Non Muslim TV Characters In Hijab
Channel: Lauren Booth
File Size: 17.79MB
I no longer have a patient really for talking about and listen clothing I wish we'd all just get over
the veil and that that kind of word itself we'll be looking at specifically in TV for non Muslim characters. And this has been a work that Dr. Cathy has wonderfully brought to our attention I have literally got a nice bit of last night's cake from a restaurant that I couldn't eat all in one go I have to be truthful and say that I actually had some Arabic cakes as well. It's very important for us to know what Chai looks like in different places in the world. So before we begin my my wonderful guest today is Dr. Cathy Bullock from the University of Toronto salaam aleikum wa rahmatullah he What better care to my salaam to our America to whom? What is tea like in Toronto? And what's your
Well, I grew up in Australia, we were the, I don't know, British colonial heritage, I suppose. So. My, my father always used to wake us up around six o'clock in the morning with a cup of tea, and then we'd have
tea throughout the day. And then there'd be the four o'clock afternoon tea ritual, which we adhere to in the family. When I got married to my Nigerian who didn't drink tea, British style, it completely changed. They drink those Villa cups of tea with mint, and loads and loads of sugar. When I was at university, I decided tea was an addiction. Because if I didn't have my morning tea, and I'd have a headache by mid morning, and then I realized it was from the tea. So I actually gave up caffeine tea, which is like 25 years ago. Now I drink herbal teas or decaf tea, the fail and that that kind of word itself, we'll be looking at, specifically in TV for non Muslim characters, I no
longer have a patient really for talking about Muslim clothing. I wish we'd all just get over it and let us move on However, others talk about it. So we have to talk about it. I converted in 1994. And I started to wear the headscarf and I got a lot of negative reactions. And that led me on this journey of of writing and publishing about Muslim women and the headscarf. It started with a really quite revolutionary article, or a piece of work that you developed. I call it rethinking Muslim women and the veil. That was my PhD thesis, which later became published as a book. And that came out just after 911. Actually, it was the timing was sort of interesting, even though the thesis had
been completed before that. And by then I was in living in the US and I had tried to give some academic talks about my research, which was based on interviews of Muslim women and the veil. And I found people asking me relevant questions like, Why did you convert? Why are you wearing it? And people were unable to separate me as the academic from me as the private individual. And I began to feel like it's none of their business, why I converted? Or why I wore a headscarf. If I was a non Muslim academic presenting my research about Muslim women and the veil, no, nobody would ask them, Why aren't you muslim? Why aren't you wearing a veil? Somehow, it was just a you know, they felt
they had the right to ask me, I decided not to write about the veil anymore. For years, more, probably 20 years or so. And then I was drawn back to it because I started to look at the role of entertainment in contributing to negative images of the veil, just wanting to be ourselves and not defined by how we look. But you see, you're in a different space to me, because academia is somewhere where already it's difficult for women in STEM and women in different research areas. And of course, then you add the scarf to that and it's like mind your own business, listen to what I'm saying. And there's that resistance whereas for me, I'm a bit I'm a bit militant, you know, that
used to be a character in a in a private eye, if you ever read Private Eye on Emily tan was like, everything's a fight. So I kind of you know, in the media, because I'm in the media I like people asking about, you know, why I'm wearing this and letting it almost define me didn't jump does. Does that make sense? Yeah, it does. It does make sense. The problem with academia, we're supposed to be presenting research as objectively as possible. And I sort of what I wasn't allowed to do that. How could I talk about why? Why why did I convert to Islam? What What relevance is that is me presenting my research about Muslim women so that the lines were always been blurred, because there's there's
that lingering feeling that they have false consciousness that they don't really understand their own situation of oppression, that they're brainwashed by their culture or socialized into thinking this is good when it isn't really good and we know better.
