Kilroy-Silk lands in hot water over 'indisputably stupid' attack on Arabs

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The Independent Online

He was the dazzling young MP with the good looks who was spoken of as a future Labour prime minister.

Instead, Robert Kilroy-Silk left Labour politics in the mid-1980s for a highly paid career in the media.

As the host of Kilroy, BBC1's version of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the television presenter built up a following among housewives for his lively, and often controversial, morning discussion show.

But Kilroy-Silk yesterday had a great deal of explaining to do. A vituperative article he wrote in a national newspaper attacking Arabs - and questioning whether they had contributed anything to civilisation - is under investigation by his employers and the police.

The BBC is hinting that the presenter may have to make a choice between his column in the Sunday Express, in which the article appeared, and his television show.

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has referred the article to police for investigation as to whether it incites racial hatred. In the article, headlined "We owe Arabs nothing", Kilroy-Silk scorned the Arab world. It had contributed almost nothing to civilisation, he said, and he referred to Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors".

The attack could hardly have come at a worse time for the sensitive relationship between the British Muslim community and British leaders, following the 11 September attacks and continuing security alerts.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) urged the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to investigate the article. Complaints were also lodged with the BBC, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Press Complaints Commission.

In his article, Kilroy-Silk began by expressing contempt at the anti-war campaigners of the Iraq war. He said: "What do [Arabs] think we feel about them? That we adore them for the way they murdered more than 3,000 civilians on September 11 and then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders?

"That we admire them for the cold-blooded killings in Mombasa, Yemen and elsewhere? That we admire them for being suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors? I don't think the Arab states should start a debate about what is really loathsome."

He suggested that the destruction of the "despotic, barbarous and corrupt Arab states" and their replacement by democratic governments could be a "war aim".

He said: "After all, the Arab countries are not exactly shining examples of civilisation, are they? Few of them make much contribution to the welfare of the rest of the world.

"Indeed, apart from oil - which was discovered, is produced and is paid for by the West - what do they contribute?

"Can you think of anything? Anything really useful? Anything really valuable? Something we really need, could not do without?"

The West had been singled out, he said, despite providing Arabs with science, medicine and technology.

"They should go down on their knees and thank God for the munificence of the United States," he said.

Although the Sunday Express refused to discuss Kilroy-Silk's future, his article invited censure from the wider community.

Trevor Phillips, the head of the CRE, called the article "indisputably stupid" and said it might incite some to feel an animosity towards Arabs. He said: "Given the extreme and violent terms in which Mr Kilroy-Silk has expressed himself, there is a danger that this might incite some individuals to act against someone who they think is an Arab. More seriously, he is trivialising one of the most important and difficult areas of international relations facing the world today.

"Our lawyers have considered the column and, in the light of widespread concern, we are referring the article to the police to consider whether it might constitute an offence under the Public Order Act, in precisely the same way we did when a bonfire society in Sussex recently burnt an effigy of a gypsy caravan."

Iqbal Sacranie, the chairman of the MCB, said it was a vicious piece of work which contradicted "all the norms of responsible journalism". He said the council had lodged complaints with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and the BBC. In a letter to Lorraine Heggessey, the controller of BBC1, he branded the presenter an Islamaphobe and asked the corporation to take disciplinary action. "Silk appears unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between the terrorists who perpetrated the September 11 atrocities and the ordinary Arab peoples who constitute a population of over 200 million."

A BBC spokeswoman said managers were questioning whether Kilroy-Silk's columns and television work could co-exist. "We are looking into how the Sunday Express column which Robert Kilroy-Silk writes in his capacity as a freelancer fits with his on-screen work for the BBC," she said.

Professor Haleh Afshar, a Middle Eastern expert at York University, said the article displayed a dangerous "ethnocentricity". She added: "He does not have a history that goes beyond September 11. The world begins on September 11 for him but I would like to tell him that the world actually began 3000 years before Christ."

Ziauddin Sardar, a columnist for the New Statesman, said a continuation of Kilroy-Silk's television show would not reflect well on the BBC. "It is like blaming Yorkshire for the actions of the Yorkshire Ripper and then actually visiting punishment on all of Yorkshire," he said.

Kilroy-Silk's agent said he was not available for comment. In 1995, Kilroy-Silk, 61, wrote a piece for the Daily Express which was also referred to the PCC. In it, he wrote: "Muslims everywhere behave with equal savagery. They behead criminals, stone to death female - only female - adulteress, throw acid in the faces of women who refuse to wear the 'chadar', mutilate the genitals of young girls and ritually abuse animals."

Although the complaint was not upheld by the PCC, the then editor of the Daily Express conceded the piece was unfair. He wrote: "I can see that this kind of generalisation is too sweeping and I don't think that too fair on any group of people."

Kilroy-Silk's latest outburst is all the more surprising given his talent as a politician.

The ambitious grammar school pupil had meteoric rise through the ranks of the political arena. He entered Parliament as the MP for Ormskirk in 1974 and was on the front bench by 1984.

He became frontbench spokesman for Home Affairs, a post later occupied by Tony Blair. Today, the former MP may be wondering whether he should have been more careful with his words.


Ancient Mesopotamian civilisation was responsible for the creation of the first government, the written word and mathematical systems, including algebra, at a time when the Western world was deeply suspicious of knowledge and scientific endeavour.

Professor Haleh Afshar, an expert in Islamic politics in the Middle East at York University, said: "The first city state emerged in ancient Mesopotamia in 3500BC, marking the emergence of government. Is it fair to talk about democracy and simply forget city states originated in the Middle East? Western civilisation caught up with the Arabs 2,500 years later."

To question what the Arabs had contributed to civilisation was to display a profound ethnocentricity and historical ignorance, she said. "The entire resources concerned with medicine, science and knowledge were developed in the Arab world at a time when knowledge was denied and decried in the Western dark ages." For example, "algebra" is an Arab world meaning "difficult".

Historically, the ancient Iraqi civilisation, known as Mesopotamia, was responsible for the creation of the first temples as well as the prototype cities, 5000BC.

A thousand years later, documentation of the first written word was found in the form of "cuneiform writing" in the Arab world. They were also pioneers in setting up trading systems between Syria, Iran and Anatolia (modern day Turkey). "The Arabs had vast empires which joined India to the Danube 300 years before Christ. We are talking about a long history of civilisation and governance," said Professor Afshar.

Iranian society was the first recorded civilisation to give women power and control within government. Women ruled in Persia as Queens 1000BC and held eminent military and governmental positions within the empire.