For my own sanity, I’m going to stop looking at the Huffington Post, as there’s nothing there of value unless you’re a Regressive Leftist or need your daily Two Minutes of Trump Hate. But I did want to mention one salubrious piece in that otherwise odiferous venue brought to my attention by Grania. It’s by Zubin Madon, and called “When chess grandmatster Nazi Paikidze said no to the hijab she also unveiled liberal hypocrisy“.
If you’re a regular here, you’ll know that American women’s chess champion Nazí Paikidze-Barnes is boycotting the Women’s World Chess Championships in Iran because the women players will be forced to wear the hijab (headscarf). FIDE, the international chess association, chose that venue and is supporting the hijab requirement, despite the fact that it violates their own rules against sex discrimination. The U.S., Danish, and British chess federations have also decried the hijab requirement and supported Paikidze-Barnes, who started a Change.org petition that now has nearly 16,000 signatories.
This was pretty big news, and even the New York Times had a piece on Paikidze-Barnes’s boycott. But the PuffHo? Ha! While they take every opportunity to laud hijabis, including Olympic athletes who wear it, they say nothing about women who reject the oppressive garment. I’ve searched on PuffHo for any mention of Nazí’s boycott, and found. . . nada. But of course they, and many others, were all over themselves praising the “bravery” of U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who, after all, chose fencing simply because it was the one sport she could engage in while wearing a hijab. Muhammad was not brave, nor a hero, and risked nothing by fencing while wearing a hijab. In contrast, Paikidze-Barnes risks her international chess ranking by standing up for women’s freedom of dress. She is the true hero.
But (probably due to an editorial error), Medon’s piece slipped into the PuffHo, and it tears the liberal media a new one for extolling hijabis while ignoring or even denigrating women like Paikidze-Barnes who refuses to wear a garment that is mandatory in Iran, enforced only on women, and comes from religious dictates about “modesty.” Medon articulates what most of us have realized, but which is largely ignored by the liberal media: when there’s a conflict between women’s rights and the supposed oppression of Muslims (perceived as people of color), despite Islam’s generally oppression of women, the Left throws women under the bus. Unfortunately, those who oppress Muslims the most are other Muslims, who in many places subjugate half their population as well as gays, atheists, and those of non-Muslim faiths. Compared to that oppression, which effectively bars women from having any career aspirations and leads to the execution of gays and apostates, the “Islamophobia” loudly decried by places like the PuffHo (and that often conflates bigotry with criticism of Islam) is much less harmful.
This latest controversy confirms what I have suspected all along—publishing articles glorifying modesty-culture as empowering, have little to do with defending a Muslim woman’s right to choose. If it were indeed about defending women’s freedom, left-leaning media outlets would have eulogized Nazi Paikidze’s choice with the same eloquence as they did a hijabi fencer’s choice to cover-up. They didn’t. Which makes the Western leftist’s (well meaning) romanticism of the veil nothing more than a patronizing exercise in virtue signalling.
Defending women in headscarves in the West from anti-Muslim bigotry (“Islamophobia” is a non-word) does not require pandering to Islamofascists in the East; or dismissing the agency of a White woman exercising her own freedom to choose. By failing to show solidarity with Paikidze, Western liberals have also failed the vast swaths of non-observant Muslim women like Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa, who reject the idea that a scrap of cloth defines their cultural identity.
I have previously written about how the left’s apologism and double standards on Islamism are harming the very minorities they claim to protect. Fearing that right-wing bigots will co-opt any criticism of Islamic dogma, the left has unwittingly ended up pandering to the most regressive elements within these minorities. Their pseudo-liberalism is undoing the hard-won victories of Western feminists who have struggled for decades to bring about emancipation.
Part of the “controversy” mentioned by Medon refers to an op-ed by Azadeh Moaveni in the October 7 New York Times (Moaveni is described as “a lecturer in journalism at Kingston University and the author of “Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran”). Moaveni makes three insupportable statements: that the majority of Iranian women “wear the head scarf by choice”; that pressure from the West will not only be ineffective at changing Iranian law and FIDE’s dictat, but “plays into the hands of conservatives who claim that the West uses women’s rights as a tool to humiliate the pressure them”; and that change in Iran must come from Iranians, not dictated to the country by “outsiders.”
First of all, the evidence that most Iranian women choose to wear the headscarf is nil. Before the revolution in1979, turning Iran into a theocracy, most women did not wear the headscarf, and there were huge protests by Iranian women when the government made the hijab mandatory. The government put down those protests. Sites like #Mystealthyfreedom continue to show Iranian women (always anonymous) doffing their hijabs, eager to let their hair fly free. Here’s just the most recent post:
Further, nobody seems to even think about the simple fact that in a society where there’s social and familial pressure to be “good girls” or “good Muslims” by wearing the hijab—not to mention, of course, the religious policing and laws—the concept of “choice” becomes nebulous. What is a “choice” can only be seen in a society where there is absolutely no stigma attached to not wearing the hijab.
Finally, there’s no evidence that pressure from non-Iranians will slow “progress” in the rights of Iranian women. I deeply resent the idea that “outsiders” aren’t allowed to criticize the oppression of women (or gays and apostates, for that matter) because such criticism slows progressive change. What that really amounts to is a call to retain the status quo, and an assertion that women’s rights differ between Iran and the U.S.(It reminds me of how the segregationist South resented the intrusion of “outsider” northerners with their ideas about integration.) It’s pure moral relativism, though to be fair Moaveni notes that many of her contemporaries don’t like the mandatory hijab.
It’s like saying we shouldn’t criticize the horrible injustices of North Korea because we must let the North Koreans change their own society. The problem is that in both North Korea and Iran, people aren’t free to object to the government. One could equally well make the case that the criticism of women like Paikidze-Barnes is heartening to Iranian women, giving them examples of nations where women have not only greater freedom of dress, but greater freedom to criticize their government.
The notion that we shouldn’t criticize Islamic oppression of women is argued in a similar editorial by Sarah Harvard at Mic.com
“Iranian and other Muslim women have to be heard directly,” Keshavarz said. “Unless their own voices are heard and appreciated, what we know about them will remain second hand, diluted and often misrepresented and misunderstood. Boycotting an event that will recognize the abilities of the Iranian women and uplift them — in the name of supporting these women — is quite ironic to say the least.”
According to Keshavarz, there’s a white savior complex narrative inherent to Paikidze-Barnes’ boycott that permeates the media airwaves and leaves Iranian-women in a deprived position.
“White savior complex”? Give me a break. If there’s any complex operating here, it’s the “Let brown people oppress each other as much as they want” complex.