A beginner's guide to "It" girls
Peaches Geldof is too self-obsessed to get under the skin of the Middle East
A natural response to Peaches Geldof's latest venture into the world of investigative journalism, in which she sallies forth to Morocco to get behind the headlines and reveal that Islamic culture is not "all fundamentalist mentalist stuff", would involve a horrified grimace and a disapproving shake of the head. How did such a sensitive and volatile issue end up in the mitts of a spoiled little attention-seeker bumbling along on the back of her parents' fame?
The logic, presumably, behind the idea was that she would speak with greater clarity to her contemporaries than most greying, stern-voiced reporters in the Middle East. Being spirited and fun, she would ask questions that others wouldn't even contemplate, and get away with it.
At heart, however, this show proved to be nothing more than a bit of fluff: celeb-watch TV dressing itself up as semi-serious reportage. It is telling that the original title of The Beginner's Guide to Islam (5 September, 11pm) was Peaches Gets Islam - both far more appropriate in tone and brilliantly inaccurate.
On the first leg of her Moroccan sojourn, Peaches acquainted herself with Nadira, an amiable Muslim girl who had got into trouble at school when she wore a veil covering her whole face. She gave in and reverted to the standard headscarf only when it became clear that her education was on the line. Peaches seemed intrigued by this and could not wait to get a proper "Muslim make-over" for herself - hijabs and djellabas are "all the rage" in Marrakesh.
Cue a montage with Peaches parading in a variety of baggy robes up and down the aisles of the bazaar, interspersed with a few observations on the politics of self-concealment. "It makes me feel a bit sad, to be honest," she concluded, although when a group of men gave an appreciative analysis of her new look out on the street, she found it "nice, but a tiny bit pervy".
There was more "perviness" later on when Peaches visited the strict Koranic school at Sidi Zouine, outside Marrakesh. The young men come here in their prime to study the holy book, at a safe distance from all conceivable distractions. Their one vice is football, and when our coquettish presenter joined them in a penalty shoot-out, the players got a little overexcited. "It seems the Koran hasn't taught them some things," she noted with approval.
Peaches certainly did pose questions that others wouldn't contemplate. One scholar at Sidi Zouine looked perplexed when asked if the school should introduce some "sexy Fatimas" so he could find himself a nice girlfriend. Later, when the action shifted to a shrine in the Atlas Mountains where people go to exorcise their djinns, Peaches wondered if this breed of evil spirit wasn't "a small creature with huge ears and, like, claws that dances around and has a large pointy nose". At this moment it became abundantly clear that the editors of Newsnight would not be losing sleep over the rise of a brave new investigative talent on Channel 4.
For a start, Peaches was in Morocco, not Afghanistan or Iraq, where the blunderings of an "It" girl might not have enjoyed such a tolerant reception. The organisers of an arranged marriage she came to document did eject her from the ceremonies for asking too many questions, but that was about as hairy as it got. When Peaches explained to the most pious of her guides, who had taken her off to meditate in a mountain cave, that the central focus of her meditations was "shopping", all she got was a despairing glance.
Ultimately, of course, it did not matter where she was, or what she was doing. The issues raised in the programme were often pertinent, but nothing was explored in any real depth. And dramatic though the various backdrops were, their main function was to throw our vivacious host into sharp relief. This may have been called The Beginner's Guide to Islam, but it was, first and foremost, a primer on Peaches Geldof.
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