My BBC debate with Nicky Campbell, Workplace Flirting & #MeToo, the Pakistan ‘Blasphemy law’ and is ‘Radical’ Islam the biggest cause of persecution against Christians?

REVIEW of the debate, plus: In-depth analysis of the context and reality behind the debate topics, and comments from the show’s audience members and non-Muslim on Nicky Campbell’s performance as host

Recently, I was invited again onto the BBC 1 programme ‘The Big Questions’, to discuss two current affairs topics [see video here]. The first topic was on whether workplace flirting between members of staff, should be banned, while the second topic asked the question on whether Christian asylum seekers should get priority through the UK’s asylum system.

I’ve been on the show a few times before [1], however this time round, I decided that since Nicky Campbell always acts as an active participant and debate opponent, he should not be immune to being equally debated alongside the other guests this time.

Is it ‘time up’ for workplace flirting?

The first question debated on the show was on whether workplace flirting should be ended in light of the recent new ‘Time’s Up‘ campaign [2] by the #MeToo movement [3](which arose after the infamous Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations), which targets ‘unwanted sexual advances’ in the workplace. The question ‘Is it time’s up for workplace flirting?’, discussed whether workplace flirting would effectively be ended by policies against Sexual harassment – which would make people too afraid of ‘playful banter’ and sexual advances on someone they like, even if non-physical.

I found the back and forth discussion between the panellists to be with a woman who claimed she welcomes wolf whistles, sexual innuendo, and risque banter by gentlemen she works with, while others expressed concern that people may find such behaviour unwanted and offensive, while others argued that the workplace is a good place to find a partner – and to do so requires people to ‘ask eachother out’ on dates.

The problem of Sexual Harassment (defined simply as ‘unwanted sexual advances’ – which need not be physical, and can include gestures, speaking, staring and even clothing), has arisen sharply from the ‘sexual revolution’ in the West that effectively ended the old Christian/Victorian-era social etiquettes of courtship and approaching people through intermediaries, which would prevent women from being bombarded by suitors directly approaching them, and would to a significant extent filter out the undesirable suitors from the desirable ones. However, once this system was done away with, in the name of ‘sexual liberation’, sexual courtship became a ‘free for all’, and this had led to people having to directly approach members of the opposite sex to ‘ask them out’ or initiate a relationship of some kind, one could potentially see those people be accused of sexual harassment if the person making the advance is undesirable, and therefore ‘unwanted’. This of course requires the person to know if they are desirable or not to the other person, and here is where the problem lies.

The Quran orders that we must be live by Allah’s (swt) guidance and commands that enable enlightened and fulfilling conduct between people living together. Following the command of Allah (swt) is what Muslims define as ‘right’ and ‘moral’ conduct.

However, in the case of non-Muslims who do not believe, nor are beholden to the teachings of the Quran, the Prophet Muhammed (saaw) is narrated to have said:

‘The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: ‘Among the early prophetic teachings that have reached people is this: if you do not feel shame, do what you wish’

Living without a system of enlightened courtship is not only devoid of guidance, but ultimately causes unhappiness, as adultery rises,people compete for the same partner, people are valued according to base criteria of sexual reproductive fitness, and the ‘strong’ take the majority of relationships with multiple partners, leaving many without. If people live long enough in such a system, perhaps they’ll see the contradictions and harsh realities brought about by Secular Liberalism, and they’ll begin to realise where the real problem lies i.e. their way of life and the ideology underpinning it.

‘Mischief has appeared on land and sea by what the hands of men have earned, that He (Allah) may give them a taste of some of their deeds: in order that they may turn back’ [Quran 30:41]

My position on the problem of Sexual harassment was simple, after the ‘sexual liberation’ in Western (and Westernised) societies which abolished formal structures of courtship, if they wish to reject God’s revelation, then whatever they do, they should at least be consistent. Inconsistency is not just a mark of unfairness, and insincerity, but also injustice.

