Last month newspapers across the world carried stories about Lauren Booth’s conversion to Islam. For anyone who isn’t British and doesn’t really care, Ms. Booth is a broadcast journalist and half sister to Cheri Blair, wife of former British PM Tony Blair, whose contribution to the world as we know it can be aptly summarized by his role in this George Michael video.
Had it not been for that connection, it is doubtful the story would have received as much attention as it did and continues to do. So somebody converted to Islam. Big deal. But in a Star Wars universe, a considerable proportion of the western press seems to think, this would be the equivalent of Chewie’s mate’s brother from another mother becoming a Stormtrooper.
But Lauren Booth is not a Wookiee, and Islam is not the evil Empire. Someone at the BBC might wish to make a note of that before sharing gems like the following with us, in which Ms. Booth and three presenters – two of whom are huddled together at one end of a sofa wearing expressions I recognize from the wrong end of a parent teacher meeting and who apparently only have one name between them - spend five minutes discussing all the really important things about conversion and Islam, like whether wearing a hijab will help women make men take them more or less seriously.
The video opens with her walking around a bookstore in a farangi city talking to the camera, thereby alienating all the kuffar bibliophiles in range (for God’s sake BBC, have you no respect for sacred spaces?) and telling the world she converted after a spiritual experience in the Iranian city of Qom. “I now wear the scarf”, she says, "to remind me of the path I’m on." This is really excellent logic, I think, and a much better idea than tying a knot around her finger, leaving yellow Post-it notes around the house (Whoosa liddle Muslim now then? Who? Who? Me!) or getting a tattoo of a crescent and sickle on her forehead. But on to the video.
In fairness to the BBC, it is Ms. Booth who chooses to take the conversation down the hackneyed ‘women in Islam’ line, thus ensuring any subsequent debate would be hijacked by the inevitable ‘rights (or not) of women in contemporary Muslim societies’ angle. Of course it probably seemed a safer road to take than that offered by the anchor's first two questions ('were people shocked', 'some say this is a publicity stunt'), which told us all we need to know about how open his mind is to the notion of someone finding spiritual resonance in a religion that has over a billion followers. Almost up there with McDonald’s and football, that is.
She doesn’t endear herself to millions of non-hijab wearing Muslim women either, by subtly, ceaselessly implying all of them wear one, or to any woman really, by saying at one point that most women don’t spend enough time thinking about "their spirituality, their lives or their children." No wonder she works for an Iranian news agency. Cue the intelligent question about her experience of the difference between being a journalist in a notoriously censored society and being a journalist in a hideously market-led one…
Nope, lets just talk about women in Muslim societies some more.
In criticism of the BBC, this kind of pointless, superficial, gossipy, playing to the gallery discourse doesn’t do anything other than suggest Islamophobia remains an acceptable lifestyle choice, and the conversion of a minor celebrity is just another excuse to indulge it. If, tomorrow, Laura Bush’s first cousin decides she is actually a garden gnome, will the world be subjected to five minutes of insightless prattling about the pros and cons of wearing of a little red conical hat? Will it be considered appropriate to quiz her, in private or public conversations, about her position on the element of genital mutilation inherent in the practice of sculpting boy garden gnome penis fountains?
Addendum: Ms. Booth's personal take on Islamophobia, published today, can be read here.