M.I.A did it. Sarkozy wants to ban doing it. You can bet that the majority of your female friends have thought about doing it. I’m even doing it as I write this, although I’ve locked the door to make sure no-one walks in.
Wearing a burka. Ever-controversial, ever the symbol of the clash of civilisations, and ever-fascinating in its ability to really cut to the underbelly of liberalism. If it’s just a piece of cloth over a woman’s face, then what’s the big deal?
“It’s all about being able to recognise each other”, said Daniel Bacquelaine, the man behind Belgium’s burka ban earlier this year. The head of the Liberal Party insisted that his main concern when pushing for the controversial legislature was teachers being able to recognise burka-wearing Belgian women when they were collecting their children from school.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy, on the other hand, spoke about the importance of not debasing women. “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.”
One French Muslim women is getting her own back, however, and has found a solution in the form of a surgical mask. In her own words, “you can get it from every pharmacy, and it hides the face. No-one can pass a law to stop me protecting myself against microbes...” Sneaky.
But the real frontier for the burka is fashion. Loathe to shy away from anything that will garner a bit of attention, fashion’s crazies have seized on the Islamic symbol and made it cool... by adding sex.
Hussein Chalayan was the first to go there. He sent oddly pubey models down the runway with only their faces covered way back in 1998. The New York Times, unable to call it for what it was – adding genitals to something we don’t understand – called it “a provocative exploration of the Islamic women’s place in society using the chador as a fulcrum”. Even they couldn’t resist letting the erotic creep into their review.
A decade later, Marithé François Girbaud and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac (Frenchmen, in case you didn’t guess) showed the world their burka-inspired collection, featuring sexualised red veils fluttering promiscuously down the catwalk.
And now M.I.A. has decided to do the dirty, by wearing a full-on burka. Well, a niqab, because you could see her eyes, which were painted bright turquoise. She even had XXXO scrawled across her outfit, the lyrics (if an acronym counts as such) of one of her new songs.
But lest we think that it is only non-Muslims who are having some fun with the portable prisons, let us turn lastly to Lebanese Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, the brains behind the burkini. Otherwise known as the burka-bikini, and fighting off stiff competition from the veilkini, it has become a stalwart of the female Muslim beach-goer.
So do it. Because anything that fashion does and Sarkozy doesn’t even want to think about has got to be good. So good, in fact, it’s almost burka-licious.