‘And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them’ [Quran 29:46]

People often do not understand what justice means (generally), let alone the Quranic concept of it. However, a basic type of Justice that all people can agree on simply means to be consistent. So if a poor person is punished for a crime, then a rich person must also be punished if they commit the same crime. If there is a speed limit for everyone who drives, then everyone must follow that speed limit.

A narration attributed to the Prophet Muhammed (saaw) highlights this principle: “O people! The nations before you went astray because if a noble person committed theft, they used to leave him, but if a weak person among them committed theft, they used to inflict the legal punishment on him”. [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 81, Number 779]

There can be exceptions to rule, of course, but the exception must be ‘balanced out’ against those who are not under the exception; for example, an exception to the speed limit can made for people who are driving not for their own self-interest, but out of duty for the needs of others, like firemen and police – who need to get to a fire or crime scene quickly to protect the lives of others. Allowing them to break the speed limit wouldn’t be inconsistent, since they are not driving for themselves, but to fulfil a duty that others do not have upon their shoulders.

My argument in the debate was, either you roll back ‘sexual liberation’ that was brought by Secular Liberalism, and return to Victorian-era social etiquette and decorum where people approached others through polite intermediaries, and subtle conversation and chaperones, or you just leave people to approach each other as their personally see fit (i.e. the current chaotic system).

However, if Western states wish to bring in new policies or laws which criminalise some people deemed for doing what they thought was legal (i.e. without assault or threat), then this introduces an unjust system where those who are ‘poor’ suitors, whether by being physically unattractive or inept at courtship, get punished while those who are ‘rich’ suitors, who are physically attractive and effective at courtship via verbal and body language skills (or literally rich) do not get punished.

Under such a system, people are subject to the unknowable and capricious will of another person, who, if they had innocently approached the person respectfully, may be punished based purely on the imagined judgement and perception of offence of the person being approached.

Despite the fact that I mentioned only the Victorian era social etiquette of politeness and manners as a good example people in the UK could look back to, to deal with the problem of sexual harassment, the host Nicky Campbell poorly attempted to portray me as believing women should be in a diminutive  social status, as commonly believed about British Victorian times – something I was not referring to (or even implying) at all. Of course, after I spoke, the next speaker, Godfrey (probably agreeing with me), repeated the exact same point about Victorian times [4] and notably Nicky Campbell affirmed his point and clarified that they had “a kind of code [of conduct]”, letting Godfrey continue uninterrupted responding back to Nicky “yes a wonderful code”.

Another guest, a Christian minister, made again the same point [5] about Victorian times- even and even critiqued Nicky for unfairly caricaturing the Victorian-era . Strangely, of course, neither of these two gentlemen received any censure or contention from Nicky for making the same point I made a minute before.

However, despite the host Nicky cutting me off on my first comment mid-sentence, and restricting my discourse throughout the discussion, I was able to make my point, and it was heartily agreed [6] by the other guests on the show, probably to the host’s chagrin.

Should Christian Asylum seekers be given priority over those of other religions?

The next topic started out with the ‘World Watch List’ report [7] from the Christian charity, Open Doors UK,  which listed the top 50 countries in the world where Christians (or a particular sect of Christians) are persecuted or encounter issues as a result of their beliefs, practices or proselytisation of their beliefs.

Nicky Campbell then asked a Christian guest, Mark Mullins, a Christian minister at Strangers’ Rest Mission,  to give their views on why they think Christian asylum seekers to the UK should be given priority over non-Christians asylum seekers. Mark Mullins subtly argued that Christians are not like others, who include those who are maybe following the same beliefs as the ‘religious group’ they are trying to flee from.

Nicky Campbell brought up the issue with Mark of persecuted Atheists in Pakistan under “the most disgusting blasphemy laws”, and was the first to bring up the persecution of people of other beliefs than christianity i.e. Atheists.

The secular campaigner, and former UK parliamentary aide, Aisha ali-Khan (currently of the group Feminist Zealots),  continued this line, saying that people should not forget about the persecution of Ahmadiyya in Pakistan, and others, and not just Christians. Nicky offered her no challenge, and again repeated her point ‘so it’s about human beings not their particular credo’.

