Be careful Vogue, your Islamophobia is showing: The truth behind Noor Tagouri’s misidentification
By Karina Zapata, Arts Editor
“Hold on, hold on. Stop. They spelled my fucking name wrong.”
In a video posted on her Instagram, Noor Tagouri’s face drops as she opens the latest issue of Vogue. First, she sees a large spread of herself dressed head-to-toe in Givenchy, then she sees the tragic and irreversible mistake: Tagouri was identified as another Muslim woman, Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari.
Her husband, Adam Khafif, was filming the moment to capture the excitement of Tagouri being in American Vogue for the first time ever — something she says was a lifelong dream. Instead, he captured the heartbreaking reaction of a woman who is constantly misidentified and misrepresented in the media.
In her Instagram caption, Tagouri wrote, “Misrepresentation and misidentification is a constant problem if you are Muslim in America. And as much as I work to fight this, there are moments like this where I feel defeated.”
Who is Noor Tagouri?
Unlike Vogue suggests, Tagouri is, in fact, not a Pakistani actress. She is a Libyan-American journalist, activist and speaker who rose to fame early in her career. Some of her most famous works are her self-produced documentary titled, “The Trouble They’ve Seen: The Forest Haven Story,” and most recently, her podcast about sex trafficking titled, “Sold in America.”
As an activist, Tagouri consistently uses her platform to raise awareness about the misrepresentation of marginalized communities.
This work is inspired by experiences as a Muslim woman. Tagouri started wearing a hijab in her teenage years as a symbol of her Muslim faith, despite being afraid that she wouldn’t succeed on broadcast television with the headscarf. Her fear was wrong.
What is the damage?
Vogue’s misidentification of Tagouri was far from a simple mistake. In fact, it shows the sickening mindset of western media and society: if you are a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf, you are an afterthought. Your words, your fighting, your activism, are silenced by the veil on your head.
And now is a better time than ever to change that.
It isn’t a secret that Islamophobia was rampant after the tragedy of 9/11. However, the world has done a decent job of hiding their Islamophobia recently — until Vogue’s slip up. As one of the most renowned magazines in the world, this isn’t an easy mistake to miss.
Their misidentification yells, “We don’t know the difference between Muslim women who wear hijabs — and we don’t care to!”
But, sadly, Vogue isn’t the only one. Almost exactly two years before the Vogue incident, in January 2017, Tagouri’s face was the main photo used for an article about Noor Salman, the 2016 Orlando Nightclub shooter’s wife. According to Tagouri, this misidentification has put her in danger.
A recurring ‘mistake’
In 2016, a Californian student who wears a hijab went through a similar experience. According to Reuters, the student appeared in her yearbook with the false name “Isis Phillips.” The school claimed that it was a misprint, but the student, Bayan Zehlif, disagreed.
In a statement on Facebook, Zehlif said, “The school reached out to me and had the audacity to say that this was a typo. I beg to differ, let’s be real.”
Now, in 2019, it’s impossible to say whether or not the “Isis” situation was a typo or not. But despite this, Zehlif’s yearbook incident tells another story of how Muslim women are overlooked — and if they aren’t overlooked, they are constantly attacked and unable to win the fight against the entire system.
According to the Washington Post, Los Osos High School’s principal made a public apology on the school’s Twitter account, whose tweets have since then been deleted. The apology adamantly claimed that it was a misprint.
Drowning in apologies
Vogue quickly apologized for their misidentification of Tagouri through a public statement, finishing with, “We also understand that there is a larger issue of misidentification in media — especially among nonwhite subjects. We will try to be more thoughtful and careful in our work going forward, and we apologize for any embarrassment this has caused Tagouri and Bukhari.”
The apologies, both from Vogue and Los Osos High School, would not have been necessary if they did their part and did not overlook Muslim women who wear hijabs.
Tagouri and her team even sent an email to Vogue the week before publication, asking to see the final copy of the photo caption, to ensure Tagouri would not be misidentified again.
They received no reply.
Don’t be the opressor
But quite frankly, it is not Muslim women’s jobs to go out of their ways to make sure that people are being respectful and inclusive. It is not Muslim women’s jobs to go out of their ways to make sure that they are being treated the same way as Muslim and non-Muslim women who don’t wear hijabs.
It has been nearly 18 years since a terrorist attack hit the World Trade Centre and, subsequently, Islamophobia rose to its peak. While rage surrounding Islamophobia is often centered on blatant attacks, like Trump’s Muslim ban or France’s face-covering ban, it’s important to acknowledge smaller and subtler attacks like misidentification and misrepresentation of Muslim women.
It’s time to step away from the controversial mindset that if a woman is wearing a headscarf, she is oppressed. It’s time to accept that, for so many women, wearing a hijab, burka or niqab is a symbol of faith, respect, and empowerment.
It’s time to call Muslim women by their correct names — with no exceptions.