UK Politics

Veiled Christmas

Channel 4 is taking the veil for Christmas and it strikes me as a stunt.

The decision to host a potentially controversial alternative Christmas message featuring a fully veiled Muslim woman has grabbed dozens of headlines this morning, as you would expect.

The broadcaster said it would screen a 10-minute Christmas Day message from Khadija, a Zimbabwean-born lecturer in Islamic studies who is now a British national and who has worn the niqab for 10 years.
I was going to make a joke at this point at nobody is going to be able to hear her, but that would be plain wrong, so obviously I will do no such thing.

Khadija is going to reflect on differences between western and Muslim culture over the last 12 months, including the debate about wearing the niqab in the UK, the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed published in the Danish press and comments made by the Pope.

That’s all well and good and a debate to be had, but putting someone up in a niqab appears to me as a cynical move that will see the content of the message and debate washed away by the furore and headlines it will create about the wearing of full-body religious armour.

Channel 4 has chosen the best person to discuss the issues of the last year, just a controversial image on the back of the trouble stirred up by Jack Straw earlier this year when he said it hindered communications and Muslim teacher in Dewsbury, who lost her industrial tribunal. We have no idea who the person is, I suspect no one knows her from Adam and she’ll quickly return to obscurity after the fact.

Being generous, you can see where they might have been going with all this by choosing a controversial candidate for the Christmas message, but you only have to look at others it has chosen in the past, such as Sharon Osbourne, ‘The Simpsons’ and Sasha Cohen’s Ali G, to know what is at the root of Channel 4’s thinking: publicity innit?

In announcing the decision, Channel 4 said: “The right to wear religious symbols from niqabs to crucifixes, remarks made by the Pope about Islam and the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed have all generated a debate about multiculturalism, secularism and integration.

“A debate in which British Muslims have played a key role and one that will shape the future of British society.”

The ‘Alternative Christmas Message’ will be broadcast at 3pm on Christmas Day, when ITV and the BBC show the Queen’s Christmas address to the nation.

Not even the Muslim Council of Britain is impressed. All it was saying was. “It is not worthy of comment.