Nick Cohen

Should Christians kill Mark Thompson?

Should Christians kill Mark Thompson?
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I’d rather they didn’t. But perhaps a campaign of clerical terror would make the BBC ‘respect’ Christianity.

According to the Telegraph, the director general of the BBC said it handles Islam with far more sensitivity than Christianity because: ‘The point is that for a Muslim, a depiction, particularly a comic or demeaning depiction, of the Prophet Mohammed might have the emotional force of a piece of grotesque child pornography. One of the mistakes secularists make is not to understand the character of what blasphemy feels like to someone who is a realist in their religious belief.’

Islam was a religion ‘almost entirely’ practised by people who already may feel in other ways ‘isolated’, ‘prejudiced against’ and who may regard an attack on their religion as ‘racism by other means’. Christians, by contrast, have broad shoulders.

So far, this sounds like the normal cant, The BBC restrains its staff because of a desire to combat racism.

But unlike so many in the arts and journalism, Thompson is not a humbug. He freely admits that fear rather ‘respect’ generates censorship at the BBC. Talking of the angry letters he receives, he said: ‘Without question, “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”. This definitely raises the stakes.’

For all his honesty, Thompson needs to ask himself some searching questions.

1. Islam is no more a religion confined to the poor and the marginalised than Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism are. Powerful men with the ability to afflict harm and death on others use it to justify theocratic rule in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and para-military terror across the world. If the BBC will not criticise the fundamentals of their faith, it is doing what they would want it to do by damning their Christian competitors while handing them a free pass.

2. It is not just Iran and Saudi Arabia where Islam has the power to dominate. In Britain, liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims need to confront the bigots in their own communities. The liberal BBC will not help them or report their struggles for fear of violent attack. Its cowardice and a misplaced anti-racism have made it a reactionary force that cannot help immigrants and their children, who are struggling to escape taboos.

3. He should now stop Andrew Marr, Ed Stourton, John Humphrys and the rest of his staff from engaging in double-speak about ‘militant secularism’. There are no militant secularists threatening to kill him, Marr, Stourton and Humphrys — although some of us do feel the occasional twinge in the trigger finger. The militancy is all from the other side.

4. There is no blasphemy law in Britain. By bowing to the threat of extra-legal violence, the BBC is saying that it accords greater ‘respect’ to those who threaten crimes, than those who do not.

I discuss the hypocrisies and contortions of modern censorship in my recent You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (I know I promised not to mention it again, but it is relevant.)

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

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