Publication Details

Posetti, J. N. (2006). Media representations of the hijab Reporting Diversity - Journalism in Multicultural Australia (pp. 1-38) Australia : Australian Government.


Over the past decade, the appropriateness of traditional clothing worn by some Muslim women, particularly the head covering known as the hijab, has been the focus of often fierce media debates. The hijab debate has come to symbolise the clash of cultures fanned by links between Islamic extremism and 21st century terrorism. While in several Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran, the full covering, known as the chador or burqa, has been mandatory, a backlash against Muslim culture has seen such clothing banned, along with the much more common hijab, in the interests of secularism. In this context, Muslim women are portrayed by the Western media either as veiled victims in need of liberation in foreign lands because of a lack of free choice, or a threat to the Western societies in which they reside because of their choice to adopt traditional Islamic dress. The hijab is essentially a scarf-like piece of cloth worn by Muslim women in some Islamic cultures to cover the hair as an expression of piety, based on interpretations of Qur’anic directives for modesty. It has been branded a threat to the notion of the separation between church and state and banned in schools and government institutions in some secular states, including Germany, France and Turkey, as a form of inappropriate religious identification. It has divided the feminist movement with conflicting claims that it is a symbol of both oppression and freedom of expression. It’s seen as an act of non-conformity and defiance by conservative Western political opponents and even portrayed as a terrorist threat in itself because of its potential use by suicide bombers to disguise their intentions. The coverage of these debates – which have become front-page news and have dominated talkback radio whenever they arise - has in turn sparked controversy about racism and ignorance within the media.