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Jane Kelly: Batty Auntie endorses a new cover-up. But this time just for girls wearing the niqab


It doesn’t matter how bad the crimes committed. If they involve migrants or Islam, the BBC is as evasive as a Victorian aunt on the matter of copulation. Yesterday BBC Woman’s Hour, which purports to represent the interests of women, invited on Nafisa Bakka, who runs the ‘Amaliah’ website, which encourages women to dress modestly.

It shows lots of skinny girls in black leggings, long coats, some in niqab, some not. The other guest was Kerry Taylor, an expert on vintage fashion, who runs an auction house where items such as a Schaparelli jacket sell for £24,000. I wondered why the programme had brought these two together, but it soon became clear.

Nafisa is very busy spreading the word about the importance of women covering up, which she says is not about fashion, but about ‘how you live your life,’ an ‘holistic thing.’ She said she dresses to, ‘show my ability, rather than my appeal.’

Jane Garvey for the BBC liked this as it was about girls ‘being taken seriously.’ She did ask a bit about men, as obviously none of this applies to them. Bakka told us that their character is not evident in how they dress, but in how they ‘hold themselves.’

This interview might once have been interesting for what it was, perhaps twenty or even ten years ago. But it wilfully ignored any wider current context. ‘Amaliah’ says Bakka, aims to ‘unite and empower the Muslim community.’

Unite with whom, or against whom? No one asked. Modesty is in vogue we were told several times, and Kerry Taylor earned her invite by drawing parallels with the Victorian age, when we were told ladies were totally covered, even at home indoors. This isn’t evident from photos I have of my grandmother or her mother and sisters. There was also  a passing reference to the ‘matching handbag and shoes,’ brigade, which brought to mind the dark days of the 1950s when as we know English housewives were often stoned to death, presumably with their own scones, or cut to pieces with their Kenwoods.

These specious comparisons revealed nothing truthful about my Great Gran or Muslim girls today, except that according to Woman’s Hour, we all used to be exactly the same ourselves. This was a tricky comparison though, as Garvey mocked Victorian ladies for their modesty, but not of course their modern counterparts.

Thus reassured Bakka was free to explain about her ‘choice,’ in covering up, nothing to do with control by men she told us. No one from the Woman’s Hour team, once such convinced feminists, questioned the concept of ‘modesty,’ and no one reminded the zealous young Bakka that most Muslim women outside Europe in fact have no choice about this issue, or any other.

Someone might have pointed out that according to a 2011 survey conducted by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation, three out of five of the most dangerous countries for women (including the top-spot) are Muslim majorities, and in terms of cultural/tribal/religious danger to women, four out of the five most dangerous countries are Muslim majorities. So much for the benefits of modesty, or perhaps covering up is an essential part of being safely invisible in many Muslim lands.

The 2009 report by the World Economic Forum has listed predominantly Islamic nations in the bottom of their annual Global Gender Gap (GGG) Index. The only nation not predominantly Islamic in the bottom of the Global Gender Gap index was Benin. Two hundred and fifty million women, mainly in Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa, are not even registered on the GGG. In economic terms, they  don’t exist.

Bakka and her followers are more worried about covering up their arms. ‘I’d go on Asos (turnover £1 billion plus) to buy a maxi skirt or a dress, but it would have a slit in it,’ she recently told an on-line magazine. ‘It would be half see-through, or short at the front, long at the back. It became a really long-winded process.

‘At first I thought it was a personal frustration, but the more times I heard ‘Oh I wish this skirt didn’t have the slit’, or ‘I really like this dress but I’m going to have to wear a top under it,’  I realised the problem was much bigger than me. Sites that cater to what people label ‘modest’ fashion often still aren’t enough for your typical Muslim customer.’

She and her ‘typical Muslim’ followers are taking pains to emphasise their separation from the culture of Europe, ostentatiously snubbing the safety and opportunity it offers them. Garvey did not question the nature of their choice, this ‘empowerment,’ which is about taking a specific identity, in this case one which is seen as directly threatening to many of her fellow citizens.

Why are girls like Bakka so ready to be seen as a threat to most people in the UK, why are they making that highly destructive choice? Of course, no one asked.


(Image Courtesy amaianos, Flickr)

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Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly was a journalist with the Daily Mail for fifteen years. She now writes for the Spectator and the Salisbury Review.

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