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No offence

Vicky Taylor | 12:49 UK time, Thursday, 13 July 2006

Words, as any journalist knows, can be loaded. One which has cropped up and led to lots of conversations in some blogs is "dhimmi". It's not a very well-known word (it's not in the Oxford English Dictionary, for instance), but it is one which raises passions.

A graphic of the BBC News website"Dhimmi" refers historically to non-Muslims living in Islamic states whose religion was tolerated as long as they accepted the supremacy of the Islamic state. It is now used, sometimes in the word "dhimmitude", to mean "situations where non-Muslims in the West are allegedly championing Islamic causes above others" (Wikipedia's definition).

Recently in our Have Your Say discussions, "dhimmi" has been used in a context which breaches our house rules, specifically that posts should not be abusive, offensive or provocative. Some users have tried to register with names using variations of "dhimmi", again sometimes in an offensive way. When we spotted this trend, we put the word "dhimmi" on our automated list of blocked words, mostly swearing and racially offensive terms. That meant that any reference to "dhimmi" would mean the posting was automatically deleted. (Having a blocked list means it's possible to filter out abuse and ensure comments do not break any laws - especially useful since our debates get several thousand messages each day.)

On reflection, though, it's clear that the word "dhimmi" can be used in the modern sense in a non-abusive way, so we've decided that it should not now be blocked. The list of blocked words is a moving object - words and meanings do change from time to time - so we'll monitor how the debate goes.

Getting the balance right between freedom of speech and removing offensive content can be difficult at times. We do have our rules, which we enforce, because we want the debates on our site to reflect intelligent, informed and legally expressed opinions. But we're not interested in stopping discussion - that, after all, is the point.

Vicky Taylor is editor of Interactivity.


  • 1.
  • At 01:49 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Candadai Tirumalai wrote:

I am assuming that "infidel" is now a perfectly acceptable word, though not perhaps in all contexts, but it has a history. In the Middle Ages, it meant the Muslims (sometimes called Saracens) from whom the Holy Land was to be recovered by the Crusaders, and in recent times militant followers of Islam characterize all non-Muslims as "infidels." The BBC is quite right to allow and encourage free speech while being aware of the inflammatory connotations of some loaded words.

  • 2.
  • At 02:35 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • archduke wrote:

"Getting the balance right between freedom of speech and removing offensive content can be difficult at times"

freedom of speech includes the right to be offensive.

  • 3.
  • At 02:43 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Rob - London wrote:

So basically, the BBC deems it OK to use the word Dhimmi in a historical context (e.g. Dhimmis in Islamic Spain), but it isn't OK to accuse 'somebody' (the BBC) of behaving like Dhimmis?


So what word should we use to describe the BBC's constantly pro-terrorist, pro-Islam and anti-Western agenda?

  • 4.
  • At 02:45 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • David wrote:

"Dhimma", rather than "Dhimmitude", is the historical term used to designate the sort of indefinitely renewed contract through which the Muslim community - not modern Islamic states - accords hospitality and protection to members of other revealed religions, on condition of their acknowledging the domination of Islam.

For non-Muslims in the Muslim community to qualify as "Dhimmis" they must pay a poll-tax or "Djizya".

"Dhimma" therefore doesn't appear to have anything to do with "situations where non-Muslims in the West are allegedly championing Islamic causes above others", whatever Wikipedia says.

  • 5.
  • At 04:35 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Rob - London wrote:

Strange how some people's comments get published by the Beeb, yet others don't quite 'make the cut'....

  • 6.
  • At 04:38 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Micah wrote:

David, you miss the point.

To survive as Dhimmis for many generations, a population would have to adopt a certain posture and attitude towards the dominant Muslim population. It is this attitude which is reflected in the modern non-Islamic use of the term Dhimmi.

it has everythign to do with advancing the positions of the Islamists and condemning those who would stand up to them.

  • 7.
  • At 04:52 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Black Death wrote:

Yes, much better to ban words like "terrorist", using "insurgent" instead. That's fair and doesn't give offense, god forbid you offend terrorists.

  • 8.
  • At 04:57 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Paul C wrote:

David - more recently, "dhimmi" has been appropriated by some bloggers and their commentators, mainly in the US. They use it as a term for westerners (particularly Europeans) who fail to share their view that there is a global Islamist political movement that has both the intention and the capacity to take over non-Islamic (particularly European) states.

