Gender

Stop Pretending Your Right To Hijab Is At Risk: Totally accidental midnight rant

http://inkontheside.com/2013/09/23/how-to-dress-free/

Hello. It is nigh on 4am*, I am sleep-deprived, have been working for many hours, and saw something that inspired a little bit of rantiness and before I knew it a I had a spiel, substantive enough for a blog post, so allow me to give you the eloquence of my frustration:

I used to like this comic, Ink On The Side, because I thought it framed social issues in Lebanon with levity and a sheepish self-consciousness I found to be refreshing and honest.

But look at this unfair, completely-missing-the-point idiocy. It frames this self-interested bigotry as Western opinion. That it’s supposed to be satire etc and the hypocrisy thus hyperbolized is clear; that doesn’t excuse you from needing to be responsible about the social critique you’re making if that is the POINT of using satire as rhetoric. So Western opinion? Which Western opinion? That implies there is anything resembling unity of opinion in the West when it comes to religious freedoms. Except a huge portion of Western liberals and left-wingers are utterly terrified of being Islamophobic and xenophobic and labeled western imperialists and thus constantly tout the graces of the free choice to hijab up, in the process totally drowning out the voices of those who DO have actual experience and knowledge of what that choice or lack of it is like, like, you know, Muslim and ex-Muslim women who are forced into religious choices they do not want. This comic is a total misrepresentation of the Western liberal position, which has an insanely strong presence. It also completely bypasses the views of women, more than half the population, being from the point of view of an apparently sexually-aroused man. What about them? Or are they not part of the ‘opinion’ of the West? And then there are conservatives, whose view would probably be consistent with what is portrayed in the comic but whose opinions on this matter are generally so bigoted and misinformed that to claim that they are representative is utterly misleading. And then there’s a whole lot of shit in between. So what does Western opinion mean?

How about you advocate for the lack of double standards without totally straw-manning and misrepresenting somebody’s position in order to criticize it? How about not making it about shooting an entire world population down and lumping them all together and instead advocating for equal choice regardless without resorting to such intellectually dishonest rhetoric?

And this is a total slap in the face of those who are NOT free to make this choice and who ARE oppressed and who need help securing their freedoms, and who have faced a lifetime of adversity and struggle and suppression and fought tooth and nail for their right to bodily autonomy. There is not anything even CLOSE to resembling a struggle of this sort for women who want to wear hijab in Muslim-majority countries, let alone a global threat to the right of a woman to wear hijab if she wants to. On the other hand the hijab is mandated by law or socially pressured upon women in dozens of countries but criticism of it is always pushed off into irrelevant defensiveness of religion and what are NOT the real factors leading to this instead of an honest examination of the contribution factors that will end up with real solutions being addressed. But somehow that accusation that someone is oppressing women in the Muslim world is so freaking awful to consider that the question is one that should not even be asked. Is it so unwarranted for someone to assume that what is religiously prescribed as mandatory as per most interpretations of Islam could, I don’t know, you know, become ACTUALLY mandated and enforced in Muslim-majority countries? GASP. NO WAY. NEVER. Is it more important to be offended that some idiots on the street are going to judge and misinterpret the choices of hijabi women than it is to try to find active solutions for women in Muslim-majority countries who are utterly suppressed by misogynistic patriarchy and suffer MATERIALLY because of it? Or is it the case that just because women who freely choose the hijab exist then it is utterly unwarranted to suggest that some (most?) women don’t freely choose it and they need help?

And OF COURSE there are many Muslim and hijabi women who endure material harm because of bigotry and discrimination from individuals due to their hijab. Yes, that is a problem, and yes,it is important. But you know what it’s not? It’s not an institutionally controlled and systemically perpetrated problem. It is not, in the stark majority of places, a problem of legislature or social sanction. It is a problem of individuals and individual societal groups.

