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The BBC makes an Islamic Terrorist into a Hero and a Victim



As the UK’s public service broadcaster, the BBC’s Royal Charter lays out its mission statement: “To act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.” This is further clarified by its editorial values: “Our audiences have a right to receive creative material, information and ideas without interference. But our audiences also expect us to balance our right to freedom of expression with our responsibilities to our audiences and to our contributors, subject to restrictions in law.”

In other words, the broadcaster attempts to walk the tightrope between free expression and good taste. This is a delicate act: not least because good taste is entirely subjective, but also because one man’s freedom of expression is increasingly another man’s hate speech.

Having acknowledged that, the very least the taxpayer might expect for the princely sum of £159 per annum is that critical issues be met with dispassionate rigour; that scandals be rewarded with prompt exposure, and that bans be meted out only to those most egregious of persona non grata. The merest scrutiny of BBC funambulism, however, highlights the fact that this is a line the BBC does not tread particularly well.

Take Brexit, which proved as close to a 50:50 decision as you can get. However, you wouldn’t know it from the BBC coverage, independent analysis of which revealed a shocking disparity between the 23% of contributors to programmes who spoke in favour of Brexit, compared to the 58% who were in favour of Remain. You wouldn’t know it either from the shameful lack of interest shown in the sex abuse scandal of Jimmy Saville (covered up by the BBC), or the decade-long dismissal of the Muslim rape gangs plaguing Britain.

You might also conclude that the bar for exclusion was set rather low for artists and material the BBC deems ‘too dangerous’ for public consumption. Of course there will be those grateful that we were spared exposure to the Sex Pistols, but Blondie, The Pogues, and the author Enid Blyton? Then there are severed ties with those Broadcasting House (BBC headquarters) once deemed national treasures. Take veteran Dame Jenni Murray, ironically sacked after 33 years presenting “Woman’s Hour” for having the temerity to challenge the trans lobby. A touch over-the-top, wouldn’t you say?

Were it the case that the BBC was merely circumspect right across the board, perhaps this could be forgiven. But the corporation’s hypocrisy on a range of issues is hard to ignore. The recent Qatari world cup is a good case in point. Pundits for the broadcaster spent half their time highlighting human-rights abuses, and the other half lining their own pockets. Then there’s the risible incongruence between Broadcasting House’s enormous carbon footprint, and its desire to lecture the world on the topic of climate change.

But perhaps worst of all is the Beeb’s selective outrage over employee misdemeanours. Radio presenter Danny Baker was fired back in 2019 after posting an ill-judged tweet depicting the Royal baby as a chimpanzee. Just a year later, the BBC defended comedienne Sophie Duker’s “Kill whitey” comments, dismissing the 1,300 Ofcom complaints with the insistence that it was “satirical content.”

Whatever standards and morals the BBC once upheld, it has been plagued for decades by an insatiable focus on race. In 2001, then Director-General Greg Dyke accused the corporation of being “hideously white.” Combine that with pressure from the regulator to pursue evermore inflexible diversity quotas (currently standing at 50:20:12—in reference to the proportion of women, black and minority ethnic, and disabled people within the organisation), and it is difficult to conclude that “high quality and distinctive output” has not simply been replaced by box-ticking.

BBC stalwarts like Sue Barker may well bemoan their unceremonious dismissal; Jon Holmes regret his “recasting with more women and diversity”; and Mark Lawrenson claim he was fired simply for being a white male, but diversity is a one-way process; which is why you are increasingly less likely to be hired at Broadcasting House, if you are of a white persuasion.

So when the opportunity arose for a new podcast on BBC Sounds, while you can guarantee who won’t feature on it, you might be surprised to learn the target audience the Beeb has opted for. Yes, the job has fallen to Shamima Begum: the schoolgirl who ran off to Syria in 2015 to become a jihadi bride for the Islamic State. Begum stars in the 10-part series “I’m Not a Monster,” the first episode of which premiered last week.

If Begum has fallen off your radar, allow me to jog your memory. This is the woman who “wasn’t fazed” by the sight of severed heads in bins, nor suffered any pangs of remorse when interviewed four years on. She claimed the Manchester Arena bombing was “justified,” and that she was not aware ISIS was a death cult. She claims she never did anything “dangerous” in Syria, although witnesses confirm she was a cruel enforcer for the morality police, who also sewed men into suicide vests.

