Mainstreaming the eradication of Israel concept on BBC Two

On October 17th the producers of the BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight‘ thought it would be a good idea to bring a person the BBC knows to be a terror supporter into the studio to talk about the Khashoggi affair.

At 3:05 minutes into the interview with Azzam Tamimi, presenter Evan Davis widened the topic of discussion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Davis: “I hear everything you’re saying but the standards of the region are not high, are they? And there are people on your side of the argument – you support Hamas, you’re a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – people on your side of the argument of course who do cruel things, assassinations. These are not techniques that are kind of, you know, unique to the Saudis.”

Tamimi: “Are you accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of doing this?”

Davis: “No, but Hamas certainly.”

Tamimi:  “The Muslim Brotherhood today is paying for defending democracy. We have today forty thousand prisoners in Egyptian jails because they stood for democracy.”

Refraining from challenging Tamimi’s absurd portrayal of an Islamist movement as ‘defenders of democracy’, Davis went on:

Davis: “And Hamas of course, in its struggle against Fatah and against Israel…”

Tamimi: “No; Hamas is a national liberation movement. Hamas is struggling for liberation of Palestine which is occupied by the Zionists. But that’s a different issue. Let’s not confuse issues.”

Davis: “Well I don’t want to…I don’t want to get in there but I was just wanting to make that point.”

Not only did Davis not “make that point” but his introduction of the unrelated and irrelevant topic of Hamas actually served no purpose other than to provide Tamimi with a cue for an inaccurate portrayal of Hamas and its aims which went completely unquestioned by Davis.

Like Hamas, Azzam Tamimi’s definition of ‘occupation’ includes every square metre of Israel. And thus – with no challenge whatsoever from the BBC’s presenter – an extremist terror supporter got a free pass to mainstream the concept that the eradication of the Jewish state is ‘liberation’ on prime time British television.

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Superficial BBC News reporting from Qatar hinders understanding

Plucky: Having or showing determined courage in the face of difficulties.”

The article promoted by the BBC’s Middle East bureau chief in that Tweet appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 5th under the headline “Qatar cash and cows help buck Gulf boycott“. Written by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell after a visit to Doha, the report includes a video about a dairy farm in Qatar in which BBC audiences are told that: [emphasis added]

“The cows were shipped, and even flown into Qatar when it was cut off by its Arab neighbours. They accused it of supporting terrorism – which it denies.”

In the article itself readers find the following:

“On 5 June last year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off all diplomatic, trade and transport links to Qatar.

They accused it of supporting terrorism, stirring up regional instability and seeking close ties with their arch-rival, Iran.

Qatar denied that and refused to comply with a long list of demands, including closing its Al Jazeera news network. […]

“The main thing that the blockading states are aiming for [is] a power consolidation in the region,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, tells me.

They started to draw the picture of terrorist on anyone who is different from them.””

The exact same messaging is seen in the synopsis to a filmed report that also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 5th.

“Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani says “they started to draw the picture of terrorist on anyone who is different from them.””

The same statement opens the filmed report itself.

So what information were BBC audiences given that would help them judge whether there is any truth in that repeatedly promoted claim, according to which accusations of support for terrorism are merely a smear because Qatar is “different”?”

Knell’s portrayal of the issue begins with a year-old story.

“Qatar blames the start of last year’s crisis on what it says was a cyber-attack on its state-run news agency, which published comments purportedly from the ruling emir.

He was quoted as expressing sympathy for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and claiming that Donald Trump might not last long as US president.

However, analysts say the roots of the disagreement go back much further.

“This was an issue that was kept bottled for 20 years but it just came out in the open a year ago,” says Ali Shihabi, the Saudi founder of the Washington-based, Arabia Foundation.

He refers to tapes that emerged after the fall of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 which appeared to show the Qatari emir’s father plotting against Saudi royals when he was ruler.

Mr Shihabi says that Qatar reneged on agreements to stop payments to dissidents in other Arab countries and gave them a platform on Al Jazeera.”

Who those “dissidents” are and what they ‘dissented’ remains unclear in Knell’s report.

Significantly, Knell made no effort whatsoever to inform BBC audiences of Qatar’s record of negligence on terror financing. Neither did she bother to tell audiences about Qatar’s selective definitions of terrorism, its hosting of senior Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood figures or Qatari leaders’ ties to a terror financier.

As one Middle East analyst put it earlier this year:

“Qatar is on a charm offensive designed to portray itself as a victim of rivalries in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies have isolated the emirate. […]

The problem with Qatar’s attempt to rebrand itself as the moderate state being victimized by Saudi Arabia is that Qatar has never come clean about its support for Hamas and terror financing. “Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally, has for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability,” U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said at the Center for a New American Security in March 2014. He said that fundraisers for Al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, then known as Nusra Front, had operated in Kuwait and Qatar.”

