When wokeness goes wrong

What was Plaid Cymru thinking putting a woman in a niqab in its election broadcast?

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Topics Politics UK

Sometimes wokeness goes wrong. Ask Plaid Cymru. The Welsh nationalist party went in for a bit of PC preening last week by featuring a woman in a niqab in its election broadcast. The woman, her face entirely obscured by a forbidding black cloth, as is the Islamist fashion, is seen next to the slogan, ‘Wales, it’s us’. Catchy! Clearly the inclusion of the niqab-wearer was not about attracting the all-important niqab-wearing vote in Wales. How many women in Wales wear this archaic religious garment? No, Plaid was saying something about itself. Look how virtuous we are. Look how inclusive we are. We aren’t Islamophobic like you people. That was the message here.

But it backfired. Badly. Plaid warned social-media users not to subject its niqab-wearing member to racist abuse. It turned out she’s the one who has been throwing around racist insults. The woman behind the misogynistic veil is Plaid member Sahar Al-Faifi and she has previously said anti-Semitic things online. Yes, another supposedly ‘progressive’ party swept up in a Jew-hatred storm. In 2017 Ms Al-Faifi suggested that the London Bridge terror attack was carried out by ‘pro-Zionists’ – essentially an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. She has expressed her hope that Israel ‘would disappear’. She has also cheered Hamas.

Plaid has now suspended her and said it does not tolerate anti-Semitism. But there’s a broader question here about supposedly progressive parties flirting with hardline Muslims. To wear the niqab is a very particular thing. It is a showy and determined expression of religious faith. It is essentially an Islamist act, one which says: ‘I live by a fundamentally different moral code to the rest of you, one which involves the extreme act of obscuring women’s faces in public.’ I support the right of women to wear the niqab – France’s burka ban is illiberal and counterproductive – but I also support the right of people to criticise the niqab as a fundamentally anti-social garment, a knowing snub to the openness and secularism of British society.

Plaid Cymru should have thought very carefully before including a woman in a niqab in an election broadcast and poster. To cover one’s face in public runs counter to the open, engaging spirit of democratic life. It shuts people out, and shuts discussion down, rather than engaging in free, visible debate. Of course, women in niqabs must have the exact same right as everyone else to join parties, support parties and vote for parties. But as an image, the blacked-out face of a woman, the alleged obscenity of a woman’s face and hair which must apparently be hidden from view to please God, is not conducive to the post-religious value of democratic equality and democratic engagement.

Plaid thought it could be woke by including a woman in a niqab in its election material. But it overlooked that there is nothing woke, nothing progressive, about women hiding their faces in public. That is backward and atomising. We should tolerate it, in the name of liberty, but it is not something we should celebrate. Why archaic Islamic practices are seen as somehow positive by contemporary ‘progressives’ is one of the great mysteries of politics today.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


michael savell

25th November 2019 at 6:31 pm

Why is it that males are thought to be such animals that they are not allowed to look upon the faces of women from another religion.Does Islam think we shall all swoon at the sight?

Marvin Jones

25th November 2019 at 3:57 pm

Within the last 15 years, I began to believe that England was the stupidest, most naïve and sentimental fools on the planet, because of the eternal destruction of their wonderful culture surrendered to primitive hordes from every corner of this wretched planet. This has turned us into a cesspit of slums, ghettos and infestation of feral, uncouth, unmannered criminals that rule our streets fearless of the law. Welcome Wales, nice of you to join us.

Pad D

25th November 2019 at 3:33 pm

What a very well written article. I think it sums up in a very articulate way how most of us feel about the niqab and Islam in general.

I’m pleased that Plaid Cwmru have made such a ridiculous move, it should help to deter voters away from their pathetic party.

antoni orgill

25th November 2019 at 2:58 pm

So, surprise, surprise an Islamic woman wearing “fundamentally anti-social” clothing provokes the ire of all-inclusive Brendan. Because, her profile is raised above the level of the street and she has sympathy for Hamas she becomes a problem. She supports resistance to the barbarity of Zionist oppression in Israel and espouses anti-Semitic views (one of which is, frankly, crazed). If every conspiracy theorist were to be enroled in a New All-embracing Religion what would they be OK to wear in public? Something that wouldn’t scare non-neoliberal, anti-authoritarian, free-speech ‘zealots’ with post-Marxist inclinations?

Hugh Oxford

22nd November 2019 at 10:23 pm

To be honest, it could be anyone behind that face mask.

Marvin Jones

25th November 2019 at 3:39 pm

No Hugh. There is only one type of person behind that mask, the one that says “I want your freedoms, your protection for my human rights, your benefits and generous provisions, and to allow me to worship my own god and never have to show allegiance to this wonderful country that I fled to with all my baggage and primitive cultures that will never be questioned”. You fools!

Hugh Oxford

22nd November 2019 at 10:18 pm

WTF is “woke” about fundamentalist political Islam?

