Just days ago her “game-changing” participation in a L’Oreal hair campaign was widely praised in the media. Now she has been forced to pull out over three-year-old tweets.
But what has been called the “hounding out” of hijabi model Amena Khan is precisely a sign that the game has not changed. Muslim women continue to face a barrier of Islamophobia and prejudice to their participation in public life.
A British Muslim woman has been hounded out from an ad campaign for being critical of Israel. So criticising countries is racist now?— Sunny Hundal (@sunny_hundal) January 22, 2018
Where are those defenders of free speech now? https://t.co/7Vglcb7nDs
Beauty blogger Khan apologized on Monday for social media posts made about Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2014, saying she would “step down” from her role at L’Oreal.
It is ironic that, in her apology, Khan suggests that the reason she is leaving is to avoid “detracting from the positive and inclusive sentiment” of the campaign.
The British model’s presence had been variously hailed as “revolutionary,” “historic” and “barrier-breaking,” and her departure is a step back for “inclusivity” and representation.
Headlines have euphemistically suggested that her tweets were “uncovered” (Jerusalem Post) or had “surface[d] (Middle East Eye). The reality is that those who were unhappy with the selection of a Muslim woman for the role sought out a way to discredit her.
On Jan. 18, far-right website the Daily Caller published an article using the tweets from 2014 to claim that Khan is “virulently anti-Israel.”
“A search of Khan’s Twitter account,” it said, “raises questions about the appropriateness of making her the face of the new campaign.”
For Islamophobes on Twitter, the tweets were taken as a confirmation of their prejudiced assumption that having a hijabi woman in a beauty campaign was bad.
“This is what happens when a company sells social justice nonsense rather than the product they produce - they lose their minds,” tweeted @cultcommoncore in response to news about her tweets.
“Hiring a model who can't show her hair (if she has any) to model hair products for your company is moronic.”
Twitter account “@AmyMek,” which tweets anti-Islam, pro-Trump material to 209,000 followers, gleefully proclaimed that “@LOrealUSA stands with Pro-Palestinian Jew-Haters!” But it had already been opposed to what it had called a “hijab-wearing jihadi” and “Sharia model.”
That is to say, those who had been critical of a hijabi woman advertising hair products anyway have revelled in accusations over her political views. The very Islamophobia she had overcome to become the first hijabi woman in a L'Oreal hair campaign had come back to haunt her in a matter of days.
Khan’s tweets did not, as conservative news site Twitchy suggested, reveal her to be “highly problematic.” Instead, they reflect her concern for the more than 1,500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, killed during Israel’s 2014 bombing campaign of Gaza.
Poor Amena Khan from 'incredible' 'ground breaking' hijabi model for L'Oreal to sacked within 48 hours. And for what? Calling out Israel for massacring Palestinians 4 years ago. Shame on you @LOrealParisUSA @Loreal https://t.co/9SkTZbIJTr https://t.co/uW8YCAESy2— Lauren Booth (@LaurenBoothUK) January 22, 2018
Her choice of language is strong, yes, and perhaps not the diplomacy that might be expected from a brand ambassador. She called Israel “illegal” and a “sinister state,” expressing hope that “defeat” would come for it.
But, as many have pointed out, it is hard to be delicate when rights groups and international bodies alike are condemning “serious violations of the laws of war.”
Left: what L'Oreal model Amena Khan tweeted about Israel in 2014, leading to her stepping down from campaign.— Danny Rivero (@TooMuchMe) January 22, 2018
Right: @UNHRD's findings on the 2014 Israel-Gaza war.
Separately, the group also found Gaza officials likely committed war crimes. pic.twitter.com/MM7J5vl1h3
A “double standard” has been suggested around her removal from the campaign, in comparison to other public figures who have expressed opinions about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Notice the double standard.— Areeb Ullah (@are_eb) January 22, 2018
Gal Gadot: Ex Israeli soldier who openly supported the IDF's 2014 war in Gaza that killed 2,200 Palestinians. Not forced to apologise
Amena Khan: Muslim woman who tweeted support for Palestinian children killed in Gaza 2014. Forced to apologise.
That discrepancy is a reflection of the way in which legitimate criticism of Israel is so often framed and delegitimized by its supporters as anti-semitic.
But it is also linked to the fact that so many had set up Amena Khan to fail, because they were not able to accept that a hijab-wearing Muslim woman could advertise a beauty product.
What we tweet/post/like/comment will always be dug up from the past and used against us even if it was perfectly agreeable at that time.— MaƦiyah (@mariyahzaman) January 22, 2018
As Muslims, especially public figures - this is just 1 example of how threatening it is for us to even comment on a humanitarian crisis. https://t.co/jpJklLXkqZ
Actor Gal Gadot has actually faced censure over her pro-Israel views. Just days ago, activist Amani al-Khatahtbeh who also wears hijab turned down an award from Revlon because Gadot is an ambassador.
“I cannot accept this award from Revlon with Gal Gadot as the ambassador,” she wrote on social media. “Her vocal support of the Israeli Defense Forces’ actions in Palestine goes against MuslimGirl.com’s morals and values.”
It is pretty striking, however, that in the case both of Khan and al-Khatahtbeh, the final result is a hijab-wearing woman not being represented in the public eye over their political beliefs.
Responding to Khan's withdrawal, al-Khatahtbeh tweeted: "far too often, when women like Amena, who are already widely underrepresented in these conversations, are given any sort of visibility, it's conditional upon them denouncing who they are and not speaking their truth.
If they dare to speak, the rug is pulled out from under them."
The game will not have changed, then, until hijabi women can be public figures, political views and all.
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