Multiculturalism, Islam and beauty contests

If you want an illustration of the failure of the ideology of multi-culturalism, the reaction to beauty contests can tell you a lot

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Hammasa Kohistani
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Ghaffar Hussain
On 5 April 2012 10:08

It would be an understatement to say that we live in a deeply fractured world within which identities are being defined in ever narrower terms. Globalisation, it seems, has broken down many traditional barriers but a fear of the unknown has encouraged many to erect new ones.

This is apparent from the increase in hate crime in Europe, sectarian strife in South Asia and tensions in the Middle East. It is also apparent from that other great barometer of inter-faith and inter-racial harmony – beauty contests.

Beauty contests have, bizarrely, always attracted their far share of controversy. What seems to be a completely benign effort to empower women and promote good causes often ends up offending and upsetting certain sections of society. Those most commonly offended are a) feminists who claim that the contests are exploitative of women, b) communities that don’t like the idea of beauty contests being promoted in their neighbourhoods or c) individuals that are angered by the choice of contestant. This latter category almost always rears its ugly heads when the contestant happens to be Muslim.

In 2005, Hammasa Kohistani, an 18 year girl from west London, won Miss England and represented England in the Miss World contest. Her story was made more remarkable by the revelation that she had fled the Taliban regime as a child and was the first Muslim and Persian-origin woman to represent England in the Miss World contest.

She also beat a fellow Muslim contestant, Sarah Mendley from Nottingham, who is a British-Iraqi. Predictably, both Sarah and Hammasa received death threats from Muslim extremists.

The latest British Muslim woman seeking to contest Miss Universe for England also seems to be having a rough ride. Shanna Bukhari from Blackburn has been on the receiving end of derogatory slurs from women, veiled threats from Muslim extremists and racist abuse from white supremacists.

So much so that she has had to close down her Facebook fan page. According to the Guardian, one Facebook message called her a “dirty Muslim” and asked her why she was representing Britain “when you don’t even f**king belong here”.

Life hasn’t been that difficult for other Muslim contestants. Miss Universe 2010 was won by Rima Fakih representing the USA. Rima is an Arab-American whose family hail from southern Lebanon. In 2002, the Miss World contest was won by Azra Akin, a Dutch born Turkish model. Both Rima and Azra, despite being Muslim, have managed to avoid serious controversy.

So it seems British-Muslim contestants have more to fear than their counter-parts in Europe and North America. Whilst it only takes a few idiots to make death threats or offer racist abuse, I feel what Shanna, in particular, has had to endure speaks volumes about the state of multiculturalism in modern Britain.

We in the UK are very good at claiming that we live in a well integrated and cohesive society, but do we really? Are we even prepared to be honest about how badly integrated parts of this country are?

It seems after 13 years of state-sponsored Multiculturalism under New Labour, we live in a society in which people still prefer to tolerate rather than accept other people. Reactionary voices within different communities are still outspoken, often going unchallenged, and we have politicians that are only too happy to exploit social fractures for their own self-aggrandisement.

The abuse Shanna received has left her feeling disillusioned and worried about the direction this country is heading in. But she is a strong-headed woman who is determined to stand up to the bullies and be a role model for other women. Shanna is through to the finals of Miss England which will be held at the ICC in Birmingham on May 1.

The winner of that will go on to represent England in Miss Universe on September 12 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I for one believe that Shanna’s success on the world stage will be a triumph for Britain in more ways than one. It’s just a shame that many of my fellow-country men and women don’t feel the same way.

Ghaffar Hussain is a writer, consultant and commentator on Cultural and Identity related issues as well as Middle Eastern and South Asian politics

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