At her website yesterday, ex-Muslim “Nice Mangos” blogger, artist, and podcaster Eiynah hosted a two-hour discussion: four women engaging in a Great Burkini/Hijab/Niqab debate. The other three were Hala Arafa (former newscaster/news editor at Voice of America, Arabic branch), Hoda Katebi (Muslim Iranian fashion blogger), and Sarah Haider (co-founder of ex Muslims of North America). If you have time, go over to Eiynah’s site (click on screenshot below) and have a listen.
This is a discussion that needs to be had—repeatedly—despite these four women differing drastically and apparently irreconcilably in their views. Eiynah and Haider, as well as Arafa, see the hijab as a garment of oppression, though none of the four discussants think it should be banned (Arafa wrote a Washington Post editorial with Asra Nomani urging people not to celebrate “Hijab Day”). On the other hand, Arafa wrote an editorial saying that the burkini bans by the French were justified.
Katebi is a scarf-wearing hijabi (she debated Asra Nomani in Chicago, a debate I posted about here and here), and in this podcast, as in her Chicago debate, she peddles a victim ideology I find distressing. In fact, as I’ve said before, I believe that some hijabis (and I see Katebi among them) persist in wearing the hijab because it distinguishes them from others, makes them “special,” and grants them a status as victims that they wouldn’t otherwise have (I wrote about this here). The victimhood trope is especially strong in this discussion.
Is there a rapprochement here? Well, none of the women favor banning the headscarf, though all but Katebi can justify bans on the niqab and burqa. (Headscarfs are banned in French public schools.) Further, none of them except Arafa favor a burkini ban on the beaches.
But beyond that, there’s severe disagreement about what the hijab even symbolizes (if it symbolizes anything), whether wearing it constitutes a “choice”, how much pressure there is, even in countries like Iran, to wear it (Hoda maintains that even in Iran there is more pressure to remove the hijab than wear it—despite the mandatory hijab laws—because “most” Iranian women let their headscarves expose a bit of hair!). Unfortunately, “lived experience” doesn’t constitute data; not unless it’s properly gathered and analyzed.
It’s clear that this issue won’t soon be resolved among Muslims and ex-Muslims in the West, but nobody expects a podcast to solve these issues. What’s important is that here we see four women of differing religiosity (two Muslims and two ex-Muslims) discussing the issue without any men weighing in, so there can be no accusations of “mansplaining”. And the discussion is civil: although there are plenty of fireworks (Katebi and Arafa butt heads repeatedly), there’s a touching expression of mutual admiration and affection at the end. Kudos to Eiynah for maintaining an atmosphere of civility.