I’ve been meaning to comment on a recent article in the Guardian (surprise, surprise) about how wonderfully liberating the hijab is and am glad I was reminded of it today.
The author, Nadiya Takolia, says:
…in a society where a woman’s value seems focused on her sexual charms, some wear it explicitly as a feminist statement asserting an alternative mode of female empowerment. Politics, not religion, is the motivator here. I am one of these women…
…In a world as diverse and changing as our own, the hijab means a multitude of things to the many women who choose to wear it. I speak as a woman who just happens to come from the Islamic faith, and for me the hijab is political, feminist and empowering. This dimension is increasingly important for many women who choose to wear it; it’s a shame it is understood by so few.
It’s ironic how hijabis often portray their wearing of the hijab as a form of liberation from the sexualisation of women in society when it is just one other form of sexualisation and control. In fact, it sexualises girls from a young age and demands that they be covered and segregated so as not to cause fitna or chaos in society.
In the real world, this isn’t called liberating or empowering. It’s called something else and it’s far from a choice for a majority. It’s no more a ‘choice’ than other forms of control and sexualisation, such as female genital mutilation or the chastity belt and foot binding.
Rahila Gupta has recently written a piece in Open Democracy on this very issue. It’s called The hijab or the bikini: The shaping of young girls’ sexuality.
In it she says:
By calling for a ban on lingerie and beauty pageants for young girls, the French report shifts responsibility from parents to the corporate sector which, to some extent, disguises the fact that the state is challenging parental hegemony. Additionally, it shifts the public debate and opens up a space to call for the banning of hijabs worn by young girls which also draws attention to girls’ sexuality, conversely by covering them up. Both sets of girls are robbed of the freedom and innocence (i.e. not being constructed as objects of desire) of childhood. Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson for Council for Ex-Muslims ↑ is forthright in her condemnation ↑ of the imposition of hijabs on young girls, ‘child veiling must be banned full stop. This is a children’s rights issue. While adults may ‘choose’ veiling or a religion, children by their very nature cannot make such choices; what they do is really what their parents tell them to do…. They [parents] can’t deny their children medical assistance or beat and neglect them or marry them off at 9 because it’s part of their beliefs or religion.’ This is an important perspective in the debate on veiling which is often missing in the West out of ‘respect’ for other cultures and religions.
As an aside, whilst Rahila supports a ban on child veiling, she opposes my demand for a ban on the burka. I have commented on this by saying:
It is not enough to say that a burka ban is ‘counter-productive and seen as an onslaught on Muslims’. This can be said about any position regarding Islam and Islamism. One can say the same about those opposing child veiling and sharia law and its discrimination against Muslim women and so on. Firstly, it disregards the reality that Islamism and its rule target Muslims first and foremost. Also I believe women’s rights campaigners cannot evade their responsibilities. Yes there is racism that we must confront but as Rahila has herself said many times, we cannot ignore the enemy within because we live in a racist society. The burka has real negative implications for women and their rights and lives. As we do on all other issues, we can bring an opposition that is different from Sarkozy’s position or that of the racist ruling elite just as we bring a different perspective against Sharia law from the racist far-Right that targets Muslims and immigrants.
(Guardian link via Asad Abbas)