My burka is not an ex­otic cos­tume

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - ENTERTAINMENT -

LAST fall, the me­dia was abuzz with sto­ries about your 25- pound weight gain. You didn’t hide any of that ex­tra lard and you proudly posed for pic­tures in your un­der­wear. That was your way of telling the world you didn’t care what the gossip col­umns said about your body. As a hi­jab- wear­ing woman, I would never con­sider show­ing my body in pub­lic. But, I still praised you for your courage and snark. You and I have com­pletely op­po­site cul­tural and so­cial val­ues, but in some ways I think we’re alike. Hi­jab, for me, is a way of re­ject­ing the cul­ture that wants to char­ac­ter­ize me by the an­gles and curves of my body.

How­ever, your demo track Burqa, which was leaked re­cently, was a huge dis­ap­point­ment to me be­cause I found your ap­pro­pri­a­tion of my hi­jab crude and dis­cour­te­ous, to say the least. How could a woman who pas­sion­ately em­pow­ered young girls to love their bod­ies tell them to sex­u­al­ize those same bod­ies and the clothes that cover them?

We live in a cul­ture in which some men rape women and then claim the vic­tim led them to be­lieve she wanted to have sex. I don’t need to ex­plain to you how aw­ful the sit­u­a­tion is be­cause you told the story of a date rape in Mon­ster, and I have al­ways ap­plauded you for speak­ing out against such a hor­ri­ble crime.

Con­trary to the por­trayal in Burqa, I, like most other Mus­lim women, cover my­self be­cause I am not in­ter­ested in flir­ta­tion. I do not want to be sex­u­ally so­licited. How­ever, “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? Do you wanna peak un­derneath the cover?” im­plies no re­ally means yes. It adds to the per­cep­tion that if a woman shows signs of re­fusal, she is just be­ing tit­il­lat­ing and play­ing hard to get; she se­cretly wants to be pur­sued and se­duced. This per­pet­u­ates vi­o­lence against women and con­tra­dicts the mes­sage in Mon­ster, in which you con­demned the “wolf in dis­guise.” In Burqa, you seem to sug­gest that by tear­ing off your clothes he is ful­fill­ing your fan­tasy. It is a danger­ous mes­sage that does not just af­fect Mus­lim women but all women. No woman wants to be tor­mented with un­needed at­ten­tion, to be stalked and to be told she was ask­ing for it.

Let me be clear about why I was in­sulted as a Mus­lim. I am not against a non- Mus­lim woman wear­ing the hi­jab or shar­ing her opin­ion about it. The song ac­tu­ally started out well, and some of your lyrics echoed my feel­ings: “I’m not a wan­der­ing slave, I’m a woman of choice.” But then you lost me when you pro­ceeded to turn such a sa­cred sym­bol of my re­li­gion into an ex­otic cos­tume. It is not some­thing you can wear to your Hal­loween party.

And this not the first time you’ve eroti­cized the burka. When you ap­peared on a fash­ion show cat­walk last fall, draped in translu­cent, flimsy neon- pink fab­ric, your body and glit­tery un­der­gar­ments tan­ta­liz­ing the on­look­ers, you did me dam­age. Cov­er­ing my body is not my fetish or a fash­ion state­ment. It does not turn me on, nor do I want any­one else to be turned on by it. I don’t want peo­ple to think of that im­age and turn me into an ob­ject of sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion when they see me cov­ered.

This is not to say that Mus­lim women are asex­ual. Rather, sex­u­al­ity is some­thing in­nate so I don’t need to make a show of it through my ap­parel.

You see, the whole point of a burka is to de- sex­u­al­ize the way peo­ple think of me. I do it to defy the male gaze and force peo­ple to see me for my in­tel­lect and my abil­i­ties. But when you hy­per­sex­u­al­ize me, like you did in Burqa, you de­hu­man­ize me by im­ply­ing cov­er­ing my­self makes me use­less ex­cept as a sex toy.

In re­al­ity, my hi­jab liberates me be­cause I don’t have to con­form to so­ci­ety’s stan­dards of beauty, al­low­ing me to cre­ate my own body rev­o­lu­tion, like the move­ment you started ear­lier this year. My hi­jab never stopped me from trav­el­ling across the world, or par­tic­i­pat­ing in long hik­ing trips or be­ing a pro­fes­sional at work. My mother cov­ers her en­tire body, ex­cept her hands and feet, but that did not hin­der her from be­com­ing a phi­lan­thropist and a shrewd busi­ness­woman.

I un­der­stand that in mak­ing Burqa, you were ex­er­cis­ing your right to free speech. But you’re a pop cul­ture icon and you in­flu­ence the way mil­lions of peo­ple think. Your leaked demo re­sulted in a flood of tweets by your Lit­tle Mon­sters, wrap­ping them­selves in what­ever they could get their hands on — tow­els, scarves, bed sheets — and post­ing their pic­tures with the hash­tag # burqaswag. To them, it was one big joke, but to me, it was one big in­sult. The rep­e­ti­tion of the phrase “be­hind the aura” in the demo, cou­pled with your fans’ of­fen­sive game of dress- up in their makeshift burkas, evokes the worst stereo­types about the “ex­otic” Mus­lim woman who is sub­mis­sive and sex­u­ally re­pressed.

So go ahead and re­lease your song if you like, but just know that with a song as in­sen­si­tive and over­sim­pli­fied as Burqa, you might man­age to get a cou­ple mil­lion hits, but it will hold no place in the se­ri­ous, more so­phis­ti­cated cul­tural dis­course you have been try­ing so hard to in­flu­ence.

ANJA NIE­DRINGHAUS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS AR­CHIVES

By Umema Ai­men

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