“History making” hijabi model steps down from L’Oreal campaign after her Twitter comments come to light

The other day HuffPo put up one of its usual hijabi-extolling posts, noting that model Amena Khan “made history” by being in a campaign for L’Oreal hair products—while wearing a hijab. I wasn’t going to post about it, as there’s not much new here beyond the usual “hijabi-is-a-hero” palaver, but developments yesterday changed that (see below). Click on the screenshot to go to the article:

As the article notes, “A blogger, model and co-founder of Ardere Cosmetics, Khan has called the new collaboration ‘game changing.’ She is the first woman who wears a hijab to be featured in a major mainstream hair ad.”

Well, you might wonder why L’Oreal would want to use a woman who covers her hair to advertise shampoo and conditioner. Khan explains it in the HuffPo video below:

Okay, fair enough. And, as Maajid Nawaz explains in this short video, although the decision to use a woman who covers her hair to advertise hair products seems weird, it’s based on financial calculations.

If L’Oreal wants to do this, fine. But what bothers me is the usual tactic of making a hijabi into some kind of hero. In this case, though, it’s a bit hypocritical. After all, why do Muslims wear the hijab? As I’ve discussed before, and as you can see on “Rules related to covering“—an Islamic website that mandates codes of dress—by and large the hijab is worn as a religiously-mandated sign of modesty: to hide a woman’s hair. The premise is that the sight of hair will arouse uncontrollable lust in men, and then bad things will ensue. The Muslim rules, which are patriarchal, deem it the woman’s responsibility to avoid exciting men by looking attractive.

But it’s not just the hair that should be covered: women must avoid any adornment or beautification that calls attention to them:

Their face and hands must not have any kind of beautification (zinat) on them.

Well, Khan wears so much makeup—including lipstick, eye shadow, eyeliner, blush, nail polish (also forbidden) and other products that women use that I’m not aware of—that it looks as if it’s been laid on with a trowel. (See other photos of her on her Twitter account). She also shapes her eyebrows, also a forbidden enhancement.  Have a look:

At the same time that she’s adhering to Muslim custom and covering her hair out of modesty, she’s doing all she can to call attention to her beauty,—to her face and nails and body. Well, she’s a model, and that’s what they do. But isn’t it a bit hypocritical to wear a garment whose purpose is to avoid exciting lust, while doing the exact oppostie with your face, hands, and feet? (Khan often wears sandals, a display of feet that is prohibited by the same dictates that prohibit showing hair).

I’ve said all this before, and felt no need yesterday to say to call out this dichotomy again, but then it was discovered that Khan has a rather dubious history of posting anti-Israeli messages on Twitter. These are not just criticisms of Israel occupying the West Bank or the like, but contentions that Israel has no right to exist—a sentiment that, I think, borders on anti-semitism.  Because of these, Khan pulled out of the campaign (it’s not clear to me whether she was actually fired.) You can see reports on her background and withdrawal at the BBC as well as  Israelly Cool. 

What did Amena Khan say on Twitter? Well, she’s deleted her tweets, but some were captured by the Daily Wire:

Another:

 

I won’t get into who is the deliberate murderer of children or whether Israel is an “illegal state”, but let’s just agree these tweets are clearly “anti-Israel”, and pretty much state that Israel has no right to exist.

When these tweets were revealed, Khan to “withdrew” from the campaign, offering a weird apology that said she didn’t really mean what she said about Israel:

L’Oreal, whether out of a dislike for Khan’s views or simple business acumen, was not reluctant to accept her “withdrawal.” From the BBC:

A spokesperson for L’Oreal Paris told Newsbeat: “We have recently been made aware of a series of tweets posted in 2014 by Amena Kahn, who was featured in a UK advertising campaign.

“We appreciate that Amena has since apologised for the content of these tweets and the offence they have caused.

“L’Oreal Paris is committed to tolerance and respect towards all people. We agree with her decision to step down from the campaign.”

I have to admit that there’s a bit of Schadenfreude here: while HuffPo and L’Oreal (and other places) were extolling this woman as a pathbreaker, a history maker, and even a kind of hero, at the same time she had a background of espousing hatred verging on the anti-Semitic. And to extol her “Muslim-ness” for wearing the hijab, while ignoring her attempts to call as much attention as possible to her beauty, smacks of either ignorance or hypocrisy.

I put a comment on the HuffPo site last night saying they should update their report, but of course they haven’t done it despite widespread reporting about Khan’s withdrawal from the beauty campaign. (Curiously, they’ve removed her Instagram posts from the site.)  Nor has HuffPo US posted any report of her withdrawal, although HuffPo UK has. But even HuffPo UK’s report is bizarre, putting scare quotes around Khan’s “anti-Israel” tweets:

A model who became the first woman in a hijab to feature in advertising for hair brand L’Oreal has stepped down from the “game changing” campaign after a series of “anti-Israel” tweets emerged.

