Channel 4 News watch

I'm a fan of C4 News. At its best, it can be offbeat, prepared to offer a different perspective, and at ease with a diverse and multiethnic Britain. This occasional blog, though, will be largely devoted to the matter which grates on some viewers even more than some of Jon Snow's ties: the programme's tendentious reporting of Middle Eastern politics.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

On Wahhabism and British spies ...

This is a revised version of a comment first published on the Guardian's Comment is Free website, in this thread. It relates to the purported autobiography, 'Memoirs Of Mr. Hempher, The British Spy To The Middle East'. Distributed by the Turkish publisher Hizmet books, this text claims to show how a British agent sponsored Mohammed ibn Wahhab, the founder of the puritanical Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam (whose present-day adherents include Osama bin Laden and the Saudi royal family), as part of an elaborate ploy to subvert and destroy Islam, with the ultimate aim of conquering the Middle East. It's said that the book text is receiving wide circulation in present-day Iraq. Prof. Daniel Pipes dismisses it a a hoax; so do I, for the following reasons.

1. The dates seem all wrong. For instance, if you look at the text linked to above, in Section One, Part Two, the author states:

'In the Hijri year 1122, C.E. 1710, the Minister of Colonies sent me to Egypt, Iraq, Hijaz and Istanbul to act as a spy and to obtain information necessary and sufficient for the breaking up of Muslims.'

and a few paragraphs earlier, in Part One, we are told:

'Our State is relatively weak yet in its colonies in India, China and Middle East. These countries are not entirely under our domination ... The Ministry of Colonies assigned a commission from each of the colonies for the execution of these two tasks.'

Well, in 1710, Britain didn't have any colonies in any of those areas. The first colony in India (taken by a private company, actually) was Bengal, in the 1760s. The first and only real colony we had in China was Hong Kong, taken in the 1840s (there was an Opium War involved. Not a proud moment in British history, if we're honest). The Middle East was well out of the reach of any European colonial powers at the time, due to the strength of the Ottomans - remember, only 25 years previously, the latter had been at the gates of Vienna.

2. The dates also don't sit too well with the life of Mohammed Ibn Wahhab. In the preface to the book, by Waqhf Ikhlas - see here - we are told:

Hempher, only one of the thousands of male and female agents employed and sent forth to all countries by this ministry, entrapped a person named Muhammad of Najd in Basra, misled him for many years, and caused him to establish the sect called Wahhabi in 1125 [1713 A.D.].

This tallies with the chronology of the text. The first time we encounter Wahhab is in Section One, Part Four, in Basra:

'From time to time a young man would call at our carpenter's shop. His attirement was that of a student doing scientific research, and he understood Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. His name was Muhammad bin Abd-ul-wahhab Najdi.'

Now, if you add up the time periods the author gives from the start of the narrative, it comes to three years. So I'll take it that this occurs three years after 1710, i.e. 1713.

But Wikipedia (as well as all the other biographies I've seen) gives Ibn Wahhab's dates as 1703-92.

So are we to take it that when Wahhab 'set up' his sect - as a 'young man', who looked like a science student, and spoke three languages - he was ten years old?

3. Some of the language is also a bit suspect. Here are the first sentences in the book:

'Hempher says:

Our Great Britain is very vast. The sun rises over its seas, and sets, again, below its seas.'

Well, anyone who's looked at a map knows that Great Britain itself assuredly isn't very vast. Maybe its empire was vast, at that time; but is it really very likely that someone would claim that 'Great Britain is vast'?

4. But the real coup de grace comes here, in Section One, Part Seven:

'2- We must establish cooperation with France in demolishing the Islamic world both from within and from without.'

Now, anyone who knows anything about the history of Britain and France at any time between about 1688 and 1815 knows that the idea of the two countries cooperating on anything is ridiculous. Even on destroying Islam. And especially as the claim seems to be that this plot was hatched in 1713, right at the height of the War of Spanish Succession. Britain and France were at war from: 1689-97; 1701-14; 1740-48; 1756-63; 1776-83 (in North America); and 1793-1815. Such was the lingering animosity between the two nations that, the first time they fought on the same side for centuries - in 1830, in trying to secure Greek independence - one old British admiral insisted on referring to the enemy (Turkey) as 'The French'.

5. Another commenter on the Guardian site, Khartoumi, also has this to say:

In fact, much of the Hempher forgery looks much like the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion]. Note the persistent attempts to link the Wahabbi with Judaism. The lunatic suggestion that Ibn Wahhab was descended from a Jewish family - as if this would make the slightest difference!

The provenance of the text is also so clearly a hoax - an English text, the only known edition of which (and no-one actually knows what the edition is/was) in Arabic, translated into Turkish by a well known paid religious propagandist for a dying Ottoman empire...

I hope this article goes some way to dispelling some of the flights of fancy to be found on the Internet surrounding the alleged British role in 'creating' Wahhabism. But, given the calibre of some of the websites circulating the text, with their accompanying interest in the New World Order, the Illuminati and David Icke, I guess it'll take more than that to persuade them.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A fun day out for all the family

Here's C4 News' report on the Gaza mosque disturbances yesterday. You can watch their video report there. Here are some video stills taken from it (from about 1m 20 sec in):

Two children are visible here.

