The Daily Telegraph published an article today chronicling a journalist’s attempt to understand what Muslim women in Australia experience in their day-to-day lives by wearing a niqab for two days.
The piece, titled ‘Life under the Muslim veil: Our reporter’s day shrouded and afraid on familiar streets’, was written by Tanya Smart, who was attempting to comprehend “what Muslim women have to deal with every day in Sydney,” by wearing a full-length black dress, a hijab, and a niqab.
The niqab is a cloth worn by some Muslim women that covers most of the face as part of the hijab, or headscarf, which covers most of the head and chest.
“I have no prejudices against any religion over another,” Smart writes, “but in the end I thought it would give an insight into a garment which has proven so divisive”.
As part of the social experiment, Smart spent her first day as a Muslim woman walking the busy streets of Sydney’s CBD, where she received “racist and abusive taunts” by some Sydneysiders.
Smart spent her second day in the niqab walking among the locals in Lakemba and likened this more positive and natural experience to “wearing a bikini at Bondi Beach.”
The article caused social media to go into meltdown, with many taking to Facebook and Twitter to send a mixed message of both condemnation and praise to The Daily Telegraph.
The article was, however, deemed insensitive by a majority of readers amid fears that it would only further alienate and perpetuate stigma and violence towards Muslims in Australia.
Life under the Muslim veil? Here’s an outlandish thought: ask veiled Muslims. #auspol
— Gavin Fernando (@GavinDFernando) September 29, 2014
He’s a RADICAL idea. Interview Muslim women on what it’s like to wear a burqa & why they choose to despite the racist abuse they receive
— Lauren Ingram (@laureningram) September 29, 2014
Another white reporter puts on a hijab/niqab for a day! FASCINATING. Off to adorn black paint so I discover what it’s like to be Aboriginal. — Benjamin Law (@mrbenjaminlaw) September 29, 2014
Although the article did attempt to address a serious issue of discrimination against some Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab, critics suggested that Smart could have instead tried connecting with Muslim women to understand their genuine concerns.
Another suggestion was that The Daily Telegraph’s editor could have commissioned a Muslim writer to provide a more in-depth and accurate picture of the life of a Muslim woman.
Upon further investigation into Smart’s article, Buzzfeed’s Mark Di Stefano reported (‘Reporter in niqab experiment has history of cultural misappropriation’) that someone had witnessed Smart and her photographer of “trying to provoke responses” from Sydneysiders.
There’s a photographer taking sneaky shots of a lady in a Burqa in Martin Place. I think they’re getting reaction shots of other passers-by.
— Matt Burke (@matttburke) September 25, 2014
The News Corp publications have come under fire for their sensationalist coverage of national security, which have taken a harsh anti-Muslim tone in light of the Abbott government’s changes to counter-terrorism laws and Australia’s ever-growing role in combating the Islamic State in the Middle East.
Many readers might also remember Tim Blair’s article in The Daily Telegraph, titled ‘Last drinks in Lakemba: Tim Blair takes a look inside Sydney’s Muslim Land’, that documented a half-assed attempt to connect with and understand the Muslim community, only to fail miserably (and unsurprisingly) due to its lack of real engagement.
Australia is currently entering uncharted territory, with the government’s ham-fisted approach of tackling the worsening crisis in the Middle East and allaying fears of extremists bringing the fight home sending mixed messages of security and terrorism to the Australian public.
Unfortunately, Australian Muslims are increasingly being drawn into the debate on national security, and as a result are being stigmatised by both the mainstream media and politicians; Senator Jacqui Lambie’s attempts to ban the burqa is one such example.
The Australian people deserve a more nuanced debate about the complex issue of entrenched Islamophobia in our society.
Picture: Craig Greenhill, via the Daily Telegraph.