The Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie is not known for his diplomacy. Indeed he revels in making deplorably offensive comments, the type that he thinks are “plain talking” or “truth telling” but are, in fact, dangerous and hate-filled.
And so today, he opines on whether Channel 4 News was right to have a Muslim woman – the journalist Fatima Manji who has worked on the news show for four years and will be familiar to regular viewers – cover the attack on Nice that saw 84 innocent civilians killed. To even write those words fills me with a trepidatious horror, but MacKenzie was strident in The Sun.
He writes: “Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?
“Was it done to stick one in the eye of the ordinary viewer who looks at the hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male-dominated and clearly violent religion?”
There is so much wrong with these questions, it is almost difficult to know where to begin. But let’s start with the “clearly violent religion” remark: Daesh or Islamic State is violent in the extreme, destroying and taking lives all over the world, but that organisation does not represent all Muslims – obviously. And MacKenzie knows that. To conflate the two for the sake of a column is dangerously disingenuous, stoking a hatred at a time of national unease.
His column also ignores the fact that there were Muslim people among the dead at Nice, and that globally it is estimated that more Muslim people are killed by terrorism than any other demographic. Would MacKenzie have objected to a Muslim woman covering the atrocities Islamic State commit in Iraq?
By directing his bile at women who wear hijabs, MacKenzie is perpetuating the dangerous situation whereby Muslim women – who are often more visible than men because of their dress – are racially abused after a high-profile terrorist attack
His hate-filled column feels particularly pernicious in the way it focuses on a woman, too. To say that the hijab is “a sign of male-dominated slavery” is wildly and erroneously presumptuous (and actually seems to be more a sign that MacKenzie is interested in male-dominated misinformation). Muslim women may choose to wear the hijab for a variety of reasons – here, for example, The Pool’s Hanna Yusuf explains why, for her, it is a feminist statement. Fatima Manji, meanwhile, is a woman with autonomy and power and a media profile, who chooses to wear a headscarf.
But by directing his bile at women who wear hijabs, MacKenzie is perpetuating the dangerous situation whereby Muslim women – who are often more visible than men because of their dress – are racially abused after a high-profile terrorist attack. Now more than ever – post Brexit vote, in this time of great global uncertainty – we need more Muslim women in the public eye, working, informing, listening and reporting.
MacKenzie’s views are loathsome; and we must not let him presume he “just saying what we all think”. We must call him out. We must report him for hate speech. We must say that this is not what we are secretly thinking. We must say that he is wrong. Because if MacKenzie gets away with polluting the discourse with his hate-filled racism via his high-profile columns, we will reach a point where that it's-what-we-all-secretly-think sentiment becomes dangerously truer and truer.