Daily Mail reporter on the burqa

The Q-News homepage reprinted an article on which I intended to comment a couple of months ago when I saw it in print, about how one of the Daily Mail’s reporters spent a week in a burqa. As the reader might imagine, she hated it, and also hated the stares and rude comments it generated. This is the second time I’ve commented on a “non-Muslim woman wears niqab and hates it” story - the first was last April with Zoe Piliafas AKA Zhooda with the fake Middle Eastern accent at Eastern Michigan University.

The problem with this story as with Piliafas’ is that the wearer was a non-Muslim who wore the garment just to see what it was like and expecting it to be awful, and (more so in this case) wearing the most extreme version of the veil. The fact is that hardly any women wear that type of burqa outside the Pak/Afghan highlands. It is a cultural garment and nothing more. Tanya Gold claimed that she had seen women in the streets where she lives, not mentioning where she lives, but it can’t possibly be anywhere near Oxford Street where she went with it. I’ve been along that street so many times and have never seen a woman in that type of costume, ever. Those that do cover their faces (quite a few, given its proximity to Edgware Road) wear the standard Gulf black abaya.

I said when I wrote about Piliafas’ experiment that perhaps she should have asked Muslim women what they think about their costume rather than conduct an unrealistic and unrepresentative personal experiment. When I was at Kingston University a couple of years ago, there were quite a few Muslim women there, and they retired to the segregated Muslim room where they could take off their veils because only other women were around. No doubt neither Piliafas nor Tanya Gold had access to such a facility. While life can be difficult for women who choose to wear niqab in the west, they wear niqab arrangements which permit them to navigate streets and inspect goods easily.

Tanya Gold calls her week in the burqa “a strange window into a different culture”, but it is certainly not the culture of Muslims in London. As so often happens, the voice of the ordinary Muslim is not given air by a newspaper which sees more sensation in the experiences of one non-Muslim woman wearing a totally unfamiliar version of Muslim clothing.

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