BBC puts words in to Brotherhood rep’s mouth

The BBC is commonly accused of being biased against Israel and of being unwilling to call terrorists what they are, but an interview with a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood on yesterday’s Today programme on Radio 4 showed that Israel is as likely to benefit from the BBC’s biases as anyone else. The interviewee was Dr Hazem Farooq Mansour, a Muslim Brotherhood MP in Egypt, and it was obvious to anyone listening that his English was not very good - so bad that the BBC should have found someone else or sent an interpreter - and the presenter used this to put words in his mouth time and again.

Here is a rough transcript:

P: Here in Cairo, I’m joined by Mr Hazem Farooq Mansour, who is a member of Parliament on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation in the opposition here fiercely opposed by president Mubarak’s government; it in turn, of course, does not like the way [Mubarak] has handled the Egyptian position in the last few years. I want to explore that position with you, Dr Mansour, but to ask you first of all this question: if some kind of new pattern in the Middle East is going to evolve from this fighting, what precisely is it that people on your part of the spectrum want to see?

M: Uh first of all we uh … not as Miss Condi Rice said that the new Middle East will be delivered from uh through a constructive [cues?], but as we see now through destructive [cues?]. We want to see a new Middle East have its own developmental project, have its own people opinions respectful, have a new regimes respect their people, new regimes not tyrannical regimes as we see/say [not sure what he meant], regimes not bow before the enemies, to have their seats safely for the …

P: But you see, you argue that there should be respect, now it’s clear that that respect does not extend to Israel. Hezbollah began this series of exchanges by firing rockets into Israel, by kidnapping soldiers, that’s what has led to this fighting. Now, does your vision of the ME include a respect for the right of Israelis to live securely behind their own borders or not?

M: First of all, Israel has been implanted in our region since 1948, implanted forcedly, implanted in our region …

P: Are you saying that it doesn’t have a right to be there? This is the argument.

M: Yes sir.

P: You are? You don’t wish it to be there?

M: Yes.

P: You want it to be removed?

M: Yes.

P: You see, in those circumstances, Israel’s right to exist, which is underwritten by the United Nations, which is supported by the international community, whatever they may think about the fighting at the moment, its right to exist behind secure borders is something which the world in general supports, and if they hear you saying, and people who support the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah, “Israel should be obliterated, if necessary by killing its people”, why should they accept that?

M: Uh, first of all we, I will repeat my words again (P: Yes), the Zionist country has been implanted in our region … I speak about those people who arrived, who came from Europe and the United States and west, east Europe to Palestine since one nine uh eleven, since Mr Balfour say uh …

P: Indeed, the Balfour Declaration, but do you believe, I just want to get this absolutely clear, you believe it is right to wage war against Israel until Jews are driven out of the Middle East? It’s as simple and crude as that.

M: You are in front of a, uh uh uh uh oppressive uh occupation, in front of uh troops, great troops, uh, oppressive …

P: But you see, Israel argues that it’s defending itself, and when people listen to you saying “we want to get rid of Jews from Europe (sic) if necessary by war”, then Israel’s defence is a very natural one; there is no person on the face of the planet who would not give them the right that’s been underwritten by the international community to be there safely behind borders who would not fight to defend those borders.

M: Is killing uh helpless women in Gaza, kids playing football in the Gaza streets …

P: Indeed, there’s an argument about Israeli policy in the occupied territories, of course, which the world argues about the whole time; there’s an argument about this fighting, as to whether the response is justified and proportional. These are perfectly proper political arguments. But you see, you’re saying “we do not accept the right of Israel to exist”. Now, most Arab governments, not all, have long since moved from that position and have said “we should have a ME in which there is a secure and safe Israel that lives at peace with its neighbours, including the Palestinians in a separate state. Now, do you accept that as a legitimate objective, or not, because it appears that you don’t.

M: How come uh sir, to live, to let Israel live safe within our land, within our region? How come to Israel to live safe uh while it reject the Hamas examplery elected government?

P: But even if it did accept Hamas, you’re saying you still want them removed?

M: Uh, yah. I mean (?) that not today, but really will come the day that Israel will be, uh, get rid of it from this region. Jewish can live with us as long years ago …

P: OK, well that could not be clearer, and people will have heard it with interest. Dr Hazem Farooq Mansour, thank you very much indeed.

I’ve edited this quite a bit to take out some of Dr Mansour’s hesitations and uh-uh utterances, but you can listen to it here for up to seven days. What Dr Mansour really thought of Hizbullah launching rocket attacks into northern Israel we never really found out, because practically every time he started a sentence he was interrupted because the interviewer had no patience for long sentences of halting English.

As it happens, Dr Mansour articulated a commonly-held Arab and Muslim view: that Israel should not exist and that the people who lived there before, and their descendents, are the rightful occupants of the land. It may well be the case that Arabs outside Palestine and Muslims outside the region take a much harsher line on Palestine than many local Arabs, much as it is the case that many of Israel’s most fanatical supporters are in the diaspora (and are sometimes not even Jewish), but the notion that Israel has no right to exist, and its removal is desirable even if it is not feasible in the short term, is probably the norm throughout the Muslim world. The interviewer acted as if this is somehow beyond the pale, and then proceeded to talk of obliterating Israel and driving out Jews, which have a whole different set of connotations from removing a state.

The fact is, Arabs want their land back - all of it. There are realists, but with regards to Palestine a fair number are not willing to accept derisory “peace plans” involving self-rule enclaves with Israeli control over who enters and leaves, even to other Arab countries. This is something I believe the west has never faced up to: that Israel is only interested in a “peace” in which they dominate. Of course, a lot of Muslims reject the idea that attacking civilians for its own sake is justified, and a lot of Lebanese are angry at Hizbullah for prompting the Israelis to destroy much of what they have built over the last few years, but a discussion between an English-speaker who speaks no Arabic and an Arab whose English is as poor as Dr Mansour’s was never going to bring much of this out.

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