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Is French Montana ‘sexualising’ the hijab or ‘liberating’ it?

Artistic or offensive?

American rapper French Montana’s latest album cover featuring a queue of faceless niqabi women crossing their legs in red latex thigh-high boots has caused outrage amongst Muslim women.

Seen sitting between the veiled women, French Montana – whose real name is Karim Kharbouch – is accused of sexualising Muslim women by diluting the significance of the niqab and presenting women as sexual objects.

The rapper has hit back, saying the artwork for his album is “connecting with his roots” and “freeing Muslim women,” posted the image on Twitter.

Prominent professors such as Khaled Beydoun and Veena Dubal also took to the social media platform to express their disappointment at the possibility of the 34-year-old celebrity of Moroccan origins, capitalising on damaging portrayals of Muslim women and failing to “honour his roots”.

Classing the image as “Islamophobic”, Beydoun said the image “capitalizes on damaging portrayals of Muslim women as faceless showpieces. The women are objectified, and serve the function of providing a provocative backdrop instead of being presented as real, autonomous human beings.”

READ: Egypt proposes bill to ban Niqab in public places

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I like @FrenchMontana. He does great philanthropic work, his music slaps and he seems like an overall good dude. But this image for his upcoming album is Islamophobic. It capitalizes on damaging portrayals of Muslim women as faceless showpieces. The women are objectified, and serve the function of providing a provocative backdrop instead of being presented as real, autonomous human beings. I get that art should be provocative, but this provokes some of the worst Western stereotypes about #Islam and Muslim women. I could go on, but his being Arab or Muslim doesn’t excuse the problematic use of this image to sell records. Compare it to this ad for the #Showtime series, Homeland, which got considerable and well deserved criticism. What’s the real difference? French should know and do better.

A post shared by Khaled Beydoun (@khaledbeydoun) on

Some focused on his Moroccan heritage, questioning how he can be disrespectful about the religion the country he was born and brought up in practices.

The controversial album cover also prompted Twitter users to point out that women who wear  the niqab (face veil) are already a minority within the West and heavily stigmatised, saying a cover like this doesn’t help them be included in society.

Others, however, disagreed, arguing that the niqab isn’t a religious symbol but rather a cultural practice which Montana is celebrating and normalising with his art.

French Montana emigrated to the US from Rabat, Morocco, at the age of 13 and has since become one of the biggest names in hip-hop. He has always been vocal about his Moroccan roots and Muslim upbringing, making it a focal point of his public image.

He has also become the first ambassador for the “I stand with Immigrants” campaign, which aims to encourage US citizens to “celebrate the monumental contributions that immigrants have made and continue to make every day.

His latest album, simply titled “MONTANA”, is expected to be released on 8 November.

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