From the UK Telegraph, Amazon has removed “The Sexy Burka” Halloween costume from its online store. I wasn’t sure if this was just Amazon UK or all Amazon online stores including the US so I checked. While there is at least one burka costume listed for Amazon US, I could not find the sexy version. I suspect, for now, it’s across the board.
Amazon is a private business, this is is not an issue of free speech, and I can understand why they would remove The Sexy Burka for business reasons. However, I believe another online store should fill in the gap. We need satire of culture (and religious garb), especially when it’s deemed sacred and above satire. Parodying cultural identity is not automatically the equivalent of racism. It’s just not that simple (sorry, college liberals). And if we’re honest, the instructional videos that have come out telling us what Halloween costumes are appropriate and what ones are not make those of us with a sense of humor want to do the opposite and give the finger to the overly sensitive. It may not be the right reaction (or is it?), but it’s the gut reaction to being patronized by those with little or no life experience.
With the Sexy Burka, I would make this argument: Cultural identity such as the burka deserves satire because of what a piece of clothing can represent: sexism. The goal is to hide a woman’s face! Yes, I’m biased by Western thought! I don’t think women should hide their faces for any man or any religion.
But let’s be clear, some Muslim women wear the burka because they’re culturally pressured to or forced to by law; other Muslim women wear the burka because they want to. I have no problem with it being a choice and I object to telling a woman they can’t wear a burka such as what has happened in Europe. Actual laws have been made to ban wearing the burka. I’m sure the issue is much more complicated than I’m making it out to be since they’re dealing with integrating one culture into another, but generally speaking I err on the side of freedom of religion and freedom to wear what you want.
The Sexy Burka is a parody on the mandate in versions of Islam for women to cover themselves because their bodies are shameful when exposed–and Muslim men apparently can’t control their lust! The intention is not to mock the entire religion, but break down an aspect of it that is unjust and remove it’s authoritarian aspect. A piece of cloth should not have so much power that it defines a race. A piece of cloth IS not race. This type of lowbrow costume sarcasm is what humorists have already done to Judaism and Christianity as well as a variety of cults. Islam should not be exempt, I’m sorry.
That’s not to say there cannot be racist costumes. Obviously, any student of history knows blackface is an inappropriate costume and maybe we should give more thought of how we depict Native Americans or Arabs or Mexicans. Stereotypes abound and society evolves as it becomes more inclusive–though you’ll find that part of integration involves joking about each other’s race, an ironic twist in how Americans bond with each other. For the most part I think racist costumes are usually obvious until the lines get muddied up by academic arguments involving “cultural appropriation” and what that means. It’s no longer about overt racism but rather a witch hunt for insensitivity. One of the recent arguments I heard was protection for job identities from Halloween costumes like The Sexy Nurse. I’m sorry, that’s where my sympathies absolutely part ways from cultural appropriation.
But the overall hypocrisy of the situation is that there are other potentially offensive costumes on Amazon that have not been removed including ridiculous looking Arab costumes for men. Maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like only The Sexy Burka is being targeted (could it be because a woman is showing skin? Or was it that one of the comments invoked the fear of Allah?). It doesn’t make any sense. The removal is apparently based on a handful of comments by Muslim customers who were offended and so Amazon caves. If Native Americans comment how they’re offended can they get Indian costumes removed or even (gasp) Washington Redskins football merchandise removed? Unlikely. We’re either afraid of being insensitive to Muslims (The Left) or we have an irrational fear of all Muslims (The Right). Amazon’s business decision is not to risk any offense for both these reasons and because, honestly, there can be consequences for parodying Islam as we’ve seen with Charlie Hebdo. Islam has a big problem with violent fanatics.
I guess being an atheist I don’t like the sacred. Because, both in the past and in the present, sacred things and invisible gods are given more value than human life. I hope Amazon reconsiders the removal in coming years. Satire is needed for Halloween night and Halloween isn’t a sensitive holiday.
Now where is the protest by nuns against the sexy nun costumes?
SIDENOTE: Don’t take this article’s push for satire of the burka as an excuse to be an asshole to your Muslim neighbors. Muslim women should not be harassed for wearing a burka or any other garment they choose. Satire and freedom of religion can coexist (I hope…).