Downing Street Fails To Share An Eid Message26 May 2020
This weekend, Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Fitr. Coming at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, this year’s Eid was markedly different than previous years owing to the on-going coronavirus lockdowns that have forced the Muslim community to celebrate from a distance. Meanwhile, many Muslims, including those in the UK, have found this year difficult to celebrate as communities grapple with growing number of deaths, especially among those working for the NHS and frontline services.
It is therefore unsurprising that many Eid messages from world leaders have similarly focused on the coronavirus outbreak. While many global leaders have produced video messages in what has now become a traditional means of communicating with faith communities. But for this Eid in this very extraordinary year Johnson like Trump chose not to send a video message to Muslims. Last year at Eid, Johnson recorded a video message, less than a month into his premiership addressing not just a domestic, but a global audience of Muslims. Critics will be readying their positions with arguable justifications.
How have the leaders around the world and in Britain responded to Eid?
World leaders who have issued a video message to their Muslim citizens include Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Like he did in 2019, Trudeau wished Canadian Muslims a happy Eid and thanked all those who have put “into practice the values at the heart of Islam throughout Ramadan” by helping neighbours and donating food.
Similarly, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, already praised for her outreach with the country’s Muslim population following the horrific attacks in Christchurch last year, as well as her handling of the coronavirus outbreak, issued a video statement directly addressing Muslims.
In the US, President Donald Trump refrained from a video message, with the White House, instead, opting, like Johnson to send a written statement. The statement expressed hope that Eid would offer Muslims a sense of comfort and strength through the healing powers of prayer and devotion against Covid 19. But no video.
Was the lack of a video statement a missed-opportunity for Johnson?
As a Prime Minister who has been accused of Islamophobia, the lack of a video statement is bound to attract scrutiny from observers. Last year, some Muslim pundits praised Johnson for releasing a video that his US counterpart would be unable to – an opportunity to answer critics who often elicit comparisons based on a perceived Islamophobia in both leaders.
For those with such views, the absence of a video this Eid is likely to symbolise how Trump and Johnson see Muslims.
In the weeks leading up to the holy month of Ramadan, far-right activists around the world were seemingly working overtime to do exposes about Muslims violating lockdowns. Many Muslims have been frustrated about being singled-out as lockdown violators. A positive message from Johnson would have been a reassuring light.
This especially in contrast to his current opposition, Keir Starmer of the Labour Party, as well as his former opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, who have both addressed British Muslims directly for Eid.
Similarly, other UK politicians such as First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford and Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, have all issued video messages addressing Muslims directly for Eid. In such company, Johnson’s absence is especially notable
Maybe he had other detractions. Eid coincided with another challenge for Johnson, stemming from the revelations of Dominic Cummings, Still, for many British Muslims – especially those who voted for him – Johnson is their Prime Minister and a direct address to the community at a time of such extraordinary crisis would be a cause of appreciation and a source of comfort. And this, perhaps, is the biggest missed opportunity of them all.