BBC Backs Down; Threats of Physical Violence
The British Broadcasting Corporation has cancelled the screening of a controversial documentary about the history of Islam after the presenter was threatened with physical violence.
The private screening was to take place, followed by a debate, at the BBC's headquarters in London on September 13 before an audience of historians and opinion shapers.
"Islam: The Untold Story" is a documentary by historian Tom Holland, a well-known British author, who examines the origins of Islam and argues that there is little written historical evidence to verify claims about the Muslim prophet Mohammed and the origins of Islam.
In the documentary, the Cambridge-educated historian offers a critical examination of the traditional Islamic narrative that the Muslim holy book, The Koran, was transmitted directly and "fully formed" to Mohammed in the seventh century, through the angel Gabriel.
Holland says that contrary to Muslim claims, it is far more probable that the Koran and Islamic theology developed gradually over many centuries in conjunction with the expansion of Arab empires. He also says there are many "black holes" in the historical record, and suggests that Islam is essentially a "made-up" religion. "I had expected to find contemporaneous Muslim evidence," Holland says, "but there's nothing there."
Holland also questions in the film the centrality of Mecca in the origins of Islam: "Aside from a single ambiguous mention in the Koran itself, there is no mention of [the Muslim holy city of] Mecca, not one, in any datable text for over a hundred years after Muhammad's death."
The documentary, which was previously aired on the BBC's Channel 4 on August 28, generated more than 1,000 complaints by Muslims, who accuse Holland of distorting the history of Islam.
The London-based Islamic Education and Research Academy published two papers (here and here) denouncing the program. The Academy accuses Holland of "recklessness," of making "baseless assumptions" and of engaging in "selective scholarship." (continue reading...)