How did the oppressive niqab end up in the BBC’s ‘wardrobe of rebellion?’

Civilians evacuated from the Islamic State 
'The BBC managed to make it sound as if wearing the niqab were some heroic act of resistance rather than a fearful submission to a male-enforced dress code,' writes Allison Pearson Credit:  BULENT KILIC/ AFP

It was such sublime serendipity. On International Women’s Day, a group of mighty lionesses – aka female Kurdish fighters – rescued a Yazidi woman. Twenty-year-old Israa had been sold as a sex slave by Islamic State and forced to wear a niqab. As the group helped her take off the hateful garment the young woman’s relief was evident all over face - her smile getting wider and wider as it was set on fire. Here, in its fullest sense, was woman’s liberation.

Just a few hours later, however, an activist, Khadija Khan, alerted me to the fact that, as part of its “Wardrobe of Rebellion” feature for International Women’s Day, BBC News had chosen, yes, the niqab. Great. So the BBC would be drawing attention to the horrors of ISIS imprisoning female sex slaves in its black-crow, sensory-deprivation costume? And, obviously, it couldn’t fail to give due credit to the recent protests in Iran where courageous women have been imprisoned for removing veils and demanding the right to go uncovered?

No. Instead, the BBC decided to feature a handful of women in Denmark who have challenged that country’s law against wearing the full-face veil in public. It cheered, “moving around the streets, they risk being reported to the police at any time.”

Incredibly, the Beeb managed to make it sound as if wearing the niqab were some heroic act of resistance rather than a fearful submission to a male-enforced dress code. “Throughout history, a woman’s choice of clothing has been dictated and restricted,” Wardrobe of Rebellion said, “But women have always challenged these rules.” Indeed they have, and at great personal cost. Ask those girls in jail in Tehran, if only they were allowed to answer.

I doubt that any sane person at the start of the 21st century could argue that the long arc of justice is curving towards women who are putting the veil on, rather than those who are risking their lives to take it off. Liberal societies like Denmark, France and Belgium have all banned the burka for a reason. They see it as incompatible with Western values and a barrier to participation in society.

As Khadija Khan tweeted, “When the world was celebrating freedom and equality for women, shame that BBC News chose to list Niqab that represents a so-called modesty culture and symbolizes oppression and subjugation of women of Muslim heritage.”

Welcome to the BBC, folks. Perverse, tone deaf to public attitudes and so PC that it bends over backwards to see every point of view except our own. This cringing cultural relativism has led, inevitably, to an Upside-Down Politics.

For example, according to the warped logic of the Upside Downers, the British people “lack compassion” because they don’t want jihadi bride, Shamima Begum (or other brides like her), coming back to this country simply because they regard it as “safe”. As we still haven’t been sufficiently brainwashed by the Upside-Down Politics, we can’t help noticing that people like Begum joined an organisation whose stated aim was to make our country terrifyingly unsafe. (Shamima actually said she saw the Manchester Arena bombing as justified, tit-for-tat retaliation.)

Jihadists only seek sanctuary here now because their murderous death-cult has been mortally wounded by fighters including British soldiers and those amazing Kurdish women, many of whom have paid with their lives. Every last ounce of our compassion is owed to them.

Kurdish soldiers helping an injured woman near Baghuz, in north eastern Syria Credit:  Sam Tarling

The death of Shamima Begum’s baby son was incredibly sad, in the way that the death of any child is sad. But it was a mere anguished droplet in the ocean of pain caused by the organisation his parents joined. Diane Abbott, shrill shop steward of the Upside-Down Politics, attacked Home Secretary Sajid Javid for depriving Begum of her UK citizenship. “It is against international law to make someone stateless,” she fumed, “And to leave a vulnerable young woman and a child in a refugee camp is morally reprehensible.”

It fell to furious Yazidi women on social media to remind Abbott that, actually, it was sticking up for ISIS supporters which is morally reprehensible. “Did you know that some of our girls, as young as six years old, were sold on slave markets in ISIS territory?” demanded one. “It was ISIS Brides who would lock them in the house.” Rightly, these survivors questioned the absurd amount of coverage given to the plight of one such bride by the name of Shamima Begum. “It was ISIS brides who would shower, clothe, put make-up on Yazidi woman and girls to prepare them to be gang-raped or sold. Many male and female perpetrators were British, perhaps we can instead draw attention to the inhumane and callous genocide they committed?”

Such monstrous sins cry out for justice. Not for apologists on the Labour front bench. According to the Upside-Down Politics, there was a “backlash” against Sajid Javid for his treatment of Begum. No there wasn’t. The only backlash was orchestrated by the BBC and other news outlets which seem to think that one criminally misguided young woman in a refugee camp outweighs the claim on our compassion of thousands of children orphaned by ISIS.

As a nation, I’m sure we would far rather offer refuge to these orphans who have no one left in the world than to jihadists and their brides who dare to call this country home. Jeremy Hunt’s plan to repatriate the children of British ISIS members, although not their parents (exactly as France does), deserves a cautious welcome. The sins of the father (and mother) are not the child’s. The wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

In response to my inquiry as to why they were apparently endorsing the niqab on International Women’s Day, the BBC Press Office replied that the aim of BBC 100 Women “is to reflect all sides of the debate on women’s affairs”. (It has run items previously on Iranian campaigners removing their headscarves.) Nevertheless, the sense persists that, too often, we are told to feel things we do not feel, to support things we find abominable, to sympathise for the wrong people, to over-ride good and true instincts which have passed the test of time.

I’d really like the BBC editor who commissioned Wardrobe of Rebellion to meet Israa, freed only a few days ago from her ISIS captors. The editor could explain to the young Yazidi sex slave how wearing the niqab, which she was so very grateful to burn, could seriously be presented as a “rebellion” in a free country.

“I wish I could bring Daesh (ISIS) and burn them like I burned their clothes,” said Israa, flames eating up the hateful niqab at her feet. And, just for a moment, the voice of someone who truly deserves our sympathy was heard and Upside-Down Politics turned the right way up.