Screening Party for Channel 4 Documentary about Islam Cancelled after Advice from “Security Authorities”

From Jenny Taylor at Lapido Media, 5 September:

HISTORIAN Tom Holland is bravely shrugging off Twitter threats this week following broadcast of his Channel 4 documentary Islam: the Untold Story.

…Now Channel 4 have cancelled the screening party due to be held next week.

The cancellation is now being widely reported, after taking a week to trickle up into the mainstream media. According to the Guardian:

Channel 4 has cited concerns over security as the reason for cancelling a planned screening at its headquarters this week of a documentary film questioning the origins of Islam.

…A Metropolitan police spokesperson said the force had no knowledge of the event or the decision to cancel it.

However, sources close to the channel said the screening had been cancelled after advice was taken from “relevant security authorities”.

It’s not clear to what extent Holland has faced real threats rather than just unpleasant abuse; the Telegraph tells us only that:

One message sent to Holland read: “You might be a target in the streets. You may recruit some bodyguards, for your own safety.”

The planned screening was noted in a letter dated 30 August, which the Muslim Council of Britain sent to Channel 4 and placed on-line. The MCB Secretary General, Farooq Murad, complained about the documentary, citing “Reverend Bosworth Smith writing in 1874” and Edward Gibbon in “1823” (sic – actually 1788), and he added that:

The Muslim Council received an invitation to a special screening of this ‘ground-breaking film’ Islam: The Untold Story which is to be held on 13th September 2012. One fails to understand the logic of holding a screening nearly a month after the film was broadcast on Channel 4 at prime time.

It’s a great shame that the MCB rejected the opportunity afforded by the programme to engage with modern scholars, but there’s no indication that news of the special screening generated any kind of hostile “chatter” among Muslims. Despite this, the Independents report is headlined “Channel 4 Cancels Controversial Screening”.

According to UK television listings, the programme will be repeated on Channel 4 on Friday at 1.10am (i.e. late on Thursday night). The Independent gives the impression that this repeat has also been pulled from the schedules, but  there appears to have been confusion between this and the “special screening” event. The paper also claims that

those attempting to watch the documentary on 4OD were met with an error message.

Tom Holland has responded to this on Twitter:

People are saying #IslamTheUntoldStory has been ‘pulled’ by Channel 4. Not true. Film’s been showing on 4Seven & is still available on 4oD. (1)

All that’s been cancelled is a small, pvt post-TX screening 4 people involved with the prog & other interested parties. (2)

I’ve just checked, and the programme is certainly still accessible from the 4OD site.

Holland’s documentary has been much discussed since its broadcast last month. As is often the case with these kinds of programmes, it at times failed to make clear a particular theory’s status within a wider scholarly debate, but it gave a reasonable account of how scholars working in good faith approach the subject of religious history. Holland has responded to critics here.

6 Responses

  1. ” It’s not clear to what extent Holland has faced real threats rather than just unpleasant abuse.”

    I think I saw you objecting to threats from someone called Charlie Flowers. Were these threats from Charlie Flowers worse than the threats made against Tom Holland? Being told “get some bodyguards” seems like a serious threat when Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Lars Vilks, and sundry other people have become victims to violent muslims.

    I’m curious to see if the alleged Charlie Flowers’ threats against you (to which you have referred a number of times) are anything close to the type of threat incurred by Tom Holland.

  2. Richard, I have a lot of time for you and the hard yards you put in on this blog so it is with a heavy heart that I have to say that you have called this one wrong.

    What is Islam? The only answer I have is that Islam is what Muslims do: in other words, that its boundaries are where Muslims – or the majority of Muslims – choose to place them. And of course the great majority of Muslims live in Muslim countries. Indeed, it is widely held (by Muslims) that those of their co-religionists who do not live in countries which have a Muslim majority – and where Sharia law is not available at least as an alternative in any matter where at least one party is a Muslim – are suffering from discrimination and that there should be a jihad to relieve them of the Satanic distress of secularism.

    Neither you nor I, Richard, would go into a mosque with the intention of urinating on its floor. We certainly would not spit on a woman who was wearing a niqab. Yet we do not see that for a non-Muslim to write about the history of Islam is just as offensive, is unacceptable in exactly the same way.

    We insist that the boundaries of any religion are where the boundaries of an enfeebled Christianity are in the West to-day. We demand that practitioners of other creeds accept that our culture poses no threat to theirs, no matter what the facts may be.

    And we are certainly not going to allow that Muslims erred in coming to the West as immigrants rather than as conquerors, as they did over a millenium ago. And we continue to regard the victories of Christians over Muslims, whether in France or Spain or the Holy Land, as defining moments in the creation of our culture.

    And we reject the Muslim argument that only Muslims should study the history of Islam for no other reason than that we find it inconvenient. If all this isn’t cultural imperialsim I have no idea what that phrase can possibly mean. Please enlighten me.

  3. I am not sure where I saw this documentary but I remember taking note of few unreasonable snide remarks in subjective manners he made esp. in the scenes when he gains access to areas now controlled by Israel military.

    He had a total lack of empathy for people with faiths, so the motive is just suspect for somebody like him to be messing with the faith communities.

    • One more issue I forgot was the other people he used as “experts” were all disturbingly genetically related to this Sam Bacile; self styled “filmaker” as Telegraph writes. It just felt disingenuous and evil.

  4. “…at times failed to make clear a particular theory’s status within a wider scholarly debate…”

    That’s being rather euphemistic and apologetic, isn’t it? The academic status of his theory is MARGINAL. More importantly, that status is barely if ever mentioned in the reporting of this issue.

  5. […] find its premise to be objectionable, for political or religious reasons. Tom Holland, who made a controversial documentary on the origins of Islam for Channel 4 last year, writes on […]

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