The BBC is an institution in the UK. Home of Dr. Who and some incredibly good TV, the BBC is generally the gold standard of Brit TV. And they had a show called “Free Speech” where they discussed things that were controversial.
Asifa Lahore posited the question. “One Question I would Like to ask the Muslim Community is, when will it be right to be Muslim and gay?”.
And he got an answer. Not Today. And not here at the Birmingham Mosque.
Gays from Asian backgrounds in the UK struggle under both general homophobia and their own culture’s homophobia. Violence against them is common and many gay men and women live double lives to be “safe”.
Rick Edwards, the presenter then told viewers that the question would not be tackled until a later edition because the Birmingham Central Mosque (where the show was being shot) did not wish to have a discussion there. Am I the only one who sees the irony of inviting a show called Free Speech and denying them the right to speak about a topic that is an issue? That simply not discussing the real issue of gay Muslims and how Islam should progress to a more enlightened and benign stance towards them is by definition against Free Speech. Birmingham Mosque demonstrated that they are NOT a pillar of free speech here.
In a statement, a spokesman for the programme said: “BBC 3′s Free Speech is determined to discuss the issues that matter to its viewers. However, out of respect to the Birmingham Central Mosque, who hosted the programme on Wednesday 12th March, the decision was made to delay the debate on Muslim Gay Rights to a future programme. “The topic will be raised and debated in full on the edition of Free Speech airing on March 25th.”
I think this is bunk. Free speech is more sacred than Islam, it is the pillar of free society. It is the pillar of democracy. Without free speech (and responsibility FOR free speech) we create the breeding ground of tyrants. Islam is not sacred, Islam cannot dictate what we do or say. It was incorrect for Birmingham Mosque to offer a venue for Free Speech (both) and then curtail it. I understand the respect that Free Speech showed since the Mosque was a separate private space that they were invited to and such invitations can be rescinded and you do play by the rules set up by your host. I am not criticising them, they behaved appropriately.
I am criticising the Mosque who held the thing that guarantees them real freedom in contempt over the feelings of the extremists who threatened them. You showed that you cared more for the opinions of the people destroying Islam more than the opinions of it’s future.
The topic was pulled for security concerns after threats were received by the Mosque where the programme was filmed.
Another issue is that the chairman of the Birmingham Mosque (on Radio 4) claimed that he was not told that the show would discuss homosexuality until 20 minutes before the broadcast, while the BBC says that discussions already took place 2 hours before the show following threats that the Mosque received and that promotion for the show also involved content and questions in order to drive a healthy debate.
And immediately after that the threats began to flow in. And the BBC decided to pull the video about being gay and Muslim from the episode filmed at the Birmingham Mosque as they feared security concerns and the Mosque also seemed unwilling to discuss the topic.
“The Birmingham mosque had offered the venue as a location for an episode. When asked if there were any issues for discussion that would be off limits, no concerns were raised. Neither the production company nor the BBC would have chosen a venue that unduly limits topics for discussion.” – The BBC Spokesman
“All I know is all of the members of the committee who were there on that day were just informed 20 minutes before the programme started that they wanted to discuss homosexuality. How could I have an idea that there were other [topics] also that the BBC was thinking.” – The Mosque Spokesman
Which is just sad. It’s a show called Free Speech. And this is a topic that does affect Muslims. Gay Muslims. We just demonstrated PRECISELY what they are talking about. Islam does not treat the GLBT with any form of respect or indeed basic safety. It isn’t just willing to throw the GLBT under a metaphorical bus but also a real bus.
And that Islam does have a sizeable radical element who are satiated more. The GLBT are the face of a new kinder and intellectual and moderate Islam. And to see the Mosque unwilling to stand by such progress and kowtow to the demands of fundies is just tragic. These are the people who are the future of Islam. A liberal Islam that is capable of participating in society without making it’s women hide behind Burkhas or sit in inferior seats. An Islam of the idealists who insist to me that the Burkha and Hijabs are genuinely open choices rather than biased ones.
The BBC respected their hosts on this issue. But their hosts did a grave disrespect to the secular values that protect them. The unwillingness to criticise the radicals allows radicals free speech and gives people the notion that radicals dictate Islam. Which they do in this case. Moderates who may have enjoyed a debate and opened their minds up with regards to the existence of GLBT Muslims were robbed of such an experience and instead the Taliban brigade had their say. The moderate Muslim was robbed that day of a genuine experience that may have opened the mind up to new ideas and new possibilities and an opportunity to be a better and kinder Muslim and improve Islam in the same way that the Golden Age scholars of Islam did.
And all the Mosque did was empower the Fundies. This worked, so what if the next affront to Islam was your young boys talking to young girls? About women not in Hijabs and Burkhas? About moderate preachers? The fire of Islamic fundamentalism is in the UK and the people it threatens and harms the most are Muslims.
All they need to do is demonstrate their anger and then watch debate and progress be crushed. Islam and Muslims need to ignore this group and ostracise them and separate themselves from these people in order to progress and to be free.
The people hurt the most here are Muslims. Our free speech was not curtailed, the BBC will still show the program. The people empowered were the people who force Muslims into anti-intellectual stances, effectively denigrate women and push a vile creed of violence and threats. And should we silence these radicals, I am sure their defence would be “free speech”.
The biggest enemy of Muslims is Islam and it’s unwillingness to progress and uphold the values of secular society unless those values defend it at this moment. This was not the will of Muslims but the kowtowing of the Mosque to fundies and a demonstration of who the true leaders are in the Birmingham Mosque community. It is not the Director of the Mosque but the fundies who can shape his decisions through threats of violence.