Now, a flag-wearing controversy in Britain

March 30th, 2008 - 11:23 am ICT by admin  

London, March 30 (IANS) Cricket commentator Mandira Bedi can rest a tiny bit easy - thousands of miles away from India, British boxing hero Amir Khan too is facing a flag row. Controversial Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Mohammad, who lives in exile in Lebanon after leaving Britain in 2005, has faced a backlash after criticising the 21-year-old Olympic silver medallist for wearing Union Jack shorts in the boxing ring.

But the similarities stop there. Unlike Bedi, who was criticised for an apparent insult to the tricolour, which figured in her sari, the British boxer faced criticism for religious reasons.

“He wears shorts with the Union Jack. That is a sin,” Bakri Mohammed, who is not allowed to enter Britain because of his espousal of allegedly extremist views, was reported as saying.

“He should not be wearing the flag because sovereignty is for god. His only allegiance should be to the Prophet Mohammed.”

Bakri, who became controversial after releasing statements from Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden following the bombings of US embassies in eastern Africa in 1998, made his comments about Amir Khan during an Internet exchange with other Muslims, according to British newspapers.

Asked if Khan was setting a bad example by draping himself in the flag, he replied: “I don’t think somebody should really look to Amir Khan as a good example for the youth.”

“So now for him to be wrapping himself in British flag is another sign of somebody who is completely ‘jahil’ (ignorant). You give him the excuse of ignorance for living among the kuffar. So you can’t call him kuffar but you can call him jahil and deviant person.”

Khan hit back at the cleric, saying: “I am not going to change. I will be coming into the ring in my normal clothes and I’m going to stay the same way.”

Khan is due to fight Martin Kristjansen for the WBO Lightweight Championship of the World in his hometown of Bolton April 5.

The fight has been billed as one for ‘National Pride’ on an advertisement poster.

“Amir likes to keep his religion private and personal but I know he is extremely proud to be British and represent his country in the boxing ring and he is equally proud of his Pakistani heritage,” his promoter said.

A number of MPs have spoken up for the boxer, with Andrew Rosindell, an outspoken Conservative Party MP saying: “I’d love to see the two of them slugging it out. I’ll be cheering for Amir. What Bakri said is appalling.”

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