BBC Justifies Self Censorship in the Face of Threats of Violence
... they believe that their faith refers to things which have an objective reality. And so, for example, they regard blasphemy as causing objective harm. So it’s not just that a blasphemous statement or act would hurt their feelings or anger them because it went against their opinions; it would do actual objective harm. That offending of an act of sacrilege against the god head or religious figure, actually creates harm in the world as it were and might be as heinous or more heinous than harm to a human being.
I think you have to tread really quite carefully and sensitively because of the character. The point is that for a Muslim, a depiction – particularly a comical or demeaning depiction of the Prophet Muhammad – might have the force, the emotional force, of a piece of a grotesque child pornography. One of the mistakes seculars make is I think not to understand the character of what blasphemy feels like to someone who is a realist in their religious belief.
Interviewer Timothy Garton-Ash: But it is an ace, isn’t it? And a rather nasty ace if people say, “I feel so strongly about that; if you say it or broadcast it, I will kill you.”Thompson: Well clearly it’s a very notable move in the game, I mean without question. “I complain in the strongest possible terms” is different from “I complain in the strongest possible terms and I’m loading my AK47 as I write.” This definitely raises the stakes. But I think there’s two or three things going on, so manifestly a threat to murder, which by the way is quite rightly a crime, massively raises the stakes.
Ash: What, if I may just interrupt for a moment, what are the areas in your experience, your great experience as a broadcaster, have you experienced threats of violence, threats to murder?
Thompson: Well, the coverage of Israel-Palestine, and one or two other conflicts in the world, can lead to and have in my case led to threats of violence. Our editorial decision-making, where someone has come to believe you are not doing it fairly, or maybe likely not to do it fairly, have been threatened once, twice in my career about one or two major conflicts, which have some of the same features: a sense of victimhood, a sense of conspiracy – you know conspiracists who believe everyone else is conspiracist, and so forth – and a sense that the desperation or the circumstance means that the normal don’t apply.