Der Spiegel vs the BBC

Der Spiegel vs the BBC

Dear Editor,

Let me take up cudgels once again against your columnist, Gabriel Hershman, whom I strive to provoke into a little more thoughtfulness. While I accept unhesitatingly his admission that his columns are anything but impartial, I find some of his arguments crass.

Firstly, to call a person “Mr” is hardly a mark of deference (courteous respect, submission) as he asserts. If I say that Mr Smith, the baker, lives next door. I am not deferring to Mr Smith. If I claim that Mr Hershman is a poor columnist, I am not being deferent any more than I am by addressing him in a letter as “Dear Mr Hershman”. These are mere conventions that help to keep our society civil.

Secondly, he identifies the BBC with one of its thousands of reporters and, what’s more, he takes that reporter’s comment out of context. What that reporter, Frances Harrison, actually said, was: “Whatever is in the letter, it is significant because it is the first such high-level communication between Iran and America for almost three decades. As such it is a bold step by Mr Ahmadinejad, and the timing is key – just as the West is trying to persuade Russia and China to back tough action against Iran. Mr Ahmadinejad is reinforcing the point that he is willing to negotiate with anyone, including the US president, to avoid conflict over the nuclear issue.” (See:

Thirdly, Mr Hershman tells us that the BBC would hardly refer to Hitler, Stalin or other villains as “Mr”. Mr Stalin was one of “our” allies, Mr Hershman, and was indeed Mister for many years.

Well, that’s very useful. So give us your advice on the following. Which of these people might we safely call “Mr” without being seen “to lurch towards the fascism of political correctness” (your phrase, I believe)?

Yasser Arafat: 1994 Joint Nobel Peace Prize winner

Jomo Kenyatta:  Mau Mau leader and subsequent President of Kenya

Nicolae Ceausescu: Romanian dictator and 1978 guest of Her Majesty, the Queen, on a state visit to the UK, as well as the recipient of an honorary knighthood.

Menachem Begin: leader of the Stern Gang and later Israeli Prime Minister

John Vorster: police chief and later apartheid prime minister of South Africa.

Alexander Lukashenko: authoritarian President of Belarus

George Galloway: British MP, leader of the Respect Party, admirer of Saddam Hussein and supporter of the moral justification of assassinating Tony Blair.

Nick Griffin: leader of the British National Party

Gerry Adams: former IRA leader and now Sinn Fein leader.

The BBC and I await your guidance.

Yours etc,

Dr Ronald Sole, by e-mail

Gabriel Hershman replies: None of the people Dr. Sole mentions would be on my dinner party guest list. But I accept that it is an entirely subjective matter how you refer to them. However, there are certain individuals – those who transcend a certain level of barbarity or who put forward manifestly absurd pronouncements – who surely do not deserve to be called ‘Mr’. In addition, their initiatives should not be referred to as “bold steps”.

I refer Dr. Sole to the recent Der Spiegel interview with President Ahmadinejad in which the Iranian leader, by implication, called for the relocation or annihilation of an entire nation – Israel – 58 years after its formation. Irrespective of one’s views regarding the origin of the present tragedy in the Middle East, only fanatics would favour that solution. Most people, including many Palestinians, favour a two-state solution.

I wonder if the BBC would refer to President Ahmadinejad’s idea to relocate Israel as a “bold step”? I believe it to be a deranged threat likely to trigger nuclear war. I also agree with Der Spiegel when it described the Iranian President’s letter to George Bush as “condescending” and Ahmadinejad’s actions as “promoting a calculated anti-Semitism aimed at building Islamic solidarity in the Arab world” – (Reference: The Iranian Challenge: An Apocalyptic Religious Zealot takes on the World).

Perhaps it boils down to whom one trusts to provide the best commentary about Iran. I prefer Der Spiegel and Dr Sole clearly prefers the BBC’s Tehran-based correspondent, Frances Harrison.