Of course, while Aisha and Nicky discussed people of other beliefs to Christianity who are persecuted, such as Atheists and Ahmadiyya, notably no one brought up the term ‘Muslims’. However, despite a number of people, including Nicky, bring up the case of persecuted non-Christians, when I simply included Muslims to that list, I heard one Nicky supporter on twitter accuse me of trying to direct the debate away from persecuted Christians!

On this question, there was no real debate, as the point that all people of whatever religion should be considered equally and prioritised only based upon their individual need and circumstances – was agreed upon by almost all the guests. This is where the debate should’ve ended, as no one was prepared to argue that Christians should get priority.

Unfortunately, the debate didn’t end at this natural and commonly agreed upon conclusion.

Nicky Campbell Brings ‘Radical’ Islam into the Debate

Nicky then took the debate onto a tangent which was not at all relevant to answering the main debate question. Nicky Campbell brought in out of the blue the topic of ‘Radical Islam’ [8] and simply asserted ‘Radical Islam’ will cause more persecution of Christians. It was with this comment, that Nicky then decided to bring me on to speak, but not before saying: “Abdullah…we have Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Eritrea, Iraq, Yemen, some would say there is a bit of a pattern there”.

I had to begin on the debate question with a rebuttal — probably to Nicky’s consternation – by pointing out that all the countries he mentioned have had a long history of military bombing and invasions by Western nations that have caused the very instability and internecine warfare whose effects have touched all communities, including Christians (but vastly more Muslims by far). It was instability, not ‘Radical Islam’, that is causing persecution and suffering of everyone. While the cause of instability for most of the countries on the list are pretty obvious (Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Yemen), Nicky must not have known much of Sudan’s history, whose North-South civil war was long ago started while the British still occupied it, and whose religious tensions were exacerbated by American Christian lobbies and interference. Though he mistakenly also mentioned Eritrea, which is a Christian majority country with a Christian president accused of war crimes), and then asked me what the countries he named had in common.

I reiterated the common sense point, that if someone is under imminent threat of death, they should have priority over those who weren’t so, regardless of their beliefs. I then  highlighted that (in addition to Atheists, Ahmadiyya and Christians) Muslims, who have been up until my comment, gone unmentioned in the show’s discussion about global persecution, are being killed specifically for their religion in much greater numbers than Christians elsewhere. For good measure, I cited the example of Burma and the systematic massacre of Muslims there (10,000 dead in just last month) and in the Central African Republic by the Anti-Balaka, who destroy mosques [9], kill Muslims in the thousands, and demand that Muslims convert to Christianity or die [10].

As I mentioned the Anti-Balaka’s ‘convert or die’ ultimatum to Muslims, Nicky instantly launched into cutting me off mid-sentence (despite not having had much time to speak compared to others), and he then allowed one of the guests, Lisa Pearce, Chief executive of Open Doors UK, to jump in and argue that the Anti-Balaka weren’t practicing Christians – despite the fact that Nicky was happy to claim that Christians facing discrimination by the Secular nationalist governments of Muslim countries was because of ‘radical Islam’.

Throughout the exchange, no challenge or tricky question was put forward to Lisa or Aisha, by Nicky – who clearly seemed to be supporting their comments, and even collaborating with them in debating my position.

The ‘World Watch List’ Report of Christian Persecution and Nicky Campbell’s claims of greater persecution of Christians

After my claim, with some clear examples, that I believed Muslims were being killed due to their beliefs and identity in greater numbers than any other religious community, Nicky Campbell joined in to help Lisa, and made a bizarre claim the Christians are the most persecuted group, despite the fact that even the report by the Christian group Open Doors UK wasn’t arguing that. Nicky said “it is said by these reports, Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today”. Again this was something that even Lisa Pearce herself was careful not to argue, limiting her following comment to only that “the persecution of Christians is pretty bad”. I challenged Nicky’s point by asking back “Are Christians the most persecuted group?”, and I demanded that a study needs to be done to calculate this.

