What's Under Your Burka, Barbie?

Who needs Ken when Burka Barbie can have Angry Bearded Muslim Man as her companion? (I want my share of royalties for that idea).
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Authenticity has never been Barbie's strong suit. It's estimated that if the doll were life sized, she would tip over because of the size of her breasts.

So I shouldn't be surprised that as part of the 500 international outfits designed to mark Barbie's 50th birthday - yes, she's that old but doesn't she look good for her age - "Muslim" Barbie is wearing a burka. The doll isn't actually called "Muslim Barbie" but what else to conclude from two dolls covered from head to toe, just their eyes showing?

As a Muslim woman, I'm all too familiar with the media shorthand for "Muslim" and "woman" equaling Covered in Black Muslim Woman. She's seen, never heard. Visible only in her invisibility under that black burka, niqab, chador, etc. Her male equivalent is Angry Bearded Muslim Man. Whenever the Muslim world is supposed to be upset or offended, invariably that story is illustrated by images of Angry Bearded Muslim man marching, shouting, fists raised in the air in righteous anger and burning something: an American flag, an Israeli flag, preferably both.

In those images you have conveyed all you want to say about Muslims: the men are angry, dangerous and want to hurt us; the women are just covered in black.

While there are indeed some Muslim men and women who fit both such descriptions they are by no means the majority and they are utterly insufficient in describing the diversity of views, appearances and attitudes among Muslims. But they make for sexy TV and front page photos. And they are my biggest competitors when I give lectures or appear on television.

This being Barbie though, her burka isn't in forbidding black. Italian designer Eliana Lorena, who made the outfits for an auction Sotheby's is holding to collect money for Save the Children, instead made Muslim Barbie's burka vermilion and lime green!

What will the Taliban say?

More importantly, what on earth are little girls supposed to do with Burka Barbie? More intriguingly, what is Barbie wearing under that lime green burka? I was at a loss until I came across an ad by German lingerie company Liaison Dangereuse.

A woman steps out of the shower into stilettos (because they're the first thing a woman wears after showering, of course). She stands nude at her mirror to apply make up followed by lingerie, on top of which she throws a burka (black, not vermilion though). The clip ends with the tantalizing line "Sexiness for everyone. Everywhere".

That's more like the Barbie we've known for 50 years! Burka Barbie and Liaison Dangereuse must be in some kind of marketing cahoots.

But hold on a minute, what's a German lingerie company doing making a "Does my burka turn you on?" kind of ad? Isn't Germany, along with many other European countries, opposed to burkas and niqabs? Those all enveloping veils famously described by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as not "welcome" are sexy now?

More recently French Immigration Minister Eric Besson said that he wants the wearing of Muslim veils that cover the face and body to be grounds for denying citizenship and long-term residence.

I'm no fan of Sarkozy but I support a ban on face veils because they erase women from society and are promoted by an ultra-conservative ideology that equates piety with the disappearance of women.

It's the kind of ideology which in Egypt a couple of years ago was behind an altogether different kind of ad, circulated on the internet, which used a split screen - in one, was a lollipop in a wrapper, in the other, the lollipop was uncovered and surrounded by flies. Message - in a country where 83 percent of women polled said they had experienced sexual harassment including groping and verbal abuse: if women cover they will be safe from harassment, as the lollipop is safe from flies.

And yet here is Liaison Dangereuse using a full face and body veil to tantalize and beguile.

The final piece of the puzzle came when the BBC reported that on the Saudi religion channel Awtan TV women presenters are dressed from head to toe in a black niqab. (The burka has a mesh for around the eye area, the niqab leaves the eyes uncovered).


Those Burka Barbies must be spin-offs for those women presenters, one of whom told the BBC that wearing the niqab helps her to concentrate more on her work and that what she looks like is irrelevant. It begs the question why she didn't choose radio instead but hey, I'm still trying to figure out this Burqa Barbie business.

Apparently, fans of these women in black from head to - gloves included - urge them to stay just the way they are. Little did Ms. Lorena realize that she was actually supplying a demand most of us never knew existed - Burka Barbie TV Presenter!

And who needs Ken when Burka Barbie can have Angry Bearded Muslim Man as her companion? (I want my share of royalties for that idea).

My only hope is that Sarkozy - G.I. Nicolas, in my doll analogy - is true to his word and lets Burka Barbie know that she is not welcome in France.

I was never one for dolls.

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