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Otherizing: Why itís not just a headscarf

January 12, 2008 ∑


Letís get a few things straight about the Proper Liberal Perspective on the Islamic Dress Code for Women.

First, it IS a Dress Code. Islam is an authoritarian hierarchical religion ó it glorifies obedience, in return for which one is promised supernatural rewards.

There are two things, right there, that ought to set off alarm bells in liberals, especially those who hold feminist ideas (even if they donít call themselves feminists), which would be pretty much all liberals.

This is not rocket science. Pay attention. Do we, as liberals, approve of authoritarian structures, especially ones that are irrational and manipulative? Do we, as liberals, consider obedience a virtue unto itself?

Since when did freely being a slave to authority become commendable?

So why is it that liberals think we need to be culturally sensitive to Muslim women who call it their own liberating choice to obey an authoritarian seventh century desert nomad, to the detriment of their comfort and mobility?

Is that something to be admired? Because from my understanding of liberalism, it doesnít mean one is unprincipled. It means one HAS principles. And one of our principles is to be radically free.

From authority. From hierarchies. From outdated dogmas.

And goddammit, from fucking humbug.

A Muslim woman who dons the headscarf in the west is making a statement. If we take her at her word and wonder about the headscarf, we are not otherizing her. SHE has otherized HERSELF. One of the primary Islamic objectives of the hijab was to help women blend in and disappear, not be noticeable, not attract attention. And yet, thatís exactly what the hijab does in a western society. They would blend in a whole lot more if they wore jeans and t-shirts and left their hair uncovered.

They are making a statement. And usually, it has nothing to do with their ďdeeply personal faith.Ē

I have little respect for faith in general, of course, but I have even less respect for the faith that advertises itself, especially if there is also the element of humbug, the pretense itís not about advertising and why wonít everyone just stop talking about them?

Part of the reaction in the west to the hijab is to the dimly realized impression that the statement these women are making is a negative statement about the West itself. Itís a rejection of our values. Itís the equivalent of going to Saudi Arabia and putting on a mini skirt, a flaunting of your different (and of course, superior) values.

Naturally, liberals want to be accepting. They want to say, Yes, you think we suck and we probably agree! We do suck! Itís the famous liberal self-hatred (as characterized by conservatives), but I like to call it a willingness to examine, an openness to self-criticism, which is a healthy thing.

It can be taken too far, however. In the case of the hijab, it is being taken too far, because what the Muslim women are making a statement against is what is best about our culture. Our openness, our ability to let people make their own horrendous mistakes which result in consequences to all of society, is a good thing. We need to let teens get pregnant and go on welfare. We need to let people get STIís. We need to let people drop out of college. We need to let people drink themselves to death.

This is the price you pay for freedom. Ultimately, the hijab is a symbol of control and obedience. It is an expression of admiration for fascism. Even if the control it wants is positive control ó getting the trains to run on time ó it is, at the end of the day, an expression of control. And it is exercised in the worst possible age-old way: Through womenís bodies, making them the repositories and barometers of public morality.

The women who facilitate that by donning a recognized symbol of submission donít deserve our admiration and respect. They do deserve our tolerance, but we absolutely do not need to bend over backwards to take lessons from them in feminism.

Second, the illusion in certain feminist minds that the headscarf is a positively feminist statement because it discounts the female body and therefore promotes the importance of womenís minds and seeing them as people, is unadulterated bullshit. The notion that the hijab might be liberating because donning it liberates women from the feminine hardships of beauty rituals is so breathtakingly ignorant, I donít even know where to begin.

The women who are covered up in public are not required to be, nor are they, always covered up. Is that elementary enough? They do get married. They do show themselves to each other. Beauty is highly prized in ALL Muslim cultures, especially as the more traditional cultures donít allow women to shine in other spheres. At least in the West, if Iím not pretty, I can point to my resume or my education or my talents and have it actually amount to something. Where women canít work and where their education will never translate into anything tangible, ALL they have is their looks.

And without work to occupy them, they have limitless time in which to fuss over their appearance. In all my life, I have never met more vain and beauty-obsessed women as in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I have never felt more dowdy than when in their company. I have never met men more obsessed with how a woman looks than in those countries.

The only difference is, most traditional women in the Islamic cultures Iím familiar with let themselves go a little after theyíve bagged a husband and had a few kids. Thatís almost unavoidable with the lifestyles they lead. Youth keeps them svelte, not exercise. And yes, then there is great fear and competitiveness with younger and cuter women ó the mutual love and camaraderie between women I know in the West is relatively free of competitiveness. In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, it was hell.

I recently noticed some pro-beauty ritual feminists discuss this ó their surmise was, since women who are veiled still indulge heavily in beautifying themselves, they MUST be doing it for themselves! No, you dumb fucks, theyíre doing it because thatís all the value society gives them and getting and keeping a manís attention is their fucking livelihood.

In summary: There is no need to even speculate about the motivations and oppression-level of Muslim women living in Muslim societies. They are not your concern, O people of the west. Despise the Muslims for their backwardness or be generously tolerant ó itís all the same to them.

Once theyíre here though, they are fair game. They are no more protected from your judgment than anyone else who has an alien cultural practice you would normally disapprove of (if you have any principles left, that is), such as FGM. If you want to approve of the headscarf, please call it what it is and do it because you approve of the practice itself, and not because itís cultural tolerance. Because thatís a cop-out and an insult to all Muslim women who see it for the subjugation that is inherent in it.

There is also no need to be overly judgmental about the moral motivations of women who choose to cover in the west. I can only speak for myself: I steer clear of them because once I see the headscarf, I KNOW the IQ canít be very high and I donít like stupid people.

And stupidity is a very dangerous thing. Never benign.

Americans are by and large a tolerant people and thatís why I like it here. But us liberals do have some principles, you know? Or so Iíd like to think. And these principles donít need to be sacrificed because a few women want to push their religious faith down our throats.

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