Nadiya Hussain, newly crowned Bake-off Bae, has been on the tip of every tongue from the moment of her culinary triumph. But, her success was reduced to but a spoke in the wheels of a BBC-led ‘conspiracy’ to impose a tyrannical regime of political correctness upon Britain’s population, who are apparently otherwise pre-disposed to view everyone through a lens of prejudice. The last surviving bastion of British values, the Daily Mail, dubbed Nadiya the ‘Muslim mum’ and Tamal, the ‘gay doctor’. How else might one define an individual other than evoking the facet of their identity which society is already inclined to subjugate them for?
Reading these remarks I conjured an image of a ravenous columnist sat in front of the telly, teacup of bile in hand, bracing themselves to spew a mouthful of their vile brew across a blank-page in a fit of outrage that a brown person could possibly have won the Great British Bake off, before immediately sending it off for publication. But, then again, that is how I imagine most Daily Mail articles are written, minimum intelligent thought and maximum vitriolic impulse.
But, the precious sentiments of a few token bigots were unconsciously mirrored by the rest of our media in their refusal to define Nadiya in any way other than by her race or religion. Even those writing in defence of Nadiya, who argued that her victory went hand in hand with a victory for multiculturalism, gave rise to a discourse that implied she was less ‘British’, and thus less entitled than her white peers to a place in the competition because she was a Muslim of Bangladeshi descent. For anyone in doubt, the correlation between your religious beliefs or ethnicity, and your baking ability are, as proven by basic common sense, non-existent.
How can our ‘progressive’ western society manage to perpetuate such regressive values? The response to Nadiya’s victory was illuminating. The fact that the BBC was condemned for allowing minority groups to defy racial stereotypes says it all. If we were to believe the right-wing media, all Muslims are just one RyanAir flight away from joining the Islamic State. Admittedly laughable on paper, but in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo Islamaphobia surge in France, people genuinely associated the acts of a handful of extremists with the entirety of those belonging to the same religion. This attitude seemed to ripple across the channel; figures released by the MET in July exposed that hate crimes towards Muslims in London had risen by 70% in a year.
It comes as no surprise that Nadiya admitted, “I was nervous that people would look at me, a Muslim in a headscarf, and wonder if I could bake.” And truly, if the most drastic manifestation of Islamaphobia fizzled down to the gross undervaluing of Nadiya’s baking prowess, perhaps the mountain could come to Mohammed. But, as it stands, Britain’s superficial visual inferences go beyond one’s baking capabilities.
Nadiya’s fears of pre-judgement reflect the concerns of all those who outwardly express their religious identity. Individuals from minority communities are experiencing prejudice on a daily basis, whether it be because they are wearing a hijab, a turban, or possess copious facial hair.
In the past week alone, far-right nationalists staged an anti-mosque rally on the streets of Burton chanting ‘Britain First, fighting back’ citing the supposed cultural threat posed by Islam. Then, a video surfaced online of a woman delivering an onslaught of verbal abuse towards a fellow passenger because she too was Muslim, which transpired into a physical altercation. If people in Britain wonder why ethnic minorities struggle to integrate into Britain’s ‘pre-existing’ communities, look no further than the day-to-day treatment they are subjected to.
The last consensus in 2011 revealed that there are 2,660,116 Muslims in Britain, that’s 5% of the population. Yet sadly, our attitudes towards multiculturalism are only becoming more hostile. A poll conducted for the BBC in 2005 found that 62 per cent of respondents felt multiculturalism made Britain a better place to live. This compares with only 30% when the same poll was conducted three years later. The swelling in support that led to UKIP garnering 3,000,000 votes in the general election confirms Britain’s growing hostility towards immigration at least, and, by logical assumption, multiculturalism too.
Maybe Nadiya’s warmth and humour did alter opinion, maybe it gave a lovable face to what is currently a widely demonised religion, and maybe she’s okay with being a standard-bearer for that cause, but let’s not force it down her throat. The woman just enjoys her bloody baking. Let’s, instead, ignore the ankle-biters who are making their customary fuss about any cultural event that delves beyond the bounds of their extremely narrow-world view.
On the whole, I highly doubt that viewers were surprised that a Muslim could be an incredibly endearing, talented and all-round lovely person. Though, undoubtedly, the odd Daily Mail reader does watch Bake Off. Above all else, it’s an insult to Mary Berry to insinuate that she would allow anything other than the standard of baking to influence her final verdict.
The Great British Bake Off was minding its own business, doing what it does best: entertaining a country and affirming it’s own rightful place as a true bastion to British culture, the racial diversity of its contestants included. It didn’t need to be contaminated with an after-taste of bigotry that has made us all feel like we’re suffering a case of soggy-bottom syndrome when we would otherwise have been left with a beautiful bake.