by Chauncey Tinker
On a BBC Asian Network program, the Muslim presenter Shazia Awan posed the question “What Is The Right Punishment For Blasphemy?. The question is obviously loaded with the implication that there SHOULD be a punishment for blasphemy. The question was also asked on the BBC Asian Network’s twitter feed (see above screenshot). During the radio program, she then continued to ask “should there even be a punishment for it?”, almost as an afterthought. There have been a great many articles written about this radio program already, but so far they all seem to have missed the fact that the BBC have committed a criminal offence under current UK law by airing it.
Before we take a closer look at this program, I want to cast people’s minds back to a case last year, where a man called Stephen Bennett was prosecuted and convicted for posting “grossly offensive” messages about women and Muslims on Facebook. Only one of the things he wrote was made public, which was this sentence:
Donít come over to this country and treat it like your own. Britain first.
He was sentenced to a 12 month community order and one month community service (forced labour) for this “crime”. As we take a look at some of the things that were said on this BBC radio program, please ask yourself – are the things being said at the very LEAST grossly offensive (far more so than Stephen Bennett’s statement)?
The first caller (@10:24) argued against punishment for blasphemy, he thought the very idea of blasphemy is subjective, and that Pakistan should reconsider its blasphemy law.
The second caller (@13:20) was a man called Wajid Ali (Burki?) from Birmingham – a city in the UK. This caller supported the principle of a death sentence for blasphemers under Islamic law in Muslim majority countries, but he seemed confused about whether blasphemers in non-Muslim countries should also be killed. For example he said he was upset that Salman Rushdie had not yet been killed (around @18:00). Salman Rushdie does not live in a Muslim Country, he has lived in the US since 2000 before which he was living in the UK under very necessary police protection. Shazia pressed the caller on his view, asking “do you not think that the death penalty is a step too far?”. By the phrasing of this question we might even suspect that Shazia herself thinks that there should in fact be a punishment for blasphemy, but that the death penalty would be excessive. The caller responded saying that the punishment should be determined by the law of the land, so we can only conclude from all this that he was disappointed that Salman Rushdie had not been murdered by a private citizen. At the very least this is inescapably a very grossly offensive point of view, at the worst it might almost be considered an incitement to murder.
@31:40 A caller called Ishaan from Cardiff. Ishaan suggested that only Islamic scholars should be making decisions about what is the right punishment for blasphemy. Then he said: “sooner or later Islam is going to be taking over anyway.”, a statement that was surely grossly offensive to all the non-Muslims in the UK who do not wish to live in an Islamic state. Ishaan was in favour of harsh Islamic Sharia punishments as he felt these acted as a deterrent. He also accused the BBC Asian Network of bias in favour of India – “they’re playing Bangla, Indian songs”. Apparently he is a regular caller on the show.
@39:00 A guest called Dr. Aisha recounts a story about Mohammed where a woman was throwing rubbish at him and yet he went to talk to her when she fell ill – “that shows kindness” said Dr. Aisha. She also mentions the fact that the Islamic texts recount stories of harsh retributions being meted out to Mohammed’s critics (including murder) by his followers, but she “explains” this by saying that Mohammed was running a state (suggesting such punishment was necessary). The fact that she is the only guest interviewed on the program should be noted.
@42:19 Shazia reads out a message that claims that blasphemy against the monarch in the UK is a punishable offence. Shazia said that “was a really really valid point”. Technically that person does have a point because anything at all that anyone said about anyone on electronic media could be considered a crime if it was deemed “grossly offensive” under the Communications Act 2003, but this is not limited to insulting the monarchy. In reality nobody has been prosecuted for insulting the monarch in the UK for a very, very long time. Here is an example of humour directed at our monarch that has not been prosecuted and is still available on youtube:
@43:00 Shazia reads out messages including another one expressing surprise that Salman Rushdie is still alive.
@50:21 A caller called Kumar complains he has never heard authors such as Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin being interviewed on the BBC Asian Network. In fact he says that the network has never interviewed an author who is currently under threat of death. “Our values are under threat by a medieval way of life”, he said. Well said that man. Shazia asks him to put all this in writing and send the network a letter about it.
