Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
September 23, 2014

Weaponizing the Burka

We all know how Islam is just a cover for terrorism and radical ideology, right? And of course, the practice of shrouding women’s bodies is ultimately a provocation and a form of taunting in the face of
civilized Western norms, no? That being the case, would it only make sense that a photo of an Afghan woman police officer in a burqa — taken by a friend woman from Toronto — would be “borrowed” by a conservative British political party as a warning about the true subterfuge of this manner of dress.

In answering the otherwise proverbial question, “what’s wrong with this picture?”, the most difficult thing here — between the racism, the sexism and the stealing of the photo — is where to start.

Much admired as a role model and for her support of Afghan women-at-risk, Lt. Col. Malalai Kakar, Afghanistan’s first female policewoman, was killed by the Taliban six years ago. This article includes the backstory on Lana Slezic’s photo “taken in (Kakar’s) office to show what she had to face every day working as a police officer literally undercover.”

We all appreciate the power of context (and the danger of anchor text). This is such an extraordinary example of “visual abuse.” Having the role of your antagonist publicly ascribed to you is libel. In this case, the extreme aggression is completely flipped through the language — repurposing a highly specific portrait as an act of character assassination (down to the coat sleeve, which can read to the haters more like a man’s.) Most annihilating though is the quote from an Australian Senator and proponent of the poster, and the appropriation, in which he says: “we can’t have anyone hiding their identity in public.” Like the gun illuminates Kakar’s identity but the burka renders her invisible.

(photo: Lana Slezic)

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