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Mark Ellse: When will the BBC stop making excuses for terrorists?


There is an excellent Foreign Office publication on the subject of writing a draft. Drafting focuses on things diplomatic but is a model of clarity and an engaging read. Standing out among its sections is one on slanting: how to write a draft from one side, or the other, or to give both sides of a situation. I was reminded of the slanting when listening to the recent BBC Radio 4 programme entitled The Returnees, repeated on Sunday but produced before the Brussels outrage.

Now of course a returnee is someone who returns. But it isn’t anyone who returns. We don’t call Gary Glitter a returnee even though he went to Vietnam, committed sex crimes and came back. The word returnee is used only in particular cases, one of which, as we know, is a dignified and honourable description of members of the armed forces returning from overseas duty. This sense has had a particular resonance in the last few years. We are all well aware of returnees, men and women who chose to become members of our armed forces, spent some time in selection and training and, after time for proper consideration, fought loyally and bravely for us and returned, often having made tremendous personal sacrifices for our country.

That was until the recent BBC programme which, under the title The Returnees, chose to discuss those very different individuals who go overseas to fight for foreign powers and, for various reasons, choose to come back. This collection of men and women is a motley bunch. Some, we were led to believe, are young and foolish, ‘innocent in every way’ as their solicitor described them.

Another went out to join the Mujahideen (the word means ‘engaged in jihad’) in Afghanistan. My intentions were originally for humanitarian purposes to alleviate the suffering of innocent women and children. I knew that I was going to get involved at some point with fighting. Did it not worry him, or the BBC, that he was supporting an organisation in conflict with British forces? This poor chap had a ‘change of heart’ and found himself back in the UK, very very confused, very very upset. We heard the quavering voice, framed gently by a tender BBC interviewer. The same BBC voice softly mentioned the attackers in Paris who were, in a sense returnees. The majority had left France and Belgium for Syria but rather than being disaffected by the violence they were drawn in deeper, selected by is for a an act of brutal violence.

All, in a sense, returnees.

This is perfect slant, and slanted to the Left. By referring to the silly boys, the mistaken adults and the brutal terrorists by a word that is usually used for our own soldiers, the BBC deliberately implies an equivalence and erodes our sense of moral perspective. Had the programme been entitled Terrorists return or, more balanced, Penitent or terrorist? a completely different programme would have ensued.

As it was, The Returnees trod the path of the politically correct. We were told about Denmark’s concerns about extremism. For no obvious reason we learned that some with mental illness been drawn into jihadist movements and that police now use psychologists to help them. Then a professor explained that for a great amount of people in the suburbs, religion is a thin veneer that covers other concerns, first of all a deeply felt and life long experience of not fitting in, not belonging; that is a daily experience of often minor, often invisible exclusion but at other times massive exclusion and racism. In the end these experiences of exclusions culminate in a counter-identity. Religion can help giving this a voice but it is not religion that really matters here. Translated this means that, even if you can’t see it, terrorism is our fault for being prejudiced and it’s nothing to do with Islam.

A police spokesman saying that we know that some are being trained in Syria to use explosives was challenged by the interviewer with ‘The temptation must be to take a zero risk or very low risk approach to that.’ Again this question was slanted to the Left. One can’t imagine a question from the Right like ‘Given the domestic risk, wouldn’t it be better not to allow any to re-enter after fighting for foreign powers?’

One voice warned us that there was a danger of McCarthyism or a witch hunt against these poor returnees. With 5000 Europeans fighting in Syria, their treatment if and when they return poses a series of challenges for Western society. There were no answers, of course. To do so would no doubt have breached the BBC’s requirement for impartiality. Except that there was no impartiality in the first place.


(Image: Day Donaldson)

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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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