It's always refreshing when mainstream-media bigwigs are actually honest about the prejudices that guide their institutions. So one could only applaud when Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, admitted the other day something that is already obvious to anyone who watches or listens to the Beeb – namely, that the folks who run the shop are as quick to broadcast works that mock Christianity as they are to forbid the mockery of, shall we say, certain other faiths, and that the main reason is, quite simply, fear.
Thompson actually gave three reasons for the BBC's all-religions-are-not-created-equal policy. First, he said that the BBC treats Christianity differently from other faiths because, as “an established part of our cultural-built landscape,” it is “pretty broad shouldered” – whatever that means. Second, certain other religions have a “very close identity with ethnic minorities” who may feel that an attack on their beliefs is “racism by other means” – whatever that means. Third, and obviously most decisive in determining the Corporation's policy, Christians and adherents of at least one of those “other” religions have, shall we say, rather divergent ways of reacting to insults to their religion. “Without question,” Thompson said, “'I complain in the strongest possible terms' is different from 'I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write.'”
Thompson said that this distinction “definitely raises the stakes.” Yes, and it also separates the men from the boys. When the most powerful media organization in the U.K. is run by someone whose readiness to admit his utter lack of courage would seem, from all the evidence, to reflect the fact that the concept of courage isn't even on his radar, it doesn't bode well for the future of British freedom.
Another point that was important to Thompson was that, as he put it, “for a Muslim, a depiction...of the Prophet Mohammed might have the emotional force of a piece of grotesque child pornography.” He added that “secularists” fail “to understand...what blasphemy feels like to someone who is a realist in their religious belief.” I would humbly submit that Thompson himself fails to understand something rather important – namely, that when the head of an outfit like the BBC starts thinking and talking in such terms, he has become nothing more or less than a sharia puppet.
Another thing Thompson apparently fails to understand is this: when it becomes the duty of citizens in a secular democracy to edit what they say or write in order to avoid committing what the adherents of some religion or other might consider blasphemy, then secular democracy, individual liberty, and freedom of expression are, in practice, no more. I wonder if it has occurred to Thompson at all that for more than a few freedom-loving people in his own country and elsewhere, the fact that a man in his position could follow such an outrageously pusillanimous policy might well, to coin a phrase, “have the emotional force of a piece of grotesque child pornography”?
I further wonder what kind of emotional force this story has for a person like Thompson. Here's what happened: David Jones, creator of a popular children's character in Britain and, apparently, a perfectly respectable man of sixty-seven, was going through security at Gatwick the other day when, according to the Telegraph, “he spotted a Muslim woman in hijab pass through the area without showing her face” and, in a “light-hearted aside to a security official who had been assisting him,” said: “If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.”
Kapow! Poor Mr. Jones spent the next hour or so being lectured about what he was and was not allowed to say by an airline official, a police officer, and several security guards, one of whom identified herself as a Muslim and told him she was “deeply distressed” by his comment. Of course it was Jones who was being unjustly harassed and who had every right to feel “deeply distressed,” but, as he later pointed out, “Something like George Orwell’s 1984 now seems to have arrived in Gatwick airport,” so that it is now considered reasonable for individuals in positions of power to claim that they are being caused “distress” by the very people whom they, in an outrageous abuse of power, are in the very process of tormenting. The cop on the scene even instructed Jones “that we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said.”
For a prime example of how the BBC deals with the fact that “we now live in a different time,” by the way, check out this report by the Beeb's Stacey Dooley. The premise of the piece is that Dooley is visiting her hometown, Luton, to discover if the situation with extreme Islam is really as bad there as some people say. Upon arriving in town, she stumbles upon a Muslim march whose participants are chanting “To hell with the U.K.” and carrying signs calling for sharia law. There are plenty of women in niqab, one of whom tells Dooley to put on some clothes. For a while you think that Dooley is actually going to wake up and smell the coffee. But in the end, ignoring everything she's witnessed, the little ditz closes with the standard, canned, de rigueur, mainstream-media conclusion – namely, that both sides need to listen to each other with respect, for the only reason for all this intercultural friction is “ignorance.”
Given the deliberate, depressing refusal of so many members of the British media to face up to the advent of sharia in the land of Magna Carta and Winston Churchill, it was at least a bit cheering the other day to see Brendan O'Neill, in the Telegraph, spelling out the dramatic, and telling, difference between the way in which the framers of the U.S. Constitution understood the concept of rights and the way today's European leaders think about the same subject.
While the makers of the American revolution “emphasized individuals' capacity to make judgments...free from state interference,” explained O'Neill, Europe today is plagued by a “paternalistic” notion of human rights “in which the individual is treated as an at-risk creature who must be protected from harm and bullying by...human-rights lawyers.” While the U.S. Bill of Rights concisely sets limits on state power, the European Convention on Human Rights “spends thousands of words telling the state what it should be doing...and how it must go about protecting individuals from abuse and mental distress.” And while the U.S. Bill of Rights makes it clear that free speech is sacrosanct, the European document is awash in weasel words, saying that “freedom of expression” is “subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety,” and on and on.
Which is, of course, simply a very long and legalistic way of saying that in Europe today, even (alas) in Britain, freedom of speech is severely endangered – just as Mark Thompson (whether he realizes it or not) has essentially admitted, and as David Jones experienced at Gatwick, and as the BBC's own Stacey Dooley, despite having seen reality close-up in her hometown of Luton, still refuses to grasp.
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