In that context - which I assume is the point of view of most of those who are trying to leave comments on the bbc site - a "dhimmi" is used in a derogatory manner, roughly equivalent to calling somebody an "appeaser" (per 1930s UK-German relations).

Let's not get into a debate about how accurate their beliefs are, though; it'll all end in tears.

  • 9.
  • At 06:15 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Munir Ahmed wrote:

so will the bbc allow people to use the word "shabbat goy" to describe non-jews in thrall to Israel or the Jewish community? If not why not?

  • 10.
  • At 06:37 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Lawrence wrote:

Anyone who recently read up on Islam in books by Bat Ye'or who first brought the term to the West, or Ibn Warraq who quotes her, is acquaintaned with the term.
The use for people giving in to Muslim demands too easily is perfectly alright.

I have been personally abused on the Internet, although, I have never condoned any act of violence against civilians.

Nowadays, there is a tendency to label all Muslims as fundamentalists and supporters of terrorism. Terrorism is used as an excuse to spread Islamophobia. It is very vital to understand the context in which Islamophobia is exercised and its effects on the world affairs…Read More

  • 12.
  • At 07:23 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • David wrote:


I hate censorship.
Dhimmi is a Muslim legal term and as long as it is used to describe those in dhimmitude, I find nothing objectionable about using it.

However, if it is used as an insult, then I would support the BBC's judgement in deleting it on occasion.

There are many words which can be deliberately used as insults that are normally quite acceptable. (For example, 'Jew' is fine but the word can be used inappropriately by racist anti-Semites.)

The BBC does tend to be very mealy-mouthed in using the word 'terrorist'. If a group deliberately use terror tactics to kill civilians, the BBC should describe them as 'terrorists', not as rebels, insurgents, freedom fighters or Hamas activists.

  • 13.
  • At 07:33 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Lewis Salem wrote:


I am very happy to see that the BBC has allowed the word "dhimmi" to be posted on it's forums. However, I do not agree with on you that there must be a "balance" of free speech. We do not need langauge police to make sure that nobody gets offended. That's impossible. Stick to writing about the news instead of trying to shape opinion.

  • 14.
  • At 08:23 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Menasheh wrote:

Good post, Paul. I enjoyed your excellent analogy of modern "dhimmi" as similar to WW2 appeasers.

However, the term, as I have seen it used, more describes people who are perceived as being afraid of offending Muslims and instead give them a de facto superiority - as dhimmi in Muslim countries are required to do.

  • 15.
  • At 09:22 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Paul C wrote:

The comment that the BBC has a "constantly pro-terrorist, pro-Islam and anti-Western agenda" is a handy illustration of the political perspective of people who use the word "dhimmi" in this scornful sense.

Although I'm not expecting much from these comments, it would be nice if the commentator could tell us exactly why he/she believes that BBC has a constant

a) pro-terrorist
b) pro-Islam
c) anti-Western

agenda, preferably supported by some evidence from the BBC's previous reports.

  • 16.
  • At 11:05 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

In light of the fact that the BBC has virtually obliterated the word terrorist from all its media,
it's interesting that the comments section of your Have Your Say blog is liberally sprinkled with the word - as can be seen in topics such as the Mumbai bombing.

So do tell, why is terrorist not on your automated list of blocked words? Could it be because 'abusive, offensive and provocative' comments like Israel and America are terrorist states - also liberally sprinkled throughout your blog - would then be automatically deleted?

Have Your Say has made a good deal of progress towards transparency but you have a long way to go before you can truly say that you are unbiased in your choice of which comments to publish and which to delete.

I don't use the term in my blog, nor do I use it in any of my comments, but in one sense I agree with Paul C. that the word is possibly being used out of context (or possibly not). However, in my extensive perusing of American sites (especially the conservative ones, which you seem to imply are the guilty parties), I very seldom if ever see the term used - whereas in European ones, I run across it quite frequently. Curious, isn't it? At any rate, I'll accept your "per 1930's UK-German relations" and use the word "appeaser" - it seems to fit much better anyway.

  • 18.
  • At 09:02 AM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • johhny wrote:

Dhimmitude is the status that Islamic law, the Sharia, mandates for non-Muslims, primarily Jews and Christians. Dhimmis, "protected people," are free to practice their religion in a Sharia regime, but are made subject to a number of humiliating regulations designed to enforce the Qur'an's command that they "feel themselves subdued" (Sura 9:29).

  • 19.
  • At 10:04 AM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • John wrote:

Strange how people like Rob complain that the BBC stifles opposing viewpoints - surely if that were true there'd be no point trying to get their complaints published by the BBC!

