Here’s a strange one. It puts me in an unusual position, and could look as though I’m about to defend religious fundamentalism. That’s not what I’m trying to do.
I had a message from someone who was offended by an item featured in the BBC World Service series “Outlook”.
Before going any further, I ought to provide some context.
In Israel there is a problematic issue that we might recognise. It echoes something that is happening here, although our problem could almost be regarded as the inside-out version of theirs. On the surface ours looks like the negative to their positive – in a purely photographic sense. However, this is a matter of ‘two sides of the same coin’ in an entirely superficial way, which I won’t go into here.
Our problem concerns British Muslims who have annexed areas in the U.K. such as Tower Hamlets, within which they prefer to abide by their own laws rather than the law of the land. Israel’s problem involves extreme, ‘ultra’ orthodox Jews, some of whom have annexed certain areas…. within which they wish to abide by their own laws etc. etc.
These situations are part and parcel of difficulties thrown up in pursuing the liberal ideals of a civilized world. How to reconcile differences while embracing principles of diversity and so on. As a secular, non-believing infidel, I find religious dogma hard to understand, let alone defend, so I have to put my prejudices to one side when making this case against the BBC – seemingly on behalf of the ultra orthodox community in Jerusalem.
They have decided for religious reasons to have their own religious bus service, outwith the public bus service. In the religious buses, women are supposed to sit at the back of the bus, for reasons of modesty. This seems like something from a bygone age, and is a jarring, unattractive aspect of religious practice. However, some would say, it’s their own affair, and if they want it, it’s none of our business. It may be an affront to women’s lib, but it’s hardly a matter of life and death, unlike some of the murderous practices that affect women in Islam. I mean the criminal acts that blight the lives of families that observe a primitive version of the religion of peace.
Back to the BBC. The message I referred to earlier was from a listener who had heard a one-sided interview, and was sore affronted. The interview was with a young secular Israeli woman who got on a religious bus to Jerusalem, and refused to obey the rules. She wouldn’t go to the back of the bus, and a bit of a kerfuffle ensued.
The Israeli press got hold of the story and made a big fuss. She became a cause célèbre and turned herself into Israel’s Rosa Parks, and great fun was had by all apart from the Hareidim. (the religious Jews in question.)
Imagine if something similar happened here. Say, for example a blind man and his guide dog were turned away from a ‘Muslim‘ bus or a taxi, the BBC would be all over the story. Wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they? I think not. The Daily Mail, maybe. But not the Beeb. They would ignore it or bury it in some regional sub division of the interweb, so as to preserve social cohesion.
However the BBC liked the sound of the bus story, and picked it up. The woman was portrayed as the voice of reason. And quite right too, I hear myself say. She was the voice of reason! But wait. Hang on a mo!
There’s something the press are being suspiciously shy about.
The innocent woman who made the unfortunate mistake of stumbling into a humiliating situation but bravely refused to be intimidated, was not being completely open. She was being economical with the truth. She and the media were concealing the fact that she was a well-known activist and anti-religion campaigner, whose bus journey was more of a publicity stunt. In other words, she got her knickers in a twist as agent provocateur, in what was in fact an act of incitement in pursuit of her political opposition to orthodox religious practices. The bus wasn’t a public bus, but a religious special, which she knew perfectly well when she got on board.
Remember Ken O’Keefe to whom a whole edition of Hardtalk was devoted, after he pretended to be an innocent member of the aid convoy peacefully floating to Gaza aboard the Mavi Marmara? Were his antisemitic ravings or his Israel-bashing history mentioned? Not really. Or Sarah Colborne, the not so innocent anti-Israel campaigner who was presented as Gaza’s fairy godmother by the BBC. A pattern emerges.
The Israeli press are notorious for shooting themselves in the foot. They mercilessly publicise awkward internal matters which damage and undermine Israel’s image with a degree of disloyalty that a country in a permanent state of war with its neighbours and increasingly isolated from the rest of the world can ill afford. Doing that is a luxury only the secure should risk. Extreme self examination and self-criticism is best kept within the family. It needs to be tempered with the kind of unconditional love that outsiders might not have.
The listener who wrote to me had a hard time convincing me to write this. I didn’t wanna do it. At first I decided not to, and I thought that a programme like “Outlook” was permitted to be one-sided, as its name implies. I thought of the reply that the BBC would trot out – ‘balance would be achieved over time’.
“In your dreams,” I replied, to myself, trying to imagine an “Outlook” interview sympathetic to a protagonist for the Hareidim.
Then I suddenly thought of the hypocrisy of the BBC. Ready willing and able to promote an Israeli political activist and present her as an innocent bystander caught up in a human rights issue and heroically standing up against Jewish religious extremism, eager to conceal political activism on the part of vigorous pro Palestinian / anti Israel campaigners, yet afraid to stir up trouble and strife here for fear of upsetting devout members of the Muslim community on their own doorstep. That’s how I see it anyway.