Kelvin Mackenzie’s controversial column in the Sun this week about Fatima Manji wearing a headscarf while presenting Channel 4 news coverage of the Nice attack has, unsurprisingly, sparked outrage. However, perhaps we shouldn’t seem so surprised: the sentiments he voiced have become increasingly common in British society today.
Kelvin Mackenzie questioned in his column why Channel 4 had a presenter “in a hijab fronting coverage of Muslim terror in Nice”.
The answer to his burning question is pretty simple; Fatima Manji was due to carry out her profession normally that evening, and did so. Surprisingly enough, her headscarf wasn’t a visible display of support for terror; it was a personal choice to do with her religion.
MacKenzie's view that Manji's presence in Nice was “massively provocative” and a sign of “editorial stupidity” was rightly called out by Baroness Warsi as “gutter journalism”, and widely condemned by the public on social media.
Since 9/11, it’s become common to hold all Muslims accountable for the actions of fundamentalist Islamist terrorists. This is why, every time an atrocity is committed, there are calls for the ordinary Muslim community to come out en masse and apologise, or at least declare openly that they don’t sympathise with terrorism themselves.
The irony of Kelvin MacKenzie’s remark is that Muslims are targeted by terrorist attacks more than any other group in the world right now; Sunni and Shia Muslims are being killed and enslaved in their thousands in Iraq and Syria, and many died at the hands of terrorists in Afghanistan and Turkey. Even when terror strikes in the West, Muslims are often in the firing line; let us not forget that Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabet was shot at point blank range by terrorists during the Charlie Hebdo attacks after heroically trying to stop the heavily armed killers from fleeing the scene. Indeed, what Kelvin MacKenzie failed to note was that a Muslim mother was one of the first victims of the Nice terror attack.
Even while they are victims of terrorist attacks, Muslims in the West are subject to Islamophobic attacks more frequently than ever before. Pig’s heads left outside mosques, far-right protesters calling for the ejection of Muslims from Europe and politicians suggesting Muslim immigration should be halted altogether have become sadly commonplace news stories.
In his poisonous column, MacKenzie is not only making a gross generalisation about Muslims, but he is also suggesting that Manji should have been prevented from doing her job because of her religion. Not so long ago, he also suggested that white people shouldn't be searched at airports because terrorists will be “Muslims from Middle East or Africa”. The fact that we didn’t even find it that outrageous is a sad reflection of how normalised these attitudes have become.
Just last year, the Sun misrepresented research findings to suggest that a fifth of British Muslims are jihadi sympathisers. And this week, Mackenzie continued to spread hatred and distrust of Muslims by implying that they are all in some way connected to the Nice attack.
The notion that Fatima Manji cannot represent the general public’s fears is perplexing. Yet there is no valid reason why she, just like many other Muslims in Europe, would not fear the prospect of an attack or be deeply affected by terrorism. What disqualifies Fatima Manji from expressing our fears and sorrow? And having criticised Fatima Manji, why didn’t MacKenzie make similar comments about white Christian journalists anchoring and reporting after the attacks by Anders Brevik?
MacKenzie has to realize that the presence of a Muslim woman appearing on our TV screens undermines groups like Isis’ narrative and authority – while his own column promotes it. His response to a talented, hijab-wearing Muslim journalist has no place in British society today. And as we remember Jo Cox just a few days after her burial, another victim of a random attack, we should heed her final words: “We are far more united than the things that divide us.”
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