Are sales of the burqa and niqab on the rise?

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A Daily Express article which suggested that burqa sales are on the rise in Blackburn contains some basic errors.

The headline “Burka sales BOOM” can serve to reinforce the imagery of religiosity and violence. Imagery that has featured in counter-jihad circles since 2006.

Describing a ‘sales boom’ is a journalistic cliche and not instrincially offensive. In this context, however, it lacks sensitivity.

The central claim of the article weakens under scrutiny. Paul Baldwin, the Express journalist, only interviewed a single store owner. And Baldwin acknowledges that ‘exact figures are hard to establish because many burkas are sold door-to-door’.

Nadeem Siddiqui has seen a rise in sales. His Hijab Centre in Blackburn went from selling ‘one or two burkas a month’ to ‘one or two in a week’. It’s a rise but it hardly meets the inflated claims of the headline.

The Express also carried out a ‘snap survey’ in the town and ‘found around 30 per cent of muslim women completely covered their faces’. That figure sounds daunting when the journalist had just informed readers that Muslims make up 11 per cent of the local population.

It turns out that the journalist spoke to just twenty women who wear the niqab or burqa. And given their campaign to publicly ban this veil is it any wonder they declined to be named or photographed?Nor is the campaign anything new.

The Express ran a front page in favour of a ban on October 21, 2006. It also claimed in 2006 that “An astounding 97% of Daily Express readers agreed a ban would help to safeguard racial harmony.” Much of the 2006 debate was influenced by former Labour MP Jack Straw’s public opposition to the face veil.  Straw reaffirmed his position to the Express a decade later.

Last month the newspaper claimed that 12,000 readers want a ban the burqa. The language of the survey demonstrates how to ask a leading question. Understanding polling methodologies is important.

Ukip deputy leader Paul Nuttall MEP has also called for a ban in a party where members deploy Islamophobic rhetoric when politically expedient.

Debates on the burqa are nothing new and have stretched as far as Australia. Some European countries have issued public bans despite a minority of women wearing face veils. Cameroon and Chad issued bans following acts of domestic terrorism.

The article claims that the popularity of the niqab and burqa grows in other northern towns and London. In the absence of evidence, however, comes insinuation.

Some individuals direct their anxieties and rage towards Islam and Muslims at individuals they perceive as Muslim. Some white converts experience religious slurs dressed in the language of race. Racialisation means that non-white Muslims, especially Sikhs, face violence and racist abuse.

A decision to wear (or remove) Islamic veils clothing is more nuanced. In one example, a London youth worker started wearing the hijab after suffering Islamophobic abuse. This trend, some argue, continued in a post-9/11 climate. A point raised by Nadeem Siddiqui, who runs the Hijab Centre in Blackburn.

Others removed their headscarf or hid it after experiencing abuse. Violence and verbal abuse against Muslim women who wear Islamic veils continues to cause concern. Comments posted below the Express article or in far-right channels contain many dehumanising slurs.

These views overlook the varieties and experiences of the religious life. And ignores the fact that some just pick and choose the verses that speaks to their own cultural specificities.

The popularity of the Express’s campaign reflects how anxieties and prejudices towards Islam and Muslim evolve and grow. And how misleading stories appeal to the echo-chambers of those prepared to believe the worst about Muslims in Britain.

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