Based on his über-liberal political views, I assume Bill Maher has an open mind, and therefore understands that fashion transcends cultures. But for the sake of being a douche, he pretends like he doesn’t in his parody of niqabi women in a skit called “Muslim Dior,” part of his But I’m not Wrong comedy show. He also ran the skit on his television show, Real Time:
I think it’s hard to argue with this statement: All women wear clothes and many women like fashion. Muslim women are no different. To say that many Muslim women love fashion isn’t a stereotype but a statement about a beauty-obsessed culture. One only has to flip on Rotana and watch over-the-top fashion in Arabic music videos, or look at the designer bags and shoes on display in Dubai, or the rise in plastic surgery in Lebanon and Kuwait to realize this. And if massive shopping malls are any indication, Arab woman from oil-rich Gulf countries can afford to buy the expensive designer duds seen on the runways in Paris and Milan.
Also, as this sexy-but-annoying German lingerie ad shows, even women who cover themselves from head-to-toe in black cloth care about the way they look. So, in countries like Saudi Arabia, where it’s obligatory for women to cover in public, fashion trends are mostly shown off in private, at house parties or weddings where men are not around, adding weight to the argument that women dress up for other women anyway.
But back to Maher. He begins by acting shocked over the news that Saudi Arabia has had its first fashion show. Then, as white models (Hello, Orientalism!) with no shoes and a high-water abayas strut their stuff, Maher pokes fun at Muslim culture (as if there was just one) in a voice almost as annoying as Joan Rivers, purposely assigning all Muslim women to the stereotype of the ninja models on stage. Maher’s parading the models barefoot is a more subtle jab at Muslims, as bare feet implies a lack of civilization or the idea that Muslim women are not au courant enough to own a pair of high heels.
Perhaps I’m overanalyzing that just a bit, but in the skit, which he calls the “Fall Fundamentalist Fashion Show,” Maher says things like, “Turn heads without losing yours in this sizzling Saudi sheath and be the wife that he calls for tonight and every night,” or that the niqab is “guaranteed to get your man so hot he’ll wanna crack you on the ankle with a long stick,” referencing the popular stereotype that Islam sanctions wife-beating.
He says , “Anon is wearing a daring French cut with a plunging eye slid that comes in black and dark black,” which made me laugh and think of the burqa controversy in France. Here, Maher is doing what satire should do: use humor to draw attention to more serious issues.
But then he goes back to the stereotypes with phrases like, “Whether you’re on the go or simply knowing your place…” Maher laughs at Muslims and not with us by conveniently implying that Islam oppresses women.
Maher could have done a better job at being politically correct. I genuinely enjoyed some of the jokes: “This is Coleen in this business casual abaya by Donna Koran.” (Hahhaha!) “It’s a throwback pull-over that says I’m too sexy for my Shiite.” (Hahhaha!) “This one says my mullah brings all the boys to the yard.” Who doesn’t enjoy a good Kelis reference?
Proving that pain closely follows laughter, Maher’s next line is straight-up offensive because of its generalization and assumptions about Islamic legal code: “Dress it up for morning prayers, or dress it down for midnight stoning.”
It’s a small-minded mistake to assume that Muslim women don‘t like or follow fashion because many of them cover up in public. For proof, visit your neighborhood’s sister’s potluck, read an Arab fashion magazine like Sayidaty, Google Haifa Wehbe, or any of the blogs dedicated to the fashion-conscious hijabi.
Besides, If Maher did any research, he could have found at least one woman sporting a Dior hijab and sunglasses, which would have made the whole Muslim Dior spin more accurate. But who needs accuracy when the world wants to believe we wear backward body-bags?
Look, we get it. When you watch the news about explosions and occupations and Taliban throwing acid at women’s faces , and especially demonstrations over cartoons, you just think, “God, can’t these people lighten up?!” But I see Maher’s skit and think, “God, Muslim women are an easy target once again.” I mean, I don’t doubt that Maher wants to denude a niqabi, but what if the tables were turned, and Arab television lampooned America with toothless blonde strippers in red, white, and blue bikinis? Yeah, some Muslims would laugh–I would–but would it change the way the Muslim world views the U.S., or reinforce it as a country that uses stars and stripes to parade low morals?
Okay, so since I‘m Muslim I have to judge: All in all, I’d give Maher a C+. He makes you laugh, but he fails to make you think outside the box, and his jokes only serve to reinforce stereotypes about Muslim women as anonymous beings in black. Basically, Maher just proved that that when it comes to Islam, and especially the portrayal of Muslim women, political liberals are just as obnoxious as conservatives.
Thanks to Latoya for the tip!