Flat White

Don’t even talk about the niqab?

4 November 2018

2:53 PM

4 November 2018

2:53 PM

We’re going very fast from “It’s illiberal to ban the niqab/ban the burqa” – a serious debate in itself – to “Criticising the niqab/the burqa is racist, bigoted and Islamophobic”:

Israeli model Bar Refaeli has sparked widespread condemnation for her participation in an ad in which she removes a hijab to promote “freedom,” according to … from BuzzFeed News. In the ad … by Israeli clothing company Hoodie, Refaeli is first seen with her face covered by a hijab and a niqab, alongside a Hebrew caption reading, “Iran is here?” She then strips out of the hijab and niqab, to the tune of a song that says, “It’s all about freedom.” The tagline for the campaign is “Freedom is basic.”

Almost immediately, the ad drew criticism on social media sites, with users calling for partner organizations to drop Refaeli. “I felt like vomiting,” one woman told BuzzFeed. “I sat there telling myself MAYBE there’s a different message I’m not getting from this. I told myself there is NO WAY that someone so famous would do something so blatantly Islamophobic, but I found no justification.” “This has to be the most ignorant and racist ad I’ve ever seen and I can’t believe a whole company approved this,” another woman said on Twitter. “I’m disgusted and at a loss of words.” Refaeli and Hoodies both deleted their posts on Instagram, BuzzFeed notes, and a Facebook page linked to Hoodies was deleted.

That even an Israeli company folds like a towel after social media outrage is not a particularly encouraging sign. For starters, in Iran it is actually compulsory for women to cover their hair (though niqab is not compulsory and is not as “popular” as in other parts of the region like Saudi Arabia) – women activists are currently rotting in Iranian jails for the crime of taking off their headscarves in public. So yes, it is very much about freedom.

But even when we talk about those countries around the world where an “Islamic” dress is not compulsory for women, it still does not follow that it’s immune from criticisms or discussion, any more than any other aspect of life is. While not as blatant as the efforts to criminalise blasphemy (or “defamation of religion”), this peer-to-peer censorship by an online mob is likewise designed to make certain topics untouchable and sequestered from debate.

I might not believe in banning the burqa but I don’t have to like it either or approve of what I think it represents. And I don’t have to keep quiet about it either.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where this piece also appears.

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