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

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.

An Open Letter to the Department of Psychiatry, American University of Beirut Medical Center

I gained a lot of weight as a result of careless overmedication with excessive side effects.

I gained a lot of weight as a result of careless overmedication with excessive side effects.


Dear AUBMC Department of Psychiatry,

This is an open letter from a former patient. The intent of this letter is to expose the unethical treatment of patients in your department due to violation of doctor-patient confidentiality, which is especially crucial when it comes to mental health, and to urge you to take vigilance in future in enforcing confidentiality policies.

Patient information ought to be confidential and protected, except in cases where patients pose a risk to themselves or to others. Even then information should be disclosed only as needed, ie on a ‘need-to-know basis,’ as referenced on the AUBMC website.

Why then was information relating to my health and wellbeing regularly reported by my doctors to my father simply upon his asking? Why did this occur repeatedly in the five years (2007 to 2012) in which I was an adult outpatient visitor to the Department of Psychiatry? I never signed a release form permitting this. So why was my right to confidentiality routinely and progressively violated?

These are the effects of such unethical medical conduct:

1) The doctors who gave my father personal information about my life and health were unknowingly giving a violent and abusive parent weapons against his mentally ill daughter. I was held accountable in various ways for being ill and for not telling him that I was ill.

2) Since this happened from the beginning and was a recurring process, I had no reason to trust my doctors. How does a psychiatrist help a patient that has no trust in their help? I was supposed to be able to seek refuge in a medical field designed to help people like me. Instead, I was given every reason not to trust the healthcare professionals in your department to care for my health.

3) Because I had no trust for my doctors, I could not take the risk of telling them about my father’s abusive nature in attempt to get them to honor confidentiality. How did I know they wouldn’t tell him that I described him as such?  The chance of that happening was extremely threatening to my emotional and physical well-being. The only avenue I could think of to get my doctors to start honoring confidentiality was so risky I could not take it. I should not have had to even consider asking for something that was my absolute right.

4) I was not able to speak to my psychiatrists about the trauma in my everyday life because it related to my father, and thus they were missing information that was crucial to treating me.

5) I had to resort to pretending I was well and lying to the doctors I could not trust, and thus not receiving adequate treatment if my symptoms happened to relapse.

In addition to the above, the psychiatrists in your department did not once question the narrative my father fed to them, in my presence, the first day I was brought to the office. They did not see me alone and ask me if what my father said was true, did not ask for my consent or confirmation of my father’s assessment of my mental capacities except superficially in his presence. In fact, they expressed agreement with my father’s assessment of my character and actions and passed moral judgments upon me and shamed me for them as I sat there. Setting aside that judging and shaming a mental health patient is possibly the most counter-productive thing to do, their doing so was based on a mere assumption. They did the most unsafe thing they possibly could: They assumed my father was honest and did not for a moment entertain the possiblity that he could be a prime manipulator. They valued that assumption over discovering the truth about and ensuring the wellbeing of their patient.

My father went with me to every visit for the first several months. Not once was I able to speak outside of his presence. I could not ask to speak to my doctors alone because he would punish me for such a request once I got home. My doctors should have made that request themselves. It was their responsibility. It was their job. By the time I started seeing them alone, I had no reason to trust them.

For years, your department caused me unspeakable damage and anguish. Although I was a highly educated and competent adult working on a graduate degree and who taught at the university level, I was treated like I had the mental competence of an infant. Even children are taken aside and asked if such-and-such event really happened.

I urge you to regulate and enforce doctor-patient confidentiality in your department. I urge you to allow and require that patients accompanied by other people see their doctors alone and speak for themselves. I urge you to honor the Hippocratic Oath and your own policies. I urge you to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

I also feel compelled to make the point that the above behavior is entirely consistent with cultural norms and ideals privileging paternal access to information and decision-making as some perceived right over patient personal autonomy, especially when it comes to women and female children. I urge you as a department to refuse to condone behavior that values Lebanon’s cultural norms of patriarchy, especially when they contribute to abuse and misogyny,  over your medical duties. Should your doctors personally subscribe to patriarchal norms in their private lives, that is their business. If and when these biases leak into their medical practice, this becomes wholly unacceptable and is an indication that they do not have the reservation and judgment fit to be mental health care providers.

I have since moved to the United States, and my father’s attempts at control followed me to my new psychiatrist’s office. Except this time, his phone calls never got past the secretary, his emails were deleted unanswered, and his spying and stalking was met with horror and a sense of protectiveness by my psychiatrist and therapist.

Never again will I accept anything less than that. I hope you can maintain the same standards for your practice.


A Patient Demanding Medical Standards


Lady Gaga and the burqa: it’s personal

This my fourth grade class picture in Saudi Arabia. I'm the bundled-up girl in the lower right hand corner, clearly.

This my fourth grade class picture in Saudi Arabia. I’m the bundled-up girl in the lower right hand corner, clearly.


I’m nervous, you guys, because I’ve done a very personal thing. I’ve guest-blogged about Lady Gaga and the burqa over at Godlessness in Theory, Alex Gabriel’s Freethought Blog.  And what I’ve done in this post is tell a very personal story.

An excerpt:

I’m not here to give yet another spin on the critiques of Gaga’s song as orientalist and fetishizing and appropriating and ignorant…Nor am I here to say something for the sake of saying something about it, because I am an ex-Muslim woman of color who blogs about such things and thus I must blog about this thing.

But I must blog about this thing.

Because after I watched her performance, read all the commentary and watched her performance again, I burned with ideas and emotions still unexpressed or insufficiently expressed. So I’m here to tell a story: to say what it is like to be a Muslim woman watching Lady Gaga sing about an aura, a burqa, that hides and empowers…

Here is a story, and with it a promise…

Maybe another story from another woman will come along, and another, and another. Because the greatest relevance this discussion has is as commentary on the very personal struggles Muslim women and women in Muslim-majority countries deal with regarding their personal autonomy and sexual identities.

Maybe somebody will be moved by one of these stories in a way that they are not when they are told that somebody’s culture has been appropriated and it hurts, it hurts.

And maybe some of these stories will become normalized, the voices heard in mainstream media, the movements requisite to change things undertaken.

Maybe. Either way, my conscience compelled me to tell this story because none of it is easy, general, impersonal. People live, die, bleed, love, and hate for these choices.

Singing about them is so easy. Making them is everything.

I tell you a very personal story, my story, one I’ve shared with very few people.  Read the rest of the post here.