Yolande Knell’s superficial reporting clearly does nowhere near enough to enhance the ability of the BBC’s funding public to look beyond that charm offensive. Quite the opposite in fact: it provides back wind for Qatar’s rebranding campaign.

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Filling in the blanks in BBC reports on Hamas, Qatar and Iran

BBC media editor’s softball interview with fellow journalist sold audiences short

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC reports on designation of a terror group it previously ignored

On January 31st the BBC News website published a report titled “Ismail Haniya: US designates Hamas leader as terrorist“.

“The United States has designated the political leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas as a terrorist and imposed sanctions on him.

The state department said Ismail Haniya had “close links with Hamas’ military wing” and been a “proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians”.”

That presentation failed to inform BBC audiences that the US announcement concerning the man described last year by the BBC as “a pragmatist” also included the following:

“Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’ military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians. He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.” [emphasis added]

The report went on:

“Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, is already designated a terrorist group by the US, Israel, the EU and UK.

It denounced as “worthless” the blacklisting of Mr Haniya.

A statement from the group said the decision would “not dissuade us from continuing to hold fast to the option of resisting and expelling the [Israeli] occupation”.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the term “resisting” is a euphemism for terrorism against Israelis or that as far as Hamas is concerned “the occupation” means Israel in its entirety.

Neither were they told that additional reactions from Hamas officials described the US announcement as “a violation of international laws” and “a reflection of the domination by a gang of Zionists of the American decision” and the BBC’s article was not updated to reflect the fact that the PLO also later condemned the designation.

The article continued:

“The state department also designated three militant groups as terrorist entities:

  • Harakat al-Sabireen, an Iranian-backed group that operates primarily in the Gaza and the West Bank and is led by Hisham Salem, the former leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is accused of planning and executing attacks, including firing rockets from Gaza into Israel
  • Liwa al-Thawra, a group active in Egypt’s Qalyubia and Menoufia provinces that has said it was behind the assassination of an Egyptian army commander in Cairo in 2016 and the bombing of a police training centre in Tanta in 2017
  • HASM, another Egyptian group that has claimed it assassinated an officer from Egypt’s National Security Agency and carried out an attack on Myanmar’s embassy in Cairo”

BBC audiences reading this report would no doubt have been surprised to learn of the existence of the first organisation on that list given that – as noted here over two years ago – the corporation has failed to produce any reporting whatsoever on Harakat al-Sabireen.

Readers were also not told that the other two groups on the list are suspected of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence when they read at the end of the report that the US Secretary of State said that “[t]hese designations target key terrorist groups and leaders – including two sponsored and directed by Iran” [emphasis added], BBC audiences would not understand that, in addition to Harakat al-Sabireen, he was referring to Hamas.

As regular readers know, the BBC has long refrained from producing any meaningful reporting on the topic of Iranian funding of Hamas terror.  

Related Articles:

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The news the BBC has to omit in order to keep up its narrative

BBC audiences in the dark on Iranian terror financing yet again

Filling in the blanks in BBC reports on Hamas, Qatar and Iran

BBC News website plays along with the ‘softer’ Hamas spin

 

 

BBC media editor’s softball interview with fellow journalist sold audiences short

Back in June BBC Radio 4 aired an edition of ‘The Media Show’ which is still available online and includes an item (from 00:46 here) which is described as follows in the synopsis:

“Saudi Arabia and her allies have demanded that Qatar shuts down a number of media outlets as a condition of ending the crisis in the region. David Hearst is editor in chief of Middle East Eye. Crispin Blunt MP is Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.”

Readers may recall that at the time a number of Arab states issued a list of demands (which was later modified) to Qatar that included:

“…stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. […]

…the Saudi-led alliance regards the Arabic wing of al-Jazeera, the most widely watched broadcaster in the Arab world, as a propaganda tool for Islamists that also undermines support for their governments. The list of demands also called for other Doha-supported news outlets to be shut, including the New Arab and Middle East Eye.

Other key demands mapped out by Saudi include Qatar severing all ties with terrorist groups, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” 

The framing of the story by ‘The Media Show’, however, portrayed it solely as an issue of press freedom and made no effort to examine whether or not there was any substance to the Saudi claims concerning the named media organisations – including ‘The New Arab’, founded by Azmi Bishara  and Al Jazeera.

