Muslim women don't need Israeli fashion brand to bring them 'freedom'

Comment: Israeli clothing brand Hoodies' latest advert suggests that women wearing the hijab can't be happy or free, writes Ruqaya Izzidien.

This week, Israeli fashion brand Hoodies released a series of adverts depicting women removing hijabs and niqabs in the name of freedom.

The campaign features a video that opens by asking “Is Iran here?” What follows is Bar Refaeli – supermodel and reportedly a co-owner of the company – appearing, solemnly in a hijab and niqab. With a quick tug she is liberated of the clothing, to reveal a happy, dancing, carefree – or rather, a western – woman beneath.

Right, because all Muslim women are waiting for is a clothing brand to free us of those pesky hijabs. But this label seems to lack basic reasoning skills and branding expertise, as they’re criticising head coverings while their company name and flagship item – hoodies – literally comes with a built-in hijab.

After being liberated of the hijab and niqab, (all too easily – anyone who has ever actually worn a niqab or hijab could tell you that nobody would go out on an autumn day with such a weather-unworthy veil) and after turning suitably joyous, as any poor oppressed Muslim would surely be, the advert tells its viewers, “Freedom is basic.”

Freedom is basic, and it’s about a person’s right to choose, to autonomy and to practice those rights without demonisation.

The great irony is that this campaign was purported to “call out racism and bigotry,” according to The Jerusalem Post, with plans to co-opt Hassidic, Ethiopian and transgender Israelis into future advertisements. The closest this Israeli brand could get to stomaching a Muslim for their diversity box-checking exercise was a white woman playing dress-up in a niqab.

Because all Muslim women are waiting for is a clothing brand to free us of those pesky hijabs

The advert is a far cry from supporting Iranian women’s right to choose, as generous analyses claim it was intended. Instead it perpetuates the false dichotomy that women in the hijab or niqab cannot be happy, cannot dance, cannot be fashionable until we are unshackled from our headcoverings.

Bar Refaeli was wearing her Hoodie outfit the whole time, but – and this is the point, no doubt – she only enjoyed it once she removed the niqab.

Women in the hijab are able to wear sweatshirts and jeans without their scarves being whipped off. Or have I missed the memo that says we have to pledge lifelong allegiance to either black hijabs or the jumper?

The video advert was removed from Instagram after its obvious Islamophobic nature was called out, but it’s still live on YouTube and the billboards across Israel with the image of a niqabi, remain, as does Hoodies’ Instagram photo campaign.

For an Israeli company to act as the moral compass for Muslims is patronising and hugely ironic

Over the past two weeks, their page has featured the image of a woman in jeans, topless but for three pairs of jeans tied around her head and chest, in the style of a hijab. Behind her an anonymous man pulls at the clothes, proof that this campaign does not promote freedom, but rather removing the clothes of Muslim women, without our consent. Clearly, it was never about freedom.

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It’s obvious that in advertising today, the hijab guarantees attention, whether the campaign vilifies or promotes its wearers.

Every few months another brand releases a clothing, makeup or haircare advert that features a hijabi – though usually they enlist an actual hijab-wearer, rather than a caricature of an approximation.

Hoodies knew exactly what they were doing when they set out to vilify the hijab and niqab. They knew that the hijab and Islamophobia would translate into clicks. And they did not give a thought to the danger of this pervasive single narrative.

Have I missed the memo that says we have to pledge lifelong allegiance to either black hijabs or the jumper?

In the United States, hate crimes against Muslims are currently higher than they were post-9/11, and last year the UK experienced a record number of anti-Muslim attacks. For an Israeli company to act as the moral compass for Muslims is patronising and hugely ironic.

But more than that, it dangerously incendiary and it is unlikely that is mere coincidence.

At a time when Arabs are </span>vilified in political campaigns in a similar vein to Hoodies’ advertisement, and when the dehumanisation of Palestinians is commonplace, it is both reckless and foolish to release a campaign that echoes these nefarious tropes.

Read more: Rihanna’s Moroccan Spice eyeshadow: Shades of cheap Arab tokenism

Hoodies’ advert is set to a song that states, “It’s all about freedom, finally breaking the chains, costing my freedom.”

But the campaign does the opposite of what it claims, it does not liberate Muslim women, it puts them back within the four walls of a tired and one-track narrative of helpless, exotic beings who need saving by white outsiders.


Ruqaya Izzidien is a British-Iraqi freelance writer specialising in social and cultural affairs. Her work has been published in The New York Timesthe Guardian, the BBC and Al Jazeera English.

Her debut novel The Watermelon Boys, published by Hoopoe Fiction is out now. 

Follow her on Twitter: @RuqayaIzzidien

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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