Comparing BBC reporting on ISIS and Hamas tunnels

When in the summer of 2014 the BBC finally got round to providing its audiences with information about Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels thirteen days after the conflict began, the corporation was unable to describe the purpose of those tunnels to audiences in its own words.

Billed “Gaza ‘terror tunnels’ in 60 secs” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, the filmed report appeared under the equally interestingly punctuated title “Middle East crisis: Israel releases ‘Gaza tunnel footage'”. In the synopsis audiences were told that:tunnels vid 1

“Israel sent ground troops into Gaza on Thursday, saying the ground operation is necessary to target Hamas’ network of tunnels.

It has stated the tunnels pose a threat of terrorist attacks against the Israeli population.”

The film itself employed similarly qualified language:

Israel says tunnels like this are being used by militants to infiltrate its territory”.

“This Israel Defense Forces footage shows suspected Hamas fighters in bushes, firing on Israeli troops”.

Israel says it has been forced to send troops into Gaza to find and destroy tunnels like this one” [all emphasis added]

In contrast, five days after the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS began on October 16th 2016, the BBC’s Ahmed Maher was able to tell audiences that:tunnels-mosul-maher

“These tunnels are very important and a key element in the military strategy of the jihadist group.”

The BBC was similarly able to describe the purpose of the tunnels in its own words in the synopsis to Maher’s report.

“The tunnels have been mainly used as hideouts and escape routes by the militants.”

In an article by Richard Galpin published on October 25th under the title “Mosul battle: Four ways IS is fighting back” readers found a section sub-headed “Tunnels”.

“As the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces have advanced towards Mosul, regaining control of towns and villages which had been in the hands of IS, they have discovered networks of tunnels dug in many areas, a classic tactic for guerrilla warfare.

They seem to be primarily defensive, designed to protect the militants from air strikes, artillery and other attacks. Inside the tunnels troops have found sleeping bags, food supplies, water, and even electricity cables so the users have light.

The tunnels are often dug beneath buildings, including mosques, so the excavation work cannot be spotted. But the tunnels can also be used for surprise attacks.

In one of the most dramatic moments captured on video since the offensive began, an IS militant climbs out of a tunnel in a rural area and opens fire on a group of soldiers who had presumably thought they were on safe ground. The man then blows himself up before the soldiers can react.

It is assumed that there is a similar network of tunnels in Mosul city itself, which could enable IS fighters and their leaders to hide during the anticipated assault and if necessary escape.

Troops have found booby-traps in tunnels which the militants have been forced to flee, including one which had been attached to a copy of the Koran.”

Notably, the BBC has found no need to employ superfluous punctuation or qualifiers such as “Iraq says” when describing the existence and purpose of those tunnels in those and other reports.

Related Articles:        

BBC (sort of) gets round to telling audiences about Hamas tunnels

Twenty-three seconds of BBC reporting on Gaza tunnels

BBC fails to adequately inform audiences on terrorist tunnels (and worse)

Salafist quoted in BBC rejection of complaint supports Jihad in Syria

Readers will no doubt remember our recent publication of the reply from the BBC News website’s Middle East desk received by a reader in response to a complaint concerning Ahmed Maher’s article of May 1st 2013 in which he claimed that he could not find video evidence of Tunisian Islamists threatening Tunisian Jews.

The BBC reply based its dismissal of the complaint upon statements procured by BBC Arabic’s Ahmed Maher from one Sheikh Bashir bin Hassan. 

“I spoke to Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan, one of the most prominent Salafi, Wahabi sheikhs in post-revolution Tunisian, and asked him again about two things: the chants and the protest in front of the Tunis synagogue. He said: ‘The chants were not aimed at the Tunisian Jews; make no mistake. It was directed at Israel because Israel is a very sensitive issue in the Muslim world. Our Prophet Muhammad asked us to take good care and protect non-Muslims living in our countries like Christians and Jews.’

“Regarding the Tunis synagogue video, Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan said it was ‘misleading because it was taken out of context. The protest was not against the Tunisian Jews but rather it was in support of Salafists and other Islamist forces in Egypt. The protesters were heading towards the Egyptian embassy in Tunis and they stopped for moments in front of the synagogue to express their anger at the Zionist entity’s policies’.”

