“Foreign Minister, your scarf has slipped off your head”

On her show aired yesterday on CNN, Christiane Amanpour suddenly stopped in the midddle of posing hard hitting questions to the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and informed her that her scarf had slipped off.

Yes, you heard me right: sandwiched in between questions about Osama Bin Laden and Pakistan’s relations with India, Amanpour found it perfectly natural to make this interjection.

Here is the relevant section from the transcript of that interview:

AMANPOUR: I just want to let you know that your scarf has slipped off your head. If you — if you care, you can put it back on right now. Otherwise, I can continue.

KHAR: Sure. Please continue.

AMANPOUR: OK. Perfect.

I was so shocked and enraged at this inappropriate and impertinent interruption that I found it hard to focus on the interview from then on. I have to wonder as to what was going on in Amanpour’s head when she said this.

– Did she think the Foreign Minister was sinning and perhaps she wanted to set a believer straight?

– Was she just being courteous to her guest, along the lines of “hey chica, just to let you know you’re flashing some cleavage there. Better fix it!”.

– Or was she scared for her guest’s life thinking some mullah in Pakistan will kill Khar for *gasp* showing off her hair?

You expect more awareness from a seasoned journalist like Amanpour. Or perhaps she was trying to be a bit too culturally aware. But anyone who has seen any pictures of Hina Rabbani Khar knows that she wears her scarf symbolically as part of her political persona (I don’t have any issues with that). Sometimes it does slip off and she fixes it without being too bothered by it. No one has ever thought it was such an issue before. And even if it weren’t symbolic and it, horror of horrors, briefly slipped off- why make such a fuss about it?

Would Amanpour have stopped the Ugandan President (who was the guest before Khar) to inform him if, let’s say, his spectacles had slipped off his nose? “Mr. President, I want to let you know that your glasses have slipped off your nose. If you care, you can put them back on right now. Otherwise, I can continue.”

President: Of course Christiane! Thank you for letting me know. How else could I  have answered such important questions about foreign policy if my glasses had not been securely fixed to my nose!

I have to give it to Hina Rabbani Khar though. For the briefest second she seemed confused or amused by this interruption, but after fixing her scarf, she continued to answer questions with a lot of poise and presence of mind.

8 thoughts on ““Foreign Minister, your scarf has slipped off your head””

  1. I think it was a sign of respectful journalism that cares for the values of the people it interviews.

  2. Ayesha, I can believe that that was Amanpour’s ‘intention’, but it was nonetheless inappropriate in this context.

    As I mentioned in the blog, I did consider the cultural awareness option. Except I think in this case Amanpour was assuming and imposing values that Hina Rabbani Khar clearly doesn’t share. She has given numerous interviews and press conferences where her headscarf slips off and mostly she fixes it herself but in a very relaxed fashion. There was no need to make such a point of it I think. Instead of being considered respectful, I think it is distracting and it unnerves people to be told such things.

  3. Western media is always obsessed about how people, especially Muslim women dress. Would have expected better from Amanpour but alas she is also a part of the same culture.
    I may not agree with Khar’s politics, but I can certainly say that she is a very competent minister, and one has to respect her for being able to deliver very well in different capacities in such a short period of time…which is something one can not say about most of our political cadre.
    So the media should stop focusing on the way she dresses and give her some professional respect.

  4. Ayesha, I absolutely agree with you!! A few years ago, I was not too impressed with Khar when she was the Minister of State for Economic Affairs Division (under Musharraf). I remember attending a session of the Pakistan Development Forum which was chaired by Khar and she had seemed brash and immature. But she was hardly 30 then.

    In the last few years, she has come a long way. Although I find that she rehashes the established official line in interviews and press conferences, she has begun to hold her own. And her interview with Amanpour really showed that. Especially the way she handled the embarrassing questions about OBL. She really defended Pakistan overall on most issues but on the issue of OBL she accepted that it is not a proud moment in our history. YET she didn’t sound like America’s poodle while saying it. She sounded like a proud Pakistani who is also aware of her country’s weaknesses. That really shows tact and maturity.

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