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Veiled in controversy, subject of fun

Female Muslim comedian Shazia Mirza to perform in India.

October 24, 2006

The controversy over the veil is raging across the UK. Meanwhile, in a bid to show Britain as a free, civilised society keen on building bridges with the community, the British Council has embarked on a new mission. And that too in a jocular vein.

The British Council has lined up plans to send Muslim comedian Shazia Mirza to India to joke about the burqa. Mirza has been briefed that she can make jokes about the burqa but has been advised not to upset Muslims in India.

Reports from London say that the British Council hopes that if Shazia Mirza can convince and entertain audiences in India - where around 150 million Muslims reside - that it is possible to be British and Muslim, her humour may come in handy in more sceptical countries too. After the India jaunt, Shazia Mirza is expected to travel to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to convey the message.

The controversy over the veil exploded when former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw remarked a few days ago that he asks Muslim women to remove their veils when they visit him in his constituency in Blackburn. This was more than what a section of the Muslim population could comprehend, and had sparked off the row.

Another blow followed, when a Muslim language teacher was not permitted to wear a veil in class as an employment tribunal ruled that the school where she worked was within its rights to suspend her from work on the issue.

Damage already done, it was now time to undo the row. This has prompted the British Council to seek Mirza’s help in this regard. The comedian shot to fame post-September 11 when wearing a hejab, she would say in her shows: ‘My name's Shazia Mirza - at least, that's what it says on my pilot's licence’.

Born in Birmingham to Pakistan born parents, Mirza holds a science degree and worked as a teacher before becoming a full-time comedian.


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