If television programming reflects the society that produces and consumes it, then Islam's increased presence on the small screen underscores the growing impact of — and fascination with — Muslims in the West. Three news items highlight this trend.
A Danish public television channel recently held a fashion competition to find Miss Headscarf 2008, a title eventually claimed by Iraqi-born 18-year-old Huda Falah, who noted that she had entered the contest to counter stereotypes and promote understanding among Denmark's youth. However, a Muslim advocacy group in Copenhagen advised young adults not to participate:
"The whole point of the headscarf is that it's a symbol of chastity," said spokeswoman Bettina Meisner. "We don't wish young women to expose themselves as objects."
Over in Belgium, controversy erupted this week after a regional broadcaster, as part of an ongoing promotion, invited a Muslim woman who shows only her eyes to deliver the weather forecast. The station's supervisor admits that the segment should not have been aired because it is "of the sort that shocks people." Now a question has arisen over whether ordinances were violated in the process:
Brussels parliament member and councillor Nathalie Gilson asked what supervision Télé Bruxelles has over broadcasts. She mentioned that wearing a burqa is not permitted in Brussels. According to the general manager of Télé Bruxelles, Marc De Haan, it is not a burqa, but "somebody with a veil on the head and in front of the face."
Finally, the Fox network has acquired the rights to develop an American version of the popular Canadian comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie, which follows a Muslim community in a fictional small town. Arguing that the show "defuses hate with humor," a previous New York Times profile offers a taste of its content:
A leader of the Muslim group is seen defending to a local person the plan to turn the parish hall into a mosque. "It's a pilot project," he says, leading the man to exclaim wide-eyed, "You're training pilots?!"
While the Belgian weather report clearly jumped the shark, the other two cases are reasonable outcomes of a free market in which Western television producers cater to the burgeoning influence of Muslims and the public's curiosity about their culture.
As always, broadcasters have the right to air what they believe will draw an audience — just as viewers have the right to change the channel.