Saturday, 24 December 2011

My words were taken 'out of context' - the last refuge of the scoundrel?

YNet report that:
'French President Nicolas Sarkozy met on Thursday with Jewish leaders and tried to explain the embarrassing incident in which he was overheard calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "liar".
One participant at the meeting told the JTA news agency that Sarkozy said the relationship between Netanyahu and his family was "strong" and claimed that his remarks were taken out of context.'
Ah that old excuse 'out of context'. As I blogged in 2007:
'It seems that whenever someone is caught saying something that they shouldn't, they defend themselves by saying that what they said is "being taken out of context". The next time someone says this, ask yourself in what context it would have been OK to have said what was said. Even better maybe the interviewer could ask the question "you say you have been quoted out of context, please could you explain the context in which you said what you said".

Here are a couple of examples of the "taken out of context" excuse being used.

First the principal of the King Fahd Academy in Acton, an Islamic school in West London, who admitted that the school uses textbooks which describe Jews as "apes" and Christians as "pigs" and has refused to withdraw them. Dr Sumaya Alyusuf was interviewed on Newsnight back in February when she said that the quotations about apes and pigs had been taken out of context. I would like to know the context and how Dr Alyusuf thinks that it was alright to liken the majority of people in this country as apes. You can read more about this story here.

Second let's examine the Channel 4's Dispatches documentary Undercover Mosque, in the programme a preacher called Abu Usamah spread his message of inter-communal respect and understanding thus "No one loves the kuffaar! Not a single person here from the Muslims loves the kuffaar. Whether those kuffaar are from the UK or from the US. We love the people of Islam and we hate the people of kuffaar. We hate the kuffaar!" In case you do not know, 'Kuffaar' is a derogatory term for non-Muslims used by many Muslims. As Andrew Anthony's article from The Observer about the police action against the Channel 4 programme makers here made clear "Usamah was not asked to cite any examples of misrepresentation. Nor was he confronted with the recordings of his sermons broadcast in the documentary. Now that would have made for a compelling piece of radio. The police and CPS suggest that comments like these were taken 'out of context'. I've read extended transcripts of Usamah's quotes and I'm satisfied that they were perfectly 'in context'. But let's ask what conceivable context could make these quotes acceptable or reasonable? Was he rehearsing a stage play? Was it a workshop on conflict resolution? Or perhaps it was the same context in which a spokesman from those other righteous humanitarians, the BNP, might attempt to aid community relations by repeatedly stating that his followers 'hate Muslims'. Yes, you can well imagine their excuses if they got caught at it: 'No, we don't really hate Muslims, we just want them to leave the country.' Except no one in the media swallows it, much less gives them air time."

You can see Abu Usama defend his comments here including a lot of "out of context" comments. Listen to his excuses and make up your own mind; do bear in mind the interviewing that makes even James Naughtie interviewing a Labour minister look rigorous.

Undercover Mosque was made by Hardcash productions. David Henshaw, its managing director, said it was "one of the programmes I'm most proud of. It's absolutely copper-bottomed and everything was properly contextualised. It's hard to understand what the proper context for some of those comments could be."'

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