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Aniqah Choudhri

The problem with Boris trying to 'save Christmas'

Boris Johnson's government will allow three households to gather for Christmas [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 November, 2020

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Comment: Boris Johnson's ploy to 'save Christmas' sets a dangerous double standard, and sends a clear message to the UK's minority religious communities, writes Aniqah Choudhri.
Around 9pm on July 30th, my friend turned from scrolling on her phone and said, "Manchester is going into lockdown at midnight!" 

This was so out of the blue, that it took me a few moments to realise she wasn't joking. The government had never (and hasn't again since) issued a lockdown with so little warning. It was now illegal to gather in each other's houses or even gardens in the north west of England. It was the night before Eid-al-Adha, and many families, including my own, were now unable to meet for the holiday. 

It is hard to describe the feelings of many Muslims across the north west that evening. Lots had already travelled to stay with relatives, arranged the food and made plans to see their families.

The way the news broke at the last minute seemed incredibly insensitive and cruel. It dismissed one of the most important days of the Muslim calendar across the world and what it meant to families across the country. To rub salt in the wound, pubs, restaurants and other public places were allowed to stay open. We could still meet our families in a pub, just not in each other's garden.
 

The government's attitude towards Eid has been thrown into sharp relief by the seemingly most pressing matter of the past month - the need to "save Christmas." This week, the government announced that three households will be able to mix over the Christmas period, despite warnings from scientists that this will lead to a rise in cases. 

Focusing on the short term economic goal of Christmas is like giving sweets to pacify a child

As far back as early September, the issue of Christmas has been floating around as a main objective in Boris Johnson and the government's plans to tackle Covid. Even Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition, used it as a justification to attack the government and emphasised the importance that "Christmas is not lost." That was even before the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and the Hindu and Sikh holiday of Diwali, which both passed with only cursory recognition from the government and media, and certainly no relaxing of regional lockdown rules to accommodate anyone wanting to celebrate with their families. 

Some may argue that seeing this as a political choice by the government to establish a religious hierarchy is an over scrutiny of the situation. However, it is important to consider the previous actions of our current government.

The Conservative party ran a campaign to "Get Brexit Done," for the 2019 General Election, an issue that has been influenced by the rise of English nationalism. It's also worth pointing out that successive Conservative governments have pursued a hostile and aggressive history of racism, from the Windrush scandal to the policies of the Hostile Environment. It is therefore not a stretch to see this sequence of events as deliberately emphasising the importance of one religion over another. 

Read more: Pandemic redundancies speak volumes about the real state of progress for women of colour

Apart from the double standards of relaxing the rules for Christmas only, there is another more worrying aspect: 

The underlying message behind many of these callous policies is that Covid is being spread particularly by brown and Black people; specifically Muslims. In a twitter thread, the 
Centre for Media Monitoring linked just some of the examples of news outlets using images of Muslims to accompany totally unrelated Covid stories. This, along with the messaging impressed upon Muslims to social distance and not gather over Eid paints a disturbing picture, intentional or not. 

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the government's plans for Christmas will scupper their already failing effort to stop the spread of this deadly virus. From Rishi Sunak's Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which was actually found to further the spread of cases, to the supposedly "world beating" track and trace system, our government has illustrated over and over again that they are not competent to stop the spread of the virus.

Furthermore, focusing on the short term economic goal of Christmas, over other fundamental issues that are affecting thousands of people, such as 
rising unemployment, the increasing number of homeless, a death toll which is now the highest in Europe and the upcoming mental health crisis, is like giving sweets to pacify a child. 

The holiday is being used as both a political weapon against religious minorities and a shield from the very real issues impacting lives

This pandemic has been a terrible experience for the UK, as it has for the rest of the world. Pointing out the political motivations for wanting to "save Christmas," is not to take away from the comfort many people who celebrate it will find during the holiday.

I am well aware of the government's divide and conquer approach, and the 
trend of pitting religious minorities against each other, especially in recent years.

I hope, as do many, that it is possible for families to meet safely over the Christmas period, but we must recognise that it's being used as both a political weapon against religious minorities and a shield from the very real issues that are impacting lives across the country, and that will still be there once the holidays are over.

Aniqah is a freelance journalist based in Manchester. Her work has appeared in The Independent, gal-dem and Exeunt Magazine. She also writes fiction and poetry and has been published in several anthologies.

Follow her on Twitter: @aniqahc 

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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