I also called out Nicky on why was he playing such a numbers game – which saw him hilariously attempting to cut me off by speaking over me and brusquely replying “it’s not a game”, to which he literally argued on behalf of Lisa “but it’s across the world for Christians”, a line which Lisa then copied verbatim, as if Nicky was helping her with her lines. But despite Lisa being given further (and uninterrupted) comment about the persecution of Christians – she still didn’t claim that the persecution of Christians was in fact greater in numbers than Muslims or anyone else.

While I was told about the individuals participating only the night before the show, I had enough time to research Lisa Pearce’s organisation and the report. I deduced that the report was going to be used for the show and had a quick review of it. Unsurprisingly, the report’s figures and research method didn’t really match up to the claims made on the show – the report was quite misrepresented.

For one, unlike what Nicky said, the report doesn’t claim that Christians are the most persecuted community in the world (so it remains a mystery where Nicky, or his researchers got that from).

Secondly, the report classifies persecution as ‘hostility’ towards Christians, which it defines anywhere between destroying Churches, to the other side of the scale, where it considers the social bullying by Secular public opinion to also be persecution (even if no force or coercion is used). The report doesn’t count only government policies of any particular country, but also whether hostility against Christians from the wider public. Let’s put it this way, if the report used the same methodology on Muslims, as it did on Christians, it would count the UK a country where Muslims experience ‘hostility’ [persecution] because of the Mosque burnings [11], attacks against Muslims coming out of Mosques [12], and even killing of Muslims because they were Muslim [13].

Lastly, the report claims that 200 million Christians have experienced persecution, but the report wasn’t based upon any surveys of that number. In essence, the report looked at countries where reports of ‘hostility’ experienced by Christians were encountered, then it seemed to just count how many Christians were in that country, and assume that all of them had in fact been persecuted. Using the example above, if the reports methodology was used for reporting on Muslims, because of the incidents of violent Islamophobia in UK, the report would probably count all 3 million UK Muslims as to be added to the global total of Muslims facing persecution.

The difference in the portrayal of the report becomes more apparent when you consider that of the purported 200 million (which seems like such a large number), the report considers the Drug violence, and intolerance of Catholic Christians to Protestant Christians, in the overwhelmingly Christian country of Mexico, to warrant Mexico being on the list of countries persecuting Christians. If we tally up the population of Mexico, it comes to 127.5 million – that’s already 63% of the Global number of persecuted Christians claimed by the report (i.e. ‘200 million’)!

In fact, the countries that make up the lion’s share of Christians deemed persecuted in the report, are those which either live in Christian majority countries, or countries with Christian, Buddhist, Communist or Hindu dominated governments. While it is unclear where the report got the number ‘200 million’, it’s safe to safe that 90-95% of the world’s persecuted Christians are not living under even a Muslim government, let alone ‘Islamic’ one.

Although from watching the TV show’s host and other guests statements, a viewer could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Blaming the Sharia for the Pakistan Blasphemy law

Nicky Campbell described the Pakistan Blasphemy law as ‘disgusting’, and supported Aisha ali-Khan’s (of the group, Feminist Zealots) criticism of Pakistan. Of course, it was left to me to explain on the show, that the Pakistan ‘Blasphemy law’ is not derived from the Sharia, but was originally derived from the British Empire.

The Pakistan ‘Blasphemy law’, is shared for the most part, with modern-day India. This is because both laws started life as ordinance 295 of the Indian Penal Code, that was drafted by the infamous British colonial governor, Lord Macaulay, and revised by Sir Barnes Peacock, Chief Justice, of the Calcutta Supreme Court, which became law in 1860 (with additions and amendments in 1927).

Upon Independence, India and Pakistan both continued the law in their respective statues (with some additions). However, the basic formulation of the law, and what constitutes a ‘crime’ was not derived from Islamic law – and the assessment of culpability differed significantly with the Sharia.