As we remarked at the time:

“Get it? According to the BBC, if Tunisian Islamists (and presumably any elsewhere too) chant “Killing the Jews is a duty” or “Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud” or ”the army of Mohammed will return”, then local Jews have nothing whatsoever to worry about because in fact they are not referring to them – or indeed to Jews at all – but to Israel, which should apparently be perfectly understandable. And the BBC website’s Middle East desk is quite sure of that because a prominent Salafist – who obviously thinks it unremarkable to chant hate speech relating to “the Zionist entity’s policies” in front of a synagogue in Tunisia – told them so.”

In another recent report by Ahmed Maher (“Syria conflict: Why did my Tunisian son join the rebels?“, May 15th 2013, filmed version here) we learn that Maher’s reliance upon – and amplification of – the opinions of the Saudi Arabia-educated Sheikh was not a one-off event. We also gain further insight into the views of the man the BBC News website’s Middle East desk apparently considers a quotable authority. Ahmed Maher & Salafists 2

“Many imams, like Sheikh Bashir bin Hassan, endorse jihad in Syria openly and are proud of what they see as the “heroic acts of the young jihadists”.

“They are on a humanitarian mission. The West insists on associating jihad and Salafism to terrorism, which is not true,” Sheikh Bashir told me in an interview inside a mosque in the town of Masakin, 200km (124 miles) south of Tunis.

For Sheikh Bashir, it is justifiable for Sunni Muslims to take arms against the Assad forces, who belong to a Shia sect, to protect oppressed fellow Sunnis – a stance that reflects the sectarian overtone of the conflict.

And he accuses the West of double standards.

“Let’s imagine that the British government decided to attack a county with scud missiles to stamp out a peaceful rebellion. Europeans would be watching entire families being slaughtered day in day out. What would the young do? They would flock in droves to England to protect the oppressed.” “

BBC licence fee payers will no doubt be very interested to know that the BBC considers it acceptable to judge the merits of a complaint on the basis of the opinions of a man who not only subscribes to the inherently antisemitic Wahhabi ideology, but is also openly supportive of jihadist violence. 

 

 

BBC whitewashes Islamist antisemitism with semantics

A reader has contacted BBC Watch concerning the reply received from the Middle East desk of the BBC News website following a complaint made with regard to the May 1st 2013 article by BBC Arabic’s Ahmed Maher entitled “Tunisia’s last Jews at ease despite troubled past”. 

The complaint related to Ahmed Maher’s following claim:

“Several media reports spoke about YouTube videos that showed radical Islamists threatening Tunisian Jews. Despite searching extensively, I did not find any of them.”

The reader provided four video clips in support of the complaint – viewable here, here, here and here.

Below is the reply received. 

“Dear XXXXX

Thank you for getting in touch. We have reviewed Ahmed Maher’s article “Tunisia’s last Jews at ease despite troubled past”, and discussed your complaint with him.

Regarding the You Tube links, Mr Maher reaffirms that he conducted an extensive search in Arabic and English to find clips or links of Salafists or hardliners attacking “Tunisian Jews” – a specification he makes clear in his piece. He found clips of rallies in support of Osama Bin Laden, but stresses he did not find anything attacking “Tunisian Jews” specifically.

Mr Maher says: “The chants heard in the four links cited [in your complaint] are against ‘the State of Israel and Jews but not Tunisian Jews’. The chants were echoed across several Muslim countries in the past two years in the wake of the Arab spring (and even before the revolutions) by extremists (even lay people and leftists in Egypt in particular who attacked the headquarters of the Israeli embassy in Giza in August 2011) to protest what they term ‘the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the blockade of the Gaza strip’. They chanted it in Tunisia during the visit of the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah. Again, the chants, which are in Arabic, were not directed at ‘Tunisian Jews’ but ‘Israel’ in general.

“I spoke to Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan, one of the most prominent Salafi, Wahabi sheikhs in post-revolution Tunisian, and asked him again about two things: the chants and the protest in front of the Tunis synagogue. He said: ‘The chants were not aimed at the Tunisian Jews; make no mistake. It was directed at Israel because Israel is a very sensitive issue in the Muslim world. Our Prophet Muhammad asked us to take good care and protect non-Muslims living in our countries like Christians and Jews.’

“Regarding the Tunis synagogue video, Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan said it was ‘misleading because it was taken out of context. The protest was not against the Tunisian Jews but rather it was in support of Salafists and other Islamist forces in Egypt. The protesters were heading towards the Egyptian embassy in Tunis and they stopped for moments in front of the synagogue to express their anger at the Zionist entity’s policies’.

