarks were about.
The allegedly ‘offensive’ remarks relate to one of the prophet Mohammed’s wives – though the BBC is omitting to tell audiences even that much.
During an Indian TV debate a couple of weeks ago, a somewhat thin-skinned Hindu spokesperson for the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party (Nupur Sharma) criticised Muslims for insulting Hindu deities. She then said:
Should I start mocking claims of flying horses or the flat-earth theory as mentioned in your Quran? You are marrying a six year-old girl and having sex with her when she turned nine. Who did it? Prophet Muhammad. Should I start saying all these things that are mentioned in your scriptures?
As a consistent secular humanist, I am greatly alarmed that the BBC is effectively endorsing the view of Islamists (and other Muslims) that criticising the Islamic ‘prophet’ known as Mohammed is inherently and objectively ‘offensive’ (and ‘anti-Muslim’) and therefore key facts at the heart of this story must be actively suppressed and concealed from BBC audiences, to the extent that the BBC’s reporting on the story makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It is literally impossible to discern what all the fuss is about, even vaguely.
Instead, the BBC has simply framed the incident as an example of anti-Muslim bigotry without giving any further details, as though any criticism of Islam and Mohammed can only be motivated by hatred of Muslims instead of by hatred of or dislike of Islam. And readers are just expected to accept the BBC’s framing, instead of making up their own minds about the incident on the basis of the full facts.
In addition to imposing a blasphemy code on itself, the BBC is also actively endorsing the anti-secular, anti-humanist concept of ‘Islamophobia’ – a highly controversial and hotly contested term often deployed by Islamists, illiberal regressive leftists and pseudo-secular religious relativists to shut down criticism of Islam by conflating Muslims (human beings) with Islam (a religion) and failing to differentiate between hatred of Islam (a religion) and hatred of Muslims (human beings).
Needless to say, the BBC should never be using the disputed term ‘Islamophobia’ in its reporting (other than to quote idiots or Islamists who themselves use the word). To use the word in the way the BBC has used it is to accept the word’s controversial, fatally flawed premise – that hatred of Islam and hatred of Muslims are essentially the same thing.
Now, it may well be case that this BJP spokesperson (Nupur Sharma) is an anti-Muslim bigot. Or it may be the case that she is not an anti-Muslim bigot but instead just hates Islam (which is, of course, not the same thing as hating Muslims).
But the BBC doesn’t seem remotely interested in the vital distinction between people and religion (a distinction that lies at the heart of secularism and humanism). Instead, the BBC has its simplistic narrative of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘bigotry’ and is just running with it.
Has the BBC so completely thrown its lot in with Islamic religionists and illiberal leftist relativists?
There have been no fewer than three offending articles by the BBC in the past few days:
- Nupur Sharma: The Indian woman behind offensive Prophet Muhammad comments
- Nupur Sharma: Prophet Muhammad row deepens India’s diplomatic woes
- Nupur Sharma: How Islamophobia is hurting India’s foreign policy
In the first article, the BBC states: “On May 27th, with her abusive comments against Prophet Muhammad, she appeared to have bitten off more than she could chew.”
“Abusive comments against Prophet Muhammad”?!
Firstly, how the hell is it possible to be “abusive” towards a man (who may or may not have even existed) from 1,500 years ago?
Secondly, what exactly was abusive? All that Nupur Sharma did was refer to what many Muslims themselves actually believe about Mohammed’s life and behaviour (as referenced in a hadith written by one of Mohammed’s admirers).
Does the BBC think that the author of this hadith was being “abusive” to Mohammed by disclosing the age of his child wife? Does the BBC think that Muslims who sincerely believe in this hadith are abusing the prophet?
This BBC article also describes Nupur Sharma and the BJP as “brazen” for having had the audacity to make a critical reference to Mohammed and for criticising Muslims who responded to Sharma’s remarks by going on a violent rampage and by sending her death threats and rape threats.