The point is this: A comic like this would be accurate and important if this was actually a problem of the sort I just described. But instead it detracts from what actually IS a real problem. I was forced to wear this shit for 14 years, and ten of those years were in ‘liberal’ Lebanon. Unless the choice to NOT wear the hijab is free of ANY social or legal or material costs by institutions or social structures EVERYWHERE then it’s not a free choice and it can and should be discussed. Of course some shitheads are going to attempt to ‘discuss’ it in stupid, bigoted, godawful ways. But you know what? That happens about everything, get over it and let the women that this concerns speak and let them get the support and endorsement and help of whoever the fuck they deem worthy of helping their cause. My life and the years I suffered from this, that my friends suffered from this, that women worldwide suffer from this are not a fucking game.

*It really is 4am, but here’s a cool TED talk about cognitive bias regarding that time of night.

Ohai! Here’s some wikimedia links with world maps showing required dresscodes for women and the prevalence of the hijab worldwide.

Also, here’s an awesome and totally on-point/related status update from the lovely admins over at Muslim and Ex-Muslim Women for Secularism.

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nietzschesbreeches

nietzschesbreeches

  • http://allahbepraisedlettheglassberaised.wordpress.com The Syed Atheist

    Reblogged this on The Syed Atheist and commented:
    Excellent read.

  • Henna Javed

    if this pissed you off, check out “the muslim show” comics on facebook…

  • http://gravatar.com/sareenakharjalian Sareen

    Good morning. Let me start of by saying that I apologize if I offended you with my comic. In fact the point of the comic was to direct discussion towards some European governments that boast freedom of expression and so on, when on the other hand they enforce a dress code (I couldn’t fit “certain European governments” on the tshirt, I guess I should have drawn a longer shirt?)

    I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you to be forced to dress a certain way but this is exactly the point of the comic. People shouldn’t be forced to dress a certain way, whether it’s too cover up or to dress down. The way one dresses should be a choice. I didn’t realize that my simple comic “oversimplified” the issue and I guess I should have made my opinion more clear. This comic was by no means directed towards liberals (obviously) but to those who pretend to be liberals. Basically towards hypocrisy.

    Thanks for taking the time to read the comic and apologies if I’ve caused any offense.

    P.S Interesting blog!
    P.P.S I promise not to have more “idiotic” comics (unless… that was the point? I’ve confused myself…again…)

  • nietzschesbreeches

    Thank you for taking the time to read and reply so honestly, Sareen, and thank you for clarifying the context as it was unclear where your comic was taking place and what opinion you were claiming to critique–yes, there is hypocrisy regarding bodily autonomy in some European legislature. I do enjoy your comic, but I was exasperated because there is media trend of similar arguments that end up drowning out the work of liberal ex-Muslim and progressive Muslim activists, who already have an uphill battle to even be heard, let alone be viewed as legitimate. The issue of social equality when it comes personal bodily autonomy is clearly one of importance and thus one that should be discussed through art, literary work, and philosophy, but it also entails a large responsibility, and clarity and accuracy are part of that responsibility.

  • purple

    Hi Sareen,
    I am neither from the west nor from any Islamic country. Consider this as a third person’s view of both entities.

    The maximum penalty of wearing a niqab in “Islamophobic” western countries is some fine in dollars.

    But in many Islamic countries where hijab is the prescribed norm, the cost of not wearing includes
    i) social harassment and ostracision, including from one’s own family. Fathers and brothers even beat the lady and force it on her. People start talking that she is immodest, as if hijab is the only modest dress in the world.
    ii) flogging and stoning in some sharia ruled regions
    iii) Inviting rape from lustful men, because it is the lady’s fault for not wearing proper dress. Not all men are like that. But I have seen some religious clerics blame the lady and the Muslim audience cheers for that comment. They take it for granted that hijab is the norm, and any other dress is deviant.

    Which do you find is a greater threat to a woman’s freedom? I appreciate that you pointed out west’s denying freedom to women, but you can be self critical too. Prioritize the issues.

  • http://sareenakharjalian.wordpress.com Sareen

    Of course my dear. It’s the work of people like you that make me proud to be a woman. And you’ve got my full support. I can’t imagine the battles and the difficulties you face daily especially through your work as an activist. I’ll see if I can clarify my point of view more in my comic’s blog post so I can avoid confusion. Good luck!