Willie Penwright

22nd November 2019 at 11:01 am

She gets media attention because she is articulate and prepared to argue her case – almost like a normal person in a mask. She is the opposite of everything Muslim women are trained and cowed into being – submissive, obedient to men and excluded from speaking or participating in society.

William Laing Laing

20th November 2019 at 8:23 pm

Sincere best wishes, Brendan, but the article does a bit of an ungainly balancing act.

Cedar Grove

20th November 2019 at 3:04 pm

It appears that politicised Islam doesn’t appear as foreign to the Welsh as any English tourist does.

Do Plaid Cymru not understand that wearing the veil is a requirement only of a particular, Saudi- influenced, puritanical version of Islam? Everyone else seems to have grasped that.

Willie Penwright

20th November 2019 at 4:47 pm

When one lives in someone else’s country, it is only polite to dress and speak like the locals. It helps communication and integration. This applies equally to Muslims in Britain and English people in Wales.

Janet Mozelewski

20th November 2019 at 1:26 pm

I found this wryly amusing. (I find most things wryly amusing these days, its a symptom of my age.)
I considered buying a home in the sticks of rural Wales. But I encountered so much rabid Welshness that I changed my mind. First of all there was the language police. It was manners to learn welsh, apparently. Yet, from a business and career point of view one may as well learn Klingon.
It became clear this was a caveat that was reserved specifically for the English. I wonder is Ms Al-Faifi speaks Welsh? More to the point, is it required of her?
Because back in the day when I considered Wales as a home I was, as an English person, put under scrutiny for my wish or not to learn Welsh and adopt Welsh customs. Seems to me that is a mindset of Scottish/Irish.Welsh Nationalism: the English must be made to Pay for whatever grieves them from centuries ago. They try hard to sell the idea that, when it comes to everyone else, they are cool with different cultures living in their country.
All very awkward this nationalism lark. Especially when it seems they welcome (or rather, insist upon) from the English is the bulk of the money to pay for it.

Ed Turnbull

20th November 2019 at 1:52 pm

You’re correct in your analysis of the mindset of the Celtic / Gaelic nationalists: it’s all founded on anti-English sentiment. I’m an Englishman who’s lived in Scotland for nigh on 40 years, and in that time the cries for “Freeedooom!!!” have become increasingly strident. Yet these same ‘nationalists’ want to remain under the yoke of the EU, which is surely the antithesis of nationalism. Doublethink much? Most of the natz I know have no desire for real independence, i.e. freedom to stand entirely on their own national feet, they simply wish to be *free of England* (not that they’re actually under our yoke, they have their own parliament, but that’s usually ignored as it’s counter to the narrative). They also wish for England to continue to pay for Scottish public services, or, at least, underwrite the Scottish economy with the BoE. They’re the sociocultural equivalent of the stroppy teenager that *hates* mum & dad, yet wants to continue being financed by them. Immaturity on a national scale, quite depressing really.

Michael Lynch

20th November 2019 at 11:03 am

Gosh, it’s so hard to be woke. They set up these impossible moral standards only to get hung by them. Bit like all religions really.

Ed Turnbull

20th November 2019 at 10:55 am

Letterboxes, bank robbers…and the Welsh?

So Wales is the land of leeks, narrow gauge railways, close harmony male voice choirs and medieval face coverings for women? Who knew?

I can see this one becoming a meme-storm, if it hasn’t already.

In Negative

20th November 2019 at 10:45 am

“Why archaic Islamic practices are seen as somehow positive by contemporary ‘progressives’ is one of the great mysteries of politics today.”

Because it isn’t an archaic Islamic practice. It is a very modern practice of individuation by identity. It’s function is to atomise because the marketplace of identity requires atomisation. It is the seduction of radical difference in a world that celebrates difference. It is, in a sense, a very capitalist thing to do. The market of anti-openness and alien difference. One of my favourite marketplaces as it happens.

Esmon Dinucci

20th November 2019 at 10:19 am

Let’s hope that wokeness, socialism and Islam will eventually disappear into a black hole of mutual contradiction and evil intent.

Cedar Grove

20th November 2019 at 3:18 pm

I certainly shan’t grieve over the demise of wokeness, which is neo-political posturing at its silliest. Despite its foolishness, it’s toxic, because it sells the uninformed a feeling of self righteousness – which, alarmingly, they seem to find immensely gratifying – as a replacement for political analysis & judgement.

But Islam once had a mystical element, and in principle, has some ideas I can live with. It’s the Wahhabi interpretation I can’t stand, & unfortunately that’s taken by a huge number of Muslims to be The Authentic Version. Illiteracy, a propensity for reacting to conflict with violence because open & honest discussion isn’t allowed in most Islamic societies, and the brainwashing of the many, from birth, by the dominant few, mean Muslims have a lot to get past before they can integrate with open democracies.