Amena Khan, who announced her recruitment to the initiative just six days ago, said she decided to step down “because the current conversations surrounding it detract from the positive and inclusive sentiment that it set out to deliver”.

She wrote on Instagram of her regret over tweets dating from 2014, which had prompted accusations she held “anti-Israel” views.

Why the scare quotes around “anti-Israel”? Does that mean it’s questionable whether the tweets shown above really were against Israel? That’s the only reason I can imagine for the quotes, and it’s shameful. There’s no question about what those tweets say!

********

Meanwhile, over at LBC Radio (“Leading Britain’s Conversation”), broadcaster James O’Brien, who appears to be an anti-Brexit liberal, makes clear to a Muslim mother why she shouldn’t force her eight-year-old daughter to wear the hijab. Click on the screenshot to get to the article and the 4.5-minute video.  Remember that while women in Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia have no choice about wearing the hijab (and, in Iran, demonstrated in the streets when the theocracy forced veiling in 1979), the issue of “choice” in Western countries, where girls are veiled very young, is often problematic.

My final remarks simply echo the sentiments of Alishba Zarmeen, a feminist activist from Pakistan:

One possible counterargument for people like Khan is that some women veil not out of modesty, but simply as a symbol of their religious faith. Fair enough, but, given the above, that’s like saying that some people waving the Confederate flag are only doing so as a symbol of their “Southern heritage.” Remember the “fucking history and traditional use of that symbol”!

h/t: Heather, Orli

55 Comments

  1. YF
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I think James O’Brian is being a bit of a jerk here.

    Girls can get pregnant, boys can’t. That’s why there is a difference.

    • DW
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      So, because girls can get pregnant, they have to wear a bag over their heads…. I have a feeling you may be confused about how human anatomy works…

    • Richard Sanderson
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      O’Brien can be a jerk sometimes, and is often guilty of parroting SJW rhetoric.

      But he is spot on in that segment.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        Yup, O’Brien is spot on with this. I like that he did not let her off the hook.

    • Graham Head
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Eight year old girls can’t get pregnant.

      • Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Is that why Mohammed waited till his wife was 9?

      • Posted January 23, 2018 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Unfortunately, some can. The earliest known pregnancy was in a five year old child.

  2. Posted January 23, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I learned two new words, Jerry, a bonus to reading an excellent dissection of this particular instance of tiptoe journalism… ty.

  3. Posted January 23, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    What I want to know, and I bet the whole world does too, is why would you use someone wearing a hijab to market hair products? Was her tag line;”

    It’s really good. No, really. I know you can’t see my hair, but just trust me, use L’Oreal, you won’t be sorry.”

    • XCellKen
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      To parody a hair dye ad from the 70s: “Only her husband knows for sure”

    • Jake Sevins
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      I think her point was (and it was in the video): if you believe that you should only take care of your hair when other people see it, then you are saying you only care about the parts of you that other people see.

      Also, women don’t generally wear the hijab at home or at family gatherings.

      • Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        I guess I should heed the ubiquitous advice I get when I try something like that and keep my day job.

    • Taz
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      L’Oreal – makes hair care so easy it’s like you have none at all!

  4. XCellKen
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    The funniest thing I’ve seen in recent memory was three women wearing burkas exiting a Victoria’s Secret store, all carrying bags of merchandise they had just purchased.

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I lived in Tunisia in the mid 1980s and drinking alcohol was officially haram – strictly forbidden by the religious mores then (not sure if it is today). Of course most men drank and to accommodate them the president of Tunisia, Hamid Bourgiba, had a son who owned the country’s only distillery and brewery.

      You could tell the ones who’d just bought booze as they walked furtively away from the souk, eyes cast down, with their bags clinking loudly. It was funny.

      • Taz
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        I had a couple of friends from Tunisia in grad school. They liked to go to the bar a lot – and always wanted to end up at a strip club.

    • eric
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

      It’s the coupons! I’m not kidding – VS often has free undies or free bra coupons in order to entice women into the store. My wife used to collect and redeem them religiously. 🙂

  5. Alpha Neil
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Maybe they’ll replace her with an Amish model.

    • Christian
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Or an ultra orthodox woman wearing a sheitel:

      “Oy, you can’t see my real hair but I swear, it looks exactly like that thing I’m wearing on my head.”
      😉

      • Alpha Neil
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        From the Wikipedia article: “In many Hasidic groups, sheitels are avoided, as they can give the impression that the wearer’s head is uncovered. In other Hasidic groups, women wear some type of covering over the sheitel to avoid this misconception, for example a scarf or a hat.”