Voices always suspect it
Why'd you sorry I'm taking off on the sidebar here. But last question on this, do you think that is why in your research field that
converts are often suspect because we don't fit into any of those categories? I mean, I'll give you an example when I started to lose work in the mainstream and thanks be to Allah and I'm really satisfied with everywhere that Allah has taken in my life. It's not a complaint. But it was very much because suddenly I'm boozy Lauren in the miniskirt and and everybody understands where I'm coming from. Suddenly, I'm in the hijab. Well, I remember learning a story by a freelance journalist who was in Kuwait for one of the anniversaries of the when they had got succeeded in getting Iraq or two out after the invasion. And the journalist came across a troop of Kuwaiti women soldiers in
hedger in hijab and headscarf and wrote a story about them and sent it off to an editor in the US who refused to publish it. Because he said, This is not the US public will not accept this image of a Muslim woman. So a Muslim woman, and he jabs as a soldier. This is not an image that the US public will accept as an image of a Muslim woman. So our, our
representation is defined in advance. And if there's some kind of empirical detail that doesn't fit, they don't change the representation, they get rid of the empirical detail. So your most your most recent work really caught my eye when we were chatting last time, because it's not actually about Muslim characters in TV shows. So it would be it would be you know, retrograde, it would be a retrospective, if we talked again, about all the characters that we've seen who are negative and is still negative, you know, whether it comes from the cartoons in the 1940s with a more Haha, you know, the Cutlass, and then the curly mustache and all of these these tropes or, and I'd love to
speak about this in a bit as well. I Dream of Jeannie who will go back to the future there. You know, the hiring girl who's Oh, yes, Master, let me please you master. And sort of like I always find that bizarre that these hiring girls would wear a veil but have nothing on their midriff.
Right? I actually did see something like that though, wants in on Eid, in in Manchester on the curry mile with a young sister in a miniskirt, and a hijab. And I thought, Okay, that's interesting, maybe what I Dream of Jeannie isn't so so far away. But the image of
the image of strangeness and the other in novelists and characters.
Take us through what is Stargate and what is Merlin and why they count and how they caught your attention.
They Stargate is a US science fiction show the discovery metal ring, a humongous metal ring that you step into it and it connects you through wormholes to 1000s of planets in the universe. Merlin is the retelling of the medieval legend of King Arthur and his assistant Merlin when they were young. Let's like the spinner when they were young. It was a children's show. I was just watching with my kids. You know, I like to watch TV with them when they were little. And I was very shocked to discover that the villain there was one villain on Stargate, the US science fiction show and villains on Merlin medieval British dressed almost identically. How are they dressed? They're
wearing a black turban they look like Afghan Afghan turbans, and with the face covered in a veil,
and I was like whoa, okay, now that's what is that? A US science fiction show? And British medieval show having almost identical costumes for the villain. And they look like Afghan men wearing veils. I called them cross I called them the Taliban Nick hubbies. Yeah. Nice one. It's lazy. I have to say, having worked with with with TV people and that there is a kind of shorthand, when you can't be bothered to come up or maybe you don't have the budget for something new and exciting. It's like, Oh, I know. I know what scares me. What do you think they'll these black things on and they got and maybe they don't they're not even aware where it comes from? It's just it's a shorthand Is that Is
that what you're reading into it? Exactly. Because of the long history of Orientalist representations were Muslim men portrayed with the turban then that got twisted after 911 into remember the Danish cartoons the turban with the bomb? So the turban carries this it used to be the exotic, oriental. Now it becomes the exotic oriental who's also threatening and then the face veil also used to be exotic and now it's the exotic face veil who's also threatening and she's also oppressed, but she's a threat because
So you don't even need to teach the audience what this means you because the audience is primed by this 200 year history of negative sentiment towards the turban and the face veil, it's it's the other and then after 911 and got threatened iced turned into a threat, though sorry, I tried to invent a word that doesn't exist. I quite like it threatened eyes. Does anybody recognize that? Mental way? So, the audience, they don't even need to be taught. It's just, oh, yeah, I know, he's gonna be the villain. So that was what I tried to explore. In that article, I tried to explore the history behind it, why they might have really had recourse to it as costume designers. And what it
meant for real life Muslims trying to live imagine being an Afghan want an Afghan guy in living in the UK, when this episode of Merlin has been broadcast, and this was in the mid 2000s, when NATO was in trying to eradicate the Taliban. They were the enemy, and newspaper representations after 911 of bin Laden always in his turban, they were identifiable as an enemy. Do you did you get the feeling then that it literally is just just a low level? Unconscious bias? Because I know at the BBC, no one would ever dare say, Let's secretly make them look like Muslims. And does it matter that it's unconscious?
I do believe it's unconscious. And I do believe it matters. Because it's a kind of
cultural misappropriation, and it's very unfair. Why? Why should that image of the black turban with a face veil represent villainy? That's very unfair.
When you interview Muslim women who wear a face veil, who, who wear it by choice, they'll say things like, I love it, I find peace in it. I feel like I'm closer to Allah. It's part of my spiritual journey.
I quoted from a book, I think she's a British convert nayeem. Roberts, she talks about wearing the niqab and what it means to her. So you put those two statements next to each other. And you can see how unfair it is. And I don't believe anybody is doing it on purpose in terms of the costume designers, and the producers, directors, actors, all of them. I'm not, I don't believe it's purposeful. I don't believe they got up and say, yes, let's show hatred towards Muslims in our show.
