Stacey Dooley: BBC apologises after Panorama host calls Muslim prayer gesture ‘Isis salute’

Blunder was described as ‘insulting and offensive to Muslims and journalists’

Roisin O'Connor
Tuesday 06 August 2019 06:51
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ISIS brides seen raising their index fingers in Stacey Dooley's Panorama documentary

The BBC has issued an apology after Stacey Dooley referred to a Muslim prayer gesture as an “Isis salute”.

The documentary presenter made the blunder in the Panorama episode “Meet the IS Brides”, which was broadcast last night (Monday 5 August).

In the programme, Dooley, who is the Strictly Come Dancing champion, visited camps in northern Syria and spoke to women who had left their own countries to join Isis.

The offending scene, which showed Dooley using the term “Isis salute” to describe women raising their fingers in the air, was cut from the programme after being used in the documentary. A clip on Sunday’s BBC News at Ten has also been taken off iPlayer.

A still from the Panorama episode ‘Meet the IS Brides’, where presenter Stacey Dooley describes a Muslim hand gesture as an ‘Isis salute’

Some Isis militants have attempted to co-opt the gesture by posing with one finger raised in propaganda images.

However, the raised index finger is a symbol of Tawhid, meaning “the unity and uniqueness of God as creator and sustainer of the universe”. The gesture is a common part of Islamic prayer, and has been used by a number of Muslim football players during goal celebrations.

TellMamaUK, a social media watchdog for anti-Muslim incidents, condemned the moment and tweeted: “To reduce such a fundamental and important concept to a mere ‘Isis salute’ is grossly wrong, ignorant and damaging.”

Award-winning BBC journalist Anisa Subedar tweeted: “Does Stacey Dooley know us Muslims raise it every time we pray (that’s five times a day) to remind us of the oneness of God?

“This is what happens when you pass over real journalists to cover these kinds of stories – those that require cultural sensitivity and compassion.

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“What happened here is insulting and offensive to Muslims and journalists.”

Journalist Oz Katerji tweeted the BBC’s response after he submitted a complaint, and linked the mistake to a lack of diversity in newsrooms.

“While I am disappointed Stacey herself has not apologised, I am satisfied with the BBC response and will draw a line under this here,” he said.

“I have no doubt that this retraction was prompted not by me, but by dozens of female Muslim BBC journalists that were also offended and expressed their feelings about it. I can’t stress this enough, newsrooms need to be diverse, and if you hire more diverse staff, this won’t happen.

“I hope Stacey and producers involved also see how many racist responses my complaint instigated, and how many people tweeted me to tell me that there is no difference between IS and Islam. This is what incidents like this cause, and the media has a responsibility to prevent that.”

In response to the backlash, a BBC spokesperson said: “We wrongly described a gesture made by women filmed in a Kurdish controlled detention camp in northern Syria as an ‘IS salute’.

“While Isis have attempted to adopt this for their own propaganda purposes, for accuracy we should have been clear that many people of Muslim faith use this gesture to signify the oneness of Allah.

“We apologise for this error and have removed this description from the footage.”

Dooley has been criticised in the past for her perceived lack of knowledge or understanding while presenting various documentaries.

Earlier this year, she became embroiled in a “white saviour” row with Labour MP David Lammy over her Comic Relief trip to Uganda, which the politician said perpetuated “tired and unhelpful stereotypes”.

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