The coverage of the controversy over Maajid Nawaz and Jesus & Mo has done a consistently bad job of getting right the part about how and why Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis wore their J & M T shirts on The Big Questions and why they unzipped their jackets to reveal them toward the end of the programme.
They did both because the BBC asked them to.
Most of the coverage has implied or said that it was their idea and that they did it to provoke. Wrong.
The latest is an article today in the Independent by Archie Bland.
His account of the how and why is much more detailed than previous ones, but it’s hardly fair to Chris and Abhishek.
in January the company behind The Big Questions got in touch about participating. The question to be debated was: “Should human rights always outweigh religious rights?” According to Chris Moos, the two students had not intended to wear the T-shirts, but the production company researcher gave them a nudge. “If you wanted to wear your T-shirts on the show, that is fine – however, we would ask that you wear a shirt over the top that could be unbuttoned,” he wrote. “If Nicky would like to see the shirts, he can ask you to unbutton your shirt to show it and we can do a close-up and therefore promote discussion.”
“I was quite surprised,” says Moos. However, Mentorn insist that the idea of wearing the T-shirts was the students’ own; they go as far as to say that “any suggestion that the students were encouraged to wear the T-shirts is entirely unfounded”, which seems a bit odd, when you reread that email. Either way, towards the end of the show, their moment came.
“You guys wore some T-shirts?” said Campbell.
Moos nodded. “Would you like to see them?” he asked. Campbell certainly didn’t seem to know about his agreement with the researcher, and he hesitated. (Mentorn says that neither Campbell nor his editor were expecting the T-shirts; certainly it seems more like a cock-up than a conspiracy.) In the moment he took to say something, the two unzipped. Phadnis and Moos were not filmed in close-up, and the camera did not linger on them. But the cartoons were visible from an oblique angle.
Abhishek emailed Archie Bland to correct this account, and I have his and Chris’s permission to post his email here. They both would like to see the record set straight.
Chris also sent me the request in the email from the researcher to the two of them when arranging the programme:
If you wanted to wear your t-shirts on the show that is fine – however, we would ask that you wear a shirt over the top that could be unbuttoned. The reason why we’re asking this is merely because patterns or details (like cartoons) are distracting for the viewer at home and can appear fuzzy on camera (hence why we also ask that you don’t wear checked or striped clothing). Basically, if Nicky would like to see the t-shirts, he can ask you to unbutton your shirt to show it and we can do a close up and therefore promote discussion (does that make sense?).
And then afterwards the BBC can pretend we never did and look hard in the other direction and get Jeremy Paxman to prod Author repeatedly about why, why, WHY would you do such a thing. Does that make sense?
No, it doesn’t.
We read your report this morning. We had expected a fair representation of the facts of the case. Your report, however, makes it look like we smuggled the t-shirts in on the sly and produced them as a publicity stunt to take advantage of the producers’ naïveté and gratuitously cause offence to viewers or audience members.
You correctly point out that the producer actually suggested we wear the t-shirts, despite their assertions.
However, we would like to point out, that on January 5th, just before the recording began, we informed the producers that we were wearing the t-shirts. We were asked to sit in the middle of the first row and Nicky Campbell personally greeted us and said he was very keen to know more about our story. Given this attention, and our prominent placement in the first row, and the communication with the production company, it was perfectly reasonable to assume that he was aware about the t-shirts and about the interest in our story.
As for the recording itself, please watch this video again – http://www.youtube.com/watch?
51:21 – Nicky Campbell: There’s something else here as well … you guys wore some t-shirts
51:24 – (Phadnis and Moos make gestures, asking for permission to show the t-shirts)
51:26 – Phadnis: Would you like to see them?
51:27 – Nicky Campbell: Oh well! Yes (upon which we unzip our jackets to reveal the t-shirts)
We didn’t unzip “in the moment he took to say something”, as you put it – we gestured to him twice to ask for permission, then we asked “would you like to see them?” and he replied “oh well! yes” – only then did we begin to unzip my jackets.