Just to remind people of what the BBC's policy on the use of the word "terrorist" is, as opposed to what some people seem to think it is.

The BBC's Editorial Guidelines state:

"Our credibility is undermined by the careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgements. The word "terrorist" itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should try to avoid the term, without attribution. We should let other people characterise while we report the facts as we know them ... We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened. We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as "bomber", "attacker", "gunman", "kidnapper", "insurgent, and "militant". Our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom."

Click here for the relevant section of the Editorial Guidelines.

I work for the BBC's Editorial Policy Unit, who draw up the Guidelines.

  • 21.
  • At 02:14 PM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

In the same vein as "dhimmi" is BBCify which means to champion BBC causes which include above all others anti Americanism and by extension anti Israelism. It is even more insidious than "dhimmi" because BBC deceptively pretends to be objective, fair, balanced, neutral, and in the best traditions of journalism when it is in fact anything but that. It is motivated by hatred and jealousy which have reached obsessive proportions. What is the evidence for this? Isn't it obvious? The "British" Broadcasting Corporation can hardly present ANY program whether news reporting or otherwise which fails to mention America, Americans, or in some way directly or indirectly makes reference to the USA. From listening to BBC, you wouldn't think America is the main influence in the world, but the ONLY influence in it. Why the hatred and obsession? Because it recognizes that it confronts a far superior civilization than it identifies with and will do or say anything to convince its audience and more importantly itself that it isn't true by mentioning every scar, every shortcoming, every imperfection it can find with it and putting it under a magnifying glass, taking it out of context if necessary to serve its purpose. That makes "BBCify" just as unacceptable a word as "dhimmi" maybe even moreso.

  • 22.
  • At 04:20 PM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

Just to remind people of what the BBC's policy on the use of the word "terrorist" is, as opposed to what some people seem to think it is.

Thanks for trying to put us straight on this issue, Nick. But 'some' of us don't judge the BBC's policy on the use of the word 'terrorism' by guidelines drawn up out of view of the public. We are under no illusions as to what that policy is because we can evaluate it by the way in which it is applied to terrorist acts - such as the atrocities committed at the Beslan school by those who can only be described as terrorists.

As I'm sure you are well aware, the panel of the Israeli-Palestinian Impartiality Review recently concluded that the BBC's policy on the use of the word 'terrorism' was wrong. It seems that the decision hasn't even made a dent in your insistence on distorting the meaning of words like 'militant' and 'gunmen' by applying them to vile acts of terror.

Your denial on this issue has reached such extraordinary proportions that your staff now feel free to replace 'terrorist' with 'militant' even when quoting people, such as spokespeople for the IDF – who regularly have words put in their mouths by BBC reporters. This is inaccurate, misleading and unprofessional. It’s also appears to be a misinterpretation of your guidelines – which apparently allow 'terrorist' to be used in attributed speech.

The matter has got totally out of hand and you should revise your stance on this issue.

  • 23.
  • At 04:45 PM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • sally jones wrote:

would it be still ok if the word was describing not muslims but jews?

would it be viewed as being acceptable, i very much doubt it.

there is a very simple rule for the bbc to use.

look at the same issue by inserting / replacing with jew/jewish/israeli/ etc into the definition and the way it is being used instead of muslim or islam .

  • 24.
  • At 05:48 PM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • Ju wrote:

Menasheh said:

"dhimmmi....describes those who are perceived as being afraid of
offending Muslims and instead give them a de facto superiority as dhimmi in Muslim countries are required to do."

I guess its the sense of the word dhimmi as defined by Manaseh that many people perceive the BBC guilty of.

Their bias is particulary evidenced by their treatment of Christianity which it regularly ridicules and critices (with the likes of Jerry Springer for example while at the same time treating Islam uncritically and with reverence, (refusing to publish the Danish cartoons of Mohammed for example.))

The latest from the bbc is a three part critical series on the miracles of Jesus which will be presented by Ragi Omar, prompting the following comment from the spokesman for the Scottish Bishops:

"I'm not suggesting for a moment that Ragi Omar is anything but a professional journalist who I am sure has been hired because of his skills as a presenter and journalist. But can you imagine the BBC asking prominent Christians like Cliff Richard or Jonathon Edwards to present an investigative and critical look at Muhammad?

"You just know it would not be allowed. That is why there is a danger the BBC is being increasingly regarded as only taking a pop at Christians. I am all for criticism, but let’s at least have a level playing field."

