In London or Africa, Miss World is still degrading

It would be insane not to attack the contest just because we can't bear the company of those murderous objectors in Nigeria
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The Independent Online

The contestants for Miss World are now in London, bags under their eyes but still managing to smile in that vacuous way and generously pushing out their breasts for the paparazzi. Not many of them will be feeling like saving the Third World today, I imagine.

The contestants for Miss World are now in London, bags under their eyes but still managing to smile in that vacuous way and generously pushing out their breasts for the paparazzi. Not many of them will be feeling like saving the Third World today, I imagine.

By Sunday, 5,000 people had lost their homes and businesses; 120 Nigerians had died and the Muslim "martyrs" among them will be with their many virgins in heaven – at least that is what some ardent followers will want to believe. The toll will rise among the 600 wounded and in clashes around the country where enmity is once more blazing between Muslims and Christians. Radical Muslim Nigerians are trying to impose, by any means they can, the primacy of sharia law, which Christians and others regard as hideously inappropriate for modern times.

I agree with the Christians and I also believe that the Miss World contest was targeted because some of the contestants highlighted the tragic story of Amina Lawal, the mother of a toddler who is waiting to be stoned to death because she had sex outside marriage.

But having condemned without reservation the vengeful Islamicists who created this latest conflagration in a divided and tense country, do I, as a womanist (a word coined by Alice Walker who did not care for the hardline feminism of the 1970s, which she thought was anti-man), automatically throw bouquets of approval on to the stage of the Miss World contest that will now be held in central London?

One thing is clear: there will not be any buildings burnt down, and no killers with beards and sharpened knives slashing at our citizens, because that is no way to take people with you when you are trying to protest. Oh dear, does that sound racist or supremacist? It shouldn't, because we too have our hooligans and savages. But somewhere, over the past 300 years, lessons have been learnt that mob violence leads to more mob violence and in the end we all end up beasts.

Even during the worst periods of unrest in Northern Ireland, you would not have seen 120 people killed in a period of 48 hours. I am often told that Africa remains untamed, and that civilised restraint will never take root on that "dark" continent. That is a contemptible view because some of the most civilised and valiant people are also found on this continent of our ancestors. These outbursts occur all over the two-thirds of the world where the people have been left in an ignorance and poverty that exposes them, like festering sores, to corruption and infection from parasite politicians and religious leaders.

This is where militant Islam has entered the bloodstream and why it can cause the havoc it does. We must distinguish this driven and ambitious Islam from the actions of the oppressed Muslims in Chechnya, the Gujarat, Iraq, Palestine and, previously, in Bosnia. In reacting to the pressures upon them, Palestinians and Chechens also do appalling things. Every time there is another group of civilians killed my blood boils, even as I support their political rights. But I understand them. Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, had no interest in any of these peoples when he first launched his war against the West. His interest was the same as the sharia warriors in Nigeria: to force strict observation of what he thought the world needed.

This is cultural genocide, the annihilation of diverse Muslim groups and individuals around the world. One of my favourite books this year is Portrait of Islam, A Journey Through the Muslim World by Robin Laurance, a freelance photojournalist who has captured the beauty and variety of this world while travelling through North Africa, the Middle East, South-east Asia, the Pacific Islands and Indonesia. Look at the images – they are awesome. One and a quarter billion faithful, a quarter of the total population of the planet, as different as you can imagine, in terrible danger of being re-moulded into clones.

A woman in eastern Java works with her fisherman husband wearing a turban and T-shirt; made-up brides look like princesses; two old women who are sitting on the floor chat peacefully in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, now one more bitterly contested site; two women ignore each other as they talk on their mobile phones – one is a student of English literature in Kuwait dressed in a tight pink angora jumper over what my mother would describe as "healthy bosoms", the other is completely covered in black, leaving her hands painted and full of beauteous rings to symbolise her individuality and her instinctive need to look lovely. How long will it be before both these women are shrouded away in cloth coffins where a hand will be regarded as too tempting for sorely tried men?

You see, it is my belief that without self-help and, maybe, psychotherapy, militant Muslim men will remain maddened by the sex that they can't see and that can't have. On Radio 4 recently there was a perfect illustration of this. A reporter in Saudi Arabia was driving along the streets of Riyadh, the capital, with some Saudi men, one of whom was a supporter of the policies of Bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan. They watched the black tents walking past with only their eyes exposed. Mr Taliban was getting increasingly agitated: "Look see, how they walk, with all that sex, their breasts and hips, see how they are telling us to look at them? We are too free, they are too free these women." The reporter, rightly flummoxed, asked how he could see anything at all. "I can, you don't know, we have the eyes."

It is all in their heads, and even if we women were to walk in boxes on wheels chained to extra clever guide dogs, we would be too tempting for such men with dirty minds. If they got rid of Miss World because they were afraid of their own loins, they have much cleansing to do.

But if they do have a Miss World contest here, I will be out there condemning it. I am sure I have an old placard somewhere. It is what we once did with some success, which is why the Morleys took it to the developing world where so much more is possible without interfering debates. Witness the activities out there of tobacco giants and importers of prostitutes. I think it is still an obligation to remind people that these parades degrade both men and women who want a society where we are more than the flesh we inhabit and that such parades have deeply unpleasant antecedents, even though many of the contestants are powerful and successful women.

Where there is so much more objectifying of women and girls and even young boys in the insane world of commodified sex, these battles become even more crucial. It would be insane not to attack the contest just because we can't bear the company of those murderous objectors in Nigeria.

So, no succour to the Muslim Stalinists, never, but no compromise either when it comes to the Miss World exploiters who have made their names and wealth tapping into our insecurities and who are now experiencing massive press and public sympathy because their party has been blown up. I think that is what I think, for now.