Here I've highlighted them.

The girl in an orange top is wearing trainers and is generally dressed differently to the adult women.

She clearly has girlish features and is holding an older woman's hand.

That's definitely a child - I've highlighted him/her.

Of course, this isn't a particularly new tactic:

(Hat tip:

Update: see Paul Martin's report on Newsnight here. It includes interviews with some of the women involved stating that they dressed the gunmen in women's clothes to smuggle them out, and one gunman stating that he had fired at the Israelis while the escape was occurring.

Friday, October 13, 2006

On those Iraqi death rates ...

Okay, nowt to do with Channel 4, but just a bit of number-crunching. What was the death rate in Iraq before the 2003 war? The newly-released Lancet study produces a figure of 5.5/1000. To support this figure, the report's writers cite the CIA World Factbook. This is despite the fact that the CIA's figures for more recent years remain at around the same level, which, if true, would mean that virtually no excess deaths have resulted from the war.

Jon Pederson, whom the Lancet report praises, disputes the 5.5 figure here, citing a higher UNICEF figure.

Other UN bodies seem to concur. For instance, the WHO has figures for 2000-1 here. (Hat tip: A2) If you scroll down to 'Iraq', select '2001', and press 'Go!", then you'll bring up a table of death rates separated by age (irritatingly, this doesn't have a separate URL of its own):

The first three columns are the only ones you need to look at. The third column, 'nMx', is the second divided by the first, so it's the death rate for each age group.

I put this into a spreadsheet, added together the actual populations and the actual deaths, and got this:

As you can see, the WHO's overall death rate for Iraq in 2001 is 9.03/1000. But this, again, is quite a lot over the 5.5/1000 figure (for the following year) produced by the Lancet study.

And not surprisingly. Over one third of the 2001 deaths were of infants under 1 year old, and we are often told that children were bearing the brunt of the sanctions. The Lancet study says so itself, in Appendix E of its companion document. Here's a graph you can find there:

Now, it's true that the year axis doesn't go beyond 1998; but the mortality rate lines seem to do so. And nothing in what the rest of the Appendix says would lead you to believe that things had changed much for the better after 1998.

In the comments section to this post at Harry's Place, Tim has some thoughts on the strange implications of this:

if a 10% infant mortality rate applied in Iraq (A country of 25 million with 35 births per thousand) This would give a total of 85,000 deaths.
The Lancet Report claims a 5.5 crude death rate.
A total of 137,500 deaths.
If 85000 of those are under one year olds then the rest of the populataion had a crude death rate of 2.1%.

the lowest in the entire world ( by a factor of two)

And the UN's World Population Prospects study gives a rate for Iraq in 2000-2005 of 9.7/1000, and 10/1000 for the previous five years. (Hat tip: dd)

This WHO report, using the 2004 Iraq Living Conditions survey, gives a 2002 crude death rate figure of 7.8/1000.

If the point of all this needs to be spelled out, then here goes: if the pre-war figure was higher than 5.5/1000 - as all these UN figures seem to suggest - then the excess deaths must be lower.

Update: By the way, the 2004 Lancet study had an even lower pre-war crude mortality estimate, of 5/1000. Fred Kaplan criticised this figure at the time. You can read more debate about the figure here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

C4 News declares victory on behalf of Hezbollah

A few weeks ago, Inigo Gilmore used his reporter's slot on C4 News to argue that Israel's TV stations don't show the suffering of Arabs, and to opine that unless this changes, the country will never live in peace with its neighbours. He didn't see fit to mention that many Israelis have access to international broadcasters (you should hear them complain about the BBC's coverage), or to provide any comparison with broadcasters in Arab and Muslim countries.

Last night, his report spoke for itself:

'For Israelis, this war has been a great shock. Its mighty army humiliated again and again ...'

No mention that, if the IDF had wanted, it could have levelled towns like Bint Jbeil from the air, rather than putting its soldiers at risk and suffering losses of life.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Purpose of this blog

As an article on the Guardian's Comment website recently noted, just as our media holds the government to account, there is also a need for someone to hold the media to account. This blog started during tension in the Middle East in June 2006, when I saw a Jon Snow interview in which he heatedly argued that 'The Palestinian people are powerless' to release Corporal Shalit. Well, no, Jon - that was the old dispensation, when terrorist or militant groups were non-state actors whom the Palestinian Authority couldn't, or chose not to, control. Now, the people taking hostages are the armed wing of Hamas, who are themselves the government. In a democracy, which the PA apparently is, we usually work on the basis that the elected government is answerable to its people.

Luckily, it's not just I who found fault with Mr Snow's treatment of the area: Gene at Harry's Place had some issues too, as did many C4 News viewers (audio file).

(This blog will mainly be about correcting factual inaccuracies, rather than taking a wider view on the conflict.)

To kick off ...

... an example from last night's show. Judy Aslett, in her report, which can be found here (about six & a half minutes in), states that the current tension in the Middle East began when Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit was 'kidnapped in Gaza' by Hamas (and another group). Actually, as we all know, they tunnelled out of Gaza under the internationally recognised border of Israel in order to capture him.