Full article 976.htm

If I call someone who hates all Muslims an Islamophobe, that's not an insult--it's an accurate labelling of that person's beliefs. Likewise, if I call someone who favours the continual appeasement of Islamists, regardless of what they demand and without concern or regard for the social costs of that appeasement, a dhimmi, once again that is not an insult--it is an accurate assessment of what they are, because that's what "dhimmi" in the modern use of the word refers to.

Someone asked for examples of the double-standard the BBC supposedly applies that favours Islamic extremists over the rest of us. This whole discussion is one such.

And by the way, why did you link to the Wikipedia article on "dhimmitude" rather than "dhimmi"? Could it be because the former tries to whitewash the status while the latter defines the term accurately? Nah.

  • 26.
  • At 06:11 PM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • Andrew wrote:

"Mark" says that "The "British" Broadcasting Corporation can hardly present ANY program whether news reporting or otherwise which fails to mention America, Americans, or in some way directly or indirectly makes reference to the USA. From listening to BBC, you wouldn't think America is the main influence in the world, but the ONLY influence in it."

Balamory? Ground Force? Doctor Who? I don't think you're watching the same BBC as the rest of us. I'm married to a Republican American and she consults and trusts the BBC before any of her home news sources. The myth of an anti-American BBC is pernicious nonsense, propagated by people who would prefer their own actions were not investigated.

  • 27.
  • At 04:19 PM on 15 Jul 2006,
  • name wrote:

"The myth of an anti-American BBC is pernicious nonsense, propagated by people who would prefer their own actions were not investigated."

Current and ex-BBC journalists would disagree with you.

  • 28.
  • At 05:32 PM on 16 Jul 2006,
  • David Ward wrote:

I'm sure we are all grateful to Nick Reynolds for sticking up the BBC's editorial guidelines on the T word (and for telling us that he works for the Editorial Policy Unit, and for highlighting his post in blue so that we know he works for the BBC). But it's not like the guidelines in any way resolve this issue. I pose one simple question - perhaps Nick could contribute to the debate with an answer rather than a re-statement of the editorial policy guidelines of the BBC.

The guidelines say that you should use words that specifically describe the perpetrator. Those words include "militant" and "insurgent". Can you please tell me how such words, in any way, "specifically describe" those who for example carry out suicide bombings on buses. In what way does the term "militant" specifically describe this form of activity. Likewise, it what way does the word "terrorist" NOT describe such activity.

When someone deliberately straps on explosives and sets out to kill as many civilians as possible, the resultant attack is just crying out to be called a terrorist attack. No loss of credibility results, the word is not value laden, careless or emotional. It is simply the right description for this type of event. Anything else is pure sophistry.

  • 29.
  • At 06:29 PM on 16 Jul 2006,
  • BBC hypocrisy wrote:

"Recently in our Have Your Say discussions, "dhimmi" has been used in a context which breaches our house rules, specifically that posts should not be abusive, offensive or provocative"

Sorry but this is a value judgment and as such is a barrier to understanding. I request that the BBC clean up its act and stop passing judgment on licence fee payers who choose to use the word "dhimmi".

  • 30.
  • At 01:09 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • some consistency please wrote:

If the BBC is so concerned with not giving any offence or breaking their house rules, they should explain why they have let through so many comments that do both (the amount of mad childish rants about anyone who dares to criticise Islam or who are labelled as "Sun/Daily Mail readers" is shocking)

Link to the topic in question:

What would be nice is if the the BBC started to call terrorists by that name, rather than "insurgents", "rebels", "freedom fighters" etc.

Simple fact is that the attitude of the BBC towards these groups, especially in the middle east is disgusting.

No way am I or anyone in this country cgoing to refer to people who cut off heads, plant bombs etc as "insurgents"

Seems that the BBC has made a start but you have a long long way to go before you regain the respect you once held as an impartial reporter on world events.

My apologies David Ward for not replying to your post earlier.

It seems to me that you have answered your own question. In my opinion, the words that most accurately "specifically describe" the example you mention are "bomber" or "suicide bomber" (as in the extract from the guidelines I quote).

I'm not quite sure why my original post was in blue but it seems to have gone back to grey now.


Nick's comments (and this one) come up in blue becuase we made some changes to highlights comments from BBC staff.

It went back to grey because we had some technical problems. They're now fixed, so it's all blue again.

Simple, isn't it!

