The rise of Islamophobia has coincided with widespread commodification of Muslim culture. Muslim cultural aesthetics, fashion and iconography are taking centre stage in the visual economy. The American street artist Shepard Fairey, in one of his political paintings, turns his gaze on the Muslim woman, reframing the hijab within the searing landscape of New Age feminism, as an exotic signifier of diversity. A Muslim woman wearing a headscarf decorated in the American flag beams at once provocative and, at the same time, smacks of protest overkill. Tenderly preened in a radiant light skin and adorned with seductive red lipstick, she is transformed into a politically decorated femme fatale – absolutely ravishing for the male gaze.
Beyond the realm of art, a Nike commercial features the ‘hijabi’ as a common fixture of the mainstream, yet never losing the peculiar sensation of the foreign, to be tamed and normalised into multicultural Britain. The deliberate positioning of the hijabi performing strenuous athletic feats may have been well-intended. Perhaps initially envisaged by the curators as a bold celebration of Muslim women’s liberation. Interestingly, the centrality of the light-skinned Muslim women along with the emphasis on gender in relation to the ‘hijab’ raises several questions. To begin with, do all Muslim women wear hijab? And is the hijab the only measure of one’s religious devotion or the only cultural symbol of true ‘Muslimness’? And wassup with the saturation of light-skinned images? Are all Muslim women light-skinned or are these just the ones that meet Eurocentric norms of beauty?