We would be grateful if you could amend the piece to reflect the fact that Nicky Campbell explicitly gave us permission to show the t-shirts. At the moment the piece gives the impression to the unknowing reader that we uncovered the t-shirt against the will of Nicky Campbell and the BBC, that indeed we were using the programme to cause offence. As you know, in the current climate, this impression likely carries a risk to our personal safety.
Please amend the article to accurately reflect the facts and avoid any possibility of us suffering harm as a consequence of the publication of the article.
Thank you for your consideration.
Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis
What an interesting reason given as to why the tee shirts could not simply be worn as usual. I am not fooled by that for one second. The real reason is that it might have offended the Muslims in the studio audience. Nothing to do with imagery at all. They should either have not worn them or as one usually wears a tee shirt. None of this politically correct nonsense about covering up. For why bother wearing them in the first place then ? The production company was deliberating manipulating them into wearing them. They should have refused as they were not planning on doing so anyway. I am all for open debate but being provocative just for the sake of it is a complete no no. Having said that however the Big Questions is an excellent programme and I watch it regularly. I like the idea of ideologically opposites debating important issues. It does not need unnecessary gestures from behind the scenes however to boost ratings or generate controversy. So hopefully this will have been a one off
Ophelia Benson says
Being provocative just for the sake of it is a complete no no? Why? Surely that at least depends on the subject matter. Is it a complete no no, for instance, for a Muslim woman to wear no hijab in the company of men she knows to consider hijab mandatory? Is it a complete no no for a gay couple to flirt in the company of people who are squeamish about the existence of gay couples?
No, I beg to differ, I think being provocative just for the sake of it is often a complete yes yes.
@2 Ophelia: I agree – on condition of informed consent. What the BBC audience saw here was apparently not that but rather, as the unwitting participants witness, a betrayal and incitement to assault.
There should be a law! Or, failing that, at least an agreement with the appropriate authority for granting permit to transmit public programming. Oh wait, there are? If that is the case, BBC is in my opinion in breach of both. Among other things.
Incitement to assault?
Has your head come loose?
Thanks for asking. No, not yet. But no thanks to the thoughtless thugs at BBC and their minions at Mentor stoking the stoning maniacs by waving a piece of cloth cartoon about on TV.
If you were in Chris’ or Abishek’s clothes right now, or for that matter Maajid’s, would you sleep comfortably at night?
Did that answer your concern profitably?
No, but characterising the BBC as thoughtless thugs makes me think you might be skipping your meds.
Ah. I see you are carefully backtracking.
By the way: Your chronology is on the brink.
Please don’t mind the cliff behind you.
And please DO have a GREAT day.
Ah. I see you are carefully backtracking
I didn’t backrack at all, you knobend. My ‘No’ referred to your failure to answer my question. As to whether Chris’ or Abishek are sleeping comfortably why don’t you ask them?
You are attempting to shift the responsibility for the threats onto the BBC because like a lot of racists you don’t think any Muslims are capable of moral agency.
So tell us: what about your own meds?
Or, on second thought, perhaps not.
Jeez – wearing a T-shirt was “an incitement to assault”. Hate to drag up the old short skirt is an incitement to rape comparison but it writes itself.
I maliciously hope that if there are death threats emanating from Pakistan that some get sent to the BBC honchos. I never thought they’d be such weasels.
Ophelia Benson says
Wait, what? Chris and Abhishek don’t think the cartoons should be kept off tv. Far from it.
On yesterday’s episode of TBQ, a Christian guest complained that people say what they like about Christianity but not Islam. Campbell commented that there was a controversy based on something that appeared on an earlier episode and that they will discuss that next week. Should be interesting.
I would be surprised if Campbell didn’t know in advance. The programme always appears well prepared and Campbell usually knows a lot about guests’ views. It would be an incredible oversight not to inform the presenter of something so controversial.
