Who offended whom?

The BBC keeps doing things like this.

Iran has criticised the British government for its decision to give a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie. His book The Satanic Verses offended Muslims worldwide and led to Iran issuing a fatwa in 1989, ordering Sir Salman’s execution.

It’s terribly misleading to say that Rushdie’s novel ‘offended Muslims worldwide’ without qualification. There’s an enormous amount wrong with that offhand statement. One, many and probably most people who were ‘offended’ by Rushdie’s novel never read it, so the simple and active phrasing there – his book offended Muslims – is just inaccurate. An accurate version would be something more like ‘some Muslims were offended by what they heard or were told about Rushdie’s novel and by the fact that he had written it.’ Yes but they don’t have the space to say that in the second sentence. Okay, but if they don’t have the space, they shouldn’t say anything – they shouldn’t say something grossly and tendentiously misleading instead, especially not about someone who is under a standing death threat for doing the very thing they described so ineptly and inaccurately. What they do by phrasing it that way is half-endorse the attitude of the people who issued the fatwa, and they really ought not to do that on the basis of bad sloppy inaccurate phrasing.

How I wish I were their editor. How I wish I could sub their pieces; I would take stuff like that out.

Two, they also shouldn’t say the book offended Muslims in that straightforward way: the offense, like the offense over the Danish cartoons, was not spontaneous or instantaneous, it was worked up; it was decidedly not a matter of Muslims in general taking one look and swelling with outrage. Third, they really shouldn’t say the book ‘led to Iran issuing a fatwa’ as if Rushdie had brought the fatwa on himself and as if Khomeini had no choice in the matter. (Have I quarreled with them for this before? I think so.) And they shouldn’t say ‘execution’ as if Iran had some judicial right to ‘order’ it! The word is murder, not execution.

Frances Harrison did something similar in a World Service report on the same subject – she referred to ‘the Danish cartoons that insulted the prophet’ – as if that were the commonplace and straightforward description of the cartoons. Well it’s not! The cartoons were of the prophet, but they were far from all insulting, in fact none of them were really except possibly the bomb in the turban one, which can also be read as about the hijacking of the prophet by bomb-lovers. Yet there is Harrison reinforcing the outrage by being inaccurate.

They keep, keep, keep doing this. Why? Just sucking up? Just not wanting to piss off Tariq Ramadan any further? Not wanting to seem ‘Islamophobic’? Who knows.

There’s this familiar little bit of icing at the end, too – ‘in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader, issued a fatwa.’ ‘Spiritual leader’ – you mean theocratic dictator. I wish they would stop with that spiritual leader crap. I’m tired of hearing about the ‘spiritual leader’ of Hamas and the ‘spiritual leader’ of Hizbollah and the ‘spiritual leader’ of the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m sick of all this wretched slavish prettying-up. It’s not pretty. Homicidal rage at novels and novelists is not pretty, fatwas ordering murder are not pretty, theocratic thugs are not pretty.

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