Britain's public broadcaster said it "strongly disassociates itself" with comments made by Robert Kilroy-Silk in a newspaper on Sunday, and has launched an investigation.

"We stress that these comments do not reflect the views of the BBC," the broadcaster said on Friday.

"The BBC is taking the Kilroy programme off air immediately while we investigate this matter fully."

The silver-haired presenter, whose rugged looks have made him a favourite with British housewives, hosts a morning show called Kilroy devoted to topical debate. 

Arab civilisation

In a column for the Sunday Express tabloid, the former Labour MP said Arabs "should go down on their knees and thank God for the munificence of the United States".

"The Arab world has not exactly earned our respect, has it? Most of them chant support for Saddam, an evil dictator who has gassed hundreds of thousands of their fellow Arabs"

Robert Kilroy-Silk

He claimed Arabs expected to be adored "for the way they murdered more than 3000 civilians on September 11 and then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders".

 

In other comments, Kilroy-Silk accused the Arab world of contributing nothing to the world's welfare except oil, which he claimed was "discovered, produced and paid for by the West".

 

He added: "The Arab world has not exactly earned our respect, has it? Most of them chant support for Saddam, an evil dictator who has gassed hundreds of thousands of their fellow Arabs."

The article provoked outrage among Muslim and racial equality groups, as well as politicians.

'Stupid' comments

Trevor Phillips, chairman of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, labelled the comments "indisputably stupid".

And Labour Party lawmaker Lynne Jones tabled a parliamentary motion condemning the presenter's "racist" and "abhorrent" comments.

She also called on the BBC to "consider Kilroy-Silk's position within the corporation".

However, Massoud Shadjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), said the BBC should have "dealt" with Kilroy-Silk a long time ago. 

"This man has been a long-standing Islamophobe for many years," he said. "The question is why didn't the BBC act before?"

Freedom of speech

"This man has been a long-standing Islamophobe for many years. The question is why didn't the BBC act before?"

Massoud Shadjareh,
Islamic Human Rights Commission
 

"I think it is because it is against the law to incite racial hatred but it is not against the law to incite relgious hatred. So the BBC have let him get away with it."

Shadjareh said the IHRC shortlisted Kilroy-Silk for its "Islamophobia" award last year, but he narrowly lost out to right-wing journalist Melanie Phillips.

He added: "If people claim this is a freedom of speech issue, then I would say 'where's the consistency?'

"The Islamic cleric Shaikh Faisal was recently put in prison for allegedly inciting racial hatred, so we would like to see some consistency here. 

"The BBC should have people monitoring Islamophobia just as they have people monitoring racism and sexism."