Thursday, July 07, 2011

BBC coverage of the Hamas hairdresser arrest

A male women's hairdresser, as you may know already, was recently arrested in the Gaza strip. The BBC article is accompanied by a picture of heavily made-up female eyes looking through the slit above a face-veil. The caption reads "Hamas argues it is enforcing a law supported by most of the population in Gaza." Some version of the same idea, that Hamas is only giving the Muslim Gazans what they want, appears about once every three paragraphs (which, in typical BBC style, is almost exactly the same thing as once every three sentences):
The Hamas government in Gaza has begun enforcing a law introduced last year banning men from cutting women's hair.

Until now, the law had not been enforced, but this week at least one male hairdresser in Gaza was arrested.

Male hairdressers for women are regarded by many Muslims as against Islamic tradition.

The move is seen as an attempt to bolster Hamas's Islamic credentials against critics who say it has become too moderate.

[The next part of the article follows the caption in bold (single quotes in original): 'Undercover police']

The reality is in Gaza - with its huge Muslim majority - most women do not want to have their hair cut by men.

Nevertheless a few salons have clung on, where male hairdressers work.

This week they are sitting idle outside their shops, fearful of arrest if they step inside.

Adnan Barakat, a hairdresser with 27 years experience, said: "Without work, I am like a dead man, because I am without work. The salon cannot work without me. This is my work since 1984. I haven't another work. What can I do?"

Others, like Mr Barakat, complain they are being watched by undercover police.

Hamas argues it is only enforcing a law that the majority of people here want.
I could just call this "bias" and go on to the next subject, but some of the details of the article--and the over-all story itself, of course--make Hamas look quite oppressive. The hairdresser himself comes across fairly sympathetically in the nearest thing the article has to an actual paragraph. What seems to be going on is the strange, almost neurotically obsessive, attempt at balance one often sees in the contemporary media. Gaza, of course, does have a "huge Muslim majority," but the exact meaning of that statement has to do with the ratio of Muslims to non-Muslims, not with the really interesting question: the ratio of hard-core Islamists to people who are also Muslims but who might prefer, to varying degrees, more separation of Mosque and state.

Who are those "critics" who aver that Hamas "has become too moderate"? Salafists? If Hamas is modifying its approach in response to that criticism, does that mean the Salafists have some clout? (Remember Haniyeh's statement after the killing of Bin Laden?) And if Hamas is just giving the people what they want, maybe its election victory had less to do with Fatah corruption than we are often told? Doesn't this all have implications for the "peace process"? And aren't these matters all a bit obvious? So why, finally, does the BBC appear, not exactly biased, but in the grips of a sort of paralysis in the face of a story such as this one?

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