Presenter Amol Rajan – who is the BBC’s media editor – introduced the item as follows:

Rajan: “But first more on a story we’ve been covering on ‘The Media Show’. It’s the demand by Saudi Arabia that Qatar shuts down a number of media outlets. Qatar is currently being isolated by its neighbours who claim the country supports terrorism. The closure of the Qatari funded TV network Al Jazeera is near the top of Saudi Arabia’s list of demands to resolve the crisis. Saudi Arabia says Al Jazeera is Qatari propaganda; a charge denied last week on this programme by Giles Trendle, the acting managing director of Al Jazeera English.”

After listeners heard a recording of Giles Trendle of Al Jazeera English insisting that his outfit “cover[s] the world without favouring any point of view”, Rajan continued:

Rajan: “Since that interview we’ve learned that it’s not just Al Jazeera that Saudi Arabia and her allies want shut down. In fact some of the media organisations on the list are based in the UK. One is ‘The New Arab’ and the other is ‘Middle East Eye’ whose editor in chief is David Hearst and he’s with me now.”

Listeners then heard former Guardian employee David Hearst – who never had much of a problem rubbing shoulders with Islamists – insist that “we’re totally independent of Qatar” before Rajan asked him “why have they targeted “Middle East Eye’?”.

Hearst: “Well one of the things that’s going on is…well the business model of ‘Middle East Eye’ is that we sell our journalism to people who translate it into Arabic and other languages. And these regimes, unfortunately, do not want their citizens learning about what’s going on.”

Rajan’s next question was “who funds ‘Middle East Eye?”.

Hearst: “So, we fund it ourselves. And we…ah…we sell our journalism to people who translate it. It’s not a big operation…it’s not some sort of shadowy organization. It’s twenty journalists in London. It’s a British-based company and it’s about 700 contributors. And it’s been growing because it is a space in which people can actually discuss real issues and we actually bite every hand. Actually if you look at our coverage…ah….we’re critical of the Qataris, we’ve had really good reports from Kurdish areas of Turkey so you can’t say we’re funded by the AKP.”

Rajan then asked Hearst whether “the Saudis basically contend that you are sort of essentially Qatari agents”. In his response Hearst raised the legitimate issue of state censorship of the media in many Arab countries while avoiding answering that question directly. When later asked if the Qatari government had ever asked him “to adjust an editorial line”, Hearst’s answer was negative.

Having introduced Crispin Blunt, Rajan stated:

Rajan: “It’s completely unacceptable, isn’t it, for another country to demand the closure of a UK-based news source.”

Later on Rajan asked Blunt “why is the house of Saud targeting media organisations?” with Blunt replying that he does not know but opining that Al Jazeera English’s editorial standards “look pretty similar to the BBC” and that the outlet “looks pretty impeccable”. Admitting that he knows “less” about Al Jazeera Arabic , Blunt went on to compare Qatari funding of Al Jazeera with BBC funding by British tax-payers via the licence fee, again claiming that Al Jazeera’s editorial standards are similar to those of the BBC.

Listeners subsequently heard Rajan assert that the Saudi demands would “make it even harder to cover the Middle East properly” and after Rajan portrayed Hearst as a champion of free speech, the latter replied:

Hearst: “…the people who want to close us down believe in sort of weaponisation of the media. They believe the media is an instrument and it is a lever – it doesn’t exist in its own right.”

Remarkably, Amol Rajan failed to make any effort to question Hearst on the issue of his own organisation’s use of the media as “an instrument”.

At no point in this item were listeners were told that the ‘Middle East Eye’ stable of contributors includes political activists infamous for their “weaponisation” of the media such as the occasional Guardian and BBC contributor Ben White, the anti-Israel blogger Richard Silverstein, the former ‘Russel Tribunal’ coordinator and Al Jazeera contributor Frank Barat, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Kamel Hawwash, ‘Palestine Chronicle’ founder Ramzi Baroud, the Palestinian Return Centre’s Sameh Habeeb who has been linked to Muslim Brotherhood campaigns and also produces the ‘Palestine Telegraph’ and even ‘CAGE’ activist Moazzam Begg and well-known Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi.

Neither did Amol Rajan ask Hearst why the ‘Middle East Eye’ website was originally registered by a person – Adlin Adnan – connected to the Hamas linked charity ‘Interpal‘ or who actually owns the company and why the only name on its official records is that of Jamal Awn Jamal Bessano – a Dutch national of Palestinian/Kuwaiti origin with previous links to both Al Jazeera and a Hamas TV station in Lebanon.

