In the wake of the attack in Nice, Channel 4 has faced criticism for its choice of presenter in their report on the atrocity. Fatima Manji, a visibly Muslim journalist in hijab, interviewed a Muslim Frenchman about the impact of the French security services on the country’s Muslim community. This was a very interesting interview on many levels. It was refreshing to see a Muslim woman speaking to another Muslim on an issue that clearly impacts Europe’s Muslim community. Ms Manji performed her job like any other television reporter would and questioned him appropriately in accordance with her job. In turn, he offered intelligent responses indicating that he clearly understood the crux of the issue – that France and its historically difficult relationship with its Muslim populace has resulted in a community that is confounded by the fact that they are now seen purely through the lenses of terrorism and securitisation. For the Sun newspaper this was just an incomprehensible state of affairs – Muslims discussing issues pertaining to Muslims in the public realm in a respectful and intelligent way?
Kelvin Mackenzie didn’t hold back with his latest article, which seemed to achieve the impossible by being patronising, sexist and Islamophobic all at the same time. It didn’t need to make any allusions that it was offensive to have a Muslim woman in hijab onscreen and definitely didn’t stop to create the link between Fatima’s observance to Islam and the attack itself. It is precisely this kind of rhetoric that’s leading an increasingly anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain today. Mackenzie’s attack on the hijab as a ‘sign of slavery of Muslim women by a male-dominated and clearly violent religion’ is a provocative statement clearly written to create an inextricable link in the average reader’s mind between the hijab, misogyny and all sorts of violence towards women within Islam itself. He seems to overlook the fact that Manji herself is in a field that some Muslim men (and women) would assume is considered to be exposing herself within an Islamic context to the supposedly lascivious gazes of men watching her on TV. Perhaps this is exactly why he wrote such a disgraceful article; having a Muslim woman on television as a visible representative shatters the image the right-wing media have created about the so-called oppression imposed by Islam on its female adherents.
Furthermore, by having Fatima present a high-profile piece of news is an invitation to other Muslim women journalists in hijab to pursue mainstream media reporting. This is a huge problem for those who wish to keep Muslim women silenced and in the dark especially since we are a vulnerable group under constant and intense scrutiny by the media. To have such a calm, confident and skilled presenter who not only is a Muslim woman, but also wears hijab challenges the rhetoric that we are oppressed by our men, our communities or by our religion. It weakens the argument that covering necessitates being invisible or that choosing to follow God’s commands means Muslim women are limited in their positive contributions to society. In fact, the most perplexing aspect in all of this is that there seemed to be no issue with having Fatima Manji reporting anything prior to this event. One must assume that by having her present the report on the Nice attack, there is a clear demarcation between the attackers and practicing Muslims themselves; by having Fatima quizzing a fellow Muslim on the importance of security in France normalises Muslims and their concerns surrounding terrorism.
The article then makes the ridiculous supposition that nobody in the studio was representing the fears of non-Muslims, as if to imply that British Muslims hold no security concerns over terrorism at all and therefore lumping all 3 million of us in with the sick and evil actions of the minority. It is precisely this kind of writing that fuels an ‘us versus them’ rhetoric and creates division and hatred within the already alienated factions of British society. Moreover, the majority of media outlets are run by non-Muslims many of whom have very few Muslim reporters therefore the audacity to claim that nobody represents non-Muslims is more than just laughable; it’s simply pathetic. The reality is that Muslims hold the same concerns as the rest of the country about terrorism and security; by fuelling such a divisive discourse only serves to continue the alienation of British Muslims by considering them as ‘The Other’. Of course, this is further implied by calling Fatima a ‘foreigner’ in relation to the possibility of her reporting in France. His assertions are absurd in the extreme; white men (on the whole) are always interviewing other white men on various issues; nobody seems to have a problem then. Who would argue that it was inappropriate for white males to report on the far-right terrorism unleashed by Anders Breivik?
Mackenzie’s article might have chosen to eventually focus its criticism on Channel 4 and attempted to use it as a smokescreen, but the article’s motives are pretty clear. Should, God forbid, more Muslim women appear in mainstream media, society will have to accept and normalise Muslim women into the fabric of British society, and then there will no longer be any scapegoat to use in the right-wing media’s attacks on Muslims.
This really goes beyond contentious or bad journalism, as Channel 4 said in their statement, which expressed emphatic support for Ms Manji,“The comments published in The Sun today by Mr MacKenzie are offensive, completely unacceptable, and arguably tantamount to inciting religious and even racial hatred”. At what point do we in Britain start to say that we have a real problem with irresponsible gutter journalism that threatens the very fabric of integration with society that most Muslims embrace and what exactly do we do about it?