        Ha! they cover their real hair with fake hair then they cover the fake hair so people know it’s fake hair. How far do you have to shove a Q-tip into your ear for this to make sense?

  6. Historian
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    The post raises the question of whether it is hypocritical for the model to use so much makeup while at the same time covering her hair for purposes of maintaining her modesty. I do not think Khan would consider what she does hypocritical. She is probably a literalist in regard to how she interprets her faith. For her, she cannot do anything her faith forbids; anything it doesn’t explicitly forbid is okay.

    We see this same phenomenon among Orthodox Jews. They are forbidden to do many things on the Sabbath, but it is okay to get a non-Jew to do it, the so-called “Shabbos Goy.” They would not view this situation as hypocritical. In researching the Shabbos Goy, I discovered a person who contends that many Jews do not understand what can and cannot be asked of a non-Jew on the Sabbath. Apparently, the general rule is that Jews cannot ask non-Jews to do something on the Sabbath that they are forbidden to do themselves. Who knew? But, there are many exceptions to the general rule. As the author explains the dos and do nots, it became clear to me that this aspect of Jewish law is more complex that the U.S. Senate’s rules of procedure. Such is religion.

    http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1140867/jewish/The-Myth-of-the-Shabbos-Goy.htm

    • eric
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      Yes I think you are right that both are examples of a legalistic interpretation of their respective faiths.

      However, recognizing and naming that sort of behavior doesn’t make it any less theologically silly.

      Reminds me of Sherri Tepper’s Raising the Stones, in which a prophet shows up and says “Don’t let’em mess with your heads, boys.” Sparking hundreds of years of warfare over proper male headdress and whether cutting hair is okay. A fictional example, but IMO the point is relevant: reading literally /= reading for comprehension, sometimes obviously and laughably so.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    “a symbol of their ‘Southern heritage’” — Well, we certainly heard that bullshit for decades. Let us hope it doesn’t take anything so drastic as the massacre at Mother Emanuel Church, which finally resulted in that rag being dragged down from atop statehouses across the former Confederacy, to liberate western Muslim women from compunctions over doffing the hijab.

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Arguing against gawd is usually a losing proposition. But I get your meaning and commiserate.

    • XCellKen
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      I realize how much you hate the South, and everything for which it stands, but please don’t exaggerate. The Stars and Bars flew over exactly TWO state houses. Hardly all across the entire Confederacy.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        There are several other southern states that flew the confederate flag — either standing alone, or incorporated into their state flags — over government buildings to protest the end of Jim Crow. It’s just the last two that finally came down after the Mother Emanuel massacre.

        And my relationship with the American South is more a matter of love/hate. There are many aspects of Southern culture I adore; it’s only the smoldering embers of racism that the Republican Party routinely fans to life with its “Southern strategy” that I abhor.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    When I see a confederate flag flying anywhere it pisses me off and I am White. Imagine how African Americans feel about it. Imagine how veterans of the north from civil war times would feel about it if still alive? Most upsetting is to see the damn thing flying in the north because what else could that be but racism. And just another Trump fan because you know, Trump was a big fan of southern NY in the civil war.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Daddy Trump did get arrested at a Klan rally once. And Trump père et fils were sued by the Justice Department — twice — for refusing to rent apartments to black folk.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        Yes, as he says, there are good people on all sides. Except in those “shithole” countries he mentioned the other day. More emigration from Norway please.

        • Posted January 24, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

          But, how many Norwegians would want to immigrate to this country that has numerous “shithole” areas?

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Excuse: “it’s heritage not hate”
      Response: “but your heritage is hateful”

      I always give a one-finger salute to anyone I see flying the confederate flag (I live in the north).

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        heritage is just another word for slavery. You know…that lost cause.

      • John Frum
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        I read a post the other day where someone accidentally cut someone off in their car and rather than flip the bird to them, the other drive did the thumbs down sign.
        They said it made them feel much worse so I am going to do this from now on.
        Try the thumbs down signal on your own and see if you can tell a difference.

  9. Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Another anti-semitic Muslima, what a huge surprise!

    I see the hijab and thick make-up combination very often. Like with Christians and probably other faiths, religious hypocrisy or cherrypicking is common. It seems the purpose of God is to be the ultimate rationalizer — he hates gays, non-believers etc so it’s o.k. to hate them too (the actual reasoning is reverse).