You can't even get the blue or grey issue right on comments from BBC staff, so how can we honestly expect you to get anything else right? Please try to remember that ordinary hard working men and women are forced to pay for this amateurism through the BBC poll tax.

  • 35.
  • At 07:52 AM on 20 Jul 2006,
  • Sarah wrote:

I have to agree with archduke. Freedom of speech means the right to be offensive; no one should get tot aek that away though Blair has definitely tried by bringing in the new anti-religious-hate laws. I reserve the right to hate religion like I hate rhubarb. And I should be allowed to wax lyrical on both without being arrested. I also believe anyone else has the right to wax lyrical on anything I believe in as being idiotic, wrong, outrageous, or however else they wish to define it. Imposing those views on others rather than talking about them is the line that should not be crossed.

  • 36.
  • At 09:59 PM on 21 Jul 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

To Nick Reynolds,

As I understand it, the recent BBC-appointed Impartiality Review on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict concluded that you should be using the word 'terrorist' for terrorist acts, but not labelling groups as 'terrorist'. But you are not even prepared to make a modest compromise and take it that far.

The BBC seems to have taken another conclusion of the Review quite seriously - the one indicating that the BBC is biased in favour of Israel - by moving ever closer to the terrorists' point of view.

Take your approach to the crisis in Lebanon as an example. In your news reports on your website, on the 'Have Your Say' forum and on the World Service you continually push the fallacy that it's all about the 'capture' of two Israei soldiers, whereas you know, or you should know, that it was also about the violation of an international border, the killing of eight Israeli soldiers and the simultaneous firing of Katyushas at populated areas within Israel. If that is not an act of war, I don't know what is. But the BBC conveniently ignores those facts, distorting history as it's being made.

And when you are not distorting history you are giving us wall-to-wall coverage of the plight of fleeing Lebanese civilians. This is obviously newsworthy, but where are the reports on Hizbullah fatalities, for example? Don't they represent a significant proportion of the so-called 'civilian' fatalities you keep telling us about? Why don't you inform us that Hizbullah will not reveal the death toll in its ranks? (On Friday, July 21st, the Israeli Defence Force estimated it at 100.)

This is not journalism. It's simply propaganda for the terrorists. And to come back to my original point, the irony of it all is that no doubt the terrorists wouldn't mind if you could bring yourselves to use the word. They are immensely proud of their acts of terror. The BBC needs to take its collective head out of the sand. You are being used to further the aims of terror.

  • 37.
  • At 10:50 AM on 23 Aug 2006,
  • sabri abouen wrote:

I happened to watch the last serious presented by Ragi Omar concerning the miracles of jueses. I was really petrified when they showed Jesus (peace be upon him) has been carried out on the cross and the sound in the back ground was Arabic shouting ‘God is great 'Allah Akbar'. I am wondering if this happened by MISTAK or there was a deliberate act of contributing to the flam already existing, which really speaks of the credibility of the BBC. Correction needs to be made

  • 38.
  • At 10:14 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • 4freeworld wrote:

Why is the BBC trying to please somebody?

I thought the purpose of BBC was to keep the public informed. To say truth as it is.. Is the BBC trying to give news to adults or kids?

No matter what someone is always going to take offence over what some one else says.. It is futile to try pleasing people.. I thought the BBC would know better than to give only sugar coated messages to the public.

I dont like to watch BBC these days. I find that BBC is trying to please one sectoin of the people ( pro islamists) than the general public as a whole.

BBC> wake up. remember if you try to please the arab viewer, you might alienate your western viewer..

No matter what you do, BBC

SO be what you were 50 years ago. Be a straightforward new reporting agency. Dont try to please some folks living in the middle east.

  • 39.
  • At 04:48 PM on 11 Sep 2006,
  • miika wrote:

I thought the benchmark of journalism was if both sides hate your guts and both sides see an article as biased towards the other side ... :)

  • 40.
  • At 08:16 AM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

I used to be very pro-BBC but recent years have totally turned round my opinion. The sooner they scrap the license fee the better.

As to Nick Reynolds and his justification of the non-use of terrorist. I note the preferred BBC term for Islamic acts of terror is now "misguided criminals". So those who murdered Margaret Hussain and many others are not trying to use terror as a way of enhancing their power, but simply decent guys who, bless the poor misguided souls, committed a criminal act. I guess they just need a big hug and told we love them and they'll change their misguided ways - yeah right!

Really it's time the BBC changed to the IBC.

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