Well, she sure is one of the lovelier news anchors I’ve ever seen, hijab or no hijab.
That would be Noor Tagouri, and I must have been living on Pluto for the past few years not to have heard of this resourceful 22-year-old.
Four years ago, she decided she wanted to be the first hijab-wearing TV anchor in America. Somehow she managed to get into ABC-TV’s studio and have someone snap a photo of herself smiling at the anchor’s desk. That photo attracted thousands of subscribers to her Facebook page within a few weeks and still others clicked on her #LetNoorShine hashtag on Twitter. She was off and running.
She’s hardly the typical 20-something, hijab or not. That is, how many of us graduate from the University of Maryland at age 20, get invited to give a TED talk at the age of 21, then appear in Playboy at the age of 22?
Yes, you read that right -- Playboy. As this McClatchy News Service story tells it:
WASHINGTON -- It doesn’t matter that she’s fully covered, wearing a shiny headscarf and leather jacket. It doesn’t matter that she speaks passionately about media distortions of minority communities. And it doesn’t matter that she’s collaborated on a fashion line whose proceeds help to fight human trafficking.
Noor Tagouri is a Muslim woman pictured in Playboy, and that’s enough for some conservative Muslims to lose their minds.
Tagouri, a 22-year-old West Virginian broadcast journalist with Libyan roots, appears in the October issue of the legendary men’s magazine under the theme “Renegades.” As the news flew across social media over the weekend, she received a torrent of criticism, opening a debate among U.S. Muslims who’ve lobbied for years to be included in mainstream media and pop culture.
“There was the backlash, then the backlash against the backlash, then the (I’m not kidding) backlash against the backlash against the backlash,” Shadi Hamid, a Brookings Institution fellow who specializes in Islam, summarized the episode on Facebook on Monday.
Nagouri has actively created a persona for herself on social media, has her own YouTube channel and 28,000 Twitter followers. As I searched around the Internet for more information on her, I realized the Playboy appearance was just one more cherry on her personal and professional ice cream sundae.
All of this was part of her campaign to launch herself into broadcast media without having to do the sludge of working as a local anchor in some rural outpost.
The latter is what most recent broadcast journalism graduates do. But not her. She’s actually not in West Virginia. Her family lives in Bowie, a suburb of the world media center that is Washington, DC., that allows her to stay close to where the action is.
Thus, the narrative is not so much how daring she was in spreading the delights of hijab to the Playboy readership. Read what she said to Playboy –- it’s very entertaining –- but very few of her quotes have to do with Islam.
I'm not criticizing the tenor of her faith, but she has sagely used it as a tool to get her to a higher career plane. I'm also not questioning her ability to be devout, but her social media is all about her journalism goals and her tripartite existence as an advocate, motivational speaker and reporter.
So far, she's risen like a rocket. Whose head wouldn’t be turned by a recent Washington Post piece that declares “All Eyes (are) On Noor”?
But let's be realistic. Tagouri has a beautiful face. Would she get the same attention if she didn’t have perfect features, a gorgeous figure (obvious even under three layers of clothing) and a stunning profile?
Also, instead of writing off the conservative Muslims who are "losing their minds" over Tagouri's latest media appearance, why shouldn't journalists try to, you know, talk with a few of them? They might actually have some insights. The Washington area has no shortage of mosques and presumably, Tagouri's family attends one. What does her imam have to say?
All this is to say that it's easy and predictable to write a narrative that underscores Tagouri's courage rather than being clear-eyed as to what Tagouri's goals are. She may be a pioneer but she's also a savvy young businesswoman who figures her only chance to hit it big in broadcasting is to create a reality show persona at a time when young, hip Muslims are hot property.
I am always a bit suspicious when individuals reinvent themselves as a social media creation. Instead of reporters simply being awed by the brand and all the Instagram images, sometimes it pays to look at the details of the story underneath. That's where the reality is.