At no point did Rajan address the topic of the type of content produced by ‘Middle East Eye’ which includes sympathetic coverage of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood such as the following anodyne portrayal of Yusuf Qaradawi by David Hearst himself:

“Rival preachers are cast as terrorists – but not because their interpretation of Islam is more extreme. It’s their moderation the Saudi clerics fear.

One of the objects of Emirati (and Israeli) ire comes in the form of an eminent Muslim Brotherhood scholar, Yousef al-Qaradawi, who lives in Doha. Qaradawi is no social liberal. He is not about to embrace homosexuality or Western feminism. But it is not those qualities that have put him on the Saudi terror list.

In May 2008, Qaradawi issued a fatwa permitting the building of churches in Muslim countries. He said it is allowed in Islam and Muslims have to respect and protect them.”

As we see listeners to this edition of ‘The Media Show’ were told a story framed as an assault on media freedom that by no means provided them with the full range of information concerning either the issue itself or the media organisation that is its focus. David Hearst was at the time doing the rounds at various media outlets to present his side of the story and Amol Rajan’s softball interviewing refrained from making any real effort to challenge Hearst’s narrative.

Would BBC audiences have gone away with a better understanding of this story? Quite the opposite.

Related Articles:

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BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part two

Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas

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How will the BBC report Hamas’ upcoming botoxed manifesto?

Along with other media outlets, the Times of Israel reports that:

“The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas said Wednesday it is to unveil an amended version of its 1987 founding charter next week, without detailing the change.

The terrorist group, which rules the Gaza Strip, said on its website that the announcement would be made on Monday in Doha by its chief Khaled Mashaal, who lives there in exile.

Hamas’s charter advocates the destruction of the Jewish state and the establishment of an independent state in all historic Palestine. […]

Observers say the pending changes could refer to a Jewish state within the borders it held prior to its 1967 capture of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Or it could drop references to its ties with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, its parent organization.”

As noted here last month, that upcoming event has been on the cards for some time.

Several weeks ago, Arab affairs analyst Avi Issacharoff reported on the leaked version of the new document.

“The document reportedly states that the terror group “distinguishes between the Jews, as the people of the book (i.e., the Bible), and Judaism as a religion on the one hand, and between the occupation and the Zionist project, on the other, and believes that the conflict with the Zionist project is not a conflict with the Jews because of their religion.”

While Hamas will not of course recognize the State of Israel, it does agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, while stressing that it will preserve weapons of “resistance” in order to liberate the entire land of Palestine, including Israel.

“There is no alternative to the liberation of the entirety of Palestine, from the river to the sea, no matter how long the occupation persists,” the leaked document continues, leaving no doubt as to the fact that the ultimate goal of the group, which has always included Israel’s destruction, hasn’t changed.”

Issacharoff points out that:

“The target audience for the revamped charter is not the Israeli public, a fact that should be remembered while examining it. Rather, it is intended for young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and for the Arab public around the world, particularly in one critical country as far as Hamas is concerned — Egypt.

Let’s start at the international level: the case Hamas is making to the West is, “We are not anti-Semites, only anti-Zionists.”

Having internalized the enormous weight that the world attaches to anti-Semitic and other racist rhetoric, Hamas is trying to present a different face that would distinguish it primarily from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The group no longer speaks using the language of “Western infidels and crusaders,” as its even more radical competitors do.

As for Egypt: a cursory reading of the updated charter reveals the miraculous disappearance of one of the most prominent sections of the original, which stated that “the Islamic resistance movement (Hamas) is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” […]

The Brotherhood has been a critical point of contention between Hamas and Egypt in light of the de facto state of war between the regime of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo and the group, whose democratically elected president Sissi deposed in a coup in 2013. […]

This “new charter” […] will not bring about a change in relations between Gaza and Israel. Neither will it reduce the potential for military escalation in the Strip that has become an annual hallmark of the rapidly approaching summer months.

Rather, by adopting positions that seem closer to those of the Palestinian Authority, the amendment is intended primarily to show the Palestinian public that Hamas is prepared to go a long way towards national unity.”

While the question of whether this new document replaces the original Hamas charter or exists alongside it still stands, analysts agree that it does not represent a real change of policy on the terror group’s behalf.

Pinhas Inbari writes:

“…a review of the text shows that Hamas has not renounced its principles but simply “powdered” them slightly. Furthermore, angry reactions to the new text show that it is unacceptable to the movement’s power base in Gaza.

The conclusion is that this change has more to do with the West Bank than with Gaza, and serves the interests of Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Khaled Mashal and, as such, cannot be acceptable to the movement in Gaza.”

