2 February 2015

BBC Thought for the Day backs talks with IS and Boko Haram


Last week I took BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day slot on the Today programme to task for its reliance on anti-market and West-hating preachers. As a fan for decades of Today, I’ve grown used to spitting out my cornflakes several times a week at the kitchen table when complete drivel is parroted by one of the religious figures invited to address the British nation at 7.50am each morning.

Today I launch Thought for the Day Watch, a campaign designed to restore some political balance to the religious slot on Radio 4. (I am not religious; I simply don’t want my breakfast ruined.)

In that respect, I thought Giles Fraser had plumbed new depths last week, with his call for Greece’s debts to be wiped out because, he claimed, national debt is slavery, rather than the consequence of profligate bad government.

But no, John Bell of the Iona Community, unfortunately a regular on the Today programme, managed to out do even Giles Fraser this morning on Thought for the Day.

Bell turned his attention to the question of forgiveness and managed to sound like that Billy Connolly spoof Church of Scotland minister who attempts to draw parallels between the scriptures and his attendance, with his son Nigel, at a football match. (“Daddy, did Jesus play for Tottenham Hotspur? And you know… in a funny way he did.”)

This morning, once Bell had burbled his way through an account of the end of apartheid in South Africa, he moved onto contemporary affairs and Islamist terrorism. Uh-oh…

Here is what he said about Islamic State, the Taliban and their compatriots Boko Haram in West Africa:

“I sometimes wonder…” (Oh, do you?)

“I sometimes wonder when, as this weekend, we hear of the appalling atrocities of Boko Haram, or the Taliban, or Islamic State, are all these people terminally committed to perpetuating bloodshed and evil? For right now though we can’t imagine listening to their opinions, should their violence cease, might it be that in some distant future we discover that some of them have stories and perspectives to share which we might wish we had listened to earlier?”

Let’s wind-back for a minute or so and look at those questions. Are the be-headers and murderers of children who staff Boko Haram, the Taliban and Islamic State “terminally committed to perpetuating bloodshed and evil”?

Yes, it certainly looks as though they are. They say as much themselves. Boko Haram and Islamic State in particular certainly see the destruction of western civilisation, enslavement of women, scrapping of education and mass murder as their core business.

One might as well ask whether Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and the officers of the SS were “terminally committed to perpetuating bloodshed and evil.” Yes, they were.

And then, remember, Bell asked: “Might it be that in some distant future we discover that some of them have stories and perspectives to share which we might wish we had listened to earlier?”

No. Really, no. The implication there is that for all their dreadful slaughter they somehow have a bit of a point, to which we might wish we had listened to earlier. What conceivable valid point of view do any of those groups mentioned have? One might as well say that the Nazis had “stories and perspectives to share which we might wish we had listened to earlier.” Such an idea would rightly be thought monstrous, ludicrous and naive.

The Boko Haram “story” recently involved the slaughter of as many as 2,000 men, women and children in a number of villages. The Taliban’s “perspective” involves the slaughter of children in schools because it cannot accept the idea of education, science or girls in schools. Islamic State behaves like the Nazi Einsatzgruppen, the death squads that rampaged across Poland and Russia.

Yet John Bell says that their members have stories and perspectives worth listening to and he keeps getting invited onto Thought for the Day. Thus Bell finds himself featured, regularly, on the UK’s leading current affairs radio show wittering on to an audience of millions about momentous events as though he is a great sage. Why?

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX