Maher’s Muddled Muslim Dior Mockery

Based on his über-liberal political views, I assume Bill Maher has an open mind, and therefore understands that fashion transcends cultures. But for the sake of being a douche, he pretends like he doesn’t in his parody of niqabi women in a skit called “Muslim Dior,” part of his But I’m not Wrong comedy show. He also ran the skit on his television show, Real Time:

I think it’s hard to argue with this statement: All women wear clothes and many women like fashion. Muslim women are no different. To say that many Muslim women love fashion isn’t a stereotype but a statement about a beauty-obsessed culture. One only has to flip on Rotana and watch over-the-top fashion in Arabic music videos, or look at the designer bags and shoes on display in Dubai, or the rise in plastic surgery in Lebanon and Kuwait to realize this. And if massive shopping malls are any indication, Arab woman from oil-rich Gulf countries can afford to buy the expensive designer duds seen on the runways in Paris and Milan.

Also, as this sexy-but-annoying German lingerie ad shows, even women who cover themselves from head-to-toe in black cloth care about the way they look. So, in countries like Saudi Arabia, where it’s obligatory for women to cover in public, fashion trends are mostly shown off in private, at house parties or weddings where men are not around, adding weight to the argument that women dress up for other women anyway.

But back to Maher. He begins by acting shocked over the news that Saudi Arabia has had its first fashion show. Then, as white models (Hello, Orientalism!) with no shoes and a high-water abayas strut their stuff, Maher pokes fun at Muslim culture (as if there was just one) in a voice almost as annoying as Joan Rivers, purposely assigning all Muslim women to the stereotype of the ninja models on stage. Maher’s parading the models barefoot is a more subtle jab at Muslims, as bare feet implies a lack of civilization or the idea that Muslim women are not au courant enough to own a pair of high heels.

Perhaps I’m overanalyzing that just a bit, but in the skit, which he calls the “Fall Fundamentalist Fashion Show,” Maher says things like, “Turn heads without losing yours in this sizzling Saudi sheath and be the wife that he calls for tonight and every night,” or that the niqab is “guaranteed to get your man so hot he’ll wanna crack you on the ankle with a long stick,” referencing the popular stereotype that Islam sanctions wife-beating.

He says , “Anon is wearing a daring French cut with a plunging eye slid that comes in black and dark black,” which made me laugh and think of the burqa controversy in France.  Here, Maher is doing what satire should do: use humor to draw attention to more serious issues.

But then he goes back to the stereotypes with phrases like, “Whether you’re on the go or simply knowing your place…” Maher laughs at Muslims and not with us by conveniently implying that Islam oppresses women.

Maher could have done a better job at being politically correct. I genuinely enjoyed some of the jokes: “This is Coleen in this business casual abaya by Donna Koran.” (Hahhaha!) “It’s a throwback pull-over that says I’m too sexy for my Shiite.” (Hahhaha!) “This one says my mullah brings all the boys to the yard.” Who doesn’t enjoy a good Kelis reference?

Proving that pain closely follows laughter, Maher’s next line is straight-up offensive because of its generalization and assumptions about Islamic legal code: “Dress it up for morning prayers, or dress it down for midnight stoning.”

It’s a small-minded mistake to assume that Muslim women don‘t like or follow fashion because many of them cover up in public. For proof, visit your neighborhood’s sister’s potluck, read an Arab fashion magazine like Sayidaty, Google Haifa Wehbe, or any of the blogs dedicated to the fashion-conscious hijabi.

Besides, If Maher did any research, he could have found at least one woman sporting a Dior hijab and sunglasses, which would have made the whole Muslim Dior spin more accurate. But who needs accuracy when the world wants to believe we wear backward body-bags?

Look, we get it. When you watch the news about explosions and occupations and Taliban throwing acid at women’s faces , and especially demonstrations over cartoons, you just think, “God, can’t these people lighten up?!” But I see Maher’s skit and think, “God, Muslim women are an easy target once again.” I mean, I don’t doubt that Maher wants to denude a niqabi, but what if the tables were turned, and Arab television lampooned America with toothless blonde strippers in red, white, and blue bikinis? Yeah, some Muslims would laugh–I would–but would it change the way the Muslim world views the U.S., or reinforce it as a country that uses stars and stripes to parade low morals?

Okay, so since I‘m Muslim I have to judge: All in all, I’d give Maher a C+. He makes you laugh, but he fails to make you think outside the box, and his jokes only serve to reinforce stereotypes about Muslim women as anonymous beings in black. Basically, Maher just proved that that when it comes to Islam, and especially the portrayal of Muslim women, political liberals are just as obnoxious as conservatives.

Fist-bump anyone?

Thanks to Latoya for the tip!

  • Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist

    Bill Maher is a DOUCHE-BAG, plain and period. He has no respect or understanding for other cultures or religions.

    Goes to show you that atheists, who scream and cry for “tolerance” and “freedom of belief,” can also be intolerant of those who believe in God or divine beings.

  • Dawud Israel

    pound it! *fist bumps* good stuff. I like this site.

    This is the same dude who made that stupid film Religulous (or however you spell a fake word like that). He hates religion, but he has a few good views (anti-pharmaceuticals). You can rate these talk shows for laughs based on how much they appeal to Islamophobia. Letterman virtually never makes comments on Islam and Colbert Report (I think it was that show) had Yusuf Islam play on there show. But if you watch Conan, Kimmel, Leno, etc. they bash Muslims with so much ease. And I remember Shaykh Hamza mentioned that it was the Ottomans who invented the court jester- the origins of this style of comedy. The jester was THE one person who could speak truth to power without getting hurt. Thats the same premise today with shows like the Daily Show or even these talk shows. But they just use humor irresponsibly to tear down Islam and not contribute. Its basically a war by entertainment- there is nothing “radical” or “feminist” or “progressive” about a fashion show, its more or less just entertainment. I think if Saudi didn’t have a fashion show- it would’ve been better. They need to get over their wounded pride.

    The good thing is the audience is always alive and awake. On the Jimmy Kimmel show, there was a body-building competition in Iraq in honor of Arnold and they had statues of him. The audience liked that and Kimmel had this smirk on his face and said, “Should we be letting them do that? We don’t want the Arabs all strong now do we?” And the audience just BOOed him mercilessly! THE funniest stuff I ever saw!!!

  • Ayeshter

    The irony is that Maher seems painfully unaware that there acctually are Niqab fasion shows that actually have (gasp)variety.

  • Yusra

    Thanks Dawud :)
    I think comedy makes it easier to address taboo topics, but it’s hard not to be turned off to a humor that creeps into national dialogue and foreign policy. It’s a fine line for sure. As many Arab American and Muslim American comedians post 9/11 have demonstrated-there’s plenty to laugh at within our own communities, but it doesn’t have to be in a ignorant or mean-spirited way.

  • Ida Bakar

    Hmm…imagine an alternative situation- a “Jewish” fashion show focusing on the Israelis only: Utility fashion in the form of IDF uniform plus gun, chic male get-up with ringlets and yamulke plus gun with the caption “For the chosen people to smite the gentiles in the land of Abraham”. Well, I shall be labelled an anti-semite, holocaust denier, Islamic terrorist etc etc

  • Abu Sinan

    I like everything he does with the exception of anything about religion, Islam or foreign cultures. On domestic issues he is top notch.

    I remember yelling at my TV once when he showed a bunch of Shi’a during Maraham cutting their heads and him saying something like “how can you deal rationally with people who do this type of thing”. Obviously he thought that all Muslims do this despite it is a Shi’a practice, and a minority one at that!

  • Sobia

    I agree with Abu Sinan. On domestic issues he’s spot on and his criticisms of domestic policies are cutting and harsh but very true.

    However, on matters of religion he’s a douche. I’d like to say that he’s at least an equal opportunity religion hater, but sometimes he comes across as hating on Islam a little more than other religions.

  • Nadia

    Wow it’s the MadTV AlJazeera sketch all over again. Not that there’s anything remarkable about that level of stupid other than it’s amazing what you can get away with treating some groups that you haven’t been able treat most other people for about 50 years(on tv anyways.)
    If I remember correctly guy is a libertarian which is and of itself a dealbreaker but I always thought he was a douche, the fact that I agree with him maybe 1/3 of the time doesn’t change that.

    Way more importantly, what has Conan said about Muslims? Politically Incorrect was always a waste of time, but if you’re going to be telling me I’m now required to hate shows I grew up with that is something else. His humour’s always been extremely juvenile but I always had the impression he would know better, even if his show really isn’t the most politically oriented.
    Letterman is too smart for that garbage, Leno’s writers are just dumb enough and Colbert-well his entire audience listens to NPR so he’s not going there.

  • Yusra

    haha, I think it’s established Maher is a douche, although I also agree with him on many matters.

    Nadia, you bring up good point. Does HBO and a certain audience make it okay to partake in Muslim bashing? We all sort of expect Bill Maher to be crude and unapologetic, and wanton in regards to free speech..which is why he able to discuss the hot-topics he does.

    We love it when he bashes neocons.. Let me pose a different question: should we be more offended by Mahr here or at the extremist Muslims who perpetuate this stereotype?


    Maher is being wholly unoriginal here. I remember In Living Color doing this crap of a joke way back in the 90′s with their “Iraqi swimsuit fashion show” and showing Iraqis in abayas with swimsuits on over it :( Needless to say I was quite disappointed with the Wayans brothers after that. I was never a fan of Maher’s jokes and find him to be quite mysogynistic as well so I just avoid watching him. I’m surprised to hear Conan joked badly about Muslims though.

    @Dawid Israel

    Thanks for the info about the Ottomans inventing the court jester type comedy! The things you learn every day…


    @ Dawid Israel

    Umm are you sure Kimmel’s audience were booing at him and his stupid joke and not booing with him at the thought of “OMG Arabs getting stronger=the end of the Western world as we know it”. It’s kind of hard to say which way the booing is going you know?

  • golby260

    I’m a semi-regular lurker to this blog and I’m a Bill Maher fan (I’ve been watching his Real Time show since the first season — has it really been eight years? Wow. :) — and I watched a couple of seasons of his belated Politically Incorrect show beforehand). However, even I had to turn away and leave the room after he started doing that “Muslim Dior” bit on his comedy special. I swear, I’m sure one of his excuses for that crap is just so every American conservative out there wouldn’t be able to generalize EVERY liberal as somehow “Muslim-loving” — other than outright bigotry, I see no other reason why someone who professes to be socially left of center would do this.

    I’m also an atheist, and a black woman, so I sadly have to agree with DIMA that yes, atheists are being hypocrites when they want respect from everyone else but won’t grant that to others outside of their group. (I’ve likely been guilty of this, myself. :/) I don’t know how much respect any atheist can expect to garner for one’s beliefs when one’s busy telling everyone else within earshot that they’re brainwashed and that raising a child within a religion amounts to “child abuse.” (Dawkins, right?) Too many atheists also have a huge blindspot when it comes to race, and I’m pretty sure it’s because many of them are white male “libertarians” (Republicans in all but name. :P Don’t get it twisted.) I used to post on the Internet Infidels forum once in a blue moon, but decided I had had enough after some white conservative “independent” (who votes Republican, but wants to pretend that he’s somehow not for their platform — yeah, right) tried to argue with innuendo behind a bullshit question “are black people going to riot if Obama doesn’t win the Presidency?” I mean, really? And all they did was whine about affirmative action, too. Almost all of the non-white posters had gone to better, greener pastures. These people can act all open-minded and all, but they can be just as racially clueless as the rest of the majority.

    They also kept defending that Danish cartoon fiasco as a “freedom of speech” issue — yeah, right. If it’s so much about “freedom of speech,” ask yourselves why, when Jyllands-Posten proposed to do the same thing towards Christians a few years earlier, they decided not on it because it “might offend Christians.” (link: Oh, really?

    I mean, how much of an atheist are you if you’re just as rabidly economically neoliberal as all of the Christians you can’t stand? I mean, what does atheism have to do with affirmative action? I rest my case.

    But, yeah, I’m a nontheist liberal, and as much as I want people who share my beliefs not to be required to be saints, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for at least one moral basic standard: The Golden Rule. It’s really not that hard to follow.

    Good post. :)

  • Melinda

    Ugh, more racist and sexist crap from Bill Maher. Any “über-liberal” card he might be carrying deserves to revoked already.

    However, I wouldn’t call the belief “that Islam sanctions wife-beating” a “popular stereotype,” as it is a position that many Muslims do take. Doesn’t mean that it’s right or representative of all interpretations of Islam, but it’s definitely not just something delusional Islamophobes made up.

    Also, I was a little disturbed by the equating of “toothless blonde strippers in red, white, and blue bikinis” with “low morals.” It reinforces sexism and classism, and the assumption “sex workers = EVIL” is not cool.

  • Person

    Uhmmmm, hate to break it to you but he’s not pretending. Maher is a self-absorbed jerk that has the belief if you don’t agree with him you are an idiot. He is also notoriously Islamophobic and reactionary.

  • Sobia

    “However, I wouldn’t call the belief “that Islam sanctions wife-beating” a “popular stereotype,” as it is a position that many Muslims do take. Doesn’t mean that it’s right or representative of all interpretations of Islam, but it’s definitely not just something delusional Islamophobes made up.

    Also, I was a little disturbed by the equating of “toothless blonde strippers in red, white, and blue bikinis” with “low morals.” It reinforces sexism and classism, and the assumption “sex workers = EVIL” is not cool.”

    Agree and agree. I second both these points.

  • Pingback: Nice, Bill! you are officially a jackass… anyone else offended by this skit? « My Hijab is in the Wash

  • breatheeasy

    This is such a good piece. I just finished watching it moments ago and had no idea that it aired over a month ago. I am really happy to see this response because I was very outraged. I did, very much so, enjoy his performance up until that point. The whole thing about it was so upsetting, especially the manner in which it happened. Leaving the stage as to say his performance was done, and then to come back with a “separate from his act” skit, derogating the Islamic religion in the most worst way. I couldn’t understand it. It was extremely tasteless and I though that he actually had the balls to compromise his own integrity. I will definitely share this piece.

  • Yusra

    Thank you! I absolutely agree. I’m generally a fan of Maher but this was a failed attempt at satire- completely overboard–and it was such a cheapshot. I felt it was a disservice to his audience more than anything.