    Like American Bible thumpers, God cares about specific things when convenient, and has modernized His views otherwise; also, however convenient. A bit of costly sacrifice must remain, especially around matters that are great to keep the ingroup/outgroup going, and to advertise the faith. American Evangelicals have a few token issues that are kept up at all costs, how else do you keep the Red Tribe alive, even if everything else is discarded and forgotten, and so it seems, is it for Muslims, too.

  10. Mike Anderson
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Even though Western culture has much more equality between the sexes than most Muslim cultures, I can take my shirt off in public but women can’t (I live in California).

    When we criticize the inequality in other cultures I can’t help but hear “our level of inequality is acceptable, but yours crosses the line.”

    • darrelle
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think it is nearly that simple. Also, a similar simplification, or perhaps ultimate extension, of the view you describe is that criticism of any kind is morally bad.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      You get to take your paints off too? Damn those dress codes. You could live in a nudest colony so hop, skip and go naked.

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Good grief. So no criticism is allowed until we are morally and ethically pure?

    • Taz
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      In the office?

    • Davide Spinello
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      My female colleagues get to come to work with their shoulders uncovered but I don’t. Damn discrimination in the western world, who a we to judge the liberating power of the head scurf.

      • bundorgarden
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        Yes, and women can wear sandals to work or at ‘smart’ occasions, but men can’t, no matter how hot the weather.

        • eric
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

          That’s because formal wear for men hasn’t markedly changed since before we invented electrical air conditioning. 🙂

    • eric
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      AIUI humans have loads of neurons dedicated to recognizing and interpreting other humans’ facial expressions. Forcing someone to hide their face as with a burqa literally dehumanizes them – prevents others from interacting with them as we are biologically adapted to do – in a way that other forms of clothing and apparel don’t.

      So, yeah, IMO burqas and things like that cross a line that a western overcoat or bikini doesn’t. And I think there’s real, empirical, biological evidence backing that up.

  11. Robert
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Near the end of the O’Brien interview he uses the phrase “demonstrably daft”. You can’t beat an English accent for this kind of put down.

  12. Bob Murray
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I had a thought that maybe L’Oreal dropped her because she demanded that their logo change to, “Because you’re worth half it”.

    • Steven in Tokyo
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good one!

  13. Tom
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    An unusually deft advertising campaign using a topical issue by L’Oreal plenty of publicity and so cheap, the press obliged and did it all for them.

  14. Max Blancke
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    To begin with, the silliness of advertising hair products by hijabis is not new:

  15. eric
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I dislike her comments. I dislike the constant demand that sports stars, actors, singers, models etc. behave as role models more. Were I a woman shopping for cosmetics, these sorts of comments would certainly make me think less of the model (as they do now), but they would not change my purchasing behavior. L’Oreal firing her or removing her from the campaign also wouldn’t change my behavior, as that’s their business prerogative.

  16. Gabrielle
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    As chance would have it, I use the L’Oreal shampoo and conditioner that is in this ad campaign, the ElVive line. It really is the best line of hair care products that I’ve ever tried.
    Muslim women do wash and style their hair, so from L’Oreal’s point of view, it’s a market to target. I don’t think they’re particularly pro-hijab.
    The amount of make-up that this model is wearing is what would be expected in an ad campaign by a cosmetics company. Oftentimes, the still photos are air-brushed, as I suspect the one of this model is above.

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted January 24, 2018 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      IMHO, you could still stay with L’Oréal and use their Ever Pure line. Yes, a bit more pricey. But, no sulfates and washes out so much cleaner and clearer. This new line is simply a repackage of the old one before it. Same old same old. Not bad, just okay.

  17. zoolady
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Fine example of ”the religion of PEACE.”

  18. Helen Hollis
    Posted January 24, 2018 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    I am very confused about how the cosmetics industry keeps trying to be “new” by simply changing a package. In this case, the model is new, the product really is not. The packaging merely changed. Yet, the model has changed also. Spin it around and around and it’s the same product they had before this new campaign.

  19. Posted January 24, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    What is it about women’s hair that makes it so provocative of male lust? For centuries, various cultures have decided that modest women
    and especially wives must cover their heads. That’s why nuns used to cover their heads as they were doing what traditional wives did, and they were wives of Christ. Very often, when the heads were covered, clothing had to be exceedingly modest too: often black (color of death) shapeless like sacks, or burqas. Look at some photos of Greek, Turkish,etc. village women. So, skin must be provocative also. I guess women could be shut in at home. Oh yeah! That’s done. And, in some cultures, even within the household women have their own separate areas to live in which no male may enter if not family. Kind of like a harem.

    As a freshman in college, I went to a conservative religious school in which girls were not supposed to wear make up. Some wore no make up, but wore girdles and padded bras (tells you how very old I am). And, many wore
    make up deftly applied to look natural. So much for the rules.


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