A Shocking Alternative?

Sidney Sussex 15 January 2009

Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas message showed we have more in common with Iran than we might think

Many were predictably appalled by the choice of Iran’s controversial President to deliver Channel 4’s 16th annual Alternative Christmas Message in 2008. But were Channel 4’s programmers vindicated in their decision to allow a figure of such popular loathing to lecture the people of Britain on Christmas Day?

In short, yes. Apart from on the surface being no more hypocritical than the BBC’s offering – an individual of exceptional privilege offering advice to those suffering economic hardship whilst standing bedecked with jewels amid the Edwardian opulence of Sandringham – President Ahmedinejad’s (holocaust denier and advocate of genocide) short missive on the importance of international brotherhood and peace offered an excellent insight into the complicated nature of the world in which we live.

Despite the excellent introduction to his speech by the Channel 4 editors that summarised succinctly all the reasons why they had chosen to take such a controversial step – Ahmedinejad is the elected leader of a nation of 70 million people, and of a state that wields huge influence in one of the world’s most problematic regions, whilst at the same time conducting an infamously antagonistic struggle with the world’s (yes) still most powerful country – I felt that the purpose of the broadcast was somewhat lost on those who were watching around me. The words “bomb”, “terrorist” and “what a load of bollocks” abounded before the ritual gorging resumed.

I will continue the course of controversy and say the following: Ahmedinejad’s message was for the most part, fairly reasonable. His broadcast contained rhetoric about the faithless society that is commonplace in the opinion pages of our own right wing media. His religious history and theology too was sound – it is often forgotten that Jesus is held as a legitimate Prophet of the Almighty in Islamic texts as well as the Bible. Iranians as well as US Bible-belters eagerly await his imminent return. All in all, the President’s message was rather uncontroversial, and somewhat dull. I have time and again skipped over limp articles on a Sunday morning from some bishop or another bemoaning the movement of religion away from the centre of modern life.

Of course, I’m not advocating that we take the President at his word. History attests that this man is no peacenik poster-boy. However it is of upmost importance that we hear the other half of a dialogue so prominent in everyday media coverage. Despite the daily lambasting of Iranian human rights policy and its suspect nuclear ambitions by the press, the Iranian bogeyman is an ever-present yet little-understood creature. Here at last is the bogeyman unmasked, presenting his case in his own measured tone. For the first time, the British public can begin to see exactly whom it is we are supposed to fear, and form their own opinion.

As a Christmas message, I commend it. It had all the ingredients we’ve come to expect: pre-packaged love and peace for all, delivered in an uninspiring fashion by an individual whose religious zeal seems at odds with our everyday reality. More than that, it showed the people of Britain that there is wiggle room with Iran and a desire for engagement. Despite the Daily Mail baying for blood and preparing for nuclear holocaust, there is common ground between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – more than we care to acknowledge. So the coming year might not be our last, and I for one took more heart from that than the pantomime from the Palace.

Alex Bescoby is a 3rd year SPS student.

Alex Bescoby

Sidney Sussex