Friday, 9 January 2015

Blasphemy and the BBC

This blog post has moved here

Recently I read this excellent article on the BBC news website by the historian Tom Holland.  Once again the BBC have not published  examples of the cartoons that caused the offence.  Personally I think it is important to show these kinds of images so that people can get a fuller idea of what exactly what was perceived as so offensive that it resulted in the murder of twelve people,  It is important that people see these images so they can be more appropriately outraged at the horrendous reaction to such irrelevant cartoon pictures.

The BBC seem to have a policy of not showing images that depict the Islamic prophet Muhammad, but why?  This got me thinking, are the BBC as equally sensitive about not displaying images that upset people of other religions?

The first thing that sprung to mind was the Jeremy Paxman interview with the Jesus and Mo author.  During this interview the author was shown drawing a typical cell from one of his cartoons.  The BBC showed the footage only as far as him drawing Jesus, and then cut before he started to draw Muhammad (3 min 25 secs).

A quick browse through the BBC news website revealed that the level of "respect" shown for the feelings of Muslim's is higher than that of people of other beliefs.  I have deliberately chosen a few examples not just of images the BBC have shown, but specifically ones where the story is about how people were offended by those images for religious reasons.

The first article is about a modified depiction of Da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper.  I am not sure how it was deemed offensive but this poster, advertising a clothing brand, was ruled as "a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people's innermost beliefs" by a judge in Milan and the poster was banned.  The BBC wanted us to see the offensive material so we could judge for ourselves whether or not this was an overreaction.  Article here.

The second article contains not one but two prints of posters that received complaints on the grounds of religious offence.  The campaign seems to have centred around the idea of selling ice cream by promoting indulgence in carnal pleasures.  The first image depicts a pregnant nun, and the second depicts two priests in a homoerotic pose clearly about to passionately kiss each other.  Again it seems it was important for the readers to get an idea of the content of the posters that had raised complaints. Article here.

The third article is about how a news paper advert for a betting firm was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority who said it was "likely to cause serious or widespread offence".  Even though this image was banned from appearing in newspapers (mainly for breaching advertising standard on associating gambling and sex) the BBC thought it was necessary to show an image of Jesus with a bottle in one hand and a bikini clad Brazilian woman in the other. Article here.

The final article is a story about how a billboard poster in New Zealand was causing offence to Christians.  It depicted a downcast Joseph in bed with Mary accompanied by the caption "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow".  The offence here presumably is that God's impregnation of the Virgin Mary (Miriam in Islam) was an act that physically pleasured Mary, or in other words, God gave her one and it was the best ever. Article here.

Joseph and Mary are revered in Islam.  So why is it that depicting Muhammad is seen as such a taboo when the portrayal and mockery of other Islamic figures (and even God himself) is okay?  Muslims consider Allah to be the god of the Torah and the Bible, so why is it okay to say "God was a hard act to follow" but not "Allah was a hard act to follow"?
**Update: I mistakenly listed Joseph as a prophet.

Is seems it is okay for the BBC to show material mocking "God", but wouldn't consider showing material mocking Allah.  It's okay to show material mocking Jesus but not Muhammad, even when it is on the same piece of paper.  Why is this?

The answer lies not in the perceived insult of people (and God himself) revered by Islam, but in linking the identities of the mocked specifically to Islam.  It's okay to mock Joseph/Jesus/God as long as you aren't mocking them by their Islamic specific names Yusuf/Isa/Allah.  Mocking the Islamic terminology is seen as a threat to the institute of Islam, something empires simply cannot afford to tolerate in case it weakens its control over the masses. This is why Muslims wishing to install Islam as a world political system (read "Empire") try to whip up such a frenzy of offence amongst the world's Muslim population whenever Muhammad is mocked in a cartoon.

The BBC should be neutral when it comes to reproducing materials, either show offending material or don't.  If  an image will offend people then it is quite noble of the BBC not to reproduce it, but to avoid reproducing images that are a vitally important part of the story is simply ridiculous.

The sad thing is that the BBC has been reproducing offensive images of Islamic prophets for years.  They are not avoiding offence, they are (possibly inadvertently) only avoiding shaking the foundations of an Islamic empire.  How many other states are afforded the same privilege?


  1. Good research.

    Yes. It does seem very odd to me. Depicting images in part obviously goes back to this Judeo-Christian "no graven images" idea of preventing the idolisation of images or objects so followers focus only on God. Given all the fuss about Muhammed drawings (and not about other Islamic prophets like Jesus) it does seem very ironic that Muhammed has been lifted to a state that can only honestly be described as an idol.

    In terms of news channels and papers showing the cartoons - given that everything is going digital - one option for the news websites could be to cover up drawings with a warning message over it saying "This image may cause offence to religious people. Click to show image."

    I wonder if this would appease anyone? I find this a funny idea because you know everyone who visits the page will still click it including Muslims/Christians who claim offence to such images. But it would be harder to complain about this though no? The news channels on TV all have websites too so they could refer people to the website if they wanted to see the images that are causing offence. This would get around not showing the pics on TV whilst still maintaining some kind of free speech integrity (perhaps).

    What would be the response by people who still claim offence? I mean if a muslim hasn't drawn or looked at the image them self can they still claim offence? Could people still claim the news website is partaking in the insulting?

    Would they claim:

    "It's still offensive because knowing that other people can see it is offensive to me"

    Or maybe:

    "Although I didn't look at the images it is the fact that I now know people are saying bad things about my beliefs that is offensive"

    If people used these excuses wouldn't it highlight a real intention of wanting non-believers to follow believers own blasphemy rulings?

    And I wonder how anti-censorship advocators would feel about this approach. It would be an interesting compromise. I do think the reason news channels aren't showing the pics is more of a fear issue though over a respect issue.


    By the way. Bit of a tangent but are you aware of the youtuber "The Masked Arab"? He is an ex-muslim. He does his videos in both Arabic and English which is unusual. Just thought I would let you know about him. He is pretty good so check him out.

    1. I think your suggestion is brilliant :)

      I have heard of The Masked Arab, thanks.

  2. I've made a complaint about Nicky Campbell's unfair approach towards Al-Andalusi and Shafiq, it appears there was a pre-planned agenda to attack those two Muslims:

    Feel free to complain to the BBC if you feel the same way.


  3. You've confused the two Josephs:


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