This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of August, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Date of publication: 5 August 2019
Media Outlet: BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), British public service broadcaster
Title: “Stacey Meets the IS Brides”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: For the BBC program Panorama, British TV presenter Stacey Dooley visited camps in northern Syria and spoke to women who left their own countries to join the Islamic State group. In one of the scenes, which saw women raising their index finger, Dooley said: "As we left the camp, we saw women raising their index finger in an IS salute.” The clip was aired ahead of the full episode as promotional material, and was shown on large national platforms, including Sunday's BBC News at Ten. Several news platforms also picked up the content, with The Mirror and The Sun both publishing pieces which stated that the hand gesture was IS symbol.
The BBC received much criticism on the clip, with many people calling out the inaccuracy of Dooley's statement. In response, the BBC apologised and removed the clip from the documentary. News outlets subsequently also edited their content to remove the claim.
Myth debunked: In Islam the raising of the index finger signifies the Tawhīd, which refers to the indivisible oneness of God. It is a gesture often used to express the unity of God, and it represents the concept of monotheism in Islam. For many, it is one of the most important gestures of faith in the religion and it is part of Islamic prayer. The hand gesture has been used by Islamic State militants in the past, in propaganda material for example. However, this is not where the hand gesture originates from, and the raised index finger is used by many Muslims around the world as part of their practicing faith. It is for this reason that Dooley’s comments were out of context, and derogatory to the many Muslims around the world who raise their index finger as nothing more than an expression of faith and prayer. Viewers of the program who do not know the background and importance of the raised index finger and Tawhīd could make rash assumptions about the gesture, and falsely link those of the Muslim faith with IS.
In their apology, the BBC said: “We wrongly described a gesture made by women filmed in a Kurdish controlled detention camp in northern Syria as an 'IS salute’. While IS have attempted to adopt this for their own propaganda purposes, for accuracy we should have been clear that many people of Muslim faith use this gesture to signify the oneness of Allah. We apologise for this error and have removed this description from the footage.” With more background and explanation in the documentary, the clip would have been no issue. It was the lack of context that resulted in an unfair and potentially vulnerable situation for Muslims. A large media organisation like the BBC, the public broadcaster of the UK, should have been aware of this before airing the clips nationwide.
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