Zayn & Gigi
They're not the heroes we deserve. But maybe the ones we need right now.
Zayn & Gigi might just save us.
If, like me, you grew up with a weird name, surrounded by white faces, haunted by the question mark of British vs Asian.
Or inherited a bunch of off-beat ideas about things like booze, prayer, and pork.
Came of age in the era of Bin Laden and George W.
Back then, it would have been unthinkable that a tatted-up British-Pakistani and half-Palestinian supermodel would be cultural icons.
But times change. Our go-to mental images of "Muslim" have had space to broaden beyond fundamentalists and silent wives.
Role models are important - even more so for people on the fringes.
So there'll be millions of kids out there who see Zayn & Gigi casually celebrating a family Eid on Instagram and who feel less weird and alien for having them in the spotlight.
Perhaps - for the first time - they're introduced to the idea of a 'casual Muslims'. Something that has existed for far longer in other cultures.
It doesn't matter that Gigi wears her faith lightly, and Zayn's agnostic - in my experience, that describes a lot of people brought up in the faith.
Still - something elevates these two beyond the usual angel-faced celebs.
Tangles of technology and money are fucking with our self-esteem and pushing us to extreme opinions. Division surrounds us like dark matter.
But why is it strong ideologies usually result in mass death?
Zayn & Gigi might not be the expected prophets. But they're probably the ones we need.
They don't please devout Muslims, nor committed racists or Islamophobes.
Too brown and too Western; too muzzie and too impious.
It makes them moderate superheroes.
To the rest of us - most of us - they can stay aspirational.
Cultural outliers in the messy middle.
Out-groups need icons to represent them, ones recognisable enough to make the strange feel familiar.
In the end, we'll all have to budge.
But no one wants to be lectured about acceptance.
We'd rather be inspired.