THE ‘VAMP IN THE VEIL’

AN ARTICLE BY JAGO RACKHAM

Artwork by KANI KAML

Artwork by KANI KAML

‘And, to begin with, the veil hides a beauty.’
Franz Fanon, ‘Algeria Unveiled’[1]

“The exact identity of Ms Al Amoudi remains unknown.”
Mrs Justice Asplin[2]

 

When I read about Sara Al Amoudi, I was impressed. This woman seemed, more than so many, to be actively subversive. She fucked with identity, with religion and, most importantly, with the British upper class. She was someone to admire. I read on, ending up on the Mail Online (hell’s very cradle) and noticed something (un)surprising about the newspaper’s coverage of her. Rather than casting her as some liberated Arab woman, capable of such grand subversion, the Mail coloured her with the Orientalist trope of the veiling and alluring subject; the lying and sensual brown woman.

Al Amoudi, dubbed ‘The Vamp in the Veil’, shot to fame in March 2014 through her involvement in a legal battle with two property developers, who asserted she had conned them out of millions of pounds of London property. Their case rested on the assertion that Amoudi was not, as they claim she claimed, a Saudi princess but a Somali prostitute. Throughout the articles, and the court case, Amoudi is cast as someone whose ‘Muslim faith requires her to hide her face with a veil’, or, by the Mail and the prosecution, as someone who ‘snorted cocaine… on champagne-fuelled nights out’ whose ‘Muslim faith’ was a ruse and who was a ‘prostitute’. Al Amoudi was acquitted of the charges, after which the Mail wrote an article discussing possible plans for her deportation as well as detailing her ‘un-Islamic activities includ[ing] swilling champagne and snorting cocaine and the horse tranquilliser ketamine.’[3] This sets up a clear dichotomy between what the Mail deems Islamic or un-Islamic. Moreover, the Mail did not seem to accept her innocence, the headline of the article reading ‘’Vamp in the veil’ accused of being a penniless prostitute posing as a princess to get her hands on £14 million property empire is allowed to keep all six luxury flats in London’s wealthiest areas’,[4] which is laced with Orientalising and sexualising language, with ‘get her hands on’ suggesting she did not deserve her ‘prize.’

The Mail’s treatment of Al Amoudi’s veil rests on its ‘mysterious’ nature, and its ability to disguise her, or allow her to complete an ‘’absurd performance’’. This is interesting because, though the veil ‘has been shaped into an emblematic symbol in the representation of Muslim women in the current post-migratory context’ that is forced upon them by Muslim men,[5] Al Amoudi’s veiling is seen as something she is doing in order to ‘make much play of her adherence to Islam’.[6] The Mail goes further to undermine her claims by proffering pictures of Al Amoudi in a nightclub ‘wearing a silky bodice and displaying her cleavage’.[7] Here, the Mail has set up the category of ‘Muslim woman’ (veiled) as unsexed and continuous: it leaves no room for the possibility that Al Amoudi may both be a (generally) adherent Muslim, with occasional lapses, or, even more shockingly, a woman whose view of Islamic adherence could countenance attending nightclubs and ‘displaying her cleavage’. Moreover, the photographs look dated (probably from the 1980s) leaving the possibility that Al Amoudi could have since gone through a ‘spiritual conversion’. The implicit dismissal of these possibilities shows that the Mail is casting Al Amoudi, an ‘Oriental’, as possessing an unchanging nature: either veiled or ‘whore’, tending toward the latter.

Firmly establishing Al Amoudi as a ‘prostitute’, the Mail follows Fanon’s contention that ‘a strand of hair, a bit of forehead, a segment of an “overwhelmingly beautiful” face… keep[s] alive and strengthen[s] the European’s persistence in his irrational conviction that the [Arab] woman is the queen of all women.’[8] We are treated to many descriptions of Al Amoudi’s ‘heavily made up eyes’, of her harem (‘Al Amoudi earns her crust as a high-class prostitute… in a £750 000 flat, with two sisters, yards from Harrods’) and even the gold hem of her robe.[9] Here, Al Amoudi’s veil, her wish to hide herself, is sexualised, leading to her objectification. The Mailgives her some subjecthood, but, in return, marks her as immoral and transgressive. To this end, the newspaper’s treatment of Al Amoudi synthesizes the image of the super-sexualised Arab ‘prostitute’ with that of the veil-wearing Muslim woman. She is made into the Vamp of the thriller, who employs sex and cunning to trick undeserving men out of money and ‘gets away with it’, hiding behind her veil.

