I am intrigued by the attention burqas and niqabs have amassed in the western culture. France actually banned Muslim women from wearing burqas and niqabs in public in April 2011. The French government feels that the ban will facilitate cultural integration. For some Muslim’s it is symbol of patriarchy, misogyny, sexism; a pre-Islamic cultural practice that has no place in the Quran. A pre-Islamic practice in which Aristocratic men forced the concealment of women. They regarded the women as personal property. When a young British woman was asked by a BBC correspondent covering the ban of the burqas and niqabs why she chose to cover up, she said that she did not really know why, then said that they were meant to cover up so that they do not appear to aspire toward Western standards. Burqas and niqabs, therefore, for some, serve as an opposition to westernized ways of displaying the feminine body.
What are you laughing at? Bill Maher holds an annual Burqa beauty contest on his show. He is a comedian so, of course, during the fashion show he is expected to tell jokes and poke fun at the women who wear burqas and the institution that forces them to wear them. During one of the fashion shows he says the burqa is “guaranteed to get your man so hot he’ll want to strike you with a stick”. He also names fake designers such as Muslim Dior ( he was Christian Dior before he converted, so goes the joke) and Donna Quran to further marginalize the subjects of his jokes. It is the mix of barbaric metonyms and western names that signify civility, all that is not savage; standing in opposition to the other that should make them funny. Then we have the girls in Sex and the City 2 making comments based on western ideologies about the burqas and niqabs in the movie all for the sake of comedy.
This is an image of the execution of burqa clad woman by a Taliban official conducted inside a football stadium holding many spectators. It is not clear to me why she was executed. This stark contrast to Maher’s jokes, however, was needed.
George Bush used the “veil” (translate to women’s rights) as a reason to to war. All of these instances speak to western entitlement and insensitivity in my opinion in regards to the other. Moreover, Maher’s jokes are tragic in any instance, especially within the context of this text. When those types of jokes are articulated and laughed at, what is really being said? It may be argued that all is fair game in comedy and the French government has a right to make decisions to enforce cultural harmony but to what degree? How much of one’s identity should be sacrificed, if at all, in an effort to conform to normative western standards? I know these topics can be debated on for an extensive period of time, but this brings me to Kabul Beauty School.
Bill Maher Fifth Annual Fundamentalist Fashion Show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJFi3paZTtA
Sex and The City 2 clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxjmaIqZY5M
You must take a look at this clip below before the discussion of the beauty school of Kabul begins in this text. This clip from Saira Shah’s Beneath the Veil-Women in Islam reveals some of the abhorrent conditions that women struggle against. Women resort to begging in order to survive as they are not allowed to work. One woman is seen feeding her seven children scraps of molded bread. There is also the lack of medical care. The gynecological hospitals are horrifying derelict spaces, that appear to be more of a place for leaving someone to die than a place for healthcare. It is important to juxtapose these matters to the makeover discourse to facilitate the thought process on whether or not makeovers ( ascribing to/learning Western beauty practices) are the answers to the sociopolitical dilemmas. Consider Bill Maher’s distasteful jokes and this quote, from The Biopower of Beauty, while watching “A commitment to beauty, through which she inhabits normative prescriptions for gender and sexuality as the realization of her human wholeness, becomes the guarantee of her dignity and substance of her claims to rights” (Nguyen, 276).
Watch from 6:24 mark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEcUtjhA6b8#t=381
So normative beauty practices guarantee the women internal and external beauty that put her dignity and her ability to grasp a hold of her human rights into place. She will be free and capable of living a better life. Beauty, then, is the answer to the problems highlighted in the above video. It is the absurd imperial western humanitarian answer to the lack of education, medical care, human rights, and poverty. Empowering the women economically via entrepreneurial endeavors in beauty is plausible but the idea that beauty is a core factor in success is abhorrent. Not only is it this ideology abhorrent, so is the west saving the rest discourse couched in the beauty rescuers’ goals. There are issues of mass poverty, violence, and other socio-political injustices that will not even begin to be solved by initiatives such as this one.