For example, on 30th August 1887, two Muslim men, were convicted of ‘Blasphemy’ by the [Colonial Indian] Magistrate of Shahjahanpur for having each killed a cow on a street. The Magistrate found that because each defendant knew that the killing of the cow was considered an insult by their Hindu fellow-subjects, there could be convicted by the law [their case was only later repealed on a technicality, namely that Cows are not considered to be ‘sacred objects’ because they were living and not inanimate].

This highlights just one of the many differences between Sharia and the Imperial British ‘Blasphemy law’, as Sharia requires that a person possess intent to insult or disparage, and clear unambiguous statements.

Firstly, non-Muslims cannot be punished unless they possessed clear intent to gratuitously insult with their statements, not merely the potential insult, or incidental insult – because non-Muslims maybe just merely expressing their sincerely held opinions (which may not hold the Prophet (saaw) in high esteem as much as Muslims do – because obviously, if non-Muslims held the Prophet (saaw) in 100% the same esteem as Muslims, they would be Muslims too!).

A Muslim’s statement may in the Pakistan legal code be considered ‘blasphemous’ if someone else interprets it that way, despite other interpretations being possible and the intent of the Muslim not to be so. This of course differs from the Sharia, where clear statements or clear intent to insult must be established (e.g. Someone saying that the Prophet Muhammed (Saaw) was once a Shepherd, cannot be considered an insult against the Prophet (saaw) unless the comment is shown to be intended to demean him (saaw) and disparage or undermine his (saaw) authority).

Even the most strictest Islamic school of thought on the topic of ‘insulting the Prophet’, the Maliki school upholds this, Qadhi Ayad al-Maliki wrote:

“This is also my position regarding the judgment of anyone who belittles him [the Prophet saaw] or insults him about having been a shepherd, oversight, forgetfulness, sorcery, any wound he received, the defeat of one of his armies, injury by an enemy, the intensity of his illness or his being attracted to his wives. The judgment of all this is that the one who intends to disparage him by it [is that they be punished]”

In Pakistan, it is not majoritarily non-Muslims that face prosecutions, but Muslims, and this is due to formulation of the law being exploited by different factions in Pakistan against other factions. For example, two Muslims were prosecuted  for ‘blasphemy’ [14] simply for tearing down a poster advertising an event commemorating the birthday of the Prophet (Saaw) which they (and their school of thought) viewed to be a heretical novelty not mandated in Islam. The prosecution was brought about by a rival school of thought which believes celebrating the Prophet]s (saaw) birthday to be meritorious. Clearly not grounds from prosecution under Sharia.

In addition to this, the dominant juristic school of thought in Pakistan, the Hanafi school, allows Muslims who made intentional insulting remarks against God or His (Swt) Prophets, to defend themselves from prosecution by simple repentance. Unfortunately, the legal code in Pakistan (and India for that matter) doesn’t permit repentance or disavowal as a defence against prosecution.

I managed to successfully make my point in the TV show that the Pakistan ‘Blasphemy law’ was not a Sharia construct, but a law borrowed from British Imperial powers.

Unfortunately time was limited, but I would’ve also corrected the other comments mentioned. Namely, that despite the talk by Nicky and the guests and audience members of the potential for execution in Pakistan for Blasphemy, and execution of apostates in the Muslim world; no one in the history of Pakistan has ever been executed by the government for ‘Blasphemy’.

Furthermore, for all the talk of ‘Apostasy laws’ and the implication by the guests of mass executions being meted out, only four recorded incidents of execution for ‘Apostasy’ have ever taken place under Muslim governments in the entire Muslim world since World War 1.

Was Nicky Campbell biased?

Now as most people can tell from watching the show, the BBC’s The Big Questions, is a somewhat managed ‘debate’ between invited guests. All the guests, and audience members, asked detailed questions by the show’s researcher sup to a week before the show airs, about their opinions and rebuttals to a topic . This allowing the producers to know everyone’s positions, devise prepared questions/counter-arguments of their own choosing, and allow them to plan and choreograph the direction of the show. Further to this, the host, Nicky Campbell, always acts as an active and biased participant in the debate who, unlike the invited guests, has the ability to control who speaks, ask questions of his choosing, disproportionally challenge those he disagrees with, to interrupt whomever he pleases – even mid-sentence – and control for how long they speak.