Sara Al Amoudi’s case confounded the journalists at the Daily Mail. Here was a mysterious Arab woman, acting it seemed in her own interest rather than those of ‘Islam’ or ‘tribalism’. She unequivocally bent the boundaries of what is generally perceived to be the role of a Muslim woman. Yet the Maildid not respond to this quite obviously ‘emancipated’ woman with the glee that one would expect from a newspaper working within the confines of the western hegemonic in which the Muslim female is seen as controlled and trapped by her culture and religion. Rather, the Mail wheeled out another Orientalist trope: that of the harem dweller, luring Western men into her clutches. A more interesting take on Al Amoudi’s case would be one that examines the way in which her actions blurred the lines around what is perceived to be ‘Islamic’, ‘Arab’, moral and so on.

But one cannot expect such nuance from a newspaper like the Daily Mail.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ACADEMIC

Fadil, N., ‘Non-/unveiling as an ethical practice’, Feminist Review 98 2011, pp. 83 – 109.

Fanon, F., 1965. “Algeria Unveiled” in A Dying Colonialism trans. Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove Press.

Naber, N., ‘Arab American Femininities: Beyond Arab Virgin/American (ized) Whore’, Feminist Studies 32, no. 1 (Spring 2006), 87-111

Said, Edward Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient, 1995, Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books.

JOURNALISTIC

Sears, N., ‘’Vamp in the veil’ may be booted out of Britain for giving immigration officials fake ID as she complains of being spat at in the street’, Mail Online, 7 March 2014. Accessed athttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2575794/Vamp-veil-booted-Britain.htmlon 20/3/15.

Adams, G., ‘The Vamp in the Veil: Is she a Saudi princess – or a prostitute? As the High Court is gripped by wild tales of cocaine, sex and the occult, what is the truth about Sara Al Amoudi?’, Mail Online, 26 July 2013. Accessed at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2379572/Sara-Al-Amoudi-Is-Saudi-princess–prostitute.html on 20/3/15.

Davenport, J., ‘’Vamp in the veil’ wins High Court fight over £14m Knightsbridge property empire’, London Evening Standard, Wednesday 20 February 2014, accessed at http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/vamp-in-the-veil-wins-high-court-fight-over-14m-knightsbridge-property-empire-9141790.html on 18/3/15.

 

[1] Fanon, F., 1965. “Algeria Unveiled” in A Dying Colonialism trans. Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove Press, pp. 168.

[2] Davenport, J., ‘’Vamp in the veil’ wins High Court fight over £14m Knightsbridge property empire’, London Evening Standard, Wednesday 20 February 2014, accessed at http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/vamp-in-the-veil-wins-high-court-fight-over-14m-knightsbridge-property-empire-9141790.html on 18/3/15.

[3] Reilly, J., ‘’Vamp in the veil’ accused of being a penniless prostitute posing as a princess to get her hands on £14 million property empire is allowed to keep all six luxury flats in London’s wealthiest areas’, Mail Online, 20 February 2014. Accessed athttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2563796/Vamp-veil-conned-way-14million-property-empire-gets-KEEP-judge-says-neither-princess-nor-prostitute.html on the 20/3/15.

[4] ibid

[5] Fadil, N., ‘Non-/unveiling as an ethical practice’, Feminist Review 98 2011, pp. 83 – 109, pp. 85.

[6] Adams, G., ‘The Vamp in the Veil: Is she a Saudi princess – or a prostitute? As the High Court is gripped by wild tales of cocaine, sex and the occult, what is the truth about Sara Al Amoudi?’, Mail Online, 26 July 2013. Accessed at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2379572/Sara-Al-Amoudi-Is-Saudi-princess–prostitute.html on 20/3/15.

[7] ibid.

[8] Fanon, 1965, pp. 168.

[9] Sears, N., ‘’Vamp in the veil’ may be booted out of Britain for giving immigration officials fake ID as she complains of being spat at in the street’, Mail Online, 7 March 2014. Accessed athttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2575794/Vamp-veil-booted-Britain.htmlon 20/3/15.

Malise RosbechComment