Tuesday, August 30, 2005


One of the most reliable sources of comment and perspective on religious issues in the news comes from Bartholemew's Notes on Religion. The latest entry (permalink here) concerns John Ware's BBC documentary on the Muslim Council of Britain and reactions to it, most notably Madeleine Bunting's in The Guardian, which I commented on earlier. Overall, and upon further reflection, I think Bartholemew has this right. However, if "McCarthyite" means, in general terms, hectoring and accusatory, I don't believe Bunting was "unbalanced" to raise it in the context of other things she says. Indeed, part of that context, I would argue, has to be awareness of the unprecedented levels of media attention the MCB and Sir Iqbal Sacranie have been subject to.

This isn't to excuse particular views (like those on suicide bombings in Israel and the Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie, with which I profoundly disagree). But it is to require realism about what it must be like for a tiny and previously little-known organisation suddenly to find its every breath attended to. This is something media professionals and commentators find it hard to come to terms with from the other side of the probing camera/microphone.

Moreover, as Bunting said (and as even some of the stauncher MCB critics admit), while the virtue of a broad umbrella group like MCB is that it is able to relate something of the breadth of opinion among different sections of its constituency, the corresponding disadvantage is that it can only really do this by being a ring-holder rather than an arbiter.

Having worked for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, I have some experience in this delicate area. And from that vantage point, I also had occasional opportunity to see that the MCB (coming from a particular background, and without any equivalent of the lengthy history of Christian ecumenism) was genuinely trying to do discharge the resulting tension honourably. That doesn't mean, as Bunting pointed out, that it hasn't or won't make mistakes. Or that we are obliged to agree with it.

It is, of course, necessary and desirable in a plural society that religiously constructed opinions, especially those which turn out to be a matter of life and death for people they affect, should be open to careful scrutiny in media both internal and external to the community/tradition from which they arise. In that sense Panorama was quite justified in its enquiries. But I still believe that a greater degree of care, respect and circumspection should have been demonstrated - not least because building bridges rather than walls between Muslims and non-Muslims is especially important right now.... and because good journalism is compromised by media hype.

Meanwhile, here are some Bartholemew favourites. Wry, angular and informative. After all, being properly worthy doesn't mean being inexcusably dull.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

1 comment:

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