A worldwide celebrity who had to deal with similar monsterization, not only because he was black, but also because he was a sensitive artist who conquered realms that black men in America were never meant to enter: Michael Jackson. I still remember the incongruity of the days and weeks preceding the unjustified, “preemptive” attack on Iraq in March 2003 — days when the popular media was deluged by news of Michael Jackson: the “weirdo,” Michael Jackson: the Muslim Mikaeel, Michael Jackson: whose body whitened and ate into itself as a magnified reflection of the larger societal malaise. It was as if the violence of the war on Iraqis was being channeled inside American living rooms through the tearing apart of the King of Pop, as if the war on the black body had been internalized by Jackson himself. Michael Jackson was redeemed finally by the overflowing adulation of his fans, only in his sudden death, though the Muslimness was stripped away. His classic song Thriller, and its MTV visualization are a part of world legend now, and at the core of the song Michael is making fun of this fear/fascination, desire/disgust that is elicited by the racialized, sexualized Other – a veritable monster.
It seems fitting therefore that an amazing and effective performance art piece that challenges the niqab ban was performed to the tune of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In 2010, Naima Bouteldja and Fatima Ali founded Red Rag Productions, an independent film production company based in London. They are working on a documentary film called Short Tales of the Hijab, and have posted a few videos online including “Tango in Paris,” “Burqa in Paris,” and “Thriller in Paris.” On their website theyaccurately identify the “niqab debate” as a “recycled, diversionary trick … against a backdrop of plunging markets, rising unemployment, popular strikes and detested pension reforms” – just like Michael Jackson’s malicious prosecution diverted attention from the campaign of lies that led to the Iraq War. Bouteldja and Ali had thought such deviance “was too outrageous to be swallowed by the general public” and that such a clearly discriminatory law would be “deemed unconstitutional by the [French] State Council.” Unfortunately they were “proven wrong.” True to the spirit of Thriller, Bouteldja and Ali’s video showcases two happy and dignified niqab-clad people dancing in front of the iconic landmark of Paris, the Eiffel Tower – people whose gender and sexualities are illegible and fluid, whose niqab is impeccable, and who therefore poke fun at the culture that would read them as monsters, “disappeared” or otherwise.