Dr Denis MacEoin concludes that:

“The truth is that the new Charter, though vaunted as a major shift for the group, is, in reality, little more than a public-relations exercise. Hamas leaders have got smart, but have not changed their spots. […]

The New Charter is mere window-dressing; even a casual reading of it should show that the new Hamas is the old Hamas wearing a different face to try to disguise the true intransigence and hatred that have always characterized it.”

For years the BBC has been (inaccurately) telling its audiences that Hamas has “agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state” and recently it promoted the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of ‘Palestinian leaders’. It will therefore be all the more interesting to see how Hamas’ new ‘botoxed’ manifesto is portrayed by the corporation to its audiences around the world.

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Kevin Connolly gives insight into BBC group-think

The BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly has recently been on the road in order, he tells us in one of the resulting reports, “to find out what governments and peoples in the Arab world are doing to push back against violent extremist ideas”.

In Connolly’s written report about his travels – “Battle of ideas at heart of fight against Islamic State“, BBC News website, March 17th – readers found the following assertion:Connolly Islamists

“Back in 2011, when the street protests of what we used to call the Arab Spring still appeared to represent an irresistible pulse of democratising energy, no-one foresaw that the violent Islamist extremist movements which had long been part of life in the Middle East would be among the main beneficiaries.”

That paragraph is of course very revealing – and inaccurate. In fact there were people who at the time cautioned that the uprisings the Western media so enthusiastically and unquestioningly embraced as heralding the dawn of democracy in the Middle East had the potential to turn out rather differently. One of those scholars was the late Professor Barry Rubin who in February 2011 wrote:

“…the conclusion that the usual rules of Middle East politics have disappeared is greatly exaggerated. If you think that democracy cannot lead to violent Islamists taking power, consider the Muslim-majority country in the region with the longest tradition of democracy: Lebanon, where Hezb’allah and its allies now run things. Consider Algeria, where free elections (you can blame it on the military if you want) led to a bloody civil war. Think about Turkey where, though the regime still operates basically by democratic norms, the noose is tightening (though there it may well not be irreversible).”

In May 2011 Connolly himself conducted an apparently forgotten interview with Israeli minister Moshe Ya’alon who, whilst discussing the prospects for Israeli-Egyptian relations in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ noted that:

“…what we have to be aware of is that it [a future Egyptian regime] might be the Muslim Brotherhood – might change the course of Egypt.”

Even some BBC journalists recognised the possibility of an Islamist ascendency at the time – as documented in the Mortimer Report on the corporation’s coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’.

“Presenters and correspondents at times appeared almost obsessed with the possibility, if not likelihood, that Islamists – and the Brotherhood in particular – might turn out to be the main beneficiaries of the upheaval, especially if it resulted in a “power vacuum”. The probability of this happening, and the implications if it did, were the points routinely put to every Western expert and policy-maker; and there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood‟s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity, while others were more sceptical. Conspicuously absent in this phase of coverage, however, whether as subjects or objects of commentary, were the “Salafists” – Islamists more rigid and conservative, though perhaps less organized than the Brotherhood – who later turned out to have widespread popular support and ran second to the Brotherhood in the elections.” [emphasis added]

As reflected in Edward Mortimer’s words, part of the reason why Connolly is able to convince himself today that “no-one” foresaw the rise of Islamist extremists five years ago is because he and many of his colleagues had bought into the notion of ‘moderate’ Islamists. That approach is demonstrated in an interview given by one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents at the time – Wyre Davies – to ‘Wales Online’ in July 2011.

“Asked to what extent in Syria it was ordinary people wanting a voice and to what extent it was Islamic extremists, he said: “I think people over-play the role of Islamic parties. Yes of course in Egypt and Tunisia, these are Islamic countries so you would expect the Muslim Brotherhood and political parties who take some of their moral guidance from Islam to play a role. […]

 “It is ironic that Israel for so long has called itself the only democracy in the region, and yet when democratic movements arise in countries like Egypt, Israel was basically against it. Israel wanted Mubarak to stay in power.

“The West is aware of this. What happens if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the election in Egypt? Now I don’t think they will, but there are some pretty moderate members of the Brotherhood. I don’t think there’s any danger that these major Middle Eastern countries are going to be overrun by Islamic extremists.”” [emphasis added]

In an article written for the Guardian in 2012, Magdi Abdelhadi – who was a BBC Arab affairs analyst at the time of the uprising in Egypt the year before – told readers that:

“It’s true that notorious jihadi groups have been inspired by the teachings of Qutb – namely that modern society is pagan and ungodly and that true Muslims should reject it and take up arms against it.

But the Muslim Brotherhood of today has distanced itself from such ideas and is committed to normal politics.”