As for socialism, I applaud Mr Corbyn’s vision of a joined-up public transport system, and collective national ownership of necessities such as water. Why on earth would anyone see those things as undesirable? About the only thing capitalism hasn’t appropriated in this country is the air, and I’m sure they’re working on that, too.

H McLean

20th November 2019 at 9:18 am

Wearing a niqab in the west is a political act. It should be seen as such and treated accordingly.

Stephen J

20th November 2019 at 10:12 am

I thought that it was a matter of health and safety?

Cedar Grove

20th November 2019 at 3:19 pm

It is being treated politically, by the political party which uses it as a symbol.

Andy Bolstridge

22nd November 2019 at 2:33 pm

All of the headscarves is a political act, Austria banned them all IIRC along with “political Islam” and frankly, I think we should do the same. This kind of Islam has no place in civilisation, let alone Britain.

Willie Penwright

20th November 2019 at 9:15 am

An excellent article on the double standards applied to Islam so it may seem picky to point out an error.
“In 2017 Ms Al-Faifi suggested that the London Bridge terror attack was carried out by ‘pro-Zionists’ – essentially an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. She has expressed her hope that Israel ‘would disappear’. She has also cheered Hamas.” While the first of these three charges is outrageous, bordering on insanity, the other two are not evidence of anti-semitism.

Cedar Grove

20th November 2019 at 2:59 pm

Calling for the elimination of the world’s only Jewish state, which occupies 0.18% of the land owned by Muslim Arabs, & supporting an organisation dedicated to the annihilation of the hated Yehudi, who dared to get the boot of Islam off their necks, sounds anti-Semitic to me.

I’ve noticed how the BBC, filming crowds of Arabs baying for the blood of the Jews, invariably translates “Jews” as “Israelis”. Clearly they, like you, feel that makes genocide acceptable.

William Laing Laing

20th November 2019 at 8:26 pm

Are you quite mad?

Philip Humphrey

20th November 2019 at 8:41 am

Like much of the liberal elite, advertisers live in a bubble and simply don’t get it. Gillette had a disastrous “woke” advertising campaign, castigating men for being “toxic” and it has been estimated to have cost them over a billion in lost sales and lost value. Most ordinary people can see the empty virtue signaling and divisiveness of “woke” and treat it with the contempt it deserves.

Ven Oods

20th November 2019 at 8:34 am

It’s simple really. Since they’ve now suspended her, they just Photoshop the image to read:
Wales. It’s us (but not her).
Is ‘Plaid’ Welsh for ‘plank’?

Stephen J

20th November 2019 at 8:22 am

Well it isn’t much of a mystery Brendan… The two faiths converge on matters of authority. Socialism, Islamism and many other isms are progressive only in that they progress in the same direction.

Ordinary folk are progressed into a corner from which there is no escape.

Jerry Owen

20th November 2019 at 8:04 am

Come back Saatchi and Saatchi .. all is forgiven !

T Zazoo

20th November 2019 at 1:52 am

…women in niqabs must have the exact same right as everyone else to join parties, support parties and vote for parties.

But what they mustn’t do it go to parties. They can’t do that.

Marvin Jones

25th November 2019 at 3:43 pm

They should be free to do all that in their country of birth, otherwise they live by our ways.

Jerry Owen

19th November 2019 at 10:28 pm

How hilarious it has to be said, as hilarious as the LD’s in their election brosdcast saying f**k the referendum result given by 17.4 million, you know what , we’ll court the votes of the remainer minority.
I was born in Shrewsbury, and with my surname my ancestry is obvious ( luckily I was born on the right side of the river) . I have only been to Wales twice in my life but I can claim to be more Welsh than her.. boyo.

Geoff Cox

19th November 2019 at 9:48 pm

Jim Lawrie

19th November 2019 at 8:49 pm

She is not Welsh. Her allegiance is not to Wales. Neither is it to The UK nor Europe.

Mark Lambert

19th November 2019 at 9:03 pm

I agree

H McLean

20th November 2019 at 9:18 am


Michael Lynch

20th November 2019 at 11:03 am


Mark Lambert

19th November 2019 at 7:44 pm

Plaid are very stupid. So are a few media people who have happily used her in the past. Why is it that I can watch the BBC or listen to her invited into the LBC studio and wonder why I know she works for MEND, etc, etc, etc but they don’t? Maybe they think MEND are fine, but MPs had to suddenly shy away from them in an event in Parliament when there were accusations of them hosting extremist speakers. Jezza attended though, as I understand it.

Where I disagree with you is that I’m fine with a ban on the veil/burka. It’s time we stood up for ourselves rather than just bleating about it.

Michael Lynch

20th November 2019 at 11:58 am

I suspect that if we don’t stand up soon then we’ll end up bleating from behind those veils ourselves!

Marvin Jones

25th November 2019 at 3:40 pm

That’s assuming that we still have a head and face to put the mask on.

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