I have heard that BBC was meant to be a celebration of British multiculturalism.
So it looks like it's just they need to take that next step.
Interesting. I mean, these these are slightly older shows. Do you Do you sense that there's been a bit of a change? I don't because I'm regularly if I watch, you know, any British TV or American stuff on Netflix, I'm like, Oh, no. Why did you do Oh, God, here we go. That's, that's, um, you know, what I see when I when I see these, you know, images or just an abnormal person who's in Muslim dress, really, somebody who's not well, or like you say, there's the this this image being of ourselves being misused. I just think there's another niqab you're gonna get punched in the face in Walmart?
Yeah, he does have these real word, real world consequences. And that's why I decided to try and write about it. Yes, I have a lot of friends who have taken off their hijab. There are there is a movement of reinterpretation which says that the headscarf was actually not part of the Quran. So I've tried to adopt a pluralist position. If that's what they believe, then that's what they believe. I personally think that the Quran is very clear. Draw your headscarf over your bosoms. I think that's a very clear, but not everyone does. So I
have tried to take a I told a friend once that it's the shutdown, and she didn't take too kindly to that. So we didn't have a lot of interaction afterwards. So I know. Actually, this sister rang me and said thank you for your honesty, and I really appreciate that. So sometimes I love the idea of a pluralist approach. And all of our sisters we love we love we love each other dearly have hamdulillah Shukra la wherever we are on our on our different journeys.
However, this idea, this reinterpretation of the hijab is problematic because it just has never existed before and it comes and then therefore we have to ask ourselves when we make this decision, am I the perfect Muslim who is better than
Aisha peace and blessings be upon her Khadija she she she would have got it wrong if she was, you know, when she wore hijab and all of our scholars through time and every Muslim practicing woman, they were all foolish until I came along and got it right to reinterpret it our hearts and you know, should feel should quake at that
I'm with you on that I am. I think there might be another reason why somebody would feel relief. And it's not necessarily because of that internal debate over interpretation. It's more because you can unless you're a visible minority, you could now step out the door and not experience all that you know, we get nasty glances you get the looks of the words. It's such a the battle is with with the environment, with the the knowledge that you're wearing this even though the society around you thinks that you're stupid and oppress, that really wears you down? Why do I have to go out and prove every day that I'm that I'm not, that can really wear you down? I can imagine taking it off and go
off. Thank God, I don't have to, like deal with that anymore. For sure. For sure. I'm completely sympathetic to that. I mean, that is a really, really tough call to just go out and be different every day. And that and that's not just in the West that's in that's in what you know, what were once Muslim countries. Uh, you know, the places that are changing so rapidly the families who are like, No Man's gonna want you because you're because you're, you know, less attractive, the hijab on which, by the way, is the point. I eat I have I have a lot of resistance to when a sister you've probably heard this when a sister takes the shahada, mashallah, and then you might see her two
weeks, two months, two years down the road, and she's got the hijab on and the temptation because of the age, we live in a say, mashallah, you look so beautiful in that hijab, and I'm going not the point, not the point, you know, and you know, if any brothers here are like martial law used to beautiful, we literally don't want you to look at us in that way. The whole point of having the hijab is so we can go about our business, privately. But you know, the reality, the reality that is not helped by creative workers in the TV world, making lazy choices, that it impacts our working environment, how our lecturers See us at university, how employers see us how politicians see us,
you know, I wonder what what if you ever if you have a message to the TV workers of writers, what, what would that be?
My message is to look around you. And if you're going to represent clothing that you know, is worn by people in your city, go out and chat with them about what it means. Two examples that I want to highlight where, where I think that's happened, Grey's Anatomy, which is a US medical drama, they introduced a hijab, the doctor in season 13, or 14 or 12, something like that. And as far as I can tell, she's just an ordinary doctor. What? Oh, no, no, no, me and my daughter would be watching, oh, my God, she's gonna do something weird. She's gonna do something weird. She's being normal, even though
you're saying she's a normal character, pretty much.
They do have an episode where that somebody in the corridor gets ill, and she has to rip off her hijab to, you know, tie him up and make sure the blood doesn't come out. I mean, that was totally stupid, because she wouldn't do that she'd rip off her coat or something. So, you know, there's still same problems, but the doctor the next day, he washes it and give it back to her, you know, here's your hijab back. So I don't know, like it was a bit of an effort. There are these little possibilities coming to us. So there, we just need to see more of that. Thank you, Sister. That was I think that was really wonderful and good fun. Did you get to say what you wanted to say? Yes.
Thank you. I'm really happy that someone else is interested in the Merlin's story because the kids were always laughing at me about how it was so relevant. So thank you for being interested.