Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas message

Channel 4 has decided to broadcast an alternative Christmas Message this year from, rather than a celebrity, a Muslim woman in a full veil. (Stop Press is that the woman has pulled out. Even so, everything below stands.).

"In a year in which issues of religious and racial identity, freedom of expression and social cohesion have dominated the news agenda, Channel 4's alternative Christmas message will be delivered by a veiled Muslim woman," a spokesman 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."

Channel 4's alternative Christmas message, which will be produced by independent company Chameleon TV, will air at 3pm on Christmas Day against the Queen's traditional broadcast on BBC1 and ITV1.
Alison, who blogs at Making Headlines, A Tangled Web and Biased BBC, mailed me, furious. On her blog, she has written:
How does platforming a fundamentalist extremist opinion at Channel 4 on Christmas Day serve these women who suffer abuse in this country? And when so many women suffer under the veil world wide how can liberals use 'freedom of expression' without the true challenge of debate when so much controversy exists on this garb elsewhere? Ever since i was 17 and read 'Saudi Princess', then read and watched Not without my Daughter I have been opposed to this bullshit mysoginist rubbish shroud. Now there is no escaping it. Some women marry child molesters on death row in the United States. It doesnt make them right! Christ, you can't bury it. Its even a publicity drive for Christmas bloody viewing on Channel Fucking 4.
I think she understates this, but more on that later. She suggested we produce an alternative, alternative Christmas message.

That afternoon, I was phoned by a friend in London. He was sitting chatting with a lesbian friend and they were talking about a veiled woman they'd seen on the tube earlier that day. She'd been wearing a full veil from within which beautiful, dark, liquid, carefully made-up eyes watched the world. Her feet were encased in expensive, sexy Jimmy Choo shoes. Her hands were manicured and elegant. She was, they agreed, the most erotic creature they'd seen all year. What was she wearing beneath the shroud? Stockings? Expensive lingerie? Many Muslim women completely wax their pubic area, for reasons - I am told - of hygeine (in parts of North Africa, they wax with a mixture of filtered beeswax and honey, and it's hard to dislike that). Perhaps she was wearing nothing at all beneath the veil, not even body hair.

It's erotic because the woman is hidden, hinted at, left to the imagination. It's erotic because it's a statement that the woman's entire body is a sexual object and needs to be concealed from men. It's erotic because submission and domination are erotic, and the veil is a sign of submission and an acknowledgement that men are dominant - the woman wearing the veil is owned by her husband if married, and her relatives if not. Submissive women and dominant men in the BDSM scene can only whistle with admiration at the thought. It is as though she is walking around in ponygirl straps and a dog collar. The one thing it isn't is modest. Flat shoes and a knit skirt are modest, not a shroud.

I don't think ponygirl gear and dog collars should be illegal, but I don't think people should walk round wearing them in public. What they do in the privacy of their homes, or clearly identified clubs, is their own business, but the streets are a shared space and we need to exercise some consideration when occupying them. To that extent, veils are fine in people's homes but not in the street. But, of course, the veil is more than that today.

Because the full veil in Britain, and the west more generally, has nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with Islamism. It isn't Islamic dress, it's an expression of extremism. This garment, designed to protect women from desert sandstorms, has been co-opted by the branch of Islam that dances in the street when thousands of innocent Americans get roasted in a towering grave.

What were Channel 4 thinking of? Their statement reveals some of this.

"The right to wear religious symbols from niqabs to crucifixes..."

This parses as "from Islamic to Christian". Is a niqab really the equivalent of a crucifix? Where does that leave the headscarf? What is a lesser symbol of Christianity than a crucifix? Of course, there isn't one. And nobody complains about headscarves. I'm not sure there is a Christian equivalent of the niqab, nor a Bhuddist one, not Hindu, nor Sikh, nor Jewish. None of these religions harbour a movement that has as its aim the complete domination of the world and everyone in it. None of them has within it a movement that deliberately dresses like an icy blast from the dark age of mankind, whatever the unintended - or intended - erotic consequences of this might be.

"... 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"

Now, this is a full passage. Why "the prophet"? Do they talk about Lord Buddha? The Lord Jesus Christ? Nope. What are they playing at here? They are not all Muslims, and nor are the staff of the BBC where the same naming policy is observed.

The controversies about the Pope's speech and the Danish cartoons have prompted lots of debate, but mainly about freedom of speech. This is because there was a general attack against freedom of speech from radical Islamists following these incidents. And what do they mean when they say "A debate in which British Muslims have played a key role and one that will shape the future of British society"? I note they don't say it will shape British Muslims.

In the wake of the cartoons affair, Amnesty International and Liberty blathered on about how freedom of expression brings with it the responsibility to exercise restraint and avoid offending people. They were half right. It does bring with it a responsibility. But someone is always going to be offended by something someone says. If we go the Amnesty path, then one group dominates, their sensibilities become the social norms, and everyone else has to submit.

In fact the responsibility freedom brings is tolerance. We have a responsibility to tolerate things that annoy us or offend us. We have every right to argue against them, to dislike or hate the people who said them, but we have to share our society with people we dislike and we have to tolerate the things they say without resorting to violence. Instead of tolerance, we have growing fascism.

This past year, Channel 4 and the BBC have openly embraced fascistic movements and given them succour. They have been joined by The Guardian and The Independent. Channel 4 isn't just seeking publicity, as Alison said - though she was right about that. They have become part of a movement that seeks to deny age-old freedoms and liberties. They have devoted huge resources to trying to weaken the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, Israel.

They are often attacked for being liberal, but there's nothing liberal about supporting fascists.

This past March, I organised a rally in Trafalgar square in support of freedom of expression, in direct response to the Danish cartoons controversy. Maybe 600 people attended. The best turnout elsewhere in the world for a similar rally was, so far as I know, 180, so this was good. It wasn't the thousands the fascists get, though. Not many people really support freedom of expression, and to some people at least, I don't either.

This is because I asked people not to bring the cartoons to the rally. I did this because I was trying to make the event as friendly to supportive Muslims as possible, and I did manage to make the British National Party disappear, attracting instead a mixture of democrats from the left to the right, but excluding the violent fascistic elements of all camps. I'm very glad of that, and I stand by what I did.

In the aftermath, I was asked to lead a free expression movement, but I hesitated because I have a rather "colourful" past and was unsure whether I was the right person, or indeed whether I wanted my past to come back to colour my present. By the time I had decided, sod it, do it anyway, I had come to a different realisation. We have very little censorship today, but increasingly, we have self-censorship, mainly out of fear of violent Muslim extremism.

And then we have Channel 4. Who needs to self-censor when the channels into living rooms are dominated by an unrepresentative, illiberal elite of fascist sympathisers?

We don't need the advocacy of free expression, we need the expression itself. And we need channels through which this can reach more than just the converted who seek out blogs.

So that's what I have been working on for the past six months. That's how it comes to be that tomorrow I am going to film an alternative, alternative Christmas Message.

I hope to be able to join with Muslims in Egypt, Saudi, Iraq and every other part of the world - democrats who hate the extremism that is crippling their beloved countries. I hope to be able to join with democrats in Africa, Europe, America, Australia. I hope they will take this project over and make it their own.

Perhaps they won't. But it would be wrong not to try. And I have already joined with a group of UK based bloggers and activists who embrace this idea. The mainstream media has tried to colonise the blogosphere. Now, my friends, we're going to return the compliment.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Good one Peter.

Shout me if you ned any help.