Lord (Indarjit) Singh has been almost as permanent a fixture on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ as the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines. The BBC likes a certain sort of thought for the day, delivered by a certain sort of thinking person. If you hold a certain establishment status (like bishop or peer [or, preferably, both]) and they like the way you think, you can easily become a permanent fixture, featuring at least fortnightly, if not weekly, and pocketing £200 a time. If you don’t think in a certain sort of way or don’t hold a certain establishment status (Telegraph journalist, for example), you might still be invited by the BBC to deliver your thought for the day on Radio 4, but it won’t be entirely your thought: you will have been ‘assisted’ in the way you should think. If you incline toward a liberal-left ecumenical multi-faith disposition, your thought for the day will be just perfect. If you incline to the right or adhere to the rather more robust dogmata of your faith, your thought for the day will be ‘corrected’ before you are permitted to share it with the nation.
After years of having his texts tinkered with, Lord Singh has told the BBC’s where to go (and it wasn’t to Vaheguru’s Loutus Feet). The final straw was the BBC’s decision to censor Sikh history in case it might offend Muslims. That Sikh history happens to be factual history; it is world history. It is, in short, historical truth. But Lord Singh wasn’t permitted to refer to it because the only Sikh thought for the day which may be uttered is the kind of thought for the day which doesn’t offend Muslims. Ergo, the BBC ensures ‘Thought for the Day’ complies with the principles of Sharia.
The Times reports that Lord Singh has accused the corporation of “prejudice and intolerance” after they censored his reference to an executed Sikh Guru who had opposed the forced conversion of Hindus to Islam under the Mughal emperors of India in the 17th century. The Daily Mail helpfully explains:
Lord Singh’s thought for the day contained no criticism Islam or Muslims; he simply made reference to Guru Tegh Bahadur as an exemplar of religious liberty in an era of persecution. It is a matter of historic fact that Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb imposed Islam (and higher taxes) on Hindus, and their temples were demolished and turned into mosques. It is also a matter of historic fact that Guru Tegh Bahadur opposed the pogrom and refused to convert to Islam, for which he was beheaded.
Lord Singh is of the view that being unable to mention this historic aspect of his faith in case it might offend Muslims “is like saying to a Christian that he or she should not talk about Easter for fear of giving offence to the Jews”. He raised a complaint with the BBC which reached Director of Radio (and former Labour Culture Secretary) James Purnell (who thinks in a certain way). Mr Purnell rejected the complaint. Lord Singh responded:
The need for sensitivity in talking about religious, political or social issues has now been taken to absurd proportions with telephone insistence on trivial textual changes right up to going into the studio, making it difficult to say anything worthwhile. The aim of Thought for the Day has changed from giving an ethical input to social and political issues to the recital of religious platitudes and the avoidance of controversy, with success measured by the absence of complaints. I believe Guru Nanak [the founder of Sikhism] and Jesus Christ, who boldly raised social concerns while stressing tolerance and respect, would not be allowed near Thought for the Day today.
He accused the BBC of “a misplaced sense of political correctness that pushes contributors to bland and unworldly expressions of piety that no one can complain about”. The Times adds:
After the incident last November Lord Singh sent a catalogue of complaints to Mr Purnell, a former culture secretary. The peer said that after the BBC had agreed in 2011 that he could discuss the birthday of Guru Nanak “I was told to scrap it and talk about the forthcoming marriage of Prince William with Kate. I reluctantly agreed to do so, to the upset of many Sikh listeners.”
Another time “when I wanted to include the words ‘the one God of us all’ [central to Sikh teachings], I was told I could not mention this ‘because it might offend Muslims’ ”. Although Sikhs are monotheistic, they do not share the Abrahamic roots of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
The Rt Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden (who doesn’t think in a certain way) has had a letter on this matter published in The Times:
The problem with the BBC’s ‘Thought for the Day’ is that it has become unthinking pap of the day. All of the world’s major religions are mutually incompatible and theologically antithetical in their doctrines of divinity, but these can never be expressed on ”Thought for the Day’ lest they might cause offence to one particular faith, which cannot be interrogated (and certainly not blasphemed). So contributors are restricted to the theological niceties and ‘common good’ notions of sanctity and morality. By all means, talk about tinsel and Easter Eggs and the wonders of the Holy Ghost, but don’t mention crusades, jihad or historic pogroms lest your text be ‘corrected’. And don’t, whatever you do, dare to think anything like ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me‘, unless you intend to expound that Jesus didn’t mean this and we’ve all misunderstood him and that the ‘correct’ way of thinking is about a liberal hope that all religious teachings, interpretations, moral requirements, creation myths and eschatologies are all basically the same.
What we clearly need is a ‘Robust Thought for the Day’; a kind of ‘Not The BBC Thought for the Day’; a ‘Non-PC Thought for the Day’; a ‘Critical Thought for the Day’; an ‘Uncensored Thought for the Day’. The principal criterion for broadcast or publication would be that it would never be make it past the ‘Thought Police’ of Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day.’