Were BBC correspondents less preoccupied with the promotion of a political narrative which requires the framing of Hizballah and the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas as ‘resistance’ groups, they might have been better placed to view Islamist ideology in all its manifestations in a more informed and objective light. That in turn would have allowed them to listen at the time to the voices Kevin Connolly now erroneously claims did not exist.

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UK government’s MB review shows 2014 BBC report misleads

 

 

 

UK government’s MB review shows 2014 BBC report misleads

On December 17th the UK Government published the main findings of an internal review of the Muslim Brotherhood which was commissioned by the Prime Minister in April 2014. Mr Cameron also made a written statement to Parliament on the topic on the same day.

The published main findings were the subject of a report titled “UK will not ban Muslim Brotherhood, says David Cameron” which appeared on the BBC News website’s UK page on December 17th.  

Another article relating to the same topic and published over a year previously in October 2014 still appears on the same webpage under the headline “Muslim Brotherhood: ‘Cleared of UK terrorism link’“. The opening paragraph of that report tells readers that:MB 2014 art

“A review of the Muslim Brotherhood’s UK activity has cleared it of links to terrorism, its lawyers have said.” [emphasis added]

Later analysis by the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner includes the following:

“Whitehall insiders have been saying privately that – while there are concerns about some individual members – nothing has emerged to link the Brotherhood as an institution to any acts of terrorism.” [emphasis added]

That article was published long before the review’s findings were made public and, as can be seen below, those findings now call the accuracy of the above statements into question, both in terms of material and ideological support.

In his statement to Parliament, Mr Cameron noted that:

“Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism.”

And:

“Individuals closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK have supported suicide bombing and other attacks in Israel by Hamas, an organisation whose military wing has been proscribed in the UK since 2001 as a terrorist organisation, and which describes itself as the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The published main findings state that:

“The Hamas founding charter claims they are the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim Brotherhood treat them as such. In the past ten years support for Hamas (including in particular funding) has been an important priority for the MB in Egypt and the MB international network.”

And:

“…the Muslim Brotherhood at all levels have repeatedly defended Hamas attacks against Israel, including the use of suicide bombers and the killing of civilians. The Muslim Brotherhood facilitate funding for Hamas. The leadership of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, its Jordanian counterpart and Hamas are closely connected. There are wider links with Muslim Brotherhood affiliates throughout the region. Senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood routinely use virulent, anti-Semitic language…”

And:

“They have deliberately, wittingly and openly incubated and sustained an organisation – Hamas – whose military wing has been proscribed in the UK as a terrorist organisation (and which has been proscribed in its entirety by other countries).”

The report goes on to state:

“Many Brotherhood groups have raised funds in the UK. A complex network of charities associated with the Muslim Brotherhood has developed here over many years. Whilst some of these seem to be raising funds only for the Brotherhood in the UK others have been linked to Hamas. In 2003 the UK charity Interpal was designated as a terrorist entity by the US Treasury, primarily on the grounds of alleged links to Hamas. Interpal has been investigated three times by the Charity Commission in the UK. In 2006 the Charity Commission found that Interpal was a member of the Union of Good, a wider group of charities believed to have Hamas links and that in 2003 an Interpal partner was designated as a terrorist entity under UK law. The Charity Commission took regulatory action against Interpal in 2009. Though never publicly acknowledged by the Muslim Brotherhood charities in the UK are an important part of the Hamas and Brotherhood infrastructure in this country.” […]

“The Muslim Brotherhood has not been linked to terrorist related activity in and against the UK. […] However, in common with the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere, Muslim Brotherhood-related organisations and individuals in the UK have openly supported the activities of Hamas. People associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK have applauded suicide bombing by Hamas, in some cases against civilians. Hamas terrorist activities have not been publicly disowned or condemned.”

Among the report’s conclusions is the following:

“…aspects of Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics, in this country and overseas, are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our national interests and our national security.”

The statements from the October 2014 article highlighted above obviously do not present BBC audiences with an accurate picture of the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach to and relationship with Hamas terrorism according to the findings of the government review. The BBC’s editorial guidelines on the subject of online content management state:

“News pages and any content that advertises its topicality, or where users might reasonably expect it to be topical, must be kept up to date.  Content that appears to be topical but is, in fact, clearly out of date may undermine the BBC’s reputation for high editorial standards.  This includes databases of material gathered over time.”

Clearly then this article requires appropriate amendment in order for it to be accurate and up to date.  

BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes Muslim Brotherhood messaging

“…there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood’s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity…”

Source: ‘A BBC Trust report on the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of the events known as the “Arab Spring”’ – June 2012

One might have perhaps thought that in the four years which have passed since the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt, BBC correspondents would have had the opportunity to garner enough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood to prevent them from repeating the same face value acceptance – and amplification – of its messaging as was seen in BBC coverage of the events at the time.Knell MB art

However, if the article titled “Muslim Brotherhood: From rapid rise to sharp decline” produced by Yolande Knell on April 13th is anything to go by, not only is that is definitely not the case, but Edward Mortimer’s description of Muslim Brotherhood statements being naively “accepted … at face value” by BBC “expert commentators” may be in need of review.

Knell has no comment to add on the use of the phrase “democratic process” by a supporter of an organization which states that its intention is to create a state ruled by religious law which discriminates against women, non-Muslim minorities and others.

“On Saturday, a court confirmed death sentences on the group’s General Guide, Mohammed Badie, and others for planning attacks against the state.

But another man, Ahmed, insists they have done nothing wrong.

“God willing, we’ll see the democratic process get back on track soon,” he says.”

Neither does Knell make any effort to explain the reasoning behind her promotion of the notion that the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole is ‘relatively moderate’.

“Yet many in Egypt accept the clampdown on the Brotherhood, believing it failed its test in power, and across the entire region the fate of this relatively moderate Islamist organisation has undergone a dramatic turnaround.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines the political sense of moderate as “not radical or excessively right- or left-wing”. The aim of running a state ruled by Sharia law cannot accurately be described as anything other than radical and right-wing and of course there is little evidence of ‘moderation’ on the part of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or the movement’s Qatar-based  ‘spiritual guide’ Yusuf al Qaradawi.

‘Moderate’ political organisations obviously do not support terrorism or cultivate links with its perpetrators – but a journalist who uses the makeover term “political faction” to describe a terrorist group which just months ago launched thousands of missiles at civilians will obviously be oblivious to that nuance.

“Not far away, in the Palestinian territories, Hamas – which is aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood – is also suffering from the organisation’s demise.

Its leaders were treated like VIPs in Egypt during the Brotherhood’s brief reign.

But in February, a court in Cairo joined Israel, the United States, the European Union and others in pronouncing Hamas a terrorist organisation.

In Gaza, which is controlled by the political faction, ordinary people feel more isolated than ever. […]

Across Gaza, the green flags of Hamas still flutter defiantly above the mangled metal and rubble of homes destroyed in last summer’s war with Israel.” [emphasis added]

Knell’s take-away message to readers comes right at the end of her article:

“But throughout much of the Middle East, there is a sense that times are changing.

And what worries many is that just as the Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of Islamist groups in the region, is in decline, so fanatical ones – like Islamic State – are gaining momentum.

The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Yolande Knell does not reveal to her readers the identities of the worried “many” who apparently believe that the political aspirations of young Middle Eastern Muslims are to be found exclusively on a scale lying between ‘moderate’ Islamists and ‘fanatical’ ones and hence promote the highly debatable claim-cum-threat that the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood could “swell the ranks of the extremists”.

However, a clue to the potential source – and background motivations – of that claim promoted and amplified by Knell comes in the form of a report published by Associated Press about the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan which appeared almost a month before Knell’s article saw the light of day. Interestingly, the two pieces show some curious similarities.

In a section of her article about the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Yolande Knell writes:

“A new, officially licensed branch defines itself as strictly Jordanian, saying it has cut ties to the regional movement, so it is not identified as militant.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The new, officially licensed Brotherhood offshoot defines itself as a strictly Jordanian group, saying it cut ties with the regional movement to avoid being branded as militant.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The legal status of the other, larger faction is less clear, but it is keeping its links to the wider Brotherhood.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The larger Brotherhood faction, still loyal to the regional movement, alleged the government engineered the division to weaken the group.[…] The status of the second faction now remains unclear.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Readers of the AP report were informed that:

“In Jordan, some warned that the government’s apparent divide-and-control policy could backfire by pushing more Brotherhood supporters into the ranks of extremists like the Islamic State group, seen as the main threat to the country’s stability.”

And:

“Some warn the government crackdown could radicalize Brotherhood supporters and help swell the ranks of the Islamic State group.”

In other words, Yolande Knell’s supposedly impartial take-away message to Western audiences on the topic of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have come straight (or perhaps via AP) from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood horse’s mouth.

So much for ‘standard-setting’ journalism.

Related Articles:

The BBC and the Brotherhood

Must read article by former BBC journalist

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

Must read article by former BBC journalist

A July 8th article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus entitled “Egypt’s political unrest causes regional concern” opens thus:

“The removal from office of a president drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian military clearly has implications for political Islam around the region.

