Thursday, June 13, 2024
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And today’s BBC guest, as always, is the woman in the medieval mask


ON weekday mornings, sensible people have more constructive things to do than watch BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire show. However, the edition broadcast on Thursday caught the eye: not only did it bring together an inordinate number of Boris-bashers, the gathering included the familiar – not face, because as ever that was concealed by a niqab – figure of Sahar Al-Faifi.

Sahar Al-Faifi previously worked in the NHS as a molecular geneticist. However, rather than stay helping improve public health, Al-Faifi has taken a lengthy sabbatical to be a full-time Islamic activist, one whom the Victoria Derbyshire programme appears to have on speed-dial. Previously the show gave her a platform to condemn the BBC’s popular drama Bodyguard for its ‘Islamophobic narrative’.

A year ago Sahar Al-Faifi received the Derbyshire call after Boris Johnson filed his now notorious Telegraph article. Although he expressly stated that the burka and other forms of ‘oppressive’ dress should not be banned, Boris will not be forgiven by the Left for dropping grenades such as: ‘If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree – and I would add that I can find no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran. I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes.’

At a time when many brave women in Iran and elsewhere were riskily removing their compulsory hijabs,  Boris was not without female Muslim supporters, such as journalist Qanta Ahmed: ‘Today the adoption of the full-face veil, particularly in the modern secular world, is far worse than looking like a letterbox. It’s both a symbol of cultural misogyny and a political marker for Islamist sympathies.’ Naturally for Sahar Al-Faifi, it was ‘Islamaphobic and racist’ that her face covering had been likened to a letterbox.

Individual viewers are able to make their own aesthetic comparison, but voicing it will become verboten should Ms Al-Faifi get her way. To the surprise of no one, she has been part of the ongoing campaign, spearheaded by disaffected Conservative peer Sayeeda Warsi,  for a catch-all definition of Islamophobia that preferentially protects all ‘expressions of Muslimness’. When pressed by Andrew Neil, ‘Is it Islamophobia to say that people should not wear what you are wearing?’, Al-Faifi reluctantly conceded that although criticism would remain permissible – how magnanimous! – she does indeed want ridicule of her niqab to become punishable as a hate crime.

At least for the moment, Sahar Al-Faifi can do no more than sound off behind her medieval mask. However, BoJo in Downing Street has given fresh impetus to her labelling the new prime minister as an ‘Islamophobic racist’.

This is a point of view which the BBC is keen to publicise. It therefore was no surprise that Thursday’s Derbyshire show prominently featured Sahar Al-Faifi: ‘I am deeply, deeply concerned about Boris Johnson being elected as leader of the Conservative Party, not only because of the Brexit delivery deal, but also obviously because of his racist, Islamophobic and homophobic remarks.’

Note the matter-of-fact ‘obviously’. Also, do not be fooled by the ‘optimistic about Boris’ beginning to the above Twitter quote: it was sarcasm. By equating Boris to Trump, Al-Faifi’s hope and belief is that the antipathy to Johnson will help to produce home-grown versions of Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Through her activism, Sahar Al-Faifi presumably hopes also to clone herself. To that end, not only is she prominent in the Muslim Councils of both Wales and Britain, she is a regional manager for MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development), which demanded that the Johnson premiership ‘must begin with him publicly disavowing the regrettable racist and disparaging comments he has made on multiple occasions towards members of Britain’s ethnic and religious minorities’. More pertinently, a recent speech by Sajid Javid, while still Home Secretary, fingered MEND as a dubious organisation: ‘Those that spread intolerance and division from all corners are often given a platform by media and political figures. Supposedly mainstream groups can be guilty of that too – groups like MEND. They aren’t always as intolerant of intolerance as they may claim to be.’

Chwarae Teg – translation Fair Play – is a campaigning organisation which has ‘a vision of a Wales where every woman and girl is treated equally’. Earlier this month, Chwarae Teg conferred upon Sahar Al-Faifi the title Community Activist of the Year.

Yes, in today’s Wales an Islamic agitator, whose face is permanently masked by what Qanta Ahmed rightly called ‘both a symbol of cultural misogyny and a political marker for Islamist sympathies’, is honoured as a female role model. And enjoys a residency on the Victoria Derbyshire show.

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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