It’s almost as though the BBC sees Muslims as people without agency – as a special subset of the species who are not capable of regulating their own emotions and behaviour like other human beings.
In the second article, the BBC states:
Their comments – especially Ms. Sharma’s – angered the country’s minority Muslim community, leading to sporadic protests in some states. The BBC is not repeating Ms Sharma’s remarks as they are offensive in nature.
Firstly, the BBC is essentialising and communalising Muslims by referring to them as a “community” (i.e., as a single monolithic unit).
Not only is it patronising to refer to Muslims in this way, it is exactly the type of language used by divisive politicians in India (both Hindu and Muslim) who want Muslims to be thought of as some kind of bloc for electoral reasons.
Needless to say, the BBC should never be referring to India’s Muslims as a “community” because – as a matter of fact – they are not a community. For one thing, they are riven by all kinds of internal divisions.
Secondly, the BBC is being dishonest. The real reason the BBC is not publishing Sharma’s remarks is not because they are “offensive” – the BBC publishes words that people find offensive all the time, including, ironically, in the first article which refers to Nupur Sharma calling a political opponent “a bloody hypocrite and a liar” – but because they relate to the Islamic prophet, Mohammed.
Would the BBC have published Sharma’s words if she had referred to prophet Mohammed as “a bloody hypocrite and a liar”? Of course not. Because, as we all know, it’s not about what was said, but who it was said about.
This same BBC article refers to Sharma’s remarks as “anti-Muslim comments” but the remarks were quite clearly not anti-Muslim comments. The comments were a criticism of the Islamic prophet Mohammed. Since when has criticising historical religious figures been synonymous with hating the living and breathing followers of an associated religion?
By falsely equating criticism of Mohammed with hatred of Muslims, the BBC is legitimising – and giving succour to – the dangerous and divisive narratives of Islamic extremists. It is grotesquely irresponsible for the BBC to be blurring the boundary between people and religion in this way.
The third article uses the term “Islamophobia” with wanton abandon, including in the title of the article.
The article is effectively one great big conflation of genuine examples of anti-Muslim bigotry and mere expressions of anti-Islamic sentiment.
The BBC has a responsibility to maintain a clear distinction between Muslims and Islam but it doesn’t seem remotely interested in doing this, and the implications for secularism, democracy and human rights (especially for the human rights of Muslims, including Muslim women and girls and gay Muslims) would be far-reaching if this distinction was to be lost.
The BBC should not be endorsing the falsehood that criticising Mohammed amounts to “anti-Muslim” bigotry. The corporation should instead be making it crystal clear to audiences that they are not the same thing.
According to the BBC’s Charter, the BBC’s number one Public Purpose is “to provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”.
But the BBC is doing the exact opposite. It is instead painting a simplistic and distorted picture of the world.
If the BBC had any concern for the truth, it would not pander to Islamists by concealing the truth about Islamic scriptures and the words of Mohammed’s critics but instead write articles about frustrated Muslim-heritage Indians like this guy.
It’s about time that BBC journalists started telling the world the full and ugly truth about what’s happened and is happening in India. That means moving away from the blatantly biased narratives that focus disproportionately on the divisive behaviour of Hindu communalists and Hindutva-mongers whilst deliberately downplaying the divisive behaviour of Muslim communalists and Islamists and the divisive behaviour of all the opportunistic and unprincipled leftists who opened the door to Hindutva in the first place by repackaging relativism as ‘secularism’ and undermining India’s democratic ideals for decades by pandering to Islamic clerics and Muslim mobs.
All of these various forces are constantly feeding and fuelling each other in India. Genuine secularists and humanists get drowned out in all the noise. But the BBC doesn’t seem interested in telling their story because BBC journalists are too busy looking for ways to present India’s Muslims as an oppressed “community” – even if that means joining forces with Islamists and burning the BBC’s Charter in the process.
The extent of the BBC’s capitulation to Islamists in just a few short years is astonishing. The betrayal of journalism and of freedom of expression is shocking and shameful.