Monday, 16 June 2008

BBC hopes to annoy Christians & grab ratings

A new storm is spotted out on the horizon, Mail-force 6: "BBC bosses," we learn, "have defended the grisly beheading of a Muslim by a Christian zealot in new drama Bonekickers."

It's hard to make out from whom the BBC bosses have defended this new programme - part of the latest series from Life on Mars creators Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham, and due to be broadcast next month. Presumably they just wanted to get their defence in first, defence being, as so often, the best form of publicity. The story, an "exclusive from Derek Robins", has been propagating itself steadily since it appeared on Friday. It doesn't seem to have made the Daily Mail quite yet, but it will. But I'll let Derek Robins tell the tale:

In the bloody scene, ex-EastEnder Paul Nicholls plays a fundamentalist who decapitates a Muslim with a sword.

Producer Rhonda Smith said: "It's not meant to be shocking or to cause offence and it comes very much from the storyline."

BBC chiefs are planning to warn viewers about the gruesome beheading scene.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "It is in a 9pm slot in July and I think there will be a warning before it's broadcast, but that has to be confirmed."

There then follows what reads like a piece of puffery for the show, billed as "Time Team meets Indiana Jones", but which sounds more like Spooks meets The Da Vinci Code. Tosh, but probably good-looking, sexy tosh with high production values. My sort of tosh. The "controversial" episode, the first, is entitled Army of God and according to the BBC's press release the plot concerns the excavation of some medieval graves which "leads to the hunt for the True Cross":

Using their archaeological skills the team discover that the medieval soldiers were Knights Templar. Analysis of a small piece of cedar wood from the dig indicates that it's 2,000 years old – and from the Holy Land. Could it be part of the True Cross?

Gillian needs to buy some time to survey the site, but right wing religious extremist Edward Laygass, who believes that the country is at war for its Christian soul, acquires the land and declares it Holy Ground. Laygass calls on a cell of violent modern day crusaders to aid him in his quest, and the team find themselves in mortal danger.

It's not clear from this write-up whether the beheading occurs in a flash-back to the Middle Ages or in the present day. If the latter, then the scene, which one person who has seen it described as "an act of extreme violence so out of the blue it made everyone in the cinema jump and cover their mouths with their hands", will no doubt create the headline-grabbing row the show's makers are hoping for. On the blogs, the outrage has started already. DhimmiWatch is typical:

Imagine the outcry, however, if they had dared to depict a Muslim beheading a Christian -- despite the fact that that is much, much more likely to happen than this sick and suicidal Beeb fantasy.

The anticipated row fits into a long-running narrative according to which the BBC is in hock to a multiculturalist agenda, privileges Islam, hates Christianity and British culture, seeks to minimise the Jihadist threat and preaches the secularist message that all religions are intrinsically violent and oppressive. We have been here before. In 2006 an episode of Spooks featured a fictional group of Christian terrorists plotting to kill Muslims, egged on by a renegade bishop, to the predictable outrage of the Daily Mail. Don Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance was quoted as saying:

This is yet another outrageous example of the BBC's anti-Christian bias. This beggars belief. I do think that there is a sinister and malicious agenda at work here and that they are trying to plant the seed of the idea through fiction that evangelical Christians are just as likely to carry out terrorism as some members of the Islamic faith.

I think we can forget the conspiracy theories that suggest that these plotlines are part of a deep-laid BBC plan to demonise Christianity. That's not how the commissioning of TV drama operates. Nevertheless, there is something at work here. As producer Rhonda Smith said, it "comes very much from the storyline". The whole thing is a fantasy, of course - allow the possibility of discovering the "True Cross" and you might as well throw in a bunch of latter-day Crusaders. But even a fantasy is a product of the reigning obsessions of its age. And the film's story of the discovery of an ancient relic leading to violent convulsions in the present day tells us a lot about the neuroses of the early 21st century.

For a start, there's the underlying idea that modern-day troubles have their roots in medieval or even ancient conflicts. That something as arcane as a relic might have the power to spark inter-religious violence in the UK would have seemed ridiculous a few years ago, before the combustible politics of the Middle East began leaking through to the West. Now, however, the power of religion to inspire war and murder has become relevant in a way that it has not been for more than three hundred years. It so happens that religiously-sanctioned terrorism is at present an almost exclusively Islamic phenomenon (though one should not overlook the violence that was a striking feature of Hindu nationalism in India during the early 1990s). It may be the case that violent Islamists can with greater plausibility look to the Koran or the example of Mohammed than the Christian Crusaders or Inquisitors could look to Jesus who, after all, never wielded a sword. But history shows that the potential was there. Religious fervour, however pacific the religion, can incite violence. Religions that claim to possess "the Truth" or the ultimate Revelation are especially dangerous.

That the series' writers can imagine the possibility of hardline Christians killing Muslims in modern Britain doesn't necessarily reveal them as full of hatred for the country's historic religion. Rather it reveals a reductionist approach to religion as a whole. Seeing that religion historically did, and in one particular manifestation still does, issue forth in violence, these unreflective secularists (as I guess they are) assume that the ingredients for a Christian "counter-Jihad" are still there. Oddly, they overestimate the strength of Christianity, and of religion generally. And they forget that while the Islamists' quarrel with the West may be based (at least formally) on religion, the West's response - even the response of avowed Christians like Bush and Blair - is entirely secular.

Which leads to the paradox. BBC-bashers (and I am not not a BBC-basher, of course) may accuse the Corporation of bending over backwards to appease Islam and of treating Christianity with unmerited revulsion. But the lesson of the plot - that religion can inspire violence - serves only to remind the viewer of who it is, in the real world, who is actually beheading hostages in the name of God. The (Neo-)Crusader in this film stands proxy for the Jihadist.

1 comment:

valdemar said...

Quite right. Religious violence is a by product of having religion at all, unless it's curbed by Enlightenment values. This of coures inverts the standard Christian argument that non-believers are 'free riders' on their moral bandwagon. The truth is the opposite - Christians and others are allowed to have as many bickering sects as they like because of post-religious tolerance. A genuinely religious society doesn't put up with 'minority faiths'. What's happened to Christians in Islamic nations recently is a clear illustration of that. Old-style secular nationalism retreats, out comes the beheading gear.