The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Moral Maze’ describes itself as providing listeners with “combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week’s news stories”.
If, however, listeners assumed that serious debate of a moral issue would necessarily require getting beyond politicised clichés and soundbites to deal with the real issues at stake, the November 18th edition of that programme (available here for a limited period of time) showed that not to be the case.
The title of that edition was “Islamic Terrorism” and the programme’s synopsis explains:
“The Moral Maze has been following the issue of Islamic terrorism, fundamentalism and how we should react to it since 1994. Paris has now been added to the list that already includes London, Madrid and many others over those years. This week we’ll be inviting back witnesses who’ve appeared on our programme about this issue over the decades to take an historical perspective and to ask “where we go from here?” Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox, Michael Portillo and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Inayat Bunglawala, Simon Jenkins, Dr Taj Hargey and Edward Lucas.”
The inclusion of Inayat Bunglawala on that guest list meant that Radio 4 listeners were guaranteed to hear the kind of conspiracy theory based Islamist messaging which Bunglawala has been touting for years – and of course the programme’s producers must have been aware of that when they invited him to take part.
The result is that – rather than helping BBC audiences to make sense of the issue of Islamist terrorism – the programme ended up providing an ill-challenged platform for Bunglawala’s politicised messaging.
Michael Buerk: “Our first witness is Inayat Bunglawala […]. He’s been on The Moral Maze a couple of times before – most recently in July 2007 on the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings talking about this issue. Your view then – looking back at the transcripts – was that it wasn’t about Islam; that British foreign policy had enraged those that became terrorists and perhaps even poverty had played more of a part. Is that still your view?”
Inayat Bunglawala: “I still think that it’s largely politics which is acting as a driver to recruit young Muslim men to the cause of extremist groups like ISIS and…ehm…helping resolve important issues in the Middle East will go a long way to draining extremist groups of the support that they’re craving from young people.”
Michael Portillo: “If it’s a sort of revenge against Western foreign policy, what was it that had provoked them into the 9/11 event in 2001 which was before Iraq and before Afghanistan?”
Inayat Bunglawala: “Well we only need to look at the statements Al Qaeda was issuing in the run-up to those attacks…ahm…on 9/11. I mean Al Qaeda believed that the United States was the main funder and armor of Israel and the dispossession of the Palestinian people has always been a massive rallying cry for extremist groups which is why seeking an urgent solution to the problem of the dispossession of the Palestinian people – they have been now occupied for 49 years now and there’s not been any sanctions applied to Israel. So seeking a resolution to that central, key Middle East dispute must be seen as a key part…a key part of defeating extremism.”
Notably, whilst other contributors did later question Bunglawala’s basic theory that Western foreign policy is the root cause of Islamist extremism, not one of them adequately challenged his very selective and redundant portrayal of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the prime factor on the Islamist terrorists’ grievance list or his subsequent conclusions. Moreover, none of them raised the very pertinent point that the ‘occupation’ described by Bunglawala came about due to the belligerent invasion of Israel by Arab states which – in a manner eerily resonant today – had long refused to countenance the sovereignty of a different ethnic and religious minority in the region, even before their attempt to erase it in 1967.
The fact that the no less relevant issue of the part played by the Sunni-Shia dispute in the rise of Islamist extremism was completely absent from this debate was yet another factor which limited its ability to enhance audience understanding of the topic supposedly under discussion.
It is not unreasonable to assume that in the wake of the latest attacks in Paris, BBC audiences are more than ever in need of clear, sensible and informative discussion on the issue of Islamist terror. The UK has plenty of experts with a real, objective contribution to make to discussion of that subject. Unfortunately for Radio 4 audiences, Inayat Bungawala is not one of them.