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.