However, that being the case, it doesn’t mean those going on the show with a counter-narrative will find it impossible to argue effectively, or throw in a few arguments and facts to make one’s points and ‘rock the boat’. As the writer Frank Herbert says ‘Knowing where the trap is—that’s the first step in evading it’ [DUNE, 1965]

In this show, the other guests didn’t really offer much of a debate against my points, so they were helped a lot by Nicky Campbell. By treating Nicky Campbell as what he was, an active debate opponent. Debating Nicky directly meant that Nicky had to come out more in the open to fight for his favoured narrative, to ensure it comes out dominant in the debate. This caused some shock amongst non-Muslims watching the show, as well as even Nicky Campbell’s fans:

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 23.55.29

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 03.21.15

The conversation continued:

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 23.44.33

A viewer confronted Nicky:

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 23.33.06It remains mysterious what comments I said during my first opening comment, that prompted him to interrupt me. However, what is even more notable, is that Nicky doesn’t appear to deny the manner of treatment he is being accused of, he only appears to want to clarify his motivations for doing so.

Another [non-Muslim] viewer observed:

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 23.47.50

A member of the audience during the showed remarked to me in a tweet afterwards:

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 23.49.38

Another viewer, who was also non-Muslim confronted Nicky on twitter:

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 23.29.08Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 23.30.49

More people raised questions about Nicky Campbell’s political position:

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 04.34.07

 

A fan of Nicky shared with him a poster of an online course, with myself and other speakers, dealing only with Islamic theological contentions against Atheism (no politics at all). Shockingly, Nicky responded:

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 02.17.47.png

I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether Nicky is objective and unbiased.

So I’m glad that not only did I make my points I wanted to make on the show, but they were convincing to many of the viewers and guests, and that Nicky Campbell exposed himself as just another biased and active participant in the debate. For the record, I have no problem with him being so and welcome it, as I’ve always enjoyed – and thought beneficial – the intellectual sparing between people of different positions. But as to whether that makes for an objective programme host, or a fair debate for that matter, is perhaps a different question.

UPDATE 2nd February 2018 : Nicky Campbell has said today on his BBC Radio show, ‘5 live’, when discussing a naked photo shoot by Myleene Klass, that he would rather his daughter do a naked photo than she convert (to Islam) and wear the niqab. While it could be argued his issue was only with the Niqab, his inclusion of conversion to Islam is less explicable in light of BBC’s claimed impartiality of its hosts.

 


[1] https://thedebateinitiative.com/tag/bbc-the-big-questions/

[2] https://www.timesupnow.com/#into-anchor

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/01/beyond-metoo-can-times-up-effect-real-change/549482/

[4] 9 minutes into the programme https://youtu.be/ua5HdLHyFRY?t=9m

[5] 18m07s into the programme https://youtu.be/ua5HdLHyFRY?t=18m7s

[6] 21m 13s into programme https://youtu.be/ua5HdLHyFRY?t=21m13s

[7] https://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/

[8] 30m 27s into programme https://youtu.be/ua5HdLHyFRY?t=30m27s

[9] https://thedebateinitiative.com/2015/03/27/417-mosques-have-been-destroyed-in-central-african-republic/

[10] https://thedebateinitiative.com/2015/10/27/christian-terror-group-in-central-african-republic-offers-muslims-convert-or-die-ultimatum/

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/17/manchester-mosque-left-gutted-after-suspected-arson-attack

[12] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/finsbury-park-mosque-attack-latest-darren-osborne-brainwashed-three-girls-tv-drama-rochdale-grooming-a8173546.html

[13] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/10028635/Muslims-in-shock-after-grandfather-is-killed-on-way-home-from-mosque.html

[14] https://tribune.com.pk/story/102608/blasphemy-charges-mosque-imam-son-jailed-for-life/

 

 



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