Similar movements in Tunisia and Syria have been watching events closely and will be drawing their own lessons.” [emphasis added] 

“Similar movements”? With a deep sigh I made a note to myself to write an article about the Muslim Brotherhood network and specifically its Syrian branch and former London resident Rachid Ghannouchi.  

But it turns out that I don’t have to – because former BBC correspondent John Ware has written a long and excellent piece on the subject which anyone (including current BBC staff and quite a few politicians) who hopes to begin to understand the basics of the Middle East and beyond – and why Islamists and democracy cannot get along – should read.

In our recent article entitled “Who has the ear of ‘senior BBC executives’?” we pointed out the cosy connections between the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and known Hamas operatives in the UK such as Mohammed Sawalha.  John Ware writes: 

“One senior Muslim Brother in Britain today is Mohammed Sawalha, a fugitive Hamas commander described by a Brotherhood website as being “responsible for the political unit of the international Muslim Brotherhood in the UK”. Membership of the Brotherhood is not a badge Sawalha wears publicly for members; followers have been generally careful to obscure their radicalism, forever cleaving towards the Muslim and non-Muslim mainstream as “noble” (a word they often use) campaigners for justice and civil rights.”

John Ware’s article is here – do read it all. 

The BBC and the Brotherhood

The still unfolding dramatic events of recent days in Egypt prompted this writer to recall an article published just over a year ago – in late June 2012 – in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ section. In that opinion piece on the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt it was stated: [all emphasis added] 

“The Muslim Brothers have been hounded and persecuted throughout their long history, so their resilience and tenacity is not only to be admired and respected, but should also be held as an example for those who wish to make a difference in Egypt’s vibrant but chaotic post-Mubarak political landscape. [..]

It’s true that notorious jihadi groups have been inspired by the teachings of Qutb – namely that modern society is pagan and ungodly and that true Muslims should reject it and take up arms against it.

But the Muslim Brotherhood of today has distanced itself from such ideas and is committed to normal politics. […]

There are so many people who hate the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and beyond. But no one can deny that they have proven to be the most successful grassroots movement across the entire region. 

The Brotherhood is the closest one can find in Egypt today to an independent political institution where established practices and commitment to an idea seem to trounce blood ties and financial interests.

It’s not only populist, but also truly popular. Its members are drawn from all walks of life – middle-class professionals as well as workers and peasants. […]

But their bond with their constituencies is not seasonal. Care for the poor and the weak is central to Islamic teaching, and they would not have enjoyed the support they do if they had not lived up to those ideals. […]

Unless the liberals and other secular forces learn from the commitment and organisational skills of the Muslim Brothers, leave their affluent ghettos in the big cities and venture out in the countryside, they will remain condemned to a handful of seats in any future election.” 

One must of course wonder if the author of that article has changed his point of view in the face of the reality of the past year of Muslim Brotherhood rule. 

However, those words (which even got the Muslim Brotherhood’s official stamp of approval at the time) were not penned by a Western journalist caught up in starry-eyed enthusiasm for the ‘Arab Spring’. They were written by a native-born Egyptian – and former BBC Arab Affairs Analyst – Magdi Abdelhadi. 

Abdelhadi left the BBC to pursue a freelance career in April 2011; three months after the historic events in Tahrir Square, and hence was most probably analysing those events on behalf of the BBC during part of the time period covered in the BBC’s internal report on its coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’. In that report, published in June 2012, it is noted that:

“…there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood’s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity…”

In January 2011 the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen informed audiences (in an article which was later twice amended) that:

“The country’s only properly organised mass political movement outside the ruling party is the Muslim Brotherhood, and it would do very well in any free election.

Unlike the jihadis, it does not believe it is at war with the West. It is conservative, moderate and non-violent. But it is highly critical of Western policy in the Middle East.” [emphasis added] 

A June 2012 profile of the Muslim Brotherhood on the BBC News website still informs readers that:

“Mr Mursi has insisted that as president he wants to build a “democratic, civil and modern state” that guarantees the freedom of religion and right to peaceful protest.”

The whole point of BBC analysis – like any other – is surely to provide those reading it with enhanced understanding of a particular issue or subject. Whilst the actual current events in Egypt may have taken many people by surprise, thebackground to them is not new by any stretch of the imagination and there were analysts who, from the outset, viewed the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt in a less romantic light than the one which prevailed in BBC reporting. Such voices, however, were not given significant space by the BBC – resulting in the kind of impoverished analysis we see above.

The BBC obviously needs to ask itself why that was the case – and not only in relation to Egypt – if it wishes to be relevant as an international media outlet.