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.