In a post 9-11 world, perhaps nothing has come to represent the subjugation of Muslim women the way the burqa has. Despite the fact that it comes in various styles, each providing its own degree of covering such as the niqab or the chador, which many Muslim women choose to wear, it is the full covering scary black burqa with a slit just for the eyes, or the sky blue Taliban-made burqa with its infamous mesh covering, that has become an increasingly powerful political tool, widely used to exploit or justify fear of the Muslim world. Just look at the strategic use of images of burqa-clad Afghan women the US applied in its campaign for the war in Afghanistan.

I honestly thought the burqa had no more identities to take on until an article by Mona Eltahaway brought this video to my attention. Apologies for two video blogs in the last week, but you have to see this to believe it:

Is it not ironic that the very piece of clothing that is used to deny Muslim women their sexual identity, or any kind of identity as Eltahaway puts it, is now being used to make sexual objects out of the burqa-clad Muslim woman? Eltahaway rightfully points out that this ad does not just sexualize any form of Muslim covering such as the chador or the niqab, but goes straight for the most restrictive and most political of Muslim coverings.

Talk about a clash of civilizations.

Is it not just a tad bit hypocritical of a European company to give the burqa this sexy makeover just to sell their lingerie given the fact that the burqa has been so openly attacked and targeted by European politicians?

There is no shortage of quotes from French President Sarkozy on how he feels about the burqa in France, but the following is one of my favorites: “The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory.”

Most recently, it was the Swiss who used the image of a Muslim woman in a burqa, lined up next to missiles, coincidentally mirroring minarets, in its posters to promote the banning of mosque towers. The issue is currently a burning political topic in Switzerland.

Are we just supposed to ignore the fact that on the current European political stage the “Muslim question” is a rather large one? It is one in which the burqa symbolizes the domination of Muslim men over their women, and the general “backwardness” of the Islamic faith. All this gives ample propaganda for many Right-Wing European political parties’ stance on the general issue of Muslim integration.

Once again we see women’s bodies and women’s sexual identities being exploited for profit. It is all about marketing over politics at the end of the day. But hey, whatever sells, right?

If anything, this advertisement makes that point, regardless of politics, shockingly clear.

*This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post.

3 comments

  1. I was watching a documentary on the Travel Channel recently about tribes living remote parts of Africa and Latin America. The recurring theme in the interviews between men and women were:

    men saying “She must do as she is told, because I paid alot for her”

    women saying: “He does not Respect Me”.

    I’m sure this conversation has been going on since the beginning of Time. As we continue to fight for our selves, regardless of outer world circumstances I want to point out the perfect example of Change. Anushay grew up in a family of 4 sisters. She was educated and taught by her mother, father, and peers that she was Valuable and that her Voice was important.

    I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that as we encourage speech, knowledge, growth and self-esteem within women and men, those who are quiet. or hidden. or scared. or lost. or imprisoned by the physical or
    mental will break free.

    Technology has given women the means to communicate our discomfort with the status quo, and keep the conversation going. It’s a delicate balance in finding ways to fight for the respect, but not against the God Given beauty, and sexuality we were given.

    As more women find their Voices and take positions in politics, behind the camera, producing and directing, writing and portraying a different more powerful story – we will see things Change.

    Love You Anushay.

  2. The greatest irony is that the burqa was introduced to protect women against these exact sexual subjugations and pressures. It’s funny that figures such as Sarkozy insist on the burqa as “a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women”– when these very women would gladly tell you the exact opposite.

  3. Well, the less we say of the French, the better. Some people cannot distinguish between the pagadi/headscarf or pallu and burqa or purdah.

    As for burqa, it does have its origins in objectification of women and a claim to women’s body only by the husband. The idea that nobody except that close family members can see the woman (now I see even the girls behind burqa) comes from a desire to control women’s body and sexuality and is based in a belief that if other men do not see the woman inside the burqa, they will not desire her. It is also based in a belief that all men a inherently craving for sex with every woman and girl they see. This objectification is further reinforced by the anoher form of objectification – women in sex plays, pornographic films, pictures and cartoons, and stripping and escorting businesses. One demands to cover so that only a few could lust and the other demand to uncover so that those who could pay, could lust.

    As for the advert, it actually brings out the consistency in patriarchal control through the two different mechanisms of covering and uncovering well and it uses it for a commercial end. Control of women through their bodies and sexuality definitely has economical consequences for women but this one seems to be alluding to male promoters as well as women who may seem to agree with this form of sexiness.

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