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Don't Blame the Beauty Queens, Blame Radical Muslims


The Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 1, 2002

Photo: Isioma Daniel

Ottawa's Lynsey Bennett came back from the Miss World pageant in Nigeria saying the violence she saw there was not something with which she wanted to be associated. With that comment, young Lynsey shows how much she has been suckered into the received wisdom on the matter, as have some writers at this paper, where an editorial about Bennett's participation recently asserted that 'allowing one's good name to be associated with such acts (human-rights abuses in Nigeria) . . . was a bad idea.' Ah yes. Let's put the blame squarely on the pageant and on the contestants.

The Miss World pageant was surrounded by controversy from the start, because of the case of Amina Lawal. Lawal is the Nigerian woman who was sentenced, under Islamic law, to be stoned to death for bearing a child outside of wedlock. (But she won't be stoned until her child is weaned in 2004. I'll say this for Nigeria's Islamic law: At least it recognizes the importance of breastfeeding, which is more than I can say for us.)

Bennett hemmed and hawed about the matter and finally decided to go to Nigeria, saying that the pageant had drawn, and would continue to draw, more attention to Lawal's plight than holding the competition elsewhere would. I believe she was right about that. I doubt most of us would have heard of Lawal were it not for Miss World, a show that more than 1.5 billion people (and far more women than men) watch.

So the beauties descended upon Abuja and things broke loose. Isioma Daniel, a female journalist at the Nigerian newspaper ThisDay, wrote a comment piece suggesting that the Prophet Mohammed would not only have approved of the pageant, but might have chosen one of the lovelies to be his bride. A protest erupted in a mosque in Kaduna, which turned into a riot, which ended up killing hundreds of people.

Christians are said to be fleeing the area altogether. Kaduna is a city in the north of Nigeria, which is predominantly Muslim. The pageant has been relocated to London, and a death sentence - a 'fatwa,' like the one placed on Salman Rushdie years ago - was placed on Daniel.

The fatwa was just removed by the provincial Nigerian government that placed it, though one wonders whether true believers will care. What frightens me is where we are focusing our attention. This paper talked about the contestants whose good names were associated with the goings-on in Nigeria. Bennett herself bravely said that she didn't 'agree' with the violence and didn't want to be affiliated with it. As though anyone with even a double-digit I.Q. would hold Miss Canada, Miss Israel, Miss Scotland or Miss Anywhere Else responsible for either what may happen to Lawal, or for the violence that has gone on in the past 10 days.

Speaking of double-digit I.Q.s, Jurassic feminists - never ones to ignore slights against women, real or imagined - haven't been much better. Germaine Greer and a number of other commentators tried to suggest a moral equivalence between the pageant itself and Islamic law. Yes, a spectacle where girls prance about in a bikini and talk about world peace may be silly, but comparing the fact that some women freely choose to participate in it with the facts of harsh sharia law - under which there is sweet little a woman can choose to do or not do - is absurd. British Labour Party politician/actress Glenda Jackson said that, considering the bloodshed, the competition should be cancelled. Writer Muriel Gray said that should the show go on, the girls involved would be wearing 'swimwear dripping with blood.' Say again? The girls are responsible for the bloodshed?

The C.E.O. of Miss World, Julia Morley, hasn't made things better, saying of Daniel that 'a journalist has made this problem and we hope journalists can put it right.' So Daniel should have written something toeing the party line, rather than challenge Nigerians to reframe things? The media started the riots. One wonders whether Morley, Gray, Greer or any of the other old darlings understand who created this problem (violent Islamists). Do they 'get' what the real problem is? (Violent Islam). What's worse is how many mainstream newspapers, including a number of Canadian dailies, have referred to the 'Christian/Muslim riots' in Nigeria, when the responsibility for them lies within the radical Muslim movement. If a Christian loony shoots an abortion doctor, we don't blame the abortion doctor. We blame the Christian loony, as well we should. Let's talk about who is truly responsible here, and about what truly matters.