As for why cover, as well as the reason given in the email it meant that the guests could not debate the T-shirts until the point where Campbell decided to ask Chris and Abishek about their experience. If they had been wearing them all the way through it would have been the focus of discussion for the whole programme. It also meant that they did not have to show the cartoons all the way through. They could have edited them out later or blurred them as on Channel 4 if the BBC did not permit them to show it.
My point about being provocative just for the sake of it was that it achieves nothing other than to deliberately inflame. On the other hand if one is being unintentionally provocative that is completely different. There has to be substance to ones provocation otherwise it is a waste of time. It can also be counter productive. Those who are in favour of unnecessary provocation have to remember that it can just as equally be used against them. And those doing the provoking are not limited by empathy for their chosen target either. The golden rule in all discourse is that you can rip the idea to pieces but you leave the individual alone. Once you start tinkering with that sacred cow it is time to give in because you have already lost the argument. Even if the opposition is doing exactly the same thing you resist the temptation to do likewise. It may be admittedly hard to do in meat space but in the cyber world it is a skill that is not that difficult to master providing you do not have a disposition towards anger. Unfortunately the internet brings out the worst in human beings. However that is no excuse not to avoid it oneself. Anyone who says they cannot do it is simply not trying hard enough
I seem to have been guilty of unclear communication. What I meant was that the production company and BBC failed to take responsibility for the confrontation they set up, in the studio and in front of the broadcast audience. Apparently there was great interest in creating conflict for the sake of “effects” or “good tv” or “eyeballs” but none in guiding the ensuing debate in a constructive direction. When the predictable rage storm occurred, the t-shirt bearers were “hung out to dry” – deliberately set up to be victims of any assaults from irate viewers – by BBC and their underlings.
That is simply irresponsible journalism. I’m pretty sure BBC has a legal obligation – through law and/or contract – to uphold a certain standard, which in my view they obviously did not in this case. BBC must also bear the blame for what their subcontractors do. Playing with fire. It cannot have come as a surprise that a number of people from a certain group would jump at this chance to instil graphic threats of violence over a quite harmless symbol; actually, over an already ongoing debate over the harmlessness of said symbol. All the more reason for BBC to make an extra effort to clarify the subject of freedoms of speech and of religion (as well as the lack thereof).
When will the minister responsible for public tv pull an ear* to remind BBC of their public service mission?
And just look at yourselves here, guys: It didn’t take very much for you to misinterpret my words once you got the chance to spill out your inner hate, did it?
The cartoons can and perhaps even should be shown on tv, as one pedagogical example of opinion. BBC has here missed an excellent opportunity to do its job and serve their viewers by explaining the contrast to death warrants and meat cleavers.
* Figuratively speaking
surreptitious57: I agree fully.
Hey Shat her face* :
(My bold.) In fact I did answer your question, rather more politely that it was put, I might add:
The entirety of the rest of your “discourse” here must have been based on some warped misunderstanding or misreading on your part. (Perhaps you asked some other questions only inside your own head? I didn’t catch those.) To the extent my lack of clarity in explaining my point of view possibly contributed to that, I have already apologized. But the balance is not much in your favour, it seems to me. For one example, based on your already demonstrated appalling lack of reading comprehension it is highly dubious whether you read my thoughts on Muslims’ moral agency even in the right county, nevermind ballpark. Remember, these religious extremists** only need to persuade one or two to commit an atrocity – it does not take an absolute majority vote of every single last Muslim.
But perhaps you are now sober enough to respond sensibly, hmm? Seeing as you have contributed four out of five comments on a newer thread. Well. Anyway.
Other than that, what can I say. Oh yes: Sorry to disrupt quorum, Ophelia.
* As long as we are on a name-calling basis. Hello.
** And please don’t feign to misread this too. It is the extremists we are discussing here, not the faith as such.