Luke Salkeld, London Daily Mail, August 23, 2007
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Stuck for inspiration about what to wear at their village carnival, one group made a last-minute decision to dress up in mock Muslim burkas.
Calling themselves the “Page Three Beauties from the Ramalama Ding-Dong Times”, the 17 men and women carried placards with made-up names such as “Miss Hairyarmpitsbad”, “Miss Slackistan”, “Miss Notbadinbedabad” and “Miss Reallyamanistan”.
This group caused outrage when they paraded through the streets of Cornwall dressed in Burkas. They also used fake compasses to face Mecca when ‘praying’.
As they walked the one-mile parade route, the group knelt down in mock prayer and used fake compasses to try to find Mecca.
Their routine impressed carnival judges—a mayor, two district councillors and a parish councillor—and they were shortlisted for the “best entry” prize.
But before any awards were handed out, police told the group to leave after complaints about racism.
Yesterday, as one member of the team apologised, the organisers of the annual carnival through the winding streets of St Columb Major, near Newquay, Cornwall, insisted their inclusion was not offensive.
Nina Brenton said: “We were approached by about six students from out of the area and they thought it was disgusting and offensive to Muslims.
“They asked how we could allow it in our carnival, but it’s not up to us to dictate what’s offensive. We did advise the group in question what had happened and gave them the choice of whether to carry on in the procession, and they did.
“Everybody was having fun, but in the end the police got involved and moved them on. It was a fun day and no one was offended.”
Pat Harvey, mayor of the borough of Restormel and one of the judges, said: “I felt that the community enjoyed their act. The group was excellent.”
But she added: “We were made aware their act could have been taken as offensive in certain parts of the community and therefore, given my responsibility, I felt the cup should be given to another group.”
Local religious representatives criticised the carnival entry. Fareed Ahmad, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association for Devon and Cornwall, said: “With carnivals it’s quite difficult to judge between humour and causing offence, and on this occasion it looks like they have that balance wrong.”
The Reverend Chris McQuillen-Wright, of St Columb Minor parish church, added: “One can see the intended humour and the play on words but, in light of the current international climate, it was insensitive and in bad taste.
“I cannot believe they thought people were going to laugh. No one would want to curtail freedom of speech, but it’s hard to differentiate this from downright bullying.”
Last night one member of the group, Dave Holloway, of St Columb Major, apologised but said they had intended to make fun of themselves.
“The idea of the carnival is to dress up and have fun,” he added. “We were not laughing at anybody, more at ourselves than anything else, and we certainly didn’t want to cause any offence.
“I’d like to say on behalf of everyone in the group how sorry we are if some individuals found it in bad taste. We were never set out to upset anyone.”
Despite officers moving the group on, Devon and Cornwall police said no action will be taken because no official complaint was made.
The carnival was held 20 miles from Padstow, where the annual Darkie Day—which involved locals blacking up their faces—regularly attracted accusations of racism. It is now known as Mummers Day.