Gender & Identity, Life

Hey dude, stop trying to get behind the veil

Where do you think we live? Some fantastical world set in the early 1900s where it's okay to have a Lawrence of Arabia wandering around?

Hey, world. I have a quick PSA for you. A certain few of you, actually: Hassan Ammar of Associated Press and Nick Kirkpatrick of The Washington Post. And anyone else who was behind the following harebrained scheme:

A photography project shot from behind a niqab of different locations around the Middle East. Of course, let it be known that this veil was a veil worn by a MAN and his CAMERA in the MIDDLE EAST.

Because, you know — the only Muslim women in the world are located in the Middle East.

Give me a second while I try to catch my breath. Granted, I’m not wearing a niqab, so here’s my insertion of #notallhijabis in case you bring that up in the comments section. However, there are a few questions that I have to ask you, Hassan, and Nick, the reporter who then decided to report on this decidedly exotic excursion.

A man leading tourists riding horses at the historical site of the Giza Pyramids near Cairo in April. (Hassan Ammar/AP)


What possessed you to want to unveil Muslim women?

Where do you think we live? Some fantastical world set in the early 1900s, one where it was okay to have a man named Lawrence of Arabia wandering around, colonializing women through his gaze?

Here’s an actual quote by the photographer:

“In my travels, I decided to begin shooting images through a full niqab to offer a glimpse of what it must be like to look through them,” Ammar wrote. “In my hometown of Beirut, I shot pictures of its famous corniche that way, the bright colors of the Mediterranean dimmed through it. The same happened at the Giza pyramids in Egypt, where a sunny blue sky grew dark. Despite that, some women say they welcome the anonymity and protection from harassment the niqab offers.”

So basically, this man is saying that he, as a man, decided that he, as a man, would be the BEST possible authority on entering into a world that a CERTAIN PERCENTAGE of Muslim women move within, and that after this seemingly-enlightening experience, he would RACK IN the profits.

I’m not going to bother with educating you on why it’s problematic for non-Muslim women to do this – I already wrote about it before. Hell, it’s been done, over, and over, and over again. In 2010, a Kentucky woman wore a hijab for a month, revealing an experience that “silenced, but simultaneously … brought unforgettable words.” The writer found that the experience made her uneasy, but was unable to pinpoint certain encounters because they were rarely transparent. The writer concluded that “what you see and hear from the media is fallible — if you want the truth, talk to a Muslim.” Yet her very experiment failed to do that. In 2011, an editor for The Huffington Post chronicled her endeavor to become “Islamic,” describing the niqab she chose to purchase as “something an executioner would wear.” Throughout her piece, she says things like “the sight of fully veiled women has become disturbingly familiar” and “there are people right here who want to shroud women … to make us all submissive and invisible.” In 2012, a VICE journalist decided to explore “what life was like for women who have been consigned to wear the least-revealing piece of clothing of all time,” her article sexualizing what she felt life was like for a woman in niqab.

What makes this series INFINITELY more problematic, though, is the gender of the experimenter. That’s not to say that I would be happy with it if a non-Muslim woman deigned to do the series — but seriously, what was the thought process, Hassan? Did it go something like this: “oh man, those women with the thing in front of their faces … niqab … huh. What would it be like if I put it on? Right? What do you think, AP editor? There aren’t any niqabis or hijabis in the media industry, nope, I think I’m the only expert to be able to adequately provide photos like this:”

A woman walking at Al-Azhar Park in Cairo in May. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

I don’t get it.

Honest to God, I’m trying. I’m trying. The world never ceases to amaze me with the latest instalment of mansplaining. Here’s the reality, Hassan Ammar, Washington Post, and anyone else lauding this as revolutionary, amazing and fantastical: it ain’t. You’re doing exactly what everyone else who decides to “experiment” with hijab/niqab/Muslim clothing does: slapping yourself in the face with idiocy.

Fun fact: Muslim women have voices, we speak up, and we know how to eviscerate ridiculous opinions and experiments — this one included. Keep that in mind the next time you attempt to speak for us. For now, go on, reap the back-slapping congratulations you’re probably getting from your buddies at your publication, Hassan Ammar — but realize this: you did wrong with this experiment. It reeked of awfulness.

I am not impressed.