Today in Orientalist Reporting: You would think that when a supermodel, Miss Universe Australia to be exact, decides to wear the hijab for a day this would result in some sort of enlightened piece about Islam, the hijab, or even Islamophobia. But as pure as her intentions may have been, this news segment speaks more on existing Islamophobia then anything else. Here are a few things that I caught:
1. Veil puns galore! The title of the piece is aptly named “Behind the Veil”…do I need to continue? If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to write a title for a piece about the veil, here’s a quick guide on what to do. Hint: it includes not using them.
2. It’s all about image, baby! What are the best graphics to use for a piece on the veil? Pictures of women wearing a burka/niqab, lots and lots of pictures. Don’t stop at pictures, find all three niqabis in Australia and take footage of them doing everyday things like buying groceries or walking down a street with her children. It’s just so fascinating watching them do normal things like normal people. While you’re at it, nothing screams Islam than some “oriental” sounding music to run through the background of the piece. Don’t forget to add a random clip of Muslims getting into a fight (they’re all violent!), store signs in Arabic/Urdu or people wearing cultural clothing (they refuse to assimilate!).
3. Stranger Danger! Muslim people aren’t Australian! Wait…are Muslim people even people? The “othering” of Muslims runs rampant in this piece. Let’s take an example from the very few seconds of the clip, “Like many she has no understanding about Islam…and admits to being terrified about entering a world she knows little about.” What are we to suppose? “Like many” - this is the opinion of the norm of Australians. “terrified,” “world” - the Muslim community is something that is worth being terrified about and isn’t just another community within the fabric of Australian society but rather a whole new world. More examples! Phrases like, the Muslim enclave is like “a country within a country” they have “their own rules, their own dress code, their own language,” continue the xenophobia. Phrases like “we [women] have been looking after the kids for you, we just need a man to start the barby,” reinforce the stereotype of oppressed and submissive women.
4. Why am I doing this again? Wasn’t the point of this piece to showcase the supermodel’s willingness to “experiment” with the hijab? There’s no serious discussion about why veiling is a concept in Islam. Instead it’s just seen as a “thing you do” or “a piece of cloth you wear and endure.” Why talk about the essence of veiling when you can show a clip of them going to the mall and coming back with some cool fashionable duds! Honestly, this lack of discussion doesn’t bother me as much as the closing dialogue of lessons learned from this special day. On one end it’s said “We’re all Australian” but the poor supermodel can’t stop herself from describing her host as “they, they, they, they!” And the cherry on top? “To me it’s empowering!” There’s something also to be said about how the only way to combat the xenophobia is to push the idea that “see, they’re just like us.” Where is the middle ground?
How do reporters present a subject in a manner that defeats the purpose of the report? I will never know.