@54:48 Shazia asks a caller called Malik a loaded question about social media suggesting some people on social media are just posting things in order to be provocative.
@58:00 Shazia says a lot of support is coming in for the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s move to crack down on blasphemous content on social media. I am not sure whether most of these messages are coming from UK citizens, but since this is a BBC programme I think its not unreasonable to assume so.
Apologies for poorly worded question from #AsianNetwork yday. Q was in context of Pak asking FB to help we shd have made that clear
The context was no excuse at all, quite the reverse, as a great many twitter users proceeded to point out. The “context” of the question was not current law in the UK (which abolished the blasphemy law in 2008), but the current law in Pakistan, where the punishment is currently the death penalty. In the case of Asia Bibi, who has been on death row for 7 years in appalling conditions, the authorities there are clearly hoping that she will die in prison and save them from the worldwide outrage that would necessarily result if they carried out the sentence.
We never intend to imply Blasphemy should be punished. Provocative question that got it wrong
OK, now they are getting it.
As usual the BBC are also guilty of pro-Islamic bias here, the only guest defended Islam. Nobody made the point that it has been convincingly argued that Islam blasphemes against Christianity –
What should be the punishment for THAT, I wonder?
By now I think any “reasonable ordinary person” would agree with me that views were aired on this programme that were at the very least grossly offensive. Under current UK law (Communications Act 2003) it is illegal to broadcast a communication on an electronic network that is “grossly offensive”.
The program may have been broadcast live (making it impossible to know exactly what would be said), but by the phrasing of the question the producers of the program have actively encouraged such sentiments to be expressed. At least one of the callers who expressed grossly offensive views was a regular caller on the show, and the producers will have been well aware of what sort of reactions to expect. As a UK Muslim herself, the presenter will also have been well aware that those views expressed are scarcely uncommon among Muslims in the UK today (polls have also shown this to be the case as well). In short, the makers of this programme knew full well what to expect.
All this considered then I think it is quite reasonable to suggest that the producers deliberately sought these grossly offensive opinions in order to create a sensational program and that therefore by broadcasting the programme they are wilfully in contravention of the Communications Act.
What’s more, in comparison with Mr. Stephen Bennett’s comments, that were merely published on a facebook account, the BBC’s programme was broadcast to a large audience nationwide and is still available for listening from the BBC’s website. The influence the BBC wields is obviously not even comparable with Mr. Stephen Bennett’s influence – he is a humble cleaner.
So readers, I wish to ask you, what do you think would be an appropriate punishment for the BBC, for this criminal act? Unfortunately when the BBC is fined it is those who pay the licence fee who have to foot the bill. Therefore, fining the BBC will only serve to punish those who are already suffering from the BBC’s poor quality and wildly biased output.
I think that an appropriate punishment for the BBC would be that it should be privatized in totality. I believe that the BBC should also lose all their rights to broadcast TV channels and FM radio programs on the airwaves, and instead be forced to compete on the internet with everybody else. This is not a harsh punishment, certainly I am not calling for any BBC operatives to be beheaded or even to receive milder punishments such as flogging. All I am asking for is a level playing field, let the BBC compete in the free market. The BBC should also be renamed as it cannot be said to represent the views of most British people.
This will take a while to accomplish of course – it will require some legislation to be put forward in parliament. In the meantime the BBC Asian Network should sack the producers and the presenter. The network should also show some remorse by following that excellent suggestion made by one of the callers on the program, and interview Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin etc..
If we lived in a country where equality before the law was upheld then I think a 12 month community order and 1 month's forced labour for the producers and the presenter of this show, and the callers who expressed grossly offensive opinions, would most certainly be called for (at the very minimum). However, personally I would prefer to hear all these grossly offensive opinions, so that we know what people think. If these opinions are suppressed then we are merely sweeping problems under the carpet. I hope that readers will agree that the Communications Act 2003 needs to be repealed as soon as possible as it is a gross attack on the freedom of speech in the UK.
However I also feel that the BBC really should be privatized and renamed as I suggested, because it has demonstrated relentless and disgraceful bias for far too long. The "British" Broadcasting Corporation does not represent the British people in any way shape or form.