Mr Maher also points out that the four Tunisian Jews quoted in his piece all spoke about “media exaggeration” about oppression of Jews in Tunisia.

He says: “I was told by many Tunisian Jews indeed and I do have their contacts, chiefly the head of the Jewish community in Tunisia Peres Trabelsi, that there was too much media fuss about the ‘oppression of Jews in Tunisia’ whether past or current. I was there to make a colour piece on the annual pilgrimage itself really, but every time I spoke to a Jewish pilgrim living in Djerba, and who can tell us their experience first-hand, they were keen on ‘dismissing media reports about us as exaggerated, as if we will become non-existent any longer. We are fed up’, as I was told by many of them. I have not put words into their mouths, neither did I push them to speak on this angle. There is no question about that.”

Kind regards

Middle East desk
BBC News website” 

Get it? According to the BBC, if Tunisian Islamists (and presumably any elsewhere too) chant “Killing the Jews is a duty” or “Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud” or “the army of Mohammed will return”, then local Jews have nothing whatsoever to worry about because in fact they are not referring to them – or indeed to Jews at all – but to Israel, which should apparently be perfectly understandable. And the BBC website’s Middle East desk is quite sure of that because a prominent Salafist – who obviously thinks it unremarkable to chant hate speech relating to “the Zionist entity’s policies” in front of a synagogue in Tunisia – told them so.

If that is the level of understanding and interpretation prevalent among staff at the BBC’s Middle East desk, then the only conclusion can be that the licence fee payer is funding an outfit not fit for purpose. 

BBC whitewashes anti-Jewish extremism in Tunisia

h/t LS

On May 1st a report appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the heading “At Ease” and with the by-line “Tunisia’s tiny Jewish community unruffled by troubled past”.

Tunisia Jews 1

The link leads to a piece entitled “Tunisia’s last Jews at ease despite troubled past” by BBC Arabic’s Ahmed Maher who appears to have recently visited Djerba at the time of the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage.   

Tunisia Jews 2

The article’s overall tone suggests that today, in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’, everything is sweetness and light for the few remaining Jews in Tunisia and that media reports of tension are exaggerated. Maher writes:

“Several media reports spoke about YouTube videos that showed radical Islamists threatening Tunisian Jews. Despite searching extensively, I did not find any of them.

The only one I came across was of Tunisian Islamists vowing support to the late al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden. Security has been a big issue at the Ghriba synagogue since a militants linked to al-Qaeda attacked it with a truck bomb, killing 21 people.”

So let’s help Mr Maher out a bit.

Here is the welcome for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at Tunis airport in January 2012. The sentiments are pretty clear:

“Killing the Jews is a duty.

Sweeping the Jews away is a duty.

Driving out the Jews is a duty.

Crushing the Jews is a duty.”

Here is footage of a demonstration outside the Grand Synagogue in Tunis on February 11th 2011 with chants of “Wait, wait Jews. The army of Mohammed is returning.”

This footage, filmed on the Avenue Habib Bourgiba in Tunis, is also from 2012:

This is footage of a rally held in February 2012 on the occasion of a visit to Tunisia by the Egyptian cleric Wajdi Ghoneim. Cries of “Khaybar Khaybar ya Yahud” can clearly be heard. 

Here is a report about some Tunisian Jews – apparently not very much “at ease” – protesting some of the above incidents.

Should Ahmed Maher choose to hone his internet search skills, there is also plenty of additional information concerning anti-Jewish extremism in Tunisia freely available. 

Once again, the BBC’s refusal to report accurately on issues relating to Jews in Arab countries past and present both compromises its impartiality and prevents BBC audiences from forming realistic, fact-based opinions. Maher’s whitewashing of Islamist extremism in Tunisia is all the more egregious given that his colleague Magdi Abdelhadi produced a refreshingly candid report on the subject only last October.

Finally, perhaps someone at the BBC Online Middle East desk could correct the rather obvious mistake in this passage from Maher’s report:

“Tunisian Jews consider the synagogue the most sacred Jewish place of worship in Africa. According to tradition, the first synagogue on the site was built with a stone or gate brought from King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed in 586.”

That should, of course, be 586 BCE. 

Related articles: Bataween at the ‘Point Of No Return’ blog writes about the same report by Ahmed Maher. 

                                        CiF Watch: “Guardian/AP story on Tunisia’s Jews omits history of antisemitic persecution“.