It is of course impossible to gauge what proportion of the BBC’s diversity quota is allocated for returning jihadis, but what is clear is that the current thinking at Broadcasting House is that it’s “best to be ahead of the game.”

While BBC Sounds has quite understandably drawn widespread public condemnation for handing Begum a platform, on a personal note I consider her story to be unquestionably of public interest. A gritty, unadorned exposé of precisely who her contacts were, how she found them, and most crucially, why she decided to join ISIS in the first place, would go a long way to connecting the dots our politicians seem incapable of. It could also serve to ensure such tragedies are less likely in future. Indeed, the BBC alludes to this in response to such criticism: “This is not a platform for Shamima Begum to give her unchallenged story. This is a robust, public interest investigation into who she really is and what she really did.”

So, does the podcast live up to its promise? In a word, no. The first clue is the subtitle: “Seeking to separate fact from fiction, the multi award-winning series returns to investigate the divisive story of Shamima Begum.”

The story of Shamima Begum is not divisive in any sense of the word. Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Farage are divisive; ISIS is not. If anything, Begum is a unifying figure: eight out of ten Brits support the revocation of her citizenship, and have no desire to ever see her back upon our shores.

Joshua Baker, the podcast’s author, may be an acclaimed filmmaker in his own right, but there appears scant journalistic integrity on display. Instead of using such a golden opportunity to ask pressing questions, Baker seems content to elicit banal observations—like the fact that Begum packed her suitcase full of Aero chocolate bars, because “You can find a lot of things in this country, but you cannot find mint chocolate; that’s a tragedy, it’s a tragedy.” Perhaps the audience is supposed to overlook the beheading, and conclude “Ah, she likes chocolate—she is just like us.”

The tone of the piece is decidedly partisan. Baker makes around half a dozen references to Begum being only 15, and asks just one pressing question during the entire 30 minutes: “You do accept you joined a terrorist organisation?” to which Begum agrees.

Then there are Baker’s three interviewees, who are supposed to provide a forensic picture of what happened. The first is Salman Farsi, a communications officer at East London Mosque, who dissolves dramatically into tears after receiving a phone call from Begum’s elder sister. I find his testimony unconvincing, particularly when Begum’s friend, Sharmeena Begum was reportedly radicalised at the East London Mosque just three months prior.

Then there’s ‘Tas,’ an impeccably-dressed lawyer friend of Salman’s, who commented on his 20 years as a criminal lawyer that he had: “Never seen anything so thoroughly dry-cleaned of evidence or information, as had these young teenagers managed to do themselves. So that was very, very surprising to me.”

When asked why, he explained:

Well, it shows a level of commitment. These were intelligent girls, who were committed to a plan to leave, and also that they must have had a great deal of trust in whoever it is that they were speaking to, to follow their advice very, very carefully.

Finally, we hear evidence from a school friend ‘Zara,’ whose testimony extends to the fact that Shamima was quiet, that they used to chat in the mosque prayer room, and that she was surprised to be bombarded by journalists in the wake of Begum’s disappearance.

Baker has clearly developed a relationship with Begum over the intervening eight years, and no doubt a degree of this is necessary to gain her trust. Sadly, he may be incapable of the requisite emotional detachment essential for such a forensic task. Wilful or not, the whole enterprise smells rather putridly like a thinly-veiled attempt to influence the legal battle Begum is currently fighting with the Home Office, and their decision to strip her of her citizenship.

Begum insists: “I’m not this person that they think I am being perceived as in the media, you know I’m just so much more than ISIS and I’m so much more than everything I’ve been through.” As marketable as professional victims are right now, I think in all honesty the British public prefers Meghan and Harry; and that’s a sentence I never thought I would write. If the BBC genuinely intends to walk the line between good taste and freedom of expression, then it looks like the Shamima Begum experiment may end up being a gross miscalculation. For a publicly-funded broadcaster hyper-sensitive to those with an excess of whiteness, but unfazed by those with an excess of terrorism, is frankly obscene. Moreover, should Begum ever be returned home, her lifetime surveillance costs are anticipated to reach £10 Million. With the UK counter terrorism bill getting on for £1 Billion, asking the taxpayer to fund jihadi PR campaigns may just prove a burnt bridge too far.


Alfrescian (Inf)
That's what happens when you elect a muslim PeeM. In no time UK will be declared an Islamic state.