What signal does Barbie’s burka send?

Women forbidden by law from feeling sunlight—hey, that’s a positive message for young girls

The other day, George Jonas passed on to his readers a characteristically shrewd observation gleaned from the late poet George Faludy: “No one likes to think of himself as a coward,” wrote Jonas. “People prefer to think they end up yielding to what the terrorists demand, not because it’s safer or more convenient, but because it’s the right thing . . . Successful terrorism persuades the terrorized that if they do terror’s bidding, it’s not because they’re terrified but because they’re socially concerned.”

This is true. Resisting terror is exhausting. It’s easier to appease it, but, for the sake of your self-esteem, you have to tell yourself you’re appeasing it in the cause of some or other variant of “social justice.” Obviously, it’s unfortunate if “Canadians” get arrested for plotting to murder the artists and publishers of the Danish Muhammad cartoons, but that’s all the more reason to be even more accommodating of the various “sensitivities” arising from the pervasive Islamophobia throughout Western society. Etc.

Yet this psychology also applies to broader challenges. By way of example, take a fluffy feature from a recent edition of Britain’s Daily Mail: “It’s Barbie in a Burka,” read the headline. Yes, as part of her 50th anniversary celebrations, “one of the world’s most famous children’s toys, Barbie, has been given a makeover.” And, in an attractive photo shoot, there was Barbie in “traditional Islamic dress,” wearing full head-to-toe lime-green and red burkas. At least, I’m assuming it was Barbie. It could have been G.I. Joe back there for all one can tell from the letterbox slot of eyeball meshing.

But Britain’s biggest Barbie fan, Angela Ellis, was thrilled. “Bring it on, Burka Barbie,” she said. “I think this is a great idea. I think this is really important for girls, wherever they are from, they should have the opportunity to play with a Barbie that they feel represents them.”

Well, Barbie is 50. And at an age when Katie Cougar—er, Couric—America’s all-time champion network news-ratings limbo-dancer, is being photographed ill-advisedly doing the lambada at the Christmas office party, there is perhaps something to be said for belatedly mothballing your 76-inch plastic bust. Or as the Canadian blogger Closet Conservative put it: “Great news: that bitch Barbie has finally reverted.” “And there’s no need for expensive accessories like books or cars or a life,” added Tim Blair of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, “because Barbie in a Bag isn’t allowed to leave her home unless accompanied by a male relative (Mullah Ken, sold separately).”

Mullah Ken? I’m not so sure about that. Given the long-time rumours, Ken’ll be lucky not to find himself crushed under one of those walls the Taliban put up for their sodomite-rehabilitation program. You’ll be glad to know the dolls are anatomically accurate: Burka Barbie has no clitoris, and, just like Mohamed Atta on the morning of Sept. 11, Ken’s genital area is fully depilated.

But we mean-spirited types are in the minority. The other day, I was watching, as one does, a German lingerie ad, for Liaison Dangereuse. It began with a naked woman—bit blurry and soft-focus, but you could see she had her hair in a towel and everything else in nothing at all, and there were definite glimpses of shapely bottom, the swell of her bosom and whatnot. All very Continental.

She applies her lipstick, sashays into her dressing room wiggling aforementioned posterior, hooks her brassiere, rolls up her seamed stockings, slips into her stilettos, and then—with one final toss of her glossy luxuriant hair—pulls on her burka and steps out the door. Tag line: “Sexiness for Everyone. Everywhere.”

Very clever. The agency is Glow of Berlin. Might win them an award. Yet the superficial cool and the O. Henry switcheroo at the tail seem less cutting-edge state-of-the-art than sad and desperate wishful thinking. For one thing, if the comely young lady were truly a believer as opposed to a jobbing infidel thespian, her underdressed gig would earn her death threats, if she were lucky, and, if she weren’t, actual death.

Still, Burka Barbie and Fatima’s Secret are minor and peripheral. What about the so-called most powerful man in the world? “The U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it,” President Obama told his audience in Cairo earlier this year. “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal.”

My oh my, he’s a profile in courage, isn’t he? It’s true that there have been occasional frictions over, say, the refusal of Muslim women to reveal their faces for their driver’s licences—Sultaana Freeman, for example, sued the state of Florida over that “right.” But the real issue in the Western world is “the right of women and girls” not “to wear the hijab.” A couple of weeks ago in Arizona, a young woman called Noor Almaleki was fatally run over by her father in his Jeep Cherokee for becoming “too Westernized.” If there were a Matthew Shepard-style gay crucifixion every few months, liberal columnists would be going bananas about the “climate of hate” in America. But you can run over your daughter, decapitate your wife, drown three teenage girls and a polygamous spouse (to cite merely the most lurid recent examples of North American “honour killings”), and nobody cares. Certainly, there’s no danger of Barack Obama ever standing up for the likes of poor Miss Almaleki to a roomful of A-list imams. When it comes to real hate crimes, as opposed to his entirely imaginary epidemic, the president of the United States has smaller cojones than Ken.

If you eschew the Grand Cherokee in favour of the Toronto subway, you may have noticed that the poster girl for the latest “social justice” campaign is a Muslim woman. “Drop Fees for a Poverty-Free Ontario” is the ringing cry, and next to it is a hijab-clad lady speaking up and speaking out. It’s something to do with the cost of post-secondary education, which, like everything else in Canada, is supposed to be “free.” The image is a curious choice as an emblem for educational access: after all, one of the most easily discernible features of societies that adopt Islamic dress is how ignorant they are. In Afghanistan under the Taliban, girls were forbidden by law to attend school—i.e., not just fritter-away-half-a-decade-on-Ontario-taxpayers “post-secondary” education, but kindergarten and Grade 1. In Pakistan, 60 per cent of women are illiterate.

According to the UN’s 2002 Arab Development Report, half of all women in the Arab world cannot read. And even in Canada, the ability of the woman on the subway poster to access that post-secondary education depends not on the “fees” but on her father or, if she’s already been married off to her 16-year-old cousin back in Mirpur, her husband. The Saskatchewan Internet maestro Kate McMillan summed up the poster thus: “Subjugation of women—it’s the new normal.”

“Traditional Islamic dress” is not so “traditional.” Talk to any educated Muslim woman who attended university in the fifties, sixties or seventies—back when they assumed history was moving their way and a covered woman was merely a local variant of the Russian babushka, something old and wizened you saw in upcountry villages. Now you see them in the heart of the metropolis—and I don’t mean Beirut or Abu Dhabi so much as Paris and Brussels. It’s very strange to be able to walk around, say, Zarqa, hometown of the late “insurgent” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and look 90 per cent of the women in the eye, and even be rewarded with a friendly smile every so often, and then to fly on to London and be confronted by one masked face after another while strolling down Whitechapel Road in the East End. The burka, the niqab and the hijab are not fashion statements but explicitly political ones, and what they symbolize in a Western context is self-segregation.

That “Drop Fees” campaign would never dream of dressing up its poster gal as June Cleaver, Donna Reed or any other outmoded sitcom mom in twin-set and pearls. Golly, that would send all sorts of disturbing signals to today’s liberated females, wouldn’t it? What signal is Barbie’s burka sending? That, in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, women were forbidden by law from ever feeling sunlight on their faces? Hey, there’s a positive message for young girls.

Phillip Longman is a demographer who is widely regarded as the antithesis of the Muzzies-are-coming alarmists like me. Yet his most famous essay on the world currently taking shape is titled “The Return of Patriarchy.” Don’t worry, it’s not the bad kind of patriarchy of 1950s sitcom dads. It’s the groovy multiculti kind—which presumably is why white liberal progressives are so eager to mainstream it. Perhaps they figure it can just be contained to the likes of Noor Almaleki, but I doubt it. I’ve mentioned previously a Euro-pal of mine, non-Muslim, who’s taken to covering herself in certain quartiers of an evening in order to avoid harassment by “youths.” She does exactly what that German lingerie lass does—and with the merest correction to the sign-off: “Subordination for Every Woman. Everywhere.”

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