Hijab hypocrisy: Why the BBC gets it

Every now and then a piece comes out that is so insightful, one must call attention to it. I don’t usually run into stories like that on BBC’s web site but the following one made me take notice.

The headline “Why catwalk hijabs are upsetting some Muslim women” made me take notice.

A lot of us have noticed that fashion brands have been capitalizing on the hijab-like scarves that look glamorous enough but probably wouldn’t pass muster on the Islamic street. Head coverings are supposed to take one’s attention away from the woman -- whereas these scarves certainly drew attention.

So I was not surprised that some women are objecting. Better still was how the pros at BBC saw beneath it all. This passage is long, but it sets up some crucial insights.

Dolce and Gabbana, H&M, Pepsi, Nike: just a few of the big brands putting women wearing a hijab -- a traditional Islamic headscarf -- front and centre in advertising campaigns.
The hijab has long been a contentious topic of conversation; feminists, religious conservatives, secularists are some of the online communities that have engaged in passionate debate about what it represents. But this time, online and using social media, it's some Muslim women who are questioning the use of such images.
Tasbeeh Harwees, a journalist, recently wrote in the online magazine Good about a recent viral Pepsi advert starring Kendall Jenner. The advertisement was controversial because of its alleged trivialisation of street protests -- but some Muslim women took issue for a different reason, the casting of a hijab-wearing woman who photographs the rally.
"A multi-billion dollar company was using the image of a Muslim woman to project an image of progressiveness that it may not necessarily live up to," Harwees tells BBC Trending radio.

Then came some really interesting paragraphs.

Pepsi certainly isn't the only company highlighting women wearing the hijab. Nike recently announced a newly designed sports hijab which will hit shops in 2018. H&M used a first Muslim model in hijab in an advertisement while numerous brands and labels have launched "Ramadan collections" in the hope of attracting Muslim shoppers during the holy month.
"Images of Muslim women communicate to their consumer bases that these companies are 'progressive' or 'inclusive'," Harwees says. "Given the political climate, it has become socially expedient to align oneself with dissident communities, and for many people, that's what Muslim women have come to represent."

No kidding. When I wrote up the Women’s March in January, I found it odd that Muslim was the new black at this event.

Whereas Muslim women were singled out as highly oppressed, Jewish and Latina women were not. Women who hadn’t a clue about how many females worldwide have no choice but to wear traditional Islamic clothing –- or be arrested and maybe killed -– were trying on hijabs with abandon.

I don’t believe for a second that the fashion world understands any of the dissidents, whether they be Muslims, Sikhs or part of Black Lives Matter. The moment you make something into a fashion statement, it cheapens the cause and any serious Muslim would get that.

This BBC piece adds a note about women in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia who are forced to cover and who, for the most part, hate doing so, then ends by emphasizing the marketing possibilities of hijab fashion. In other words, the BBC put this trendy discussion into a realistic context. That's good journalism.

I understand how Muslim women want to be fashionable and that it's nice to look nice in a hijab. Maybe the problem is that when it ceases to become more fashion than religious tradition, the effect is lost.

Rarely do secular publications grasp the difference. This time, BBC did.

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