In their continuing effort to raise consciousness, spread enlightenment, and deprecate the traditions that made Britain Britain, the BBC has posted extensive information on major world religions on their internet site (www.bbc.co.uk/religion). A friend directed us to the section on Islam. It makes instructive reading for anyone wishing to chart the progress of the virus of multiculturalism—that odd compact of self-righteousness, nihilism, and pusillanimity—in elite British society.

The site offers some standard historical exposition about the origin and doctrines of Islam as well as some inadvertently comical items such as the entry “Muslim internet matchmaking,” in which we learn that “The internet has sparked a revolution in the way some Muslims are meeting potential partners.” (Similar, equally comic, pages exist for other religions.) But what is most striking about the section on Islam is its tone of careful piety. No other religion—except possibly Atheism, “The ideas and story of people who don’t believe in God”—receives such fastidious treatment. (The section on Atheism, incidentally, features an interview with that secular saint, Richard Dawkins: a perfect match.) Compare, for example, the introductory caption describing Islam with the one that describes Christianity:

Islam began in Arabia and was revealed to humanity by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Those who follow Islam are called Muslims. Muslims believe that there is only one God. The Arabic word for God is Allah.

Got it? Now here’s the bit introducing Christianity:

Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, with about 2.1 billion followers worldwide. It is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ who lived in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago.

Notice anything different in the tone, in the approach? For starters, Islam “was revealed to humanity,” etc., etc., but Christianity is a statistic. And what’s this “peace be upon him” stuff—confessional language in the very secular setting of a BBC internet history lesson? In a religious setting, Catholics will often say “Glory to you, Lord” or “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” But in the context of an historical document? What’s going on here?

The BBC must have some inkling that, at the very least, the “peace be upon him” wheeze is a departure from precedent, for they offer this explanation, and justification, for the practice:

Throughout the BBC’s section on Islam you will see Peace be upon Him or (pbuh) after the name Muhammad.

Muslims say Peace be upon Him after every mention of Muhammad’s name, as a mark of respect. Muslims do the same when they write the Prophet’s name, adding pbuh… .

The BBC uses the pbuh in the Islam section out of courtesy, and we would do the same for any other religion if they had a similar phrase that was universally used as a sign of respect.

Well, that’s nice to know. The BBC goes on to inform readers that “When the site refers to the Prophet on pages that are not in the Islam section, we do not use the phrase.” Not yet, anyway.

We are all for “courtesy” and marks of “respect.” We are less enthusiastic about pandering to ideological interest groups and then dressing up strategies of capitulation with the rhetoric of politesse. A great deal might be said about the BBC’s treatment of religion on its web site. Here we will confine ourselves to asking why it is “Peace be upon Him” when the BBC is talking about the Prophet, but when it gets around to Christianity it’s stuff like “Rethinking the Creed”:

A Creed for today Can you say the words of the Christian Creed? Do they express your belief? Are you uneasy with the traditional teachings of Christianity and want to affirm your belief in another way?

Do you belong to another religion or to none, and have other ways of saying what you believe?

Roger Bolton is joined by a panel to debate the value and content of the Christian Creeds, while Trevor Barnes sampled the opinions of people in one South London neighbourhood.

Let’s see: “Peace be upon Him” in one case and “Are you uneasy with the traditional teachings of Christianity” in the other. Latinists will remember the useful word nonne, which introduces questions expecting the answer “yes.” English can use the word “surely” to achieve a similar semantic nuance (“Surely you don’t believe that?”); and, as the example from the BBC shows, English can play it both ways simply by supplying a suitably discouraging verbal context. (Would you like “to affirm your belief in another way?” Hey, why not?)

The BBC’s page explaining why they use “Peace be upon Him” when mentioning Mohammad ends by saying that the BBC “would be pleased to hear your opinions on the BBC’s use of pbuh” and inviting readers to email them with comments. The address is religion@bbc.co.uk (enter the subject “pbuh